Last week, an arrest warrant was issued under the header “North Dakota versus Amy Goodman.” The charge was for criminal trespass. The actual crime? Journalism. We went to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to cover the growing opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline.
Global attention has become focused on the struggle since Labor Day weekend, after pipeline guards unleashed attack dogs and pepper spray on Native American protesters. On that Saturday, at least six bulldozers were carving up the land along the pipeline route, where archeological and sacred sites had been discovered by the tribe. The Dakota Access pipeline company obtained the locations of these sites just the day before, in a court filing made by the tribe. Many feel that the company razed the area, destroying the sites, before an injunction could be issued to study them. Scores of people, mostly Native American, raced to the scene, demanding the bulldozers leave. The guards pepper-sprayed, punched and tackled the land defenders. Attack dogs were unleashed, biting at least six people and one horse.
We were there, filming the guards’ violence. When we released our video of the standoff, it went viral, attracting more than 13 million views on Facebook alone. CNN, CBS, MSNBC and scores of outlets around the world broadcast our footage of one of the attack dogs with blood dripping from its nose and mouth.
Five days after the attack, North Dakota issued the arrest warrant. North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Lindsey Wohl, referencing the “Democracy Now!” video report in a sworn affidavit, states, “Amy Goodman can be seen on the video identifying herself and interviewing protestors about their involvement in the protest.” Precisely the point: doing the constitutionally protected work of a reporter.
“Charging a journalist with criminal trespassing for covering an important environmental story of significant public interest is a direct threat to freedom of the press and is absolutely unacceptable in the country of the First Amendment,” said Delphine Halgand, U.S. director of the global press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders. Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists added: “This arrest warrant is a transparent attempt to intimidate reporters from covering protests of significant public interest. Authorities in North Dakota should stop embarrassing themselves, drop the charges against Amy Goodman and ensure that all reporters are free to do their jobs.”
Steve Andrist, executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, told The Bismarck Tribune, “It’s regrettable that authorities chose to charge a reporter who was just doing her job,” adding that it “creates the impression that the authorities were attempting to silence a journalist and prevent her from telling an important story.”
This is a story that is critical to the fate of the planet. It’s about climate change, and indigenous rights versus corporate and government power.
The arrest warrant was issued on the same day that North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple called out the National Guard in preparation for a court decision due out the next day. On Friday, the judge ruled against the tribe, allowing construction to continue. Fifteen minutes later, in an unprecedented move, the departments of Justice, the Interior and the Army issued a joint letter announcing that permission to build the pipeline on land controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers would be denied until after “formal, government-to-government consultations” with impacted tribes about “the protection of tribal lands, resources and treaty rights.” Construction and nonviolent blockades continue along nonfederal lands, despite the government’s request that Dakota Access halt construction voluntarily.
Many have said that journalism is the first draft of history. In the past 20 years, a hallmark of the “Democracy Now!” news hour has been our coverage of movements, because movements make history. The standoff at Standing Rock is a historic gathering of thousands of people from over 200 tribes from the U.S., Canada and Latin America who call themselves “protectors, not protesters.” It marks the largest unification of tribes in decades.
To date, none of the pipeline security guards have been charged, despite being clearly shown in the video assaulting protesters with dogs and pepper spray. Now, the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board is investigating the pipeline security guards’ use of force and their use of dogs.
In the meantime, we will fight this charge. Freedom of the press is essential to the functioning of a democratic society. North Dakota, muzzle the dogs, not the press.