BISMARCK, N.D. — The company that built the Dakota Access oil pipeline says an environmental entity it's trying to sue for opposing the project was organized enough to fund a rogue group of protesters that allegedly engaged in criminal activity.
Earth First provided $500,000 to what became the Red Warrior Camp, a pipeline protest group that Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners and law enforcement have accused of advocating aggressive tactics.
"Red Warrior Camp drove many of the violent protests that took place between August 2016 and February 2017 on the ground in North Dakota," said ETP attorney Lawrence Bender.
He referred questions about the basis for the claims to the company, which did not immediately respond Friday.
ETP's allegations come in a dispute over whether Earth First is an actual group that can be sued. The Center for Constitutional Rights maintains Earth First is an unstructured social movement such as Black Lives Matter that can't be sued.
Bender maintains that "Earth First directed and participated in a coordinated campaign against DAPL" by, among other things, funding what became the Red Warrior Camp. It operated within a much larger camp that drew thousands of pipeline opponents, including some who regularly clashed with police. There were 761 arrests in the region in a six-month span. The Tribal Council of the Standing Rock Sioux, which has led the opposition to the pipeline near its reservation, voted in November 2016 to ask the Red Warrior Camp to leave. It did a month later.
Calls to a cellphone for Cody Hall, who was a spokesman for the Red Warrior Camp at the height of the protests in 2016, did not go through on Friday. The Red Warrior Society, which formed from the remnants of the camp when it disbanded, did not respond to an email and Facebook message seeking comment.
Energy Transfer last August sued Earth First, Greenpeace and BankTrack for up to $1 billion, alleging they worked to undermine the $3.8 billion pipeline that's now moving oil from North Dakota to Illinois.
Company lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland to declare that Earth First has been served with the lawsuit via Earth First Journal, whose website bills the publication as a forum for discussion within the Earth First movement.
Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Pamela Spees, who represents the journal, maintains that Earth First is a social movement or philosophy that can't be sued, and that ETP's attempt to circumvent that by serving the journal warrants sanctions. She wants Hovland to order the company to pay attorney fees and to educate lawyers at the plaintiff firms about court procedural rules she claims have been violated.
ETP has asked Hovland to reject that request, calling it a "publicity stunt" and maintaining that Earth First "was instrumental in funding, training and directing these violent out-of-state protesters - conduct that Earth First is known for."
Spees maintains that ETP has presented no evidence to back its claims and calls the allegations "ridiculous."