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ND troopers arrest protesters inside Capitol

Dakota Access Pipeline protesters sit inside the Capitol in Bismarck on Thursday, Nov. 3. Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Authorities arrested 18 Dakota Access Pipeline opponents — including clergy — who staged a surprise protest Thursday at the State Capitol, forming a prayer circle in the complex's east entrance and later demonstrating in front of the governor's residence.

The Capitol's exterior doors were locked shortly before 4 p.m. as protesters arrived on the grounds. State employees were told they could still leave, and many did.

Inside the foyer of the Capitol's Judicial Wing, about a dozen people sat in a circle on the floor outside the North Dakota Highway Patrol office, praying and singing songs about the water.

Highway Patrol Col. Michael Gerhart informed them repeatedly that they didn't have a permit to protest on Capitol grounds and would be arrested if they didn't leave.

The protesters refused to go, and a couple more joined the circle before troopers arrested all 14 people for criminal trespass and disorderly conduct, zip-tying their hands behind their backs. Two let their bodies go limp and others continued to sing as they were led out.

Outside, people prayed on the Capitol lawn and in front of the Judicial Wing entrance and later marched to the north side. One was arrested outside the Capitol, and about 50 to 60 walked to the nearby governor's residence, where three were arrested for crossing Fourth Street onto the residence's lawn, Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson said. About 50 officers responded, he said.

Before protesters arrived, troopers worked quickly to get dozens of students attending Student Congress out of the Capitol and onto buses.

About half of the roughly 80 protesters were clergy who earlier in the day had joined protesters at the main protest camp in southern Morton County, just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, for an interfaith solidarity event, said Maritza Schafer, 41, a nondenominational spiritual leader from Australia.

Hundreds of clergy attended the event, aimed at increasing awareness of the situation and advocating for elected officials to stop the 1,172-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline that would carry 470,000 barrels of Bakken crude daily to a hub in Illinois. Construction is nearly completed, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is withholding an easement needed to cross about a mile of Corps land at Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River.

Schafer said they had hoped to chat with Gov. Jack Dalrymple, "but apparently he wasn't available."

"We're hoping that he will listen to Native Americans and their request for justice on this issue," the Rev. Jakob Thibault of Rhode Island said.

A spokesman for Dalrymple said the governor was in Bismarck at the time but wouldn't be more specific.

Standing Rock members and other critics say the pipeline threatens sacred sites and their water supply. Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, says the pipeline is safe and no sacred sites will be destroyed.

This was at least the fourth anti-pipeline demonstration on or near the Capitol grounds since opponents began actively protesting pipeline construction on Aug. 10.

More than 200 people demonstrated along East Boulevard Avenue on Aug. 18, and at least that many celebrated on the south end of the Capitol mall Sept. 9 after the Corps of Engineers paused construction of the pipeline. About 60 pipeline opponents, along with a handful of counter-protesters, demonstrated last weekend on a sidewalk south of the Capitol.

No arrests were made in any of the previous events.

On Monday night, someone vandalized the Capitol by splashing motor oil on the sidewalk, limestone walls and windows of the west entrance, leaving a sign that said, "You can't drink oil," the Highway Patrol said. Security footage showed a vehicle and two people dressed in black carrying motor oil and the sign. No arrests have been made, Iverson said.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.

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