Corporate Counterinsurgency

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Source: The Intercept

The early morning sun was still low on a dirt road in northern Minnesota this March as a small crowd faced Aitkin County sheriff’s deputies. The crowd drummed and chanted messages of support for the seven people on the other side of the police line, who sat linked together from one side of the road to the other, locked to concrete-filled barrels. The chained demonstrators were stopping construction personnel from entering a pump station for Enbridge’s Line 3, a tar sands oil pipeline that has become the latest flashpoint in the fight to halt the expansion of the fossil fuel industry as the climate crisis deepens.

Big Wind, a Northern Arapaho 28-year-old from the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, greeted me from behind a mask. They described what water protectors, members of the Indigenous-led anti-pipeline movement, had recently encountered along Line 3’s route: an intensifying law enforcement presence including aerial surveillance at a pipeline resistance camp.

“It was actually really crazy — a DHS helicopter flew over camp yesterday,” Big Wind told me, referring to the Department of Homeland Security. They heard it before seeing it circle twice just above the tree canopy. “You could tell it was intentional and it was to intimidate us and to surveil us.”

As Big Wind described the low-flying DHS helicopter, a masked police officer approached us. Big Wind went on, “We see the police taking a more escalated response to the actions that have been happening here.”

“Can you describe that escalated response?” Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida cut in. “’Cause I’m the police, and I argue with you that we haven’t taken an escalated response. We’ve had a very even-keeled response.” Big Wind knew Guida well and was irritated by the interjection.

“A DHS helicopter flew over camp yesterday. You could tell it was intentional and it was to intimidate us and to surveil us.”

“I was literally talking about how there was a helicopter flying over,” Big Wind said, “a DHS helicopter — and you just interrupted my conversation.”

“We have no helicopters,” Guida replied. “We haven’t been in any helicopters. The stories you tell — they need to be true.” Big Wind retorted that the water protectors had video of the helicopter.

“Thought you didn’t want to argue,” Guida snapped back. “Take a look at the badges around here and find me the Department of Homeland Security. There’s none here.” Guida was proud of his recent record: Despite an influx of activists as the winter cold eased, his deputies had avoided making any arrests the prior week. “I don’t call that an escalated response. I call it exceptional public safety,” he told Big Wind. “Don’t tell lies about cops.”

The sheriff and I stepped aside to talk further. I asked him about the special Enbridge-funded account that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission had set up to reimburse law enforcement for pipeline-related expenses. For water protectors, the funding from Enbridge positions the police as biased toward the company — or at worst privatized operatives for Enbridge.

Guida assured me there was nothing wrong with the pipeline company’s payments to police. “Enbridge doesn’t pay for us,” he said. “It’s a reimbursement for expenses that are related to this line that we wouldn’t normally have.” Guida said the arrangement was better than taxpayers footing the bill, adding that a government-appointed account manager needed to approve every Enbridge payment. Guida said, “I don’t think that we have any connections with Enbridge — there’s a good separation.”

A few days later, Guida left me a voicemail to acknowledge a mistake: “I do have to apologize, because there was a helicopter that buzzed the camp,” he said. Big Wind had been right.

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