Morton County Sheriff’s Department relaunches Facebook, criticizes Veterans for Standing Rock

More than 2,000 veterans are making their way to Standing Rock in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Meanwhile, the local Morton County Sheriff’s Department has taken to social media in an attempt to counter the veteran protesters’ narrative.

The veterans, part of the “Veterans Stand for Standing Rock” group, are expected to arrive en masse Sunday at the Oceti Sakowin campsite, the largest camp resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Authorities have issued a cease-and-desist under the threat of arrest to the thousands-strong Oceti Sakowin camp, which sits on land belonging to the US Army Corp of Engineers, to be effective on the following day.

In response, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD), who leads the policing effort against the protesters at Standing Rock, released a video announcing that they were launching a new campaign, which in their words “sets the record straight about protest conflict.” That campaign, called “Know the Truth,” kicked off with a video interview of Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. He explains, “Protesters are using social media to get their agitator message to the public. ‘Know the Truth’ is a series of videos to provide the public with accurate and factual information coming directly from my agency.”

The post came two hours after the MCSD Facebook page was relaunched. It had been taken down for five days when keeping up with the activity on it became too burdensome for the department, according to the department’s post.

The message from Kirchmeier was the latest since the page had gone down for five days. The last post from MCSD, on November 25, also quoted Kirchmeier accusing protesters who took part in a Thanksgiving demonstration of being “paid agitators,” without providing any evidence as to how his department came to that conclusion or who may be paying the protesters.

Meanwhile, at least two posts were removed from the MSCD page since it relaunched, including the following:

The relaunch of the page was followed by several messages criticizing the protesters and veterans for joining them including video titled “Protesters Harass Female Officers” which accuses protesters of throwing snowballs from across the river and shouting vulgarities. “A lot of them said they were veterans and that we should be ready for what’s coming. They have all their 500 veteran buddies coming to pretty much take care of what they need to take care of,” one of the female officers explains

The other officer begins: “At least two of them identified themselves as veterans. What’s disappointing to me as a law enforcement officer is that we have veterans that are going out and doing stuff like that … We had other veterans on the banks there and it’s just disappointing that they disrespecting everything that they say that they stand for.”

Less than two hours prior, MCSD released another in which they interview a “North Dakota veteran” named Raymond Morell. MCSD says in the post accompanying the interview that “it is questionable why any veteran would participate in a protest that includes unlawful activities.”

Morell explains: “Having veterans that come in from out of state that don’t understand that relationship that we have, that we serve together, we fight together, we die together. They are imposing their misunderstandings and quite possibly their disgruntlement with our federal government into a relationship that has been ongoing for generations within the state of North Dakota.”

“I don’t even know what he’s talking about,” veteran Stephen Handlin told RT. “The veterans who are coming here are coming here because of the police abusing the citizens. It’s Morton County Sheriff. It’s not the Feds! They’re on our side. That’s ridiculous. He’s trying to discredit the veterans that are coming here. He’s trying to delegitimize them and the federal government is the one being reasonable here.”

Handlin has been at Standing Rock since September 4. He is a veteran of the Army Infantry and served in Iraq in the cities of Hawijah and Baghdad in 2005 and 2006.

“I can remember sitting on the side of a road in Iraq. I was a machine gunner and I was sitting there with the turret waiting for suspicious looking people. And it was kind of like ‘what the hell is a suspicious looking person?’ And it hit me: this is what cops do all day. Every single person that comes by is the enemy. They acted like all Iraqis were enemies. Since then, I’ve been fighting back against the militarization of police. My military experience is exactly why I came to Standing Rock. After seeing what the police were doing to them and the governor pulled out all the water and sanitation — that to me looked like another overstep of the police state.”

Handlin says he has met at least 50 other veterans at the Standing Rock camps. “You have guys of all stripes. You have me, who is an agitator. I believe in direct action against machinery. That’s prayer in action. Then you have the Veterans for Peace guys who are very passive and want to be organized and are a part of the whole tribal system and meet with all these groups. There’s really nothing you can say like ‘all veterans are like this,’” Handlin told RT, adding that veterans are less likely to engage in gossip and are more determined to complete “whatever their project is.”

Asked what he expected from the arrival of the 2,000 veterans, Handlin expressed doubt of it effectuating much besides increased media coverage. “All lot of people think that they’re going to do stuff; fight the cops or something. That’s not likely. But the veterans won’t come in and save the day. It’s not the cavalry coming in to save the Lakota,” Handling told RT, laughing. “It’ll be like every other group that shows up here. There will be ceremonies and speeches, they march up to the bridge, look at the cops, have a ceremony and turn around and come back.”

Another veteran who spoke with RT anonymously explained that arriving at Standing Rock was how she was able to ‘spiritually heal’ from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder she sustained overseas.

RT caught up with an Army medic on November 16 as protesters in Washington, DC rallied outside the US Army Corp of Engineers building before marching to the White House, where Bernie Sanders later gave a surprise appearance.

As ardent veterans make their way towards Standing Rock, only one thing may be certain: it is likely that they will face off, in a non-violent manner in all likelihood, with veterans on the other side, who have left the military and joined any of the 76 police agencies working with MCSD.

By Alexander Rubinstein