Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, is demanding answers from the FBI in the wake of reports that the government’s anti-terror forces have contacted at least three water protectors after they left Standing Rock.
“I am deeply concerned about reports that citizens who have protested or opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline project are being investigated by officers assigned to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force,” he wrote in a letter to FBI Director James Comey on March 1.
Franken, who serves on both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Indian Affairs, noted that most of the camps at Standing Rock had now been closed.
“I have closely monitored interactions between law enforcement and activists seeking to protect sacred tribal lands,” he said. “While community members and activists were recently forced to abandon the protest camp at Standing Rock, opposition to the project remains strong. I am concerned that the reported questioning of political activists by one of the FBI’s terrorism task forces threatens to chill constitutionally protected conduct and speech.”
He said that while he understood the need to protect life and property, it was quite a leap to send anti-terror experts to investigate political protesters such as water protectors.
“By tasking officers assigned to an FBI terrorism task force with investigating political protestors, I fear that the federal government’s posture conflates constitutionally protected conduct with actions that threaten our national security,” he wrote, adding that it left him “concerned that the FBI has opted to view civil rights activism through a national security lens.”
He gave the FBI an April 20 deadline for providing him with details about the scope of the investigation and its justification.
The Guardian reported in February that anti-terrorism agents had attempted to contact three water protectors, including 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky, whose arm was nearly blown off during a conflict with police at the highway 1806 bridge in November.
With the fight against DAPL moving into the courts and toward divestment from banks financing the project, the camps are now gone. Oceti Sakowin, the largest, was evacuated and bulldozed on February 22 and 23. Sacred Stone camp, the first one to rise on the prairie when the final pipeline piece was approved last April, was closed down on Wednesday March 1, according to the Bismarck Tribune.