South Dakota rams through new law so they can arrest Keystone XL pipeline protesters

  • Published on March 7th, 2019

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota has a new target: free speech. In what foes call a last-minute effort to undermine public protest and the regular legislative process, Noem presented two proposals in the state legislature Monday as “emergency” bills because they were introduced beyond the normal deadline for new legislation. Because the legislature ends its current 40-day session next Monday, both bills must be voted on by the end of business on Thursday. That, of course, limits opportunities for opponents to organize against them.

Ponca Indian activist Casey Camp, center in red dress, protests against Keystone XL pipeline in 2015.
Ponca Indian activist Casey Camp, center in red dress, protests against Keystone XL pipeline in 2015.Ponca Indian activist Casey Camp, center in red dress, protests against Keystone XL pipeline in 2015.

By Meteor Blades

Liza Kaczke reports:

“We are developing a plan to ensure that the Keystone XL pipeline is built through the state of South Dakota in a safe and efficient manner, while protecting our state, our counties, our water, our environment and our people throughout that build,” Noem said in a Monday news conference.”

Senate Bill 189 adds to state law the term “riot boosting” as a way to open the door for the state to file lawsuits against out-of-state people or groups who fund pipeline protests in an effort to stop the funding flow to protesters. The bill allows for the state to file lawsuits in agreement with “a third party having an interest in preventing a riot or riot boosting.”

In other words, an organization or individuals who contributed money or in-kind support to protest groups that the state later determined had rioted could be at risk of prosecution. Hard to believe this could be constitutional, but we live in times when “hard to believe” has become all too believable.

The 36-inch Keystone XL pipeline is designed to expand the amount of petroleum being delivered from the Alberta tar sands of Canada to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

American Indian-led opposition against it and the Dakota Access Pipeline were some of the most effective demonstrations of grassroots protest in decades. But Noem says she considers those protests riots. “These riots are often nationally coordinated, out-of-staters who come in to disrupt and often cause undue jeopardy and harm to people and the environment around them.”

The governor also noted that she had consulted with legislators, lawyers, and other stakeholders, including KXL’s builder, TransCanada. She did not, however, consult with the tribes.

Both Noem’s bills easily cleared legislative committee Wednesday morning.

The ACLU of South Dakota views Senate Bill 189 as chilling free speech and undermining free assembly:

It is clear that these bills are taking aim at protests that could occur around the pipeline. The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy and at the core of the First Amendment. Unfortunately, in this case, government officials are attempting to violate this right through means intended to thwart free public expression sometimes by casting or framing protected speech as riotous. Based on Governor Noem’s statement, it’s clear that she’s taking aim at the protests that could occur around the Keystone XL pipeline.

Cheyenne River Sioux elder Gay Kingman testifying against anti-protest bills this morning in the South Dakota legislature: “Am I invisible? Do you see me? Rioting is already a criminal act. Why can’t you consult us instead of fast-tracking legislation to target us?”

The companion bill, Senate Bill 190, would “promote pipeline construction and fiscal responsibility by establishing a fund, to authorize a special fee for extraordinary expenses, to make a continuous appropriation therefor, and to declare an emergency.”

In addition to the transparent attack on free speech and assembly, the emergency claim is utterly bogus. As the grassroots organization Dakota Rural Action notes:  “In their last quarterly report, TransCanada, by their own admission, is lacking literally dozens of permits, easements, and right-of-way grants that are necessary for the company to begin construction in South Dakota.”

(Crossposted from DailyKos.)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.