TLDR Up Front: For months the Dakota protest camp was on Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) land and USACE signaled it would not require them to leave. However on Sunday a smaller group set up a new camp on a private ranch impeding access on public highway – leading to a confrontation when police cleared the camp in order to reopen the highway. It is imperative the federal and local LEO response continue to show restraint – for the same reasons they showed restraint in Nevada at the Bundy cattle standoff and in Oregon against the Bundy armed militant occupiers.
Still a better movie than Twilight.
Full Context in the Back: The montage below serves to show the differing perspectives that partisans are sharing. On the upper left is what is coming across from Dakota supporters – a hyper close up of the militarized response. Heavily outfitted LEO’s standing between a civilian SWAT vehicle (black) and a Cougar MRAP (the large beige vehicle.) And it looks like overkill. On the upper right is the picture scaled back, including a burning barricade. The pictures below that are the same perspectives, from the 2014 Bundy standoff, swapped by ideology. In that one the Red team shared the hyper close up of armed federal agents and the Blue team tended to pass around the “full sweep” pictures which included a protester illegally aiming a rifle at federal officials.
The similarities between the two events are high, and I say this with all confidence I will get crucified. But essentially these disputes come down to federal land and a series of questions – who does it *really* belong too? An abstract federal government or those who use and find connection to it locally? Who decides what it gets used for – a legal bureaucracy interpreting laws passed by a perceived-to-be unrepresentative Congress on the other side of the continent? Or local participants? After a legal decision is rendered, and the courts are spoken, to what extent is civil disobedience appropriate in resisting that court decision? At what point does civil disobedience turn to illegal violent behavior and to what extent should the law enforcement response treat protests as civil disobedience vs. a criminally violent act?
The former questions are a series of posts all unto themselves so I’ll put them aside for now and focus on the last. Though I will offer that if one has not lived in an area where the Federal government owns 90% or more of the land around you – it’s hard to have the same perspective. This means its easy for the coasties and eastern types to be dismissive of the Dakota and cattle ranchers of Nevada. Afterall on the east coast they kicked out all the native tribes before there were laws to contend with, and its easy to believe in the need to preserve precious natural resources when it’s on the other side of the continent and makes no daily impact. But as these protests show – these decisions DO matter. And in general, folks from all sides commenting blithely about events that intersect with BLM, BIA or USACE management without understanding the history and local perceptions will probably come away with a skewed opinion.
But this infomullet only deals with the law enforcement response. And why in all three instances it is appropriate to show restraint. I know the Blue liberals were screaming for blood in the cattle ranch standoff. They wanted bodies to hit the floor. And when the armed militants occupied the park facility in Oregon I saw a lot advocating a military response because…you know…that was treason.
Restraint was the right option there. The Federal government can outlast individual protestors and thus avoid provoking violence and unnecessary loss of life. Whenever this is possible due to remoteness of the area and reduced impact this should be attempted. This doesn’t mean “ignore it”, it means do *exactly* what was done – surround it, contain it, monitor it and let the passions of armed occupiers in Oregon perish under a winter of no toilet paper and sex toys sent as care packages.
The trick with the Dakota confrontation is it moved from a remote area where the federal government was perfectly willing to play the long game (USACE land) to a private ranch on Sunday that impeded access to a highway. At this point some form of response becomes necessary, and this is when confrontations can go sideways in a hurry.
Again, 50 Shades of Restraint. This is not just touchy freely philosophy but a utility perspective, for those from the Red Conservatives who think its time to “get tough.” In Ferguson the response was heavier than need-be and it led to multiple days of rioting. In Baltimore, the response was one of restraint, and the rioting died out in a day or so. This is not a coincidence. The federal government can out-wait, out-last and out-resource any private protest over time. As Ned Stark would advise law enforcement “Winter is Coming” and Dakota ain’t exactly the warmest place on the planet. Let the protesters who wish too stay on the USACE land, where USACE has signaled that despite it being an illegal presence they aren’t going to push the issue. And if the protest moves from beyond that point, into an area where it must be confronted, confront it, and move it back into that area with maximum restraint.
The WaPo article
goes over the play-by-play and it did get pretty ugly. Molotov cocktails were thrown, one lady shot a revolver three times as she was getting arrested almost hitting a deputy. But…the key here was restraint. Responding to that lady with an overwhelming response could’ve turned 50-100 arrests into Wounded Knee II, and there’s absolutely no need.
This is what a lot of people mistake about counterinsurgency operations or their civil equivalent which is managing protests. The point is NOT to arrest, intimidate or harm as many people as possible – which is what the bloodlust in the right and the left often seems to be calling for. Its to accomplish a mission. In a counterinsurgency that mission is to defeat the insurgency. In a protest the mission may be to ensure everyone comes out safe and the public access roads remain public access. Both may have need for a vehicle like a Cougar.
Yes the Cougar MRAP is a military vehicle, it is designed for counter-insurgencies and yes this is an example of military equipment finding its way into law-enforcement operations. The Cougar is pretty much the workhorse of the MRAPs – heavily used by the Marines. It’s not the largest, like the Buffalo; nor the most prestigious that the RG-33’s the SF types used. Nor was it the newest, the MATV’s that came out near the end of production. But it gets the job done. Here? The job of that beast should be to do what it appeared to be used to do – slowly move forward anchoring the line as a reminder of “we have a capability, and this is where it ends” but it should not be sent barreling into barricades of the protesters (as we saw in Ferguson) or sent swerving around madly at high speeds (as we saw in both the Arab Uprising of Egypt and the Turkish Coup.)
Because there were two lessons from counterinsurgency operations in AFG. The first was that the MRAP was an excellent vehicle for getting troops safely from A to B, and then from B to A. It is a defensive transport vehicle. Only a few variants of the MRAP line have any offensive capabilities whatsoever – other than what the Soldiers they are carrying bring with them. A Cougar can pretty much roll through anything – I mean the size of it is not done justice in either picture. But look on the upper left and compare the size of the tire a full grown men. However, the downside of a large vehicle is exactly its size. MRAPs served to fully protect the troops from IED’s and most irregular attacks but the purpose of counterinsurgency is to defeat the insurgency, and to do that you need to get the population on your side so they will aid in identifying the insurgents. In this perspective large loud MRAPs can create distance and antagonize people. It all depends on how it’s used.
And that’s where restraint comes in.
Restraint. Do what is necessary, and only when it becomes necessary.
Now I know that over the next few days a lot of folks are going to come down with a case of BPD (Bipolar Partisan Disorder) where they effectively switch between the Red and Blue perspectives from what they had on the proper LEO response to the Bundy cattle protest in Nevada and armed militant occupation in Oregon and the Dakota protests. And that’s okay. One may validly say the cases of the participants are different from a variety of perspectives. But the tactical specifics are actually quite similar: a large collection of people with a legitimate grievance against the government taking civil disobedience to the very edge of the line of criminal behavior or over it – how do you respond? Do you go in guns blazing to make the point that you can (Ruby Ridge, Waco?) Or do you use time, containment, an the superiority of resources to allow detente to form and calmer heads to prevail – and the protestors to get their message out and in that way leave it in the public space to decide of the validity of the message. Only moving when an immediate request from a private property owner or public access is threatened (as is the case of the newer camp which was dispersed yesterday) or when (in the case of armed militants) movement out of the containment area threatened the ability to control the situation.
It’s all about restraint.