Why Did a Private Security Contractor Treat Standing Rock Protesters Like ‘Jihadists’?

During my week-long visit to Standing Rock in January 2017, I listened to many water protectors speak about the shady tactics used against them by private security contractors and local law enforcement to undermine their protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

I heard stories about DAPL security companies trying to infiltrate protest camps and instigate rifts between activists. I heard about organizers being followed and indigenous activists seeing planes, helicopters, and drones above their camp, surveilling their protests and recording their movements and activities at all hours.

I heard indigenous people describing their home being turned into a war zone. Local law enforcement agencies, led by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, aggressively deployed militarized gear and weapons — designed for use in war — to intimidate peaceful protesters and violently crack down on a historic indigenous-led movement.

Now, these stories and testimonies have been confirmed by newly released documents, some of which were leaked to the press by a contractor from TigerSwan — the security agency hired by the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners — to suppress the protests.

TigerSwan operates worldwide and specializes in armed conflict zones. According to the new revelations, the company utilized militaristic counterterrorism tactics against anti-DAPL protests not just in North Dakota but in several other states as well, including South Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, and Texas. The documents reveal a security force whose theories are as Islamophobic as they are absurd: In just two examples, TigerSwan compares water protectors to insurgents and “jihadists” and references a “strong female Shia following.” One leaked communication notes “the presence of additional Palestinians in the camp,” and it says that “the movement’s involvement with Islamic individuals is a dynamic that requires further examination.”

The militarization of American policing has long been a problem, even before the protests in Ferguson when the issue captured national headlines. In these documents, we see irrefutable evidence of the deployment of private military contractors to suppress legitimate and peaceful protests and activities. While the new documents may not provide enough detail to determine whether TigerSwan has crossed the line of illegality, its operations and reports are ominous and should deeply trouble all Americans.

The First Amendment’s guarantee of the “right of the people peaceably to assemble” cannot be reconciled with private military contractors deploying against peaceful protesters on domestic soil with little or no oversight or accountability. Their collaboration with federal, state, and local governments requires a credible and independent investigation.

Unfortunately, the current Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division, under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has demonstrated a deep hostility towards police accountability and reform. Even the limited actions taken by the Obama administration to curtail the militarization of American policing are in real jeopardy. A May 2015 report by The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing concluded that:

Law enforcement agencies should create policies and procedures for policing mass demonstrations that employ a continuum of managed tactical resources that are designed to minimize the appearance of a military operation and avoid using provocative tactics and equipment that undermine civilian trust.

That month, a federal interagency working group issued recommendations to demilitarize state and local law enforcement pursuant to President Obama’s Executive Order 13688. The working group called for a prohibition of state and local law enforcement agencies from acquiring certain offensive military equipment, like tanks and bayonets. It put policies in place that governed the use of things like drones and mine resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs). With Jeff Sessions not wanting the federal government “dictating to local police how to do their jobs,” it’s likely these policies will be soon be eliminated.

The militarization of American policing has also been internationally condemned by human rights bodies. Next week in Geneva, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association will present a report on his 2016 visit to the United States, which harshly criticizes the militarized response of police to legitimate protests:

The Special Rapporteur is also concerned that it has become commonplace for police to respond to peaceful demonstrations with military-style tactics, full body armour, and an arsenal of weaponry suited more to a battlefield than a protest. While the Special Rapporteur is sensitive to police concerns that they must be properly equipped to deal with potential unlawful activity, he is convinced that the widespread militarization of police needlessly escalates tensions and provokes equally aggressive reactions. Protesters are not war enemies and should never be treated as such. It is ill advised to use military equipment to manage activities so fundamental to democratic societies.

The proliferation of militarized policing and the use of private security and military contractors since 9/11 and in the wake of U.S. wars overseas have disproportionately impacted communities of color and indigenous peoples, as we have witnessed in Ferguson, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Standing Rock. But these new revelations on the deployment of private security contractors — mercenaries, essentially — to suppress peaceful assemblies and legitimate organizing are especially concerning. They should make us all concerned about the future of militarized and private policing and the serious threats they present to our most fundamental freedoms and human rights.

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Not surprised

The white man, and others, have been using these tactics against native peoples since the whitemans boats landed. The native man, who's ancestors crossed the land bridge, have been subjugated to death or conversion ever since Jesus was introduced to America. I'm not trying to make this religious, but the conquistadors priests led them carrying crosses for the Indians to fear and subject themselves to. Convert or die was the message, Jesus was the reason. Christianity is at fault for the downfall of native peoples, the United States whiteman just used the opportunity to continue destroying what was already being decimated. A free, relatively peaceful native man was slaughtered on his own land so the whites could farm and ranch preparing for the arrival of the rest of their invading species.

The use of military equipment by the whiteman is not new and will continue until he realizes this is not what his Jesus meant. Whiteman, I don't want your religion, I don't want your technology, I don't want your food or protection, I don't want your pipeline or oil, I don't want your money, and most of all I don't want you!

Go back to Europe and leave us alone!


Hatred runs deep with you. I suggest that you look at that in yourself before you call it out in others. Of course you might not want me to say that since Jesus said it first: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

In all sincerity, are you really trying to use the experiences of the Native Americans in Latin America who dealt with Spanish colonization to justify your dislike of the British colonists who emigrated to what became the United States? That seems illogical to me. One of the things that is universally understood in history is that Christian missionaries in British North America helped prevent bloodshed between the colonists and the natives.

You should at the very least admit that your claim "Christianity is at fault for the downfall of native peoples" is patently false. Old World diseases (which the colonists could not have known about) killed over 80% of the natives in the Americas after a century. Intermixing and religion (in the Spanish empire) further skew the numbers, but those reasons are in a small minority.

Please read good scholarship on the history of Native American during the colonial period rather than listen to stories that have been passed down for a long time. I would start with Eric Hinderaker and Peter Mancall's "At the Edge of Empire: The Backcountry in British North America." For professional historians, their book is exceptionally readable for laypeople. You can buy it used on Amazon for $2.10.


Thank you !!!!!! Choctaw Nation


Thank you !!!!!! Choctaw Nation


Thank you !!!!!! Choctaw Nation

@not surprised

Don't listen to that idiot who believes he's an intellectual. What he is doing is trying to use length of time and false history to justify the invaders and killers of the Indian. Eric Hinderaker, Peter Mancall's? Notice anything? Both are white men born in a time when the "glorified" history of the white mans interaction with the Indian was dictated by them. Yes many of us died from diseases, but the vast majority were victims of relocation and ultimate genocide. The whiteman refuses to admit the lie.

It's holocoust denial. Don't be bullied by their deitys, their money, their perceived power, or their false claims on your land.

And I too say thanks Choctaw Nation! You are taking the whiteman money hand and fist in your Casinos. Be careful when they start complaining because they are becoming poor, they will try to shut you down. Start using that money to collect heavy weapons now!

Re: joe phd

After 1815, the United States intensified its efforts to expand. To do so, it adopted a policy, formally institutionalized through the Indian Removal Act of 1830, of moving all Indians living east of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory (the modern states of Kansas and Oklahoma). As measured by lives lost, Indian removal was far more destructive than the earlier period of war. Consider the three largest Indian nations east of the Mississippi, the Choctaws, Creeks, and Cherokees, each with approximately 20,000 people. During the removal process in the 1830s, approximately 2,000 Choctaws, 4,500 Creeks, and 5,000 Cherokees perished, mostly from intersecting factors of disease, starvation, exposure, and demoralization. Many hundreds died during the journey west, though the “trail of tears” metaphor obscures the fact that the majority of deaths occurred in internment camps while awaiting transportation west and in the first few years after relocation. The death toll for all three nations—close to 20 percent—is equivalent to 60 million for the current U.S. population. Smaller nations north of the Ohio also suffered significant losses through removal. A reported forty-three Potawatomis in a group of eight hundred died as they traveled from Indiana to Kansas, while sixty Wyandots, mostly young children, in a group of seven hundred died from disease shortly after their arrival in the West.

It was Genocide!


I'm bound to catch flack for this.

"Their own species"???

Please define species... I know it can be considered a "white man" word but again... define it... definately the wrong use of words as I'm pretty you, and all the other Indians are "homosapiens" as well.

At least last I checked...


As soon as the whiteman starts treating us like Humans, I will consider them part of our species! At best the are Warosapiens or Killosapiens or Hateosapiens. But not Homosapiens. Humans who act like humans are homosapiens.


I'm sorry. I'm studying with my son what has been done and is still being done to the native people. I've found the white mans account to be lacking and one sided but we are learning from the native point of view and I find our history more than appalling. Right now we're studying the words of Joseph Medicine Crow and I will say the enlightenment is heart breaking. It was my grandparents that arrived from Germany and Norway long after the invasion but what has happened in my lifetime still sickens me. Fortunately in my community our tribes have very strong community support and they are an intrical part of planning the future of all of us together living as one community, protecting our environment and caring for each other as one but it didn't start happening until we, 'the white man', pulled out our head because without their knowledge of this land we would have killed it and fortunately some of us noticed that that was happening so again I say I'm sorry but I'm hoping my response gives you some hope and relieves a small part of your anger knowing that some of us are awakening.


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