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Oklahoma Launches Preemptive Strike With Anti-Protest Bills

Oklahoma along with about a dozen other states have introduced anti-protest bills to stifle the activities of activists standing up for their rights.

Add Oklahoma to the growing list of states where anti-protest bills trying to stifle protests like the ones against the Dakota Access Pipeline have passed.

Mikhasi Horinek, state director of Bold Oklahoma and a member of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, said the two anti-protest bills have passed the Oklahoma House and now will be considered by the state Senate are a pre-emptive strike against anyone thinking about starting a Standing Rock-style protest in Oklahoma, which he called “the belly of the beast—the pipeline crossroads of the world.”

Punishments called for in the bills passed on February 28 and March 2 (HB 1123 and 2128) are harsh, he said, starting from a mandatory six months in prison and a $1,000 fine for trespassing, up to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for individuals. Groups organizing such a protest face fines of $2 million, he said.

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Horinek is pragmatic about the anti-protest bills’ chances but also still hopeful they can be stopped. “As a lifelong resident of Oklahoma I would not be one bit surprised if these bills pass and become law.” But he also believes in the power of the people. “People will use their voices and their voices will be heard,” he said.

Horinek spent six months at Standing Rock and believes “it brought a lot of attention. The corporations here are reacting out of fear.” These anti-protest bills are a deliberate attack against water protectors and land protectors, he said, a fear tactic to discourage a Standing Rock-type event.

“There are several pipelines we are opposing,” he said, as well as fracking, which has caused much seismic activity in Oklahoma. “We’re the pipeline crossroads of the world and the earthquake crossroads of the world. I don’t see the reason for any pipelines to be built in Oklahoma at all.”

Horinek is defiant when it comes to backing down. “No amount of prison time or fine will deter me or other water protectors from standing up for the rights of the people and the rights of nature and the survival of the human race and the planet itself,” he said.

His group has allied with several others, including the ACLU of Oklahoma, the Sierra Club, and #NoPlainsPipeline who say the anti-protest bills are unconstitutional attacks on free speech and civil resistance. The bills establish new fines and prison sentences for trespass at sites deemed “critical infrastructure.”

The groups held a press conference on March 8 at the State Capitol to voice their objections.

#NoPlainsPipeline organizer Casey Holcomb says the anti-protest bills are singling out racial groups, particularly Native Americans. “As with the Standing Rock demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline, many pipeline protests here are led by members of indigenous communities.”

Oklahoma Sierra Club Executive Director Johnson Bridgwater noted there are already ample laws in place for trespassing and vandalism in the state. “This bill isn’t about that. This is about trying to quell protest and scare people out of voicing their opinions.”

South Dakota Anti-Protest Bill Advances

Many other states (10 to 18, according to media reports) are pursuing legislation against protests, though not all of them are directly related to the DAPL protests (some seem directed at Trump protests or police action protests). But some certainly are a consequence of the DAPL fight.

In South Dakota, the state Senate on February 23 passed SB 176, which would allow the governor to declare a “safety zone” and fine anyone who entered the zone during an emergency situation. The South Dakota House also voted it through on March 7.

According to an account in Washington, D.C. media outlet The Hill, “legislators who backed the measure specifically cited the Dakota Access project and possible protests against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which will run through South Dakota. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who sponsored the legislation, said it was needed to deter professional agitators. “Certainly, the Keystone XL pipeline would be a likely prompt to these types of demonstrations,’ ” Daugaard told a press conference.

North Dakota Measures Signed into Law

In North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum on February 23 signed into law four measures prompted by the pipeline protest.

According to Bismarck, North Dakota media outlet kfyrtv.com, all four were effective immediately. It gave the following thumbnail sketches of the four measures:

*House Bill 1293 expands the scope of criminal trespass under state law, but reduces the offense to a $250 citation rather than criminal charges.

*House Bill 1304 makes it a misdemeanor to wear a mask or hood when committing a crime.

*House Bill 1426 increases penalties for riot offenses. It allows prosecutors to charge those who take part in a riot in a manner consistent with the potential for actual harm to health safety and well-being.

*Senate Bill 2302 allows the Attorney General to appoint ad hoc special agents. An example of this would be an out-of-state officer who comes to North Dakota responding to a request for assistance.

Missouri: the 'Me Too' State

One other state has a measure introduced that seems quite similar to North Dakota HB 1304. In Missouri, HB 179 criminalizes the wearing of masks at protests. This one hasn’t gotten much traction in the “Show Me” state, though. It was given a second reading on January 5 but no committee hearing has been scheduled to date.