Two Caterpillar bulldozers at work (left: Rafah, Palestine in 2002, right: Standing Rock, ND on Native sacred burial ground in 2016)
Since April 1, 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, later followed by over 200 other Native nations, has been occupying the sacred site of Standing Rock in order to protect it against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline (named after the two American States, not the Native nation of course), which would carry Bakken crude from North Dakota to Illinois. Yesterday (September 8), North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has called for the U.S. National Guard to intervene at Standing Rock a few hours before the ruling of a lawsuit that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has brought against the U.S. government. A few days earlier, some Native organizers had been attacked by dogs ordered by private security force, and bulldozers had demolished a sacred burial ground (see the Democracy Now report here).
In looking at the right part of the photograph above illustrating this deliberate profanation, you will recognize the well-known yellow worn by all non-customized Caterpillar construction (or rather, destruction) equipment on what appears to be D8 bulldozers. Condemning Caterpillar for actions committed in the context of a State’s infrastructural construction can appear as far fetched at first glance — we will see in the last paragraph that it is actually not — but this 90-year old American company is also renowned for its numerous contracts with the U.S. Army, and has no problem to display its support to the “armed forces” on its website:
The part of the Caterpillar website dedicated to “Defense” is particularly interesting in this regard and relatively generous in the information given. One might have an overview of the “Defense Product Line” proposed by Caterpillar to the U.S. army and U.S. Federal civilian agencies, including bulldozers such as the D6K or the D7R. The company however does not stop at providing military equipment to an army knowingly deployed in various parts of the world; it also offers training to military operators and provide a schedule of courses throughout the year. The website also features a list of federal agencies and branches of the U.S. army that it supplies with equipment. Under the title “Foreign Military Sales Programs,” the company lists the states of Iraq and Afghanistan as also provided with such equipment as part of the so-called “Supplemental Acquisition Program.” There is however no mention of another indirect important foreign military client: the Israeli army.
The Israeli army indeed regularly purchases Caterpillar bulldozers through the “US Foreign Military Sales Program,” which are later customized by Israel Military Industries to become an autonomous war-machine able to operate in Palestinian cities without any supporting squad. The model D9 of the Caterpillar bulldozers has been a particularly recurrent acquisition by the Israeli army for decades now. Created in 1954, it has been used in every war lead by the Israeli government since the first Sinai invasion in 1956. This ‘steel monster’ is 8-meter long, 4.6-meter wide, 4-meter high, it weights 60 tons, and is usually equipped with a 1.8-meter high blade in its front and a long plowshare in the back, which can dig a 1.7-meter deep furrow. The latter was particularly used during the Second Intifada in order to sever the Palestinian infrastructure (road, water, sewage, electricity) under the pretext of demining — an easily deniable pretext since the plowshare is situated in the back of the bulldozer. The D9 has many variations: the D9T does not need an operator to be present within the vehicle, the “Lioness” version is higher than wide and can thus penetrate in narrower street — although demolishing house to let bulldozers move forward in Palestinian refugee camps has never been a problem for the Israeli army in history… (for more on the question, I can refer to my short book, The Politics of the Bulldozer)
In March 2003, an American activist named Rachel Corrie was killed by such a bulldozer in Rafah when she interposed herself (see past article) between the military vehicle and the house that its operator intended to destroy — about 2,500 Palestinian houses were demolished by bulldozers during the Second Intifada. Although this dreadful event was legitimately relayed by Western media, we can however regret that such coverage does not extend to the many Palestinians who also died in the demolition of their houses by these bulldozers. In November 2004, Human Rights Watch issued a call entitled “Israel: Caterpillar Should Suspend Bulldozer Sales – Weaponized Bulldozers Used to Destroy Civilian Property and Infrastructure,” which remained unanswered positively, Caterpillar’s CEO James Owens saying that the company did “not have the practical ability or legal right to determine how our products are used after they are sold.”
Whether used in the desecration of Native land, in the post-invasion infrastructure of Iraq or Afghanistan, or in the demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes, for the moment, this article has only evoked what we can call the weaponizable function of the bulldozer. However, we ought to look at what a bulldozer is in its essence: it is fundamentally an instrument of absolute geoengineering control over a territory and, as such, a weapon, rather than a weaponizable tool. As argued at length on this blog and elsewhere, qualifying something as a weapon (like, say, architecture) does not necessarily means that its use should be forever proscribed. What it means is that its use is inseparable from violence itself and that, as such, it necessarily crystallizes, enables, enforces a political program. If we go back to North Dakota and, more broadly, to the ways the United States have systematically assert their genocidal claim on the land, we can see how an instrument like the bulldozer (like the barbed wire, as Olivier Razac would say) was invented in such a logic of territorial domination — the displacement of Bakken (a mineral only found in the Montana, North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) that the Dakota Access pipeline would enable on thousand of kilometers is also inscribed in this geoengineering dominating logic. Just like the bulldozer is a weapon, not a weaponizable tool; we should interpret what is at stake in Standing Rock and in Palestine not through a negotiation of the ways in which the politics involved could become acceptable, but rather through the prism of the entirety of the political ideologies at work: in both cases here, the variations of the same colonial project.
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A petition to remove McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger from office has been submitted by acting State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz.
McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger was placed on interim suspension Wednesday night, pending his removal from office, by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
The governor ordered the interim suspension based on a recommendation from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem after McKenzie County requested the sheriff be removed under a process available in state law.
The petition for removal was made by the county’s acting State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz on Oct. 24, alleging the sheriff is guilty of misconduct, malfeasance, crime in office, neglect of duty or gross incompetency. The county commission had voted in support of the petition for removal.
In a recommendation dated Wednesday, just short of the 30-day window to make his findings on the petition, Stenehjem said the allegations were investigated by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and he recommended following through on removal.
Stenehjem said an assigned prosecutor will draft a formal complaint and once filed, a special commissioner will conduct a removal hearing within 30 days. He also recommended Schwartzenberger’s immediate suspension until the hearing is concluded.
Dalrymple told Schwartzenberger in a letter also dated Wednesday and copied to the county commission that he agreed with Stenehjem’s findings and said, “… it is in the best interests of the state that you be suspended from the performance of duty immediately upon receipt of this notice and until a final decision on removal is made.”
The county’s second-in-command is Capt. Larry Clock.
The suspension was enforced by BCI agents, who tracked down Schwartzenberger late Wednesday while he was working near Cannon Ball on the Dakota Access Pipeline protest enforcement, according to the Williston Herald.
Schwartzenberger told The Herald he’s been waiting for this step in the process so that he can depose witnesses and get to the truth.
“This is the time and place for it to come out,”said Schwartzenberger, adding he was never contacted by BCI during its investigation.
The county decided to go through the process of stripping Schwartzenberger of his job and badge after hearing a report from a firm it hired to look into a growing number of complaints about the sheriff from his employees and others in county departments. The Village Business Institute found grounds to remove the sheriff based on harassment and intimidation amid concerns that he fostered a quasi-military environment.
The sheriff tried fighting the county’s removal action in court, but South Central District Judge David Reich ruled last week that the county has authority to do so.
Schwartzenberger also is scheduled for trial on charges he illegally used the department credit card for personal expenses.
On Dec. 4, if everything goes according to plan, hundreds of veterans will muster at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. The mission: To stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“Most civilians who’ve never served in a uniform are gutless worms who’ve never been in a fight in their life,” Wes Clark Jr. declares. “So if we don’t stop it, who will?”
Clark Jr. is one of the most vociferous opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a controversial 1,170-mile project that, if and when it is completed, will shuttle an estimated 470,000 barrels of crude oil every day from North Dakota to Illinois. “It’s immoral, and wrong, and dangerous to us all,” Clark Jr. adds.
He doesn’t fit the traditional tree-hugger mold. He’s not a hippie. Nor is he a member of the Lakota or Dakota tribes, the two Native American group known collectively as the Sioux. He’s a former Army officer and the organizer of an upcoming three-day deployment of U.S. military veterans to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in southern North Dakota, the site of an escalating months-long standoff between law enforcement-backed security contractors and activists that has so far resulted in multiple injuries, more than 500 arrests, and a United Nations investigation of potential human rights abuses.
According to an “operations order” for the planned engagement, posted to social media in mid-November, “First Americans have served in the Unites States Military, defending the soil of our homelands, at a greater percentage than any other group of Americans. There is no other people more deserving of veteran support.”
Clark Jr. is a 47-year-old writer, political commentator, and activist based in California. Joining him in the fight is Michael A. Wood Jr., a Marine Corps veteran and former Baltimore police officer who retired his badge in 2014 to become an advocate for national police reform. Earlier this month, the duo formed Veterans Stand For Standing Rock with the hope of drawing scores of veterans, as well as fire fighters, ex-law enforcement officers, emergency medical personnel and others to the battleground for a three-day “deployment” in early December to “prevent progress on the Dakota Access Pipeline and draw national attention to the human rights warriors of the Sioux tribes.” Both men say they’re prepared to take a bullet, rubber or otherwise, for a cause they believe should be of critical importance to any patriotic American.
“… if we’re really going to be those veterans that this country praises, well, then we need to do the things that we actually said we’re going to do…”
“This country is repressing our people,” Wood Jr. says. “If we’re going to be heroes, if we’re really going to be those veterans that this country praises, well, then we need to do the things that we actually said we’re going to do when we took the oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was originally established as part of the Great Sioux Reservation under Article 2 of the Treaty of Fort Laramie of April 29, 1868. In 1877, the U.S. government initiated the still ongoing process of chipping away and dividing the land it had granted to the people of the Lakota and Dakota nations, with significant reductions taking place in 1889 and then again during the 1950s and 1960s, when the Army Corps of Engineers built five large dams along the Missouri River, uprooting villages and sinking 200,000 acres of land below water.
When the Corps of Engineers returned to Standing Rock in 2015, it was to assess whether or not it should approve a path for the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Missouri River, a project that would involve construction on some of the land that had been stripped from the Sioux, who still regard it as sacred — although, that fact seems to have been ignored, maybe even intentionally, in the assessment.
Because the Corps neglected to consult the Standing Rock Sioux, as it was required to do under the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106), the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the American Council on Historic Preservation all criticized the assessment, but the project was eventually approved. The decision was a major victory for Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based parent company of Dakota Access LLC, which estimates the pipeline will bring $156 million in sales and income taxes to state and local governments and create thousands of temporary jobs.
For the Standing Rock Sioux, the Dakota Access project poses two immediate threats. First, the pipeline would run beneath Lake Oahe, the reservoir that provides drinking water to the people of Standing Rock. (An earlier route that avoided native lands was ruled out in part because it posed a danger to drinking water.) Second, according to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the building of the pipeline would destroy the sacred spots and burial grounds that were overlooked in the Corps’ assessment. But as the protests have intensified, and more outsiders, including members of more than 200 Native American tribes from across North America, have become involved, Standing Rock has, for some, come to represent something much bigger than a struggle between a disenfranchised people and a government-backed, billion-dollar corporation. It’s a battle to save humanity from itself.
“Mother Earth’s axis is off and it’s never going back,” says Phyllis Young, a Sioux tribal elder. “And we have to help keep it in balance for as long as we can. I am a mother and a grandmother. Those are my credentials to ensure a future with clean drinking water — a future of human dignity, human rights, and human survival.”
Young grew up on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. She has been present at many of the protests and says she’s seen people brutalized at the hands of the security contractors and law enforcement officials guarding the land where the drilling is set to take place. It was Young who got Clark Jr involved. In late summer, she was in Washington, D.C., lobbying for the military to promote an alternative (and scientifically dubious) clean energy source called low-energy nuclear reaction, when she heard of a military veteran who was a forceful advocate for environmental conservation. Clark Jr. was eager to help. He spent weeks trying to assemble a legal team for the Standing Rock Sioux, and even contacted Independent Diplomat, a nonprofit organization that helps governments navigate complex diplomatic processes. “I pulled all of the levers, and none of them worked,” Clark Jr. recalls. Then, in early November, the plan dawned on him: He’d bring his fellow veterans. Lots of them. And they’d come prepared to put their lives on the line.
“We’re not going out there to get in a fight with anyone,” Clark Jr. says. “They can feel free to beat us up, but we’re 100% nonviolence.”
You may have heard of Clark Jr.’s father. Wesley Clark Sr. retired from the Army in 2000 as a four-star general. His career began in the jungles of Vietnam, where he was shot four times during an enemy ambush near Saigon, and culminated in a posting as Supreme Allied Commander Europe during the Kosovo War. In 2004, he ran for the Democratic Party presidential nomination on platform that criticized the Iraq War and called for measures to combat climate change. Clark Jr., who was born in Florida while Clark Sr. was in Vietnam and grew up on military bases throughout the United States and Europe, seems to have inherited both his father’s commanding spirit and his progressive ideals.
Clark Jr. had just graduated from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service when he joined the Army as a cavalry officer. He served on active duty from 1992–1996 — “nothing dangerous,” he says. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was living in New York City, and after seeing the towers fall, he decided to re-enlist. “I was like, ‘I’m going back in. I’m going to go in there and fuck people up,’” he recalls. It was Clark Sr., the decorated war hero, who convinced him not to. As Clark Jr. recalls, his father foresaw U.S. military intervention in Iraq and warned that as a soldier he would be fighting a war that had nothing to do with defeating al Qaeda. “He was right, but I’ll tell you, I’ve never felt worse about a decision in my life,” Clark Jr. says.
Clark Jr. may never have served in combat, but when he talks about Standing Rock, he sounds like a battle-hardened general. This isn’t his first foray into boots-on-the-ground environmental activism. He’s currently working with an organization called Climate Mobilization, which is focused on “building and supporting a social movement that causes the US federal government to commence WWII-scale climate mobilization.” But he’s perhaps best known as a co-host of the political web series The Young Turks. On the The Young Turks website, Clark Jr. is described as an Army veteran “currently trying to save human civilization from climate change.” The impending confrontation at Standing Rock, he says, will be “the most important event up to this time in human history.”
“We’re not going out there to get in a fight with anyone. They can feel free to beat us up, but we’re 100% nonviolence.”
Vets Standing For Standing Rock was announced via an official sounding letter formatted like a five-paragraph military operation order, breaking down the “opposing forces” — “Morton County Sheriff’s office combined with multiple state police agencies and private security contractors” — “Mission,” “Execution” and “Logistics,” among other things. A packing list virtually mirrors the ones issued to soldiers preparing to deploy to the field (minus the weapons). But there are also parts of the document that read like a revolutionary manifesto. Under the section titled “Friendly Forces,” for example, the op order states, “we are there to put our bodies on the line, no matter the physical cost, in complete nonviolence to provide a clear representation to all Americans of where evil resides.”
The document was accompanied by a link to a GoFundMe campaign that has raised nearly $20,000 of its $100,000 goal since it was created on Nov. 11. The money, Clark Jr. says, will only be used for helping volunteers with transportation costs and then bailing those who are arrested out of jail.
Wood Jr. says the op-order was Clark Jr.’s idea, but the two men agree that organizing like a military unit is the smartest approach, especially because most of the people expected to join them on the ground have served.
“It’s simple and we have clearly defined goals, so people don’t get caught up in the confusion,” says Wood Jr., who served with the Baltimore Police Department for more than a decade. “One of the issues the police are going to face is that our level of planning and coordination is vastly superior to theirs, so they may end up with a problem when it comes to that.”
“We’ll have those people who will recognize that they’re not willing to take a bullet, and those who recognize that they are.”
Here then is the plan: On Dec. 4, Clark Jr. and Wood Jr., along with a group of veterans and other folks in the “bravery business,” as Wood Jr. puts it — 500 total is the goal, but they’re hoping for more — will muster at Standing Rock. The following morning they will join members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, including Young, for a traditional healing ceremony. With an eye toward the media, old military uniforms will be donned so that if the veterans are brutalized by the police, they are brutalized not as ordinary citizens, but as people who once served the government they are protesting against. Then body armor, ear plugs, and gas masks will be issued to those who didn’t bring their own. Bagpipes will play, and traditional Sioux war songs will be sung. The music will continue as everyone marches together to the banks of the Missouri, on the other side of which a line of guards in riot gear will be standing ready with rifles, mace, batons, and dogs. Then, the veterans and their allies — or at least the ones who are brave enough — will lock arms and cross the river in a “massive line” for their “first encounter” with the “opposing forces.” The goal is to make it to the drilling pad and surround it, arm in arm. That will require making it through the line of guards, who have repelled other such attempts with a level of physical force Sioux tribal members and protesters have described as “excessive” — claims that recently prompted a United Nations investigation. Of course, that’s what the body armor and gas masks are for.
“We’ll have those people who will recognize that they’re not willing to take a bullet, and those who recognize that they are,” says Wood Jr. “It’s okay if some of them step back, but Wes and I have no intention of doing so.”
Of course, as most veterans know full well, even the best plans go out the window the moment the shit hits the fan. It seems probable that the group will be met by fierce resistance from those charged with keeping people out of the construction site. Despite a recent decision by the Corps of Engineers to delay further work on the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners is still hoping to complete the project by January. The segment that will cross beneath the Missouri at Standing Rock is the last major piece of the puzzle. Strengthening the resolve of the company’s executives is the fact that Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren donated more than $100,000 to elect Donald Trump, and Trump himself owns stock in the company. “I’m 100% sure that the pipeline will be approved by a Trump administration,” Warren told NBC News on Nov. 12.
Nonetheless, Clark Jr. and Wood Jr. remain undeterred. If anything, the likelihood of approval only makes them more determined. After all, this is war.
“The Joint Chiefs of Staff labeled the climate emergency as the number one security threat to the country, and they’ve been labeling it that for years,” Clark Jr. says. “All you need to do is put an overlay on any map in the world where there’s a water and crisis and you’re going to see massive political violence in that location. And unless we act, we’re going to be dealing with that exact same situation right here in the United States.”
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WASHINGTON – The final White House Tribal Nations Conference of President Obama’s administration focused on the past eight years of accomplishments in Indian Country. While tribal leaders acknowledge those accomplishments, they had the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline on their minds. Sidebar conversations went to Standing Rock.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archembault II – Native News Online photo by Levi Rickert
After a brief reception to conclude Monday’s activities inside, tribal leaders took their “Stand of Standing Rock” outside of the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium onto the sidewalk on Constitution Avenue. Several non-Native supporters joined the American Indians and Alaska Native leaders.
Dallas Goldtooth, from 1491’s and an organizer of the Indigenous Environmental Network emceed the news conference. Among the speakers were: Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, Oglala Sioux Tribal Robert Yellowbird Steele and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Fraizer.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II thanked the supporters who have shown unprecedented solidarity throughout Indian Country during the several weeks.
“WE SEE THE POWER OF UNITY AND THE POWER OF PRAYER,” SAID ARCHAMBAULT. “FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART, I THANK YOU FOR STANDING WITH US.”
The National Congress of American Indians, the oldest national American Indian organization, passed a resolution to support Standing Rock’s fight to stop the pipeline.
“THEY ARE AWAKENING A SLEEPING GIANT. THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS NEEDS TO DENY THIS PERMIT.” STATED BRIAN CLADOOSBY, PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL CONGRESS OF AMERICAN INDIANS, WHO ALSO SERVES AS CHAIRMAN OF THE SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL COMMUNITY. “WE AS TRIBAL LEADERS WILL KEEP STANDING WITH STANDING ROCK.”
Tribal leaders wore red sashes with white letters with the message “protector” on them signifying protectors of water and protectors of land.