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U.S. Wants to Imprison These Six Water Protectors*

U.S. Wants to Imprison These Six Water Protectors*

These cases likely mark the first time that United States authorities have pursued felonies against individuals involved in demonstrations against fossil fuel infrastructure

By Will Parish

An elderly woman is escorted to a transport van after being arrested by law enforcement at the Oceti Sakowin camp as part of the final sweep of the Dakota Access pipeline protesters in Morton County, Feb. 23, 2017, near Cannon Ball, N.D. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune)

 

In February, a federal grand jury issued indictments of four Standing Rock water protectors on charges of Federal Civil Disorder and Use of Fire to Commit a Federal Crime.

The federal investigators accused the four men—James White, Brennan Nastacio, Dion Ortiz, and Brandon Miller-Castillo—of involvement in setting three highway barricades on fire, which obstructed police during a highly-militarized October 27 raid of the “Front Line Camp” just north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

Another water protector, Michael Markus, was indicted on identical charges on January 24, and his case has been combined with those of the other four men. Prosecutors are also pursuing three federal felonies against a 38-year-old Oglala Sioux woman named Red Fawn Fallis. They accuse her of firing a gun during her arrest, even as multiple police officers had her pinned face-down on the ground. Fallis’ arrest also occurred on October 27.

These cases likely mark the first time that United States authorities have pursued felonies against individuals involved in demonstrations against fossil fuel infrastructure.

All six people facing the charges are indigenous. Under sentencing guidelines, Red Fawn Fallis faces 25 years or more in prison. The other federal defendants—Markus, White, Nastacio, Ortiz, and Miller-Castillo—face up to fifteen years.

Starting in August of last year, indigenous people and their allies devoted months to attempting to block the construction of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs through four Midwestern states near North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux reservation and underneath their main water source, Lake Oahe.

The project sparked opposition in communities spanning the pipeline route, including in Iowa and Illinois. In North Dakota, police carried out over 700 arrests. State prosecutors have since brought felony charges against more than 100 people.

But the federal cases are arguably more serious, since they entail prosecutions by some of the U.S. government’s most elite attorneys and may result in lengthy prison sentences. The cases are also likely to exert a chilling effect on indigenous-led resistance to resource extraction and fossil fuel infrastructure.

In fact, in each case, the U.S. Attorneys for the District of North Dakota filed a most unusual charge: federal civil disorder.

“Nobody I’ve worked with previously has ever seen that charge,” the Water Protector Legal Collective’s Sandra Freeman, an attorney for Michael Markus, said in an interview.

“It comes from a law that is usually only invoked when the federal government decides to prosecute people involved in resistance.”

The National Lawyers Guild’s Bruce Ellison, the lead attorney for Red Fawn Fallis, agrees. He says he has only encountered federal civil disorder charges “a few times” before, including during federal prosecutions of American Indian Movement (AIM) activists who reclaimed Wounded Knee as part of an armed stand-off with federal and local police on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973.

Ellison is a long-time attorney for AIM political prisoner Leonard Peltier.

Records obtained via an open records request indicate high-level operatives within the U.S. domestic security state were involved in coordinating the enormous law enforcement mobilization against Standing Rock “water protectors” from last summer through early March of this year.

These records, which will be the subject of future stories, show officers from numerous federal agencies—the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Marshal’s Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for North Dakota—coordinated with state and local police as part of an inter-agency “intelligence group” that monitored Standing Rock protests in real-time, with a focus on ferreting out “instigators” and “leaders of the movement.”

Among those who helped orchestrate this multi-agency intelligence effort was National Security Intelligence Specialist Terry W. Van Horn of the U.S. Attorney’s Office—the same entity now prosecuting Fallis, Markus, White, Nastacio, Ortiz, and Miller-Castillo.

The intelligence-gathering operation in which Van Horn participated appears to have been coordinated by the State and Local Intelligence Center, one of numerous law enforcement “fusion” centers set up by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the September 11th attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Supporters of the six federal defendants, as well as others facing possible prison and jail sentence, say that their court cases are a major front in the struggle for indigenous self-determination and against resource extraction.

“The government is looking at how to deal with calls for indigenous self-determination and resistance to resource extraction nationally, and the people facing these charges could become symbols of their ability to carry out that repression,” Ellison contends.

The October 27 Raid on Front Line Camp

Dakota Access pipeline protesters face off with police who are trying to force them from a camp on land in the path of pipeline construction on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, near Cannon Ball, N.D.

 

The six federal prosecutions all stem from a highly-militarized October 27 raid of the “Front Line Camp,” or “1851 Treaty Camp,” which occupied some of the last remaining ground in the pipeline’s construction.

The camp was located on unceded Dakota territory, which was affirmed in the 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty to be part of the Standing Rock Reservation. It was later stripped away under an 1889 statute from Congress.

Over 300 police officers—some carrying M16 rifles and clad in flak vests—advanced down North Dakota Highway 1806 toward Oceti Sakowin camp, the main nerve center of the water protectors’ resistance to the pipeline.

The police were flanked by a MaxxPro Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP) designed to withstand bombing attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), an extremely loud device used for crowd control, was mounted atop the MRAP. Snipers occupied positions on surrounding hills.

In the course of the raid, the police fired tear gas and concussion grenades and peppered the water protectors with rubber-tipped bullets and bean bag pellets, causing dozens of injuries.

Watch footage from the October 27th raid:

Four officers broke from the line to tackle and arrest Red Fawn Fallis, a Denver resident and lifelong member of the Colorado chapter of the American Indian Movement, whose family hails from the Oglala Sioux reservation at Pine Ridge in South Dakota.

As Fallis struggled under the weight of her arresting officers, at least two gunshots went off alongside her. According to an affidavit filed by the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department in North Dakota, a deputy “saw a gun in Fallis’ left hand and wrestled it away from her.”

Native American activist Red Fawn Fallis.

 

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Department claims Fallis was arrested for “being an instigator” and “acting disorderly.”

According to attorneys for protesters, “instigator” and “camp leader” have emerged as keywords in both state and federal prosecutions.

Fallis was initially charged with attempted murder, but a state judge removed that charge from the docket, and she is now being accused of three federal felonies. They include “possession of a firearm by a convicted felon” and “discharge of a firearm in relation to a felony crime of violence.”

According to numerous accounts, Fallis was a widely-respected coordinator at the Sacred Stone Camp, another major gathering place for prayerful opposition to the pipeline, and had played an instrumental role in the movement as a whole.

“Red Fawn was the kind of person who was down to help with anything at any time,” says one camp participant who asked not to be identified.

“She was integral to the camp.”

Many water protectors and members of Fallis’s family have organized a support campaign for her. They stridently maintain her innocence.

Glenn Morris, a leader of the Colorado chapter of the American Indian Movement, released a statement on behalf of Fallis’s family this past November, saying she is “an intelligent, informed and determined Oglala Lakota woman, who has defended the rights of native peoples and nations, in multiple circumstances.”

Water Protector Facing Federal Felony Charges for Disarming DAPL Contractor

Brennan Nastacio has became a hero to water protectors for his role in disarming a DAPL security guard security guard, Kyle Thompson, who had entered Oceti Sakowin camp wielding an AR-15. (Photo: YouTube Screenshot)

One of the other people facing federal felony charges, Brennan Nastacio, became a hero to water protectors for his dramatic role in disarming a DAPL security worker, who had entered Oceti Sakowin camp—a base of prayer and opposition to DAPL—wielding an AR-15.

The security guard, Kyle Thompson, drove into the camp and claimed to be a water protector, according to a camp security guard. He had a long-nosed semi-automatic rifle and a 30-round clip seated in the passenger seat of his truck.

Nastacio spent nearly a half hour pleading with Thompson to abandon the weapon while also calming other “water protectors,” who were clamouring around him. Thompson, who works for Texas-based Leighton Security, finally handed the gun over to Bureau of Indian Affairs officers, who arrested him. Soon after, Thompson’s truck was driven to a barricade and set on fire.

North Dakota prosecutors declined to charge Thompson instead charging Nastacio with felony terrorizing of Thompson because he briefly walked toward him with a hunting knife during the incident.

In a January YouTube video, Nastacio noted his goal was “the protection of everybody at the camp,” and that he was concerned Thompson himself would be shot by the police. Thompson claims he came to the camp to investigate vandalism to a DAPL vehicle.

Ironically, on the same day as Nastacio helped disarm the Dakota Access security worker, a security firm hired by Dakota Access collected the aerial surveillance photos that now form a major basis for federal prosecution of him, as well as of Miller-Castillo, Ortiz, Markus, and White, court records show. (*Note: This public-private “fusion” model of law enforcement that played out at Standing Rock will be the subject of future stories.)

Ellison, Fallis’s attorney, is attempting to introduce evidence that demonstrates the dubious role the FBI has played in the charges against Fallis.

Terry VanHorn of the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The Role of the FBI in Suppressing Opposition to the Pipeline

In this image provided by Morton County Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement and protesters clash near the site of the Dakota Access pipeline on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in Cannon Ball, N.D. (Morton County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

 

Police in North Dakota went to enormous lengths to portray many anti-DAPL protesters as violent criminals for their role in the protests.

More recently, the allegations against Fallis, Nastacio, Markus, White, Ortiz, and Miller-Castillo have become fodder for domestic security agency warnings about potentially violent threat posed by protests against other fossil fuel infrastructure.

A Department of Homeland Security report, published by the conservative Washington Examiner on April 18, spells out the possibility that “environmental rights extremists” and “anti-government militia” may muster up attacks on the in-construction Diamond Pipeline extending from Oklahoma to Tennessee.

The report states that “[p]rotests surrounding the DAPL have resulted in the arrest of hundreds of individuals for allegedly committing criminal acts,” and that

“[o]ne individual was charged with attempted murder for allegedly discharging a firearm at officers during removal efforts.”

But water protectors and their advocates point out that the real criminals at Standing Rock were the police and the oil companies’ private security firms, who consistently used violent repression to sabotage constitutionally-protected political activity.

Meanwhile, the federal government has failed to hold the police accountable for a single act of violence.

On a single night in November, the police injured more than 300 unarmed and generally highly-restrained protesters by spraying water on them amid freezing temperatures and firing rubber bullets and concussion grenades.

A police officer struck 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky with a concussion grenade that nearly severed her forearm. A fellow water protector named Steve Martinez drove her to the hospital, where she underwent emergency surgeries in an effort to save her arm.

On the day after Wilansky nearly lost her arm, seven FBI agents—including two clad in Joint Terrorism Task Force jackets—came to her hospital room and collected articles of clothing and shrapnel freshly dislodged from her arm. They also subpoenaed hospital visitor logs and videos of her room.

The JTTF visit “created a chilling atmosphere where anyone who’s a protester is under suspicion of being a terrorist,” Sophia Wilansky’s father, Wayne Wilansky, says.

The same grand jury that has indicted Fallis, Markus, Nastacio, White, Ortiz, and Miller-Castillo on felony charges subpoenaed Steve Martinez soon afterward. The subpoena implied that a federal investigation of the extremely far-fetched claim that Wilansky’s injury was caused by an improvised explosive was underway, and that Martinez was a subject of that investigation simply because he had driven Wilansky to seek medical attention.

It ordered Martinez to produce, among other things, “photos and SD cards; written statements; and any other information in [his] possession.”

Martinez appeared before the grand jury on January 4th and was asked a single question: “When did you arrive in North Dakota?” He immediately invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify.

In a written statement, Martinez, who is partly of Pueblo and Apache ancestry, called the grand jury “a fishing expedition to find out information about the water protector movement, and organizations and people related to it,” and asserted that “to comply with this subpoena would violate my spiritual duty to protect my loved ones.”

Martinez was expected to begin a jail sentence for contempt of court on March 1, but in late February, the U.S. Attorney’s office unexpectedly withdrew its subpoena of him, meaning he’s free for now. About 20 supporters nevertheless gathered in front of the courthouse on March 1 holding up banners with slogans, such as “The Frontlines Are in the Courtroom.”

The Water Protector Legal Collective, the Freshet Collective, and other volunteer-driven collectives have provided legal support and advice for the water protectors now slogging through various court cases.

Notwithstanding the temporary victory in Steve Martinez’ case, members of the collectives say they intend to continue support for those whose sacrifices made the water protector movement possible in their various courtroom-related struggles.

The History of the Federal Civil Disorder Charge

At a rally outside the U.S. Courthouse October 29, 1969, Dr. Benjamin Spock, background, listens to Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther party. (AP Photo/stf)

 

The civil disorder statute used against the six federal defendants can be traced to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968, which spurred Congress to pass the U.S. Civil Rights Act one week after his death.

It was passed in the aftermath of riots across the country in protest against substandard living conditions in segregated Black communities. The best known section of the act is Title VIII, known as the Fair Housing Act, which was designed to end residential segregation and promote racial integration. But a little-remembered section of the bill, Title X, is known as the Civil Obedience Act.

U.S. Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, an avowed segregationist, was the amendment’s main author and offered it as a quid pro quo for his support of the legislation as a whole.

The amendment created stiff penalties for such activities as “interfering with law enforcement officials during the course of civil disorder.”

Long previously offered up the Civil Obedience Act as an amendment to a bill that would have specified punishments for violence against civil rights workers in the Deep South.

Biographer Michael S. Martin recalled in his book, “Russell Long: A Life in Politics,” a speech Long made to the Senate floor, in which he described the pro-civil rights worker legislation as “a bill to aid and abet H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael,” in reference to leaders of the Black Power movement. He also claimed the people the bill supported were “known to stir up hatred and ill will among people of their race and put cities to the torch.”

In response, Long proposed the Civil Obedience Act as a means to “strike the very thing which really concerns the people of this country: the rights and the safety of 200 million Americans whose property and whose very lives have been seriously endangered.”

Nearly a half-century later, the federal government is using this same racially-charged legislation to pursue felony charges against six indigenous people at Standing Rock.

Ellison recalled one of the few previous times he encountered Federal Civil Disorder charges was during prosecutions of AIM activists in the 1970s. He experienced first-hand the murderous FBI-coordinated counter-insurgency campaign against AIM at Pine Ridge, he noted, whereby a paramilitary organization known as the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs) went on a rampage of beatings and assassinations of AIM leaders and supporters.

Federal prosecutions are viewed as one aspect of an escalating effort by domestic security agencies, police, politicians, and fossil fuel industries to break the spirit of resistance movements nationwide.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said more than 30 separate anti-protest bills were introduced since November 8, representing “an unprecedented level of hostility towards protesters in the 21st century.”

“The government is looking at how to deal with protests nationally, and these federal prosecutions are certainly a part of that,” Ellison concluded.

Source*

Related Topics:

Trump’s Latest Executive Order Means More Criminalization of Protests*

Arrests and Protests Continue over DAPL*

Water Protectors Expose Moles in Their Ranks, Infiltrating DAPL Protests, Provoking Police*

The Dakota Access Pipeline Is Already Leaking*

The Company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline Just Had 2 Major Spills*

Pipeline Shut Down In North Dakota after Leaking into Little Mississippi River*

BNP Paribas Latest Bank to Dump Dakota Access Pipeline*

Journalist and Filmmaker Faces 45 Years for Reporting on Dakota Access Protests*

 

Africa’s Auschwitz: The Concentration Camp the West Erased from History*

Africa’s Auschwitz: The Concentration Camp the West Erased from History*

 

By Johnny Liberty

 

 

Perhaps no atrocity has been more extensively covered than the Holocaust carried out by the Third Reich in Germany. Yet few Americans are aware that there was a holocaust committed by the Second Reich 40 years prior.

 

While Adolf Hitler is a household name, synonymous with evil, his predecessor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, is far less recognizable — although many of his crimes were just as bad, if not worse, than Hitler’s.

Wilhelm II was crowned in 1888 and launched a “New Course” in German foreign relations. His policies ultimately resulted in Germany’s involvement and eventual defeat in World War I. Despite his notable involvement in World War I, little else is taught about Wilhelm’s reign, in American schools.

 

The Beginning of the 1st German Holocaust:

Germany’s African reign of terror began in 1883, when they raised their flag in South West Africa, heralding the first conquest of the Second Reich’s African empire. Wilhelm II later used the land (now the country of Namibia) as a testing ground for his Lebensraum policy.

Wilhelm II’s Lebensraum, or “living space,” policy was advocated by 19th-century German geographer Friedrich Ratzel, who believed that a race’s survival was dependent on migration. Wilhelm II used this theory to advance a policy with the goal of creating a “New Germany” on African Soil.

The disastrous consequences of this policy led to the suffering of tens of thousands of indigenous African people. Similar to the Jew’s treatment during World War II, the native Herero and Nama people were labeled an “Inferior race” and watched as their human rights were repeatedly violated.

After two decades of mistreatment, the Herero people revolted. In 1904, Germany responded by dispatching 14,000 Soldiers to quell the insurgent colony. After the brutal campaign to defeat the Herero ended, German Lieutenant-General Lothar von Trotha announced a new disturbing policy, saying,

“I believe that the nation [the Herero] as such should be annihilated. Only following this cleansing can something new emerge, which will remain.”

Africa’s Auschwitz: Death Island, the ‘Original’ German Concentration Camp

“Death Island,” also known as Shark Island, served as an ideal location for a prison camp due to its low possibility of escape. General Trotha’s troops transported the defeated Herero and Nama people to the island and several other concentration camps within the German colony. Prisoners were transported in cattle cars and served as slave labour for the new colony’s railway system, along with a number of other construction and demolition projects.

Labor conditions on the island were extremely dangerous, resulting in a high number of fatalities. One German Technician noted that his 1,600-slave workforce had decreased to only 30-40 available labourers. By late 1906, at least seven slaves were dying daily due to the grisly working conditions.

Food and provisions on the island were also extremely scarce, as witnesses recalled, “prisoners fought like wild animals and killed each other to secure a share.” Conditions on the island continued to deteriorate and prisoners starved to death or committed suicide to escape the nightmarish conditions. Eventually, German soldiers began referring to it as a “Death Camp”.

One of the first civilians to visit the island briefly described the horrific scene he saw:

“A woman, who was so weak from illness that she could not stand, crawled to some of the other prisoners to beg for water. The overseer fired five shots at her. Two shots hit her: one in the thigh, the other smashing her forearm…in the night she died.”

 

During their imprisonment, captives were frequently whipped, forced into unsanitary living conditions where diseases such as typhoid rapidly spread, and received virtually no medical care. Herero women were photographed being raped and the images were sent back to Germany as “pornographic postcards.”

German scientists also used the island and its prisoners to conduct medical experiments. Shark Island camp physician, Dr. Bofinger injected prisoners with a toxic cocktail of arsenic and opium in attempts to determine if scurvy was a contagious disease.

As bodies continued to pile up, researchers began to perform autopsies on the dead to conduct further experiments. According to German medical statistics, 778 autopsies were conducted in just one year.

After they concluded their experiments, the Germans forced Herero women to boil the heads of their own people and clean them, so they could be sent back to Germany for further research. In all, Over 3,000 skulls of Herero people were sent to German Universities, which they used in an attempt to prove the similarity between the Herero people and apes.

The human cost of Germany’s African Holocaust.

In 1907, German officials finally relented to domestic and international pressure, and shut down “Death Island.” While there is no ‘official’ death toll of the prisoners held on Death Island, the German Imperial Colonial Office estimates 7,682 Herero and 2,000 Nama people died in colonial concentration camps in South West Africa. Historians estimate that, of these deaths, as many as 4,000 may have occurred at “Death Island.”

The consequences of German colonialization in Namibia are staggering. It is estimated that, in a matter of decades, the Herero population was reduced from 100,000 to less than 15,000, and the Nama population was cut in half.

A report released by the United Nations in 1985 listed the German holocaust in Africa as the first genocide of the 20th century.

While Germany’s outright murder of Africans in Namibia temporarily ceased, as any student of history can tell you, this would not be the last attempted genocide by a German ruler. In fact, many people would say Wilhelm II ‘perfected’ the development of concentration camps, a model later employed by Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

 

 

Source*

Related Topics:

At the World Economic Forum-Africa Germany Pitched a Dubious New G20 Corporate Strategy*

Namibian Indigenous Groups Sue Germany for Genocide*

Germany’s Legacy of Genocide in Namibia*

Stop E.U. from Hijacking Africa’s Clean Energy Future*

Europe and U.S. Dodging Demands for Slavery Reparations*

Sorry European racial “purists,” it turns out your ancestors were African and Middle Eastern*

Why Is Rosa Parks’ Former Detroit Home Being Shipped to Germany?*

‘Mein Kampf’ Now Part of Germany’s School Curriculum*

130,000 Refugees Vanished after Being Registered in Germany*

Somali Man Takes Legal Action against US, Germany Over Father’s Drone Killing*

Germany, where’s the Reparation for Greece?*

Flint City Council Votes for Moratorium on Property Liens for Unpaid Water Bills*

Flint City Council Votes for Moratorium on Property Liens for Unpaid Water Bills*

Council president Kerry Nelson: “Enough is enough. I’ve made up my mind tonight to do what I need to do for the people who elected me.”

By Kenrya Rankin

A trash bag filled with empty water bottles and water filters outside of a house on March 17, 2016, in Flint, Michigan. Flint continues to work through the effects of water contamination. Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

 

Last month, Flint, Michigan, officials informed more than 8,000 households that if they do not pay outstanding water bills, a lien will be placed on their property, setting them on a path that could lead to foreclosure. But on Wednesday (May 17), Flint City Council passed a resolution that, if approved by Mayor Karen Weaver, will institute a yearlong moratorium on the policy of issuing liens.

Many residents stopped paying their water bills when it was revealed that the water being delivered to their homes via the tap contained dangerous levels of lead. The state subsidized the city’s water costs from April 2014 through February of this year, but stopped after announcing that the water’s lead levels were within federal guidelines.

Michigan Radio reports that council members were moved to act after receiving calls from constituents. “Enough is enough. I’ve made up my mind tonight to do what I need to do for the people who elected me,” council president Kerry Nelson said.

The resolution says that properties with delinquent balances going back to April 2014—when the city began drawing its water from the Flint River—will not have liens placed on them. Eight council members voted for it, and one abstained, citing unanswered legal questions.

“The ordinance can’t go back retroactively, and pull liens off of houses that have already been lost. That was the main reason,” council member Eric Mays told Michigan Radio.

Nelson said that both the city attorney and chief financial officer asked him not to pass the moratorium for the sake of the city’s finances.

“It’s time out for that,” Nelson said.

“The people of this city are suffering. They’re troubled, they’re at their wits’ end…. We’ve got to do what we can do. I’ve done what I can do.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund also lobbied for the moratorium, prompting a May 16 statement from Weaver. From that statement:

I welcome the support and input of the ACLU of Michigan and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund as this difficult and unfortunate situation has brought another dark cloud over the city and the progress being made to recover from the water crisis. The City of Flint is legally obligated to comply with some city and state statutes that are not suitable or appropriate when you consider the extenuating circumstances we are still facing.

Source*

Related Topics:

Flint Threatens to Kick 8,000 Families Out of Their Homes if They Don’t Pay for Poison Water*

Flint to get New Pipes after $87mn Settlement*

A Water Crisis Like Flint’s Is Unfolding In East Chicago*

City Threatens to Turn Off Flint Residents’ Water*

In Flint, Level of lead in Children’s Blood Leads to a State of Emergency*

We Don’t Believe in Words Anymore*

We Don’t Believe in Words Anymore*

Indigenous Peoples stand against Brazil’s Temer government

By Sue Branford, Maurício Torres

A Munduruku woman at the Transamazonian highway blockade talks with truck drivers. Despite the inconvenience of the roadblock, many truckers are expressing sympathy for the indigenous protest, citing their own disgruntlement with the policies of the Temer government. Photo by Mauricio Torres

 

Indigenous groups are making a defiant stand against the current wave of fiercely anti-Indian policies being rapidly implemented by Brazil’s Temer administration and Congress.

Protests blossomed last week in Brasilia where a four-day demonstration — the largest in the nation’s history — brought together over 4,000 indigenous leaders from more than 200 tribes seeking government redress of grievances. The protesters were met with teargas.

Likewise, a peaceful land occupation by members of the Gamela tribe in Maranhão state ended in violence when their camp was raided by ranchers and hired gunmen who beat the Indians brutally, even hacking off hands with machetes.

In the Amazon, members of the Munduruku tribe, armed with bows and arrows, set up a roadblock on the Transamazonian highway, creating a 40 kilometre (25 mile) backup of trucks loaded with this year’s soy harvest.

The blockade came in protest of the government’s refusal to demarcate the Indians’ lands as assured under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. The commodities roadblock also sent a clear signal to the bancada ruralista, Brazil’s agribusiness lobby, which dominates Congress and the administration, and which pushed for the dramatic upsurge in federal initiatives rolling back indigenous land rights and protections.

A glimpse of the traffic backup at the Munduruku blockade. Video by Mauricio Torres

Violence in Maranhão

On 30 April gunmen and ranchers attacked an indigenous camp in Maranhão, an impoverished state in northeast Brazil, long dominated by powerful landowners led by the Sarney family (one of whom is Pres. Temer’s environment minister, José Sarney Filho).

The violence was triggered by events two days earlier, when several dozen Gamela Indians occupied disputed land near the town of Viana, 214 kilometers (133 miles) from the state capital of São Luis.

This land was traditionally occupied by the Gamela, but the military dictatorship (1964-1985) illegally ejected them from it. Ranchers then occupied the area, clearing the forest, planting pasture and raising cattle. As years passed, the ranchers began to see themselves as the legitimate owners.

About 300 Gamela families remained in the region, however, determined to regain their land despite the slight odds of doing so. Regardless of the legitimacy of their claim, the Indians received little help from authorities, with the federal Indian agency FUNAI, under pressure from the ranchers, refusing to begin the process of marking out the boundaries of the Gamela territory.

Three years ago the Indians went to court to force the ranchers to relinquish the land, but the case was stalled by bureaucratic delays. With their living conditions worsening year-by-year, the Gamela became convinced that they would only survive as a people if they took action. So they began a series of retomadas or re-occupations of their traditional land.

They timed the latest reoccupation to coincide with both the indigenous protest in Brasilia and a national one-day general strike, the first in 21 years, organized by Brazil’s trade unions in protest over the Temer government’s severe austerity measures.

It was a risky strategy, particularly in view of the strong anti-indigenous sentiment in Brasilia, and the local ranchers responded rapidly. According to one report, they sent out a WhatsApp message, calling on ranchers and their gunmen to gather near the indigenous camp.

Messages supporting the ranchers flooded the media. Federal deputy, Aluisio Guimarães Mendes Filho, (the state’s Public Security Secretary during the government of Roseana Sarney, another member of the Sarney clan), spoke out in a local radio interview, accusing the Gamela of being “troublemakers” and encouraging violence against them.

“He fanned the flames,” said one Indian later.

The ranchers had a barbecue, drank a lot of alcohol, and became increasingly abusive in their talk about the Indians. It was clear that an attack was being planned, but when it happened, the military police (who had arrived on site earlier) didn’t intervene.

The Indians were vastly out-numbered and could do little but flee into the forest when attacked by men wielding rifles and machetes.

According to Cimi (the Catholic Missionary Council), 13 Indians were injured. Two had both hands lopped off. Others were severely beaten; one had a fractured skull. One of the injured is Kum ‘Tum Gamela, a former priest, who has received numerous death threats in the past.

The Ministry of Justice issued a press statement in which it promised to investigate “the incident that involved small farmers and supposed Indians in the hamlet of Bahias.” The term “supposed” generated a wave of indigenous anger and was quickly deleted from the statement. Later the term “small farmers” was also removed, as it was widely criticized as being a euphemism for the gunmen employed by the ranchers. In the end, the statement merely said that that the ministry would investigate a “rural conflict.”

The Human Rights Commission of the prestigious Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) is to request help from the human rights body, Amnesty International, to resolve the dispute.

Munduruku roadblock

Another serious conflict is still underway, though it has not, as yet, resulted in violence. On 28 April, 130 Munduruku Indians and members of the Tapajós riverside communities of Montanha and Mongabal blockaded the Transamazonian highway, occupying a bridge about 25 kilometres (15 miles) east of the new port of Miritituba, a key transhipment point for the soy industry, where international trading giants, such as Bunge and ADM, have large terminals.

With the soy harvest in full swing, the road soon became highly congested, with at least a 40 kilometer (25 mile) backup of large trucks, carrying soybeans to Miritituba. The blockade was lifted during the night from 28 April forward, but was then re-imposed as a 24-hour blockade on the morning of 3 May.

A Mongabay contributor was accidentally caught up in the traffic, and on arriving at the road block he stayed to cover the showdown.

The Munduruku blocked the Transamazonian highway this week in protest of the failure of the Brazilian government to demarcate their traditional lands. The blockade is ongoing. Photo by Mauricio Torres.

 

Antonio Munduruku, a young Indian, offered two reasons why the blockade was imposed:

“We want the FUNAI employees who were working with us to be reinstated. We need them. They are our greatest tool in getting our lands marked out. And we won’t leave with empty hands. The FUNAI president told us on Friday that he’d sorted it out. But we don’t believe in words any more. We want their reinstatement published in the official gazette.”

He went on: “The second reason is to get the Sawré Muybu indigenous territory properly marked out. It’s our land but nothing is happening. Loggers are carrying on extracting timber.”

Vicente Saw, an old cacique, leader, said that stopping traffic on highways was effective: “The heart of the government is here on the road,” he said.

The will to resist

The Munduruku were shocked but not surprised by what happened to the Gamela:

“They’re a different ethnic group but they are our brothers, with the same blood,” said Jairo Saw Munduruku.

“We mustn’t let what’s happened to them happen to us. The government must mark out our land. If not, big loggers, big mining companies, will come in. And they will start conflicts, attacking us, assassinating leaders. That’s what the government wants but we must stop it happening. We don’t have anyone speaking for us in Congress. We have to defend ourselves.”

Attempts to reach the Brazilian government for comment in recent weeks have been met with no response.

The Munduruku feel no hostility toward the truck drivers. An old indigenous leader, Tomas Munduruku, said:

“We’re in favour of the truck drivers. They need our support too. It’s not right that the government is cutting their pensions.”

More surprisingly perhaps, many of the truck drivers are supportive of the Indians too. Trucker Mario de Nascimento said:

“This road is essential for Brazil and the protest must stop. But the Indians’ rights aren’t being respected, just like ours aren’t being respected. But we are carrying Brazil on our backs. We can’t stop. We need the government to sort it out. None of us deserves the way we’re being treated.”

Another trucker, who didn’t want to give his name, said:

“They [the Indians] are right. You can’t deny that. And if some of the people here want to lynch me for saying that, then let them lynch me.”

David and Goliath: One truck driver threatened to drive over the Indians, but other truckers found common ground with the Munduruku in their grievances against the repression and austerity measures of the current government. Photo by Mauricio Torres.

 

Time and again, the truckers, like the Indians, blamed the government for failing to listen, declaring flatly: “The biggest problem is the government.”

The concern is that the Amazonian heat, hunger and thirst will affect both Indians and truck drivers, and that tempers may begin to fray. One truck driver, who also didn’t give his name, threatened:

 “We’re going to drive our trucks over the Indians, pushing them all over, Indian after Indian. If our dreadful federal government doesn’t manage to get the blockade lifted soon, that’s what we’ll do.”

Another trucker said, in exasperated jest:

“It’s getting terrible for all of us. I haven’t had a shower for more than 24 hours, in this heat. I feel like throwing my underpants into the river. They’d kill the fish. So the Indians wouldn’t have fish to eat, nor any of us have fish either.”

With the drivers stretched over many miles, it’s difficult to assess the truckers’ overall mood, but there was a surprising development Wednesday afternoon. A substantial group of truckers and Indians held a meeting beside the highway, during which both sides expressed support for the other’s struggle, saying that their chief complaint is against the current government.

Although not all truckers share this opinion, a significant number do. That is an extraordinary new development because, in the past, Indian actions of this type caused huge resentment among affected parties, particularly truck drivers. It is indicative of the very high level of rejection in Brazil of the ruling government by voters of all kinds, with Pres. Temer’s support now standing at an unprecedented low of 9%.

The Munduruku possess a fierce warrior heritage and are standing up against the anti-indigenous policies of the administration and Congress. Photo by Mauricio Torres.

 

Growing dissent

Protests in Maranhão and Pará are not isolated cases. All over Brazil Indians are expressing grave fears about the future. Paulo Marubo, an Indian from the Javari Valley in the state of Amazonas, not far from the border with Peru, says that FUNAI, decimated by budget cuts, will have to close many of its offices for ethno-environmental protection (Bapes), which play a key role in monitoring the territory occupied by uncontacted tribes.

Marubo told Survival International: “If the protection teams are withdrawn, it will be like before, when many Indians were massacred and died as a result of disease… If the loggers come here, they will want to contact the uncontacted, they will spread diseases and even kill them.”

Instead, the federal government seems to be turning its back on indigenous demands. During his first 55 days in office, justice minister Osmar Serraglio didn’t have a single meeting with an Indian but found time to sit down behind closed doors with a 100 landowners plus businessmen accused of corruption in the Car-Wash scandal.

During the large protest in Brasilia, Serraglio and Eliseu Padilha, Temer’s chief-of-staff, belatedly offered to meet the Indians, but that offer was turned down. The two officials are known to have drawn up the government’s anti-indigenous strategy and, with no offer of compromise on the table, the indigenous leaders saw little point in meeting with them.

The current assault on indigenous rights is the most severe since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985. The NGO ISA (Socioenvironmental Institute) says there has been an “exponential increase in rural violence” since Temer took over. It comments:

“The fact that the ministry of justice is occupied by [Osmar Serraglio], an advocate of injustice reinforces the sinister omens of what lies ahead.”

Source*

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China Increases DNA Testing of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Region*

China Increases DNA Testing of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Region*

China has began the logistical groundwork for the mass collection of DNA from Uighur Muslims of the Xinjiang region, human rights observers have said.

Police in the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang region confirmed to The Associated Press that they are in the process of buying more than $8.7 million worth of equipment to analyse DNA samples.

Human Rights Watch observers said they have witnessed evidence of almost $3 million in extra purchases related to DNA testing.

They added that such a collection programme could be used for authorities to justify increase their political control.

The decision comes after Chinese authorities allegedly required Xinjiang residents to submit DNA samples in 2015, as well as voice records and fingerprints.

Chinese authorities who are determined to counter “Islamist extremism” among Uighur Muslim have implemented very draconian measures to fulfil their political objectives.

Policies included banning women from wearing the hijab and niqab, prohibiting men from keeping beards, forcing Muslims in the public sector not to fast in Ramadan and mandatory satellite tracking devices for vehicles.

Source*

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Muslims Arrested for Joining Terror Group That Doesn’t Exist*

 

The U.S. is Waging a Massive Shadow War in Africa, Exclusive Documents Reveal*

The U.S. is Waging a Massive Shadow War in Africa, Exclusive Documents Reveal*

By Nick Turse

Six years ago, a deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Special Operations Command gave a conservative estimate of 116 missions being carried out at any one time by Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and other special operations forces across the globe.

Today, according to U.S. military documents obtained by VICE News, special operators are carrying out nearly 100 missions at any given time — in Africa alone. It’s the latest sign of the military’s quiet but ever-expanding presence on the continent, one that represents the most dramatic growth in the deployment of America’s elite troops to any region of the globe.

In 2006, just 1% of all U.S. commandos deployed overseas were in Africa. In 2010, it was 3%. By 2016, that number had jumped to more than 17%. In fact, according to data supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command, there are now more special operations personnel devoted to Africa than anywhere except the Middle East — 1,700 people spread out across 20 countries dedicated to assisting the U.S. military’s African partners in their fight against terrorism and extremism.

“At any given time, you will find SOCAFRICA conducting approximately 96 activities in 20 countries,” Donald Bolduc, the U.S. Army general who runs the special operations command in Africa (SOCAFRICA), wrote in an October 2016 strategic planning guidance report. (The report was obtained by VICE News in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and is published in its entirety below.) VICE News reached out to SOCAFRICA and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) for clarification on these numbers; email return receipts show an AFRICOM spokesperson “read” three such requests, but the command did not offer a reply.

The October 2016 report offers insight into what the U.S. military’s most elite forces are currently doing in Africa and what they hope to achieve. In so doing, it paints a picture of reality on the ground in Africa today and what it could be 30 years from now.

That picture is bleak.

“Africa’s challenges could create a threat that surpasses the threat that the United States currently faces from conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria,” Bolduc warned.

He went on to cite a laundry list of challenges with which he and his personnel must contend: ever-expanding illicit networks, terrorist safe havens, attempts to subvert government authority, a steady stream of new recruits and resources.

Bolduc indicated his solution was the “acceleration of SOF [special operations forces] missions [filling] a strategic gap as the military adjusts force structure now and in the future.” Translation: U.S. commandos “in more places, doing more” in Africa going forward.

At the same time, Bolduc says the U.S. is not at war in Africa. But this assertion is challenged by the ongoing operations aimed at the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia, which operates often in all-but-ungoverned and extraordinarily complex areas Bolduc calls “gray zones.”

In January, for example, U.S. advisers conducting a counterterrorism operation alongside local Somali forces and troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia “observed al-Shabaab fighters threatening their safety and security” and “conducted a self-defense strike to neutralize the threat,” according to a press release from AFRICOM.

A U.S. Army Green Beret patrols with Nigerian soldiers during a training exercise in February. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kulani Lakanaria)

 

Earlier this month, in what AFRICOM described as “an advise-and-assist operation alongside Somali National Army forces,” Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed and two other U.S. personnel were injured during a firefight with al-Shabaab militants about 40 miles west of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. The battle occurred shortly after President Donald Trump loosened Obama-era restrictions on offensive operations in Somalia, thereby allowing U.S. forces more discretion and leeway in conducting missions and opening up the possibility of more frequent airstrikes and commando raids.

“It allows us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the AFRICOM commander, said of the change. In April, the U.S. military reportedly requested the locations of aid groups working in the country, an indication that yet a greater escalation in the war against al-Shabaab may be imminent.

“Looking at counterterrorism operations in Somalia, it’s clear the U.S. has been relying heavily on the remote-control form of warfare so favoured by President Obama,” said Jack Serle, who covers the subject for the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Recently, the U.S. has augmented this strategy, working alongside local Somali forces and African Union troops under the banner of “train, advise, and assist” missions and other types of “support” operations, according to Serle. “Now they partner with local security forces but don’t engage in actual combat, the Pentagon says. The truth of that is hard to divine.”

U.S. operations in Somalia are part of a larger continent-spanning counterterrorism campaign that saw special operations forces deploy to at least 32 African nations in 2016, according to open source data and information supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command. The cornerstone of this strategy involves training local proxies and allies — “building partner capacity” in the military lexicon.

“Providing training and equipment to our partners helps us improve their ability to organize, sustain, and employ a counter violent extremist force against mutual threats,” the SOCAFRICA report says.

As part of its increasing involvement in the war against Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad Basin — it spans parts of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad — for example, the U.S. provided $156 million to support regional proxies last year.

In addition to training, U.S. special operators, including members of SEAL Team 6, reportedly assist African allies in carrying out a half dozen or more raids every month. In April, a U.S. special operator reportedly killed a fighter from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army during an operation in the Central African Republic. U.S. forces also remain intimately involved in conflict in Libya after the U.S. ended an air campaign there against the Islamic State group in December.

“We’re going to keep a presence on the ground… and we’re going to develop intelligence and take out targets when they arise,” Waldhauser said in March.

Though Bolduc said special operators are carrying out about 96 missions on any given day, he didn’t specify how many total missions are being carried out per year. SOCAFRICA officials did not respond to several requests for that number.

The marked increase in U.S. activity tracks with the rising number of major terror groups in Africa. A 2012 version of SOCAFRICA’s strategic planning documents also obtained by VICE News lists five major terror groups. The October 2016 files list seven by name — al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Magreb, ISIS, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Murabitun, Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and al-Shabaab — in addition to “other violent extremist organizations,” also known as VEOs. In 2015, Bolduc said that there are nearly 50 terrorist organizations and “illicit groups” operating on the African continent.

Terror attacks in sub-Saharan Africa have skyrocketed in the past decade. Between 2006 and 2015, the last year covered by data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, attacks jumped from about 100 per year to close to 2,000. “From 2010 to the present,” Bolduc says in the report, “VEOs in Africa have been some of the most lethal on the planet.”

“Many of Africa’s indicators are trending downward,” he writes.

“We believe the situation in Africa will get worse without our assistance.”

Colby Goodman, the director of the Washington, D.C.–based Security Assistance Monitor, pointed to some recent tactical gains against terror groups, but warned that progress might be short-lived and unsustainable. “My continuing concerns about U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Africa,” he said, “is an over-focus on tactical military support to partner countries at the expense of a more whole-government approach and a lack of quality assessments and evaluations of U.S. security aid to these countries.”

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Tribes Unite Across U.S. and Canada to Oppose Keystone XL in Declaration*

Tribes Unite Across U.S. and Canada to Oppose Keystone XL in Declaration*

It is intended as a message to President Donald Trump and may be sent to the United Nations.

By Yessenia Funes

Activists hold signs as they protest in front of the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline January 13, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

 

Today (May 17), tribal leaders are gathering in Calgary, Alberta to sign a 16-page declaration against the Keystone XL Pipeline.

From the United States are the Great Sioux Nation and Ponca tribes and from Canada, the Blackfoot Confederacy. They will sign the “Declaration Opposing Oil Sand Expansion and the Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline” as a message to President Donald Trump, reports Native News Online.

“There is a historic union between first Americans in Canada and Native Americans in the United States,” said Casey Camp-Horinek, a councilwoman with the Ponca tribe in Oklahoma, to The Associated Press.

“Long before a border ever existed on a map, a fictitious line on a map, we were a united peoples in our approach to care of Mother Earth.”

Pipeline opponents seemingly won the battle against the 1,179 mile-long pipeline in 2015 when former President Barack Obama rejected developer TransCanada’s permit application. However, Trump entered the White House January 20 and signed a presidential memorandum to repeal that just four days later.

With this declaration, indigenous people across North America want Trump to know why this pipeline is destructive to their culture, safety and history. The preamble reads, per Native News:

“We, The First People, were and remain the stewards of the land and with this Declaration renew our vow to carry that sacred obligation in defense of our Mother, the Earth, and all born of her body and nurtured at her breast who are no longer heard amidst the dissonance of industrialization and corporate domination.”

One of the declaration’s strongest demands revolves around treaty rights. Tribal leaders want consultation processes to change and require consent. Currently, companies such as TransCanada may include a Native American Relations Policy or Aboriginal Relations Policy (both of which TransCanada has), but a tribe’s rejection doesn’t factor in significantly. Tribal members might send this declaration to the United Nations, the AP reports.

Currently, the $8 billion pipeline is not guaranteed to happen. Groups have sued the federal government for the permit it issued TransCanada. In Nebraska, the project has still not been approved. Opponents have been preparing to build camps—similar to what was seen in North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline—along the proposed pipeline route.

Source*

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