Publisher’s Note: This is the 3rd installment in our ongoing series exploring how the mainstream corporate commercial US media misrepresented 10,000 #NoDAPL peaceful water protectors over the course of this past fall and winter. Here are installments 1 and 2.
It was difficult to uncover definitive proof either way for this claim. There was simply anecdotal hearsay from law enforcement officials, one victim and her father, and bystanders. A Fox 5 news story details the incident concerning 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky who had a severe arm injury, due to an explosion, that will require upward of 20 surgeries to repair. Both sides (law enforcement and protesters) blame the other for this horrific injury. Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council’s coordinator Mike Knudsen reported in a CNN interview that the police were firing concussion grenades at the protesters. Indeed, in a video posted by protester Carlton Banksy, referenced in Bethania Palma’s article on Snopes.com about the injury, it appears that not only gas and rubber bullets were used, but one can see flares shooting towards the protesters and two distinct explosive flashes culminating in booms. However, the police blamed the injury on protesters, suggesting protester use of explosives (propane cylinders and Molotov cocktails have been put forward by various sources).
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department made a Facebook post, according to Palma, asserting that propane canisters set off by the protesters were to blame, but later removed the post. Palma claims she was unable to get a statement from law enforcement officials. Wilansky, who self-reports that she was playing with materials on the ice to make a sled, insists that concussion grenades were to blame. Her father supports her story. Wilansky’s father reports that his daughter had no burns on her arm, which would have been the case with a fire-based explosive such as propane. Last, one eyewitness reported that one concussion grenade was launched by law enforcement and then a second which hit Wilanksy.
However, in a New York Times article by Colin Moynihan, dated November 24, 2016, Lt. Tom Iverson stated that as they were firing rounds of nonlethal items at some protesters behind plywood near the burned-out vehicle on the bridge, other protesters appeared to have suspicious behavior and refused to emerge. Then they saw metal canisters rolled towards the protesters and there was an explosion. Iverson claims concussion grenades were not used by law enforcement and that “three propane cylinders were recovered” (Moynihan). This claim is echoed by an article on the website Bearing Arms, which is clearly a right-wing gun advocacy website. Writer Bob Owens on Bearing Arms posts three pictures of exploded propane cylinders and claims, “True ‘concussion grenades’ are incredibly rare. The Mk3A2 is the last concussion grenade issued to the U.S. military. It uses a large (half-pound) TNT charge, and was designed to be thrown into hardened enemy fortifications, such as bunkers” (Owens).
The Wilansky incident is still under investigation and until more details emerge, it appears to be a “he said, she said” situation.
The conflict of this night took place in the dark with several people milling around. Either side could be fabricating the cause of the incident. There is possible motive for law enforcement to deny their use of concussion grenades or other explosives, because they would be culpable in the serious injury of a young woman. Any protester who might have made an extremely bad decision to turn a propane canister into a bomb, would likely keep silent out of shame, guilt, and fear of retribution. What is hard to reconcile is why Wilansky and her father would fabricate what happened. Obviously they will seek justice for her suffering. But does it really matter to her and her family who will be on the stand defending their actions? Some might say that the Wilanskys will get more money from the police or the Army Corps if they are convicted. Plus, this known protester/troublemaker could then make the proud men and women who serve our country look bad. However, it seems it would be much harder for the Wilanskys to get a conviction if they face a large government-protected organization rather than an ordinary citizen in court.
Claim #3: Protesters are being paid to be there and are not real protesters.
The source of this claim appeared to be a craigslist post by a user named “Fargo,” who said he quit his job and cashed in his money to “fight for the water.” Fargo invited other people to do the same, offering to pay them and also pay their travel expenses (Berg). The actual craigslist post has expired. Meanwhile people flew in from all over the world and traveled across country to Standing Rock, not only unpaid, but bringing food and supplies and spending their own money to be part of the demonstration. There was no other reference to the rumor that the demonstrators were not bona fide.
Writer Chris Berg, in the Valley News Live story that revealed the craigslist post, also calls into question the Standing Rock Tribe’s finances and suggests that the whole demonstration is simply to help the Standing Rock Tribe deal with their failing budget. How the demonstration translates to money in the pockets of the tribe is unclear. Valley News Live is part of KLVY TV in Fargo, and is an NBC affiliate. There is agreement for Berg’s idea about the tribe’s finances in an article by Chris White of The Daily Caller. The Daily Caller (which, on a side note, has dozens of pictures of scantily clad women in their links to ads and other articles) is a DC-based outfit begun by Neil Patel, former advisor to Dick Cheney, and Tucker Carlson, a conservative libertarian. The Daily Caller was conceived as an alternative to the liberal Huffington Post (“The Daily Caller”). White attempts to further discredit the demonstration: “…the DAPL route does not cut through Standing Rock’s reservation. The tribe has attempted to meander around that fact by arguing the land is theirs under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The treaty was forged between the U.S. government and the Great Sioux Nation, not Standing Rock. Still, tribe members have challenged the treaty and others like it in court for not being honored” (White). If the Standing Rock tribe is a Sioux tribe, why is it that the 1851 treaty between the government and the Great Sioux Nation does not include them? It also seems that there are likely easier ways for the Standing Rock tribe members to reconcile their alleged financial woes than by getting water-cannoned in sub-zero temperatures and camping out for months in a standoff with law enforcement, as well as going up against huge oil and gas corporate interests. Surely there must be a deeper reason for the demonstration at Standing Rock, like what the tribe members claim: environmental stewardship and cultural respect.
With his allegations of monetary motivation and land treaties, one wonders if Mr. White knows about the historic lawsuit championed by Elouise Cobell, a banker who was a member of the Blackfoot Tribe. Ms. Cobell—who was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor by President Obama—“and four others filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government in 1996 that claimed the Interior Department misspent, lost or stole billions of dollars meant for Native American land trust account holders dating back to the 1880s…It took 16 years to reach a $3.4 billion settlement, and delays continue in the payments outlined in that settlement” (“Blackfeet, Friends and Admirers”). While this settlement was a victory, it does not come close to restitution for the billions lost through accounting errors and mismanagement or outright underpayment of royalties to Native Americans for oil and gas, timber, and grazing use of tribal lands. In light of this history, Mr. White’s claim that the Standing Rock tribe is demonstrating as a foil to fix their finances crosses the border into the land of the absurd.
Kylee Mabel Cushman is a writer, editor, adjunct professor and citizen activist based in central Vermont. Look for #NoDAPL, installment 4, next week.