The FBI is investigating political activists campaigning against the Dakota Access pipeline, diverting agents charged with preventing terrorist attacks to instead focus their attention on indigenous activists and environmentalists.
The Guardian has established that multiple officers within the FBI’s joint terrorism task force have attempted to contact at least three people tied to the Standing Rock “water protector” movement in North Dakota.
The purpose of the officers’ inquiries into Standing Rock, and scope of the task force’s work, remains unknown. Agency officials declined to comment. But the fact that the officers have even tried to communicate with activists is alarming to free-speech experts who argue that anti-terrorism agents have no business scrutinizing protesters.
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“The idea that the government would attempt to construe this indigenous-led nonviolent movement into some kind of domestic terrorism investigation is unfathomable to me,” said Lauren Regan, a civil rights attorney who has provided legal support to demonstrators who were contacted by representatives of the FBI. “It’s outrageous, it’s unwarranted … and it’s unconstitutional.”
Regan, who has regularly visited Standing Rock and is the executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Oregon, said she learned of three cases in which officers with the task force, known as the JTTF, tried to talk to activists in person. She described the encounters as attempted “knocks and talks”, meaning law enforcement showed up at people’s doors without a subpoena or warrant and tried to get them to voluntarily cooperate with an interview.
The three individuals, which include a Native American and a non-indigenous activist, asserted their fifth amendment rights and did not respond to the officers, according to Regan, who declined to identify them to protect their privacy and out of fear of retribution.
Two of them were contacted in North Dakota and a third at their home outside of the state, according to Regan. She said all three contacts were made in recent weeks after Trump’s inauguration.