Members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its Montana affiliate are suing the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Justice, seeking proof of what the groups allege is a plot to surveil and potentially hamper people trying to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.
The ACLU says it uncovered documents showing “substantial evidence of federal preventative measures against Keystone XL protests, such as a Department of Justice [DOJ] ‘anti-terrorism’ training in Fort Harrison, Montana, and a DOJ ‘Social Networking and Cyber Awareness’ training in the town of Circle, Montana,” according to the ACLU’s announcement of the suit.
The documents also allegedly show “discussions between federal officials about the creation of an ‘interagency team’ to ‘deal with safety and security concerns related to the Keystone XL project.’”
“Evidence that the federal government plans to treat Keystone XL protests with counterterrorism tactics, coupled with the recent memory of excessive uses of force and surveillance at the Standing Rock protests, raises immense concerns about the safety of indigenous and environmental protesters who seek to exercise their First Amendment rights,” wrote Jacob Hutt, the lawyer who filed the ACLU’s first request for documents, about the suit.
The original 2016 demonstrations against the Keystone XL pipeline ended in violent clashes between law enforcement and protesters.
The two groups clashed in October of that year when activists confronted construction crews, according to The Wall Street Journal. A law enforcement spokeswoman said four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured in the fray.
A spokesman for the Standing Rock Sioux said protesters reported that security dogs bit six people, including a young child, and that 30 people were pepper-sprayed. A law enforcement spokeswoman said the authorities had not received any reports of protesters being injured.
In November 2016, after some protesters set fires on a highway crossing, law enforcement reportedly fired rubber bullets, sprayed water and used tear gas to make demonstrators disperse.
Police said the protesters incited violence. Representatives for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said police injured multiple protesters.
By December, over 500 demonstrators had been arrested for a range of violent acts, from attempted murder to rioting to conspiracy to endanger by fire or explosion, according to the National Review.