Water protectors are traveling in growing numbers to stand with the Anishinaabe-led movement to stop the construction of Line 3, a tar sands oil pipeline. This week on Intercepted: Intercept reporter Alleen Brown takes us to northern Minnesota, a flashpoint in the fight to halt the expansion of the fossil fuel industry as the climate crisis deepens. Direct actions and other protests against Line 3 are just heating up and more than 500 people have already been arrested or issued citations. Opponents of the Line 3 pipeline are urging the Biden administration to intervene to stop construction, but his administration recently moved to defend the pipeline. Water protectors are being greeted by an intensifying police response and what scholars are calling a corporate counterinsurgency campaign led by the pipeline company, Enbridge.

[Musical introduction.]

Ali Gharib: I’m Ali Gharib and I’m a senior editor with The Intercept.

Big Wind: Anybody leaving this property, they get pulled over.

Tara Houska: They’re watching our every move.

Sarah LittleRedFeather: They’ve already invaded our space, then when you come to our private home, you know, taking a bath, taking a shower.

Ali Gharib: Today we’re bringing you a story where the stakes could not be higher. It’s about the climate crisis, about the people fighting against global disaster — and how fossil fuel companies are fighting back.

This is a story about corporate counterinsurgency, but it’s about so much more. This fight is unfolding in northern Minnesota right now. An Indigenous-led movement, whose members call themselves water protectors, are trying to preserve not only their people’s rights but also our whole planet. The water protectors are fighting against Enbridge, a Canadian oil company, which is seeking to lay a pipeline called Line 3 through Minnesota.

The path cuts through lands where a handful of local tribes have treaty rights, and it cuts across natural resources like rivers and waterways — raising fears about spills and environmental damage.

This spring, we sent our reporter Alleen Brown to Minnesota to investigate the struggle over the pipeline. She’s got years of experience doing investigative work about pipeline fights, about the climate crisis, and about corporate efforts to fight back against protest movements.

When Alleen got to Minnesota things were just heating up — literally: with the waterways and ground thawing, Enbrige would soon be able to start construction on the pipeline. Water protectors were beginning to gather in earnest too.

Things recently began to come to a head. Water protectors hoped the Biden administration would stop Line 3 construction, but instead the administration went to court and argued against the Red Lake Nation to defend the pipeline’s federal permit.

Now water protectors are increasingly turning to protests and direct action — hoping to build their own groundswell to get the authorities and the oil company to reverse course on the pipeline. But they’re fighting an uphill battle. Local police are coordinating regularly with Enbridge to address the pipeline resistance.

The spring escalation has already led to hundreds of arrests of people involved in protest actions. More recently, authorities have sought to evict one protest encampment and barricade another’s driveway.

Alleen reported on how the tactics being undertaken by Enbridge and the police resembled a corporate counterinsurgency — an analog to the multi-faceted wartime approach taken to overcome an enemy. In Minnesota, it’s not just an academic question: the state’s permit for Line 3 barred the company from engaging in a counterinsurgency.

Here’s Alleen’s reporting from on the ground in the north country

Big Wind and the sheriff

[Water protectors chanting.]

Alleen Brown: The morning sun is still low on a dirt road in northern Minnesota as a small crowd faces Aitkin County sheriff’s deputies. The crowd drums and chants messages of support for the seven people on the other side of the police line, who sit linked together from one side of the road to the other, locked to concrete-filled barrels.

The chained demonstrators are stopping construction personnel from entering a pump station for Enbridge’s Line 3, a tar sands oil pipeline that has become the latest flashpoint in the fight to halt the expansion of the fossil fuel industry as the climate crisis deepens.

Big Wind: Hey, I just want to introduce myself—

Alleen Brown: Big Wind is a Northern Arapaho 28-year-old from the Wind River reservation in Wyoming. They greet me from behind a mask.

Big Wind: My name is Big Wind. I use they/them pronouns. And I am the communications coordinator for Giniw.

I was at Namewag yesterday and there was a Department of Homeland Security helicopter that flew really, really, really, really low, like just right above the tree, right above the treeline.

Alleen Brown: Big Wind describes what members of the Indigenous-led anti-pipeline movement, also known as water protectors, have recently encountered from police along that route.

Big Wind: At first you could hear it. It was like choppers and you could feel it in the ground. And it was circling camp. It circled camp twice. And you could tell it was, it was intentional and it was to intimidate us and to surveil us.

Alleen Brown: Big Wind says it was a Department of Homeland Security helicopter, just as a masked police officer approaches us.

Big Wind: And this is consistent with the continuation. We see the police taking on a more escalated response to the actions that have been happening here.

Sheriff Dan Guida: Can you describe that escalated response? Because I’m the police. Yeah, and I, I, I argue with you that we haven’t taken an escalated response. We’ve had a very even keeled response.

Alleen Brown: That’s Sheriff Dan Guida, of Aitkin County. Sheriff Guida is here in response to Enbridge’s complaints about the road blockade. He’s waiting for a trailer full of equipment that officers will use to remove the locked-down demonstrators.

Big Wind: OK. I’m not going to sit here and argue with you because —

Sheriff Guida: I’m asking you what’s the, what’s the escalated response. Did you see?

Big Wind: They’re asking me a question. We’re in an interview and you just interrupted that. That’s what I’m saying.

Sheriff Guida: This is a public space.

Big Wind: I was, I was literally talking about how there was a helicopter flying over — a DHS helicopter — and you just interrupted my conversation.

Sheriff Guida: We have no helicopters. We haven’t been in any helicopters.

Big Wind: OK.

Sheriff Guida: The stories you tell need to be true.

Big Wind: [Scoffs.] We have, we have footage that shows that there was a Department of Homeland Security helicopter flying over —

Sheriff Guida: I thought you didn’t want to argue. I thought you didn’t want to argue.

Big Wind: Well now— what you’re doing to me.

Sheriff Guida: Take a look at badges around here and find me from the Department of Homeland Security. They’re not here. There’s nobody here from the Department of Homeland Security. That’s federal. We don’t do that.

Alleen Brown: Sheriff Guida is proud of his recent record: Despite an influx of activists as the winter cold eased, his deputies had avoided making any arrests the prior week.

Sheriff Guida: I don’t call that an escalated response. I call it exceptional public safety. Don’t tell lies about cops.

Alleen Brown: The sheriff and I step aside to talk further. I ask him about the special Enbridge-funded account that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission set up to reimburse law enforcement expenses.

For water protectors, the funding from Enbridge positions the police as biased toward the company — or at worst privatized operatives for Enbridge. Sheriff Guida assures me there is nothing wrong with the pipeline company’s payments for police services.

Alleen Brown [in interview]: There’s been a lot of criticism around this escrow account that’s been set up.

Sheriff Guida: Yeah, you know and some people were saying that today, you know, take your cops. Enbridge doesn’t pay for us. It’s a reimbursement for expenses that are related to this line that we wouldn’t normally have.

Alleen Brown: He points toward a government appointed account manager who approves every Enbridge transaction.

Alleen Brown [in interview]: Enbridge is reimbursing a lot of stuff but I know—

Sheriff Guida: Enbridge is not reimbursing. Don’t get confused. That PUC account is all  managed by the state of Minnesota.

Alleen Brown: He adds:

Sheriff Guida: I don’t think that we have any connections with Enbridge but there’s a good separation.

Alleen Brown: A few days latter, the sheriff left me a voicemail:

Sheriff Guida: [VOICEMAIL] Hi Alleen, this is Dan Guida. Hey, I was in a meeting this morning and I asked specifically about helicopters and I found out that a county in the western side of the state did have a helicopter coming from, I don’t know if it was immigration or who, but they had helicopter come in and buzz the camp over there. It was not in our county, as I said. But I do have to apologize, because there was a helicopter that buzzed the camp.

Alleen Brown: Big Wind’s camp, Namewag, is in a neighboring county, and turns out Guida was unaware that another sheriff did call in Customs and Border Protection. In short, Big Wind wasn’t lying, and Guida’s understanding of what was happening in the battle between the pipeline company and the water protectors was incomplete.

For water protectors, the escalating Enbridge-funded policing and the denials to press are part of a pattern: law enforcement working hand-in-hand with pipeline companies to police their opposition — then refuting that a collaboration exists. From Standing Rock to Jordan Cove, private and public resources are put in service of what water protectors say amount to a counterinsurgency against their efforts to save the planet from the fossil fuel industry.

Counterinsurgency typically refers to a strategy used by the military to defeat armed resistance. It involves not just threats of violence but also psychological, political, economic, and intelligence tactics.

In Minnesota, the label is more than just semantic. The state permit for the Line 3 pipeline includes an unusual condition: “The Permittee, the permittee’s contractors and assigns will not participate in counterinsurgency tactics or misinformation campaigns to interfere with the rights of the public to legally exercise their Constitutional rights.”

Tara Houska: They were told not to do what is a counter-insurgency — so exact term they’ve they’ve used. I don’t understand how surveilling, harassing, and targeting people on a daily basis is not counterinsurgency. You are specifically targeting Indigenous people, people of color, anyone that’s associated with like, are you a water protector? You know what I mean? Like those things have happened multiple times. And this  spans back years.

Alleen Brown: Tara Houska is a 37-year-old Anishinaabe water protector from Minnesota and a veteran of the fight at Standing Rock.

Tara Houska: I’ve seen a lot of drone activity over the last few years, and it’s been more and more recently.

Alleen Brown: Water protectors say Enbridge has violated its permit conditions. They point to the escrow account created for Enbridge to pay law enforcement for pipeline policing, intensifying surveillance, and a years-long divide-and-conquer effort by the company aimed at local communities. I interviewed dozens of people, reviewed thousands of pages of public records and academic literature — all suggesting Enbridge and the police’s efforts bear hallmarks of corporate counterinsurgency.

Minnesota Pipeline Fight

Alleen Brown: The fight against the Enbridge pipeline is part of a larger struggle with enormous stakes. The Mayor of Thief River Falls, Brian Holmer,  says the pipeline has boosted his business, Micheal’s Meats. The mayor has repeatedly spoken publicly about the benefits of the project, through the group Minnesotans for Line 3.

Mayor Brian Holmer: Over the past about three months has increased our sales probably about 30 percent overall. And just this last week when the pipeliners shut down due to the road restrictions and some of the environmental impacts and stuff it dramatically decreased.

So we’re kind of back to normalcy now a little bit. But Line 3 has been really, really good for the community. Some of the brighter points we’ve heard and I hear it on a daily basis, and I hear it on a daily basis, and  I’ve never heard myself be called sir so much because of the politeness of, uh, the pipeliners around. They’re fun to be around, very friendly. I think the community up here overall really embraced them.

Alleen Brown: Enbridge, a Canadian energy firm, is expanding and rerouting its old, corroded Line 3. Branded a “replacement” project, the new pipeline would double the old Line 3’s capacity to carry tar sands oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to a hub in Wisconsin. From there, it would be transported on to refineries from the Gulf Coast to eastern Canada.

The processes to transform sticky Alberta sludge into usable fuel make tar sands oil one of the most intensive fossil fuels in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. The risks are compounded when tar sands travel. Oil pipeline spills are endemic, and Enbridge has a particularly nasty record.

Most of the U.S. portion of the route, approximately 338 miles, is in Minnesota. There, the conflict over Line 3 centers on both the larger climate considerations and local concerns, particularly of the Anishinaabe peoples. Though the struggle against Line 3 has lasted the better part of a decade, the efforts were invigorated by a mounting Indigenous-led resistance to pipelines that bisect treaty lands across North America.

NPR: A fight over the route of a new pipeline is gaining momentum while it plays out in court—

PBS: —a protest in North Dakota against a major oil pipeline continues to grow. Over one hundred Native American tribes have joined the fight against the project.

DN!: It’s slated to carry half a million barrels of crude a day from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa, and into Illinois.

Alleen Brown: Opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota gave rise to what became known as the water protector movement in 2016 and was promptly met with a private-public crackdown at the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation.

The firm behind the Dakota Access Pipeline hired private security contractors who, in leaked documents we obtained, characterized the Standing Rock movement as “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component.” They also said water protectors “generally followed the jihadist insurgency model.”

The security firm, Tigerswan, ran a counterinsurgency modeled on what the U.S. military did in Iraq and Afghanistan that is infiltrating the anti-pipeline movement, conducting surveillance, and spreading propaganda, while also routinely coordinating with local law enforcement.

When Enbridge brought the pipeline fight to Indigenous lands in Minnesota, the public officials responsible for issuing a permit knew what had just happened next door in North Dakota. Three years ago, Minnesota Public Utilities Commissioner John Tuma, a Republican, spoke at a public hearing during the permitting process for Line 3.

John Tuma: We’re saying to them — make it very clear — we are not to get involved in trying to interfere with the rights of people legally, legally exercising their rights under Minnesota constitution and that all their contracts and assigns shall not interfere by entering into what I would consider counterinsurgency tactics or misinformation campaigns, similar to what occurred in North Dakota.

Alleen Brown: He added.

John Tuma:  What’s critical for me to know as we go forward: that kind of activities — this insurgency type stuff, the Pinkerton style type stuff — doesn’t happen here in Minnesota. This is, this is the United States of America. Our citizens of Minnesota have a right to protest.

Alleen Brown: The anti-counterinsurgency language was inserted into the permit but with no definitions to accompany it. This vagueness has meant less accountability.

Tuma declined a request for comment, but the Public Utilities Commission’s executive secretary Will Seuffert confirmed that the commission never defined the term counterinsurgency.

As for accountability, he says the state’s designated Public Safety Liaison for the pipeline monitors for such tactics and raises concerns if they occur. The Department of Public Safety has not replied to my request for comment.

By Any Other Name

To better understand these methods, scholars are examining U.S. counterinsurgency strategies abroad and resistance to extractive industries around the globe.

Simon Granovsky-Larsen: I think it’s important to start with an understanding that counterinsurgency, whether it’s state-led or facilitated by a private company, is essentially about social control over a given territory or area.

Alleen Brown: Simon Granovsky-Larsen, of the University of Regina in Canada, recently co-wrote a paper offering a rubric for identifying corporate counterinsurgencies around the world.

Simon Granovsky-Larsen: Often we think of counterinsurgency as particularly a form of warfare or a form of military campaign and it is, but there’s more to it than the security side. Counterinsurgency is about controlling a population so that they don’t oppose the implementation of the objectives that those carrying out the counter-insurgency have.

In the hands of private companies, the purpose of it is a little bit more narrow because here we’re talking about private companies that are trying to get control over a territory for, for the sole purpose of implementing an economic project that they have in mind, whether this is a natural resource extraction or, or something else.

Alleen Brown: Minnesota’s multi-agency coalition managing pipeline resistance, known as the Northern Lights Task Force, doesn’t seem to be making a big effort to avoid counterinsurgency strategies. Instead, Minnesota public safety officials have, in private, embraced the approach taken at Standing Rock.

MPR News: More than 4,000 workers are expected in northern Minnesota over the next couple of weeks to help build the contentious Line 3 oil pipeline replacement. At the same time activists are escalating their efforts to block it while law enforcement officials are trying to keep the peace.

Alleen Brown: In December 2020, shortly after Minnesota approved the Line 3 construction permit, Nicholas Radke, the intelligence coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety distributed a Standing Rock After-Action Report from the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.  Through a public records request we obtained an email Radke wrote to a handful of local officials along the pipeline route and to Enbridge’s security lead for Line 3. He writes, “The AAR is the best document I’ve read in 10 years of working for the state. I’d recommend reading it word for word.”

Radke hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

In the document, many of the indelible public images of the Standing Rock movement — dogs being sicced on demonstrators or water hoses blasting people in sub-freezing temperatures — are relegated to a timeline in the appendices. The main body of the report characterized the police response to Standing Rock as an “extraordinary” demonstration of “professionalism, restraint, and courage,” celebrating that no one had died. The report praised law enforcement’s aerial and social media surveillance efforts but lamented that, unlike the security company, police hadn’t done better at developing their own informants, in part, because  “Non-Native Americans were often excluded from sources of information.”

Public-Private Collaboration

[Music from a portable speaker plays.]

Every Tuesday, members of the Stop Line 3 movement gather in front of Enbridge’s Park Rapids, Minnesota, headquarters. On one Tuesday this spring, music plays over a portable speaker while one of the group’s leaders, Winona LaDuke, a one time vice presidential candidate, trys out salsa moves.

Enbridge hasn’t used the building much since construction began, but the firm left its signs up to keep water protectors there. And water protectors don’t mind. The event drums up support, measured in cars that pass and honk.

Across the street, the attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard waits to pick up dinner at a Mexican restaurant before meeting up with the actor and activist Jane Fonda. Fonda is here to draw media attention to the anti-pipeline movement. Verheyden-Hilliard has represented Fonda in cases related to her other activism. She came along to gather information for a potential lawsuit.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: We’re looking at Enbridge, we’re looking at the sheriff’s offices, and we’re looking at the public safety escrow trust because we believe that these three things have created a really extraordinary mechanism that fully financially incentivizes a level of repression to silence and shut down the organizing here and the water protectors activities.

Alleen Brown: Examples of police cooperation with the energy firm weren’t hard to find. The escrow account is the most obvious form of collaboration. In North Dakota, public agencies spent millions of dollars responding to pipeline protests. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission created the Enbridge-funded account so that, this time, the pipeline company would foot the bill.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: There’s been set up a structure where the sheriff’s offices are being financially incentivized to repress and target peaceful water protectors with constant harassment, with baseless pullovers, with targeting operations, with 24 seven surveillance, because they are billing the public safety escrow trust, which is a limitless funds account paid for by Enbridge.

Alleen Brown: There is a publicly appointed account manager who occasionally rejects sheriff’s office invoices that overreach, but so far Enbridge has reimbursed more than $1 million in expenses, for things like crowd control training, overtime pay, and so-called “personal protective equipment,” like riot suits and tear gas masks.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: And what that’s doing is essentially privatizing the public police forces to work in service to the pecuniary interests of the private corporation. And, more specifically, it means that the corporation gets to use the public police forces to crack down on their political opponents.

Alleen Brown: Police and Enbridge officials were communicating regularly in the year leading up to the final construction permit’s approval. As construction got underway, officials began “meeting daily with Enbridge,” at the Northern Lights Task Force’s Duluth, Minnesota, operation center. In at least one county, the corporate-police meetings happened “several times daily,” according to public records.

By the time Verheyden-Hilliard arrived in Minnesota, the fruits of all that preparation were apparent.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: I had been talking to people for the past week who were relaying these stories of these constant baseless pullovers for things where the police were saying that your license plates are dusty.

Alleen Brown: And even earlier that day, as she drove in front of Fonda’s vehicle toward a press conference, a state patrol officer turned on her lights.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: And I got pulled over by the police in a classic baseless harassing stop.

[Footage of Verheyden-Hilliard getting pulled over.]

Officer: The reason I pulled you over today is in Minnesota, I don’t know if you’re aware, but before you make a corner you have to blinker a good 100 feet before you go. You can’t just like turn your blinker on and go. So I just wanted to make sure you’re aware of that rule. I saw that you have California plates, so. Do you have your driver’s license with you?

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard [in recording]: Yes, ma’am, but you were following us when we left the park area.

Officer: Yeah.

Alleen Brown: After issuing a warning for not flashing a signal within 100 feet of a turn, the state patrol officer followed Verheyden-Hilliard’s car for 12 miles. The warning isn’t what the attorney worries about.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: Again and again, what they’re doing is they’re not generally issuing citations — they’re seizing the identity information. So we believe that this is an illegal surveillance operation to try and target and collect identity on people.

Alleen Brown: When I ask Guida, the Aitkin County sheriff, about the stops, he says that his officers only pull people over when they’re breaking the law. But when I press him about whether the stops are being used to collect identity information, he acknowledges that’s standard procedure.

Sheriff Guida: Absolutely, there’s intelligence that comes from every traffic stop. Everything is documented in the state of Minnesota. The county every time we stop a car the driver gets documented, the license plate gets documented. You know, that’s data that we collect. We’ve collected that forever and that’s what we do.

Surveillance

Big Wind: We’re here in Namewag. This camp was created by indigenous matriarchs in the summer of 2018.

Alleen Brown: Namewag, located in Hubbard County, Minnesota, is one of a handful anti-pipeline camps strung along the oil superhighway’s route. Run by the anti-pipeline Giniw Collective. Big Wind says Namewag focuses on direct actions, like locking down to equipment or holding sit-ins at construction sites.

Big Wind: We believe, you know, you know, that land defense and food sovereignty and treaty rights are all working in tandem with each other and so we’re rooted in those things.

Tara Houska: This place is about life and balance, and that means building community with the land and building community with each other.

Alleen Brown: That’s Tara Houska again, the water protector from Minnesota.

Tara Houska: And we do a lot of direct action in this space.

Alleen Brown: Direct actions and other protests against Line 3 have seen more than 500 people arrested or issued citations.

When I arrived this spring, members of the camp were tense. Another water protector had just been pulled over right outside of camp for having expired tags.

Big Wind: So right before you guys were coming here one of our camp members got pulled over right out here, as they were leaving the property. And it was like an hour stoppage.

Alleen Brown: Big Wind again.

Big Wind: Usually that’s like a ticket, right? But they went to jail, they arrested them. And now they’re being held in Hubbard County Jail.

Alleen Brown: Since nonviolent direct action can run afoul of the law, the camp became a target for surveillance. The police stops ramped up with the spring temperatures.

Big Wind: I honestly don’t think that there’s a car here that hasn’t been pulled over. We’ve all been pulled over.

Alleen Brown: The stops have left people on edge, which they figure is part of the point.

Big Wind: When you’re in that constant state of flux, when you’re in that constant state of crisis, I think they don’t want you to be making the right decisions. They want to figure out, “oh, you didn’t turn your, you know, your lights on” or “you didn’t blinker a hundred feet ahead of the stop sign,” you know. They’re trying to figure out all these situations. They want to catch you off your guard.

Alleen Brown: In 2019, Enbridge purchased a plot of land right next to Namewag. Since then, drones have regularly appeared over the protest camp. Reporters at Gizmodo were able to confirm that some of the drones spotted along the Line 3 route, including above water protectors’ homes belong to Customs and Border Protection, but others remain unidentified. Drones also appeared above the solar energy business, 8th Fire Solar, which was co-founded by the activist LaDuke. Sarah LittleRedFeather, who used to live on the property, says surveillance has escalated since July of last year.

Sarah LittleRed Feather: We counted six in one night. And I actually got one on video where it came under 400 feet and went over the 8th Fire’s Solar garage and at the level of my place and flew over. And I have them on video doing that. And just, you know, hovering around our, our land, you know, just hovering and just standing still and just doing that. And I’m like, what are you guys doing? What do you want?

Alleen Brown: Around that time, as Enbridge had done at Namewag, the company quietly purchased the strip of land next door to the solar business.

Co-Opting Communities

Minnesotans for Line 3 Ad: Line 3 is making a positive impact in Minnesota. It’s creating thousands of jobs, boosting the economy and increasing safety. Minnesotans strongly support Line 3 and with construction over half way complete, it’s time to finish strong.

Alleen Brown: Across from 8th Fire Solar, the neighbor had posted a sign in their yard, reading “Minnesotans for Line 3.” The blue signs, which dot the pipeline’s path, are the physical manifestation of another aspect of Enbridge’s campaign: Its work to recruit the support of local communities. The online presence of “Minnesotans for Line 3” is as robust as its yard signs. The group spent around $20,000 on Facebook ads in March and April alone, circulating testimony from motel, restaurant, and construction supply store owners about how friendly pipeline workers are and how much they’ve boosted business.

Dale in Minnesotans for Line 3 ad: Hi I’m Dale Thompson [in audible]. I’m a big supporter of Line 3. The pipeline needs to be taken care of. It’s far safer and I support it tremendously.

James in Minnesotans for Line 3 ad: My name is James Bianci. I live in Hermantown, Minnesota. I’m a teacher, a high school teacher. I believe that Line 3 should go through because I think that it’s good for the community. I think it’s good for jobs all around northern Minnesota.

Alleen Brown: Minnesotans for Line 3 describes itself as a “grassroots organization of people who understand how important it is to have reliable energy to power our economy,” but a disclosure form unearthed by DeSmog lists Enbridge as a sponsor of a Minnesotans for Line 3 TV ad. The Minnesotans for Line 3 website makes no direct reference to a relationship between Enbridge and the group. Pipeline opponents say that the group is an astroturf organization, a grassroots group hiding the fact that it is sponsored by a corporation to advance the corporation’s agenda.

Another record lists Minnesotans for Line 3’s ad buyer as Velocity Public Affairs, a PR firm that used to openly promote its work for Enbridge on its web site. In 2019, Velocity trademarked the name “Respect Minnesota.” Water protectors view Respect Minnesota as another astroturf effort.

Respect Minnesota’s outreach coordinator, Kathy Ross, told me the organization is union-driven, and added that they’ve publicly stated that Enbridge as well as some of its subcontractors support Respect Minnesota.

And Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner added, “Enbridge is just one of the businesses, unions, community organizations, and thousands of individuals from around the state who have taken the Respect Minnesota pledge.” She told me that questions about Minnesotans for Line 3 should be directed to that group, but the organization did not answer my questions about its connections to Enbridge.

Shanai Matteson understands the attractiveness for locals of a vague appeal like “respect” and support for the pipeline.

Shanai Matteson: Aitken County is a small rural county and jobs in industries of extraction are very attractive to many of the people who live here because there isn’t a lot of other economic opportunity.

Alleen Brown: Matteson moved to Honor the Earth’s Welcome Water Protectors camp in Aitkin County last summer, but she’s also from the area. The nearby land where Matteson’s grandmother was born is now part of the pipeline route.

Shanai Matteson: That was the spot where my grandmother was born. That was where their settlement was. And so my grandmother and I are both opposed to the pipeline. They’re obviously OK with it.

Alleen Brown: Matteson is referring to her cousin’s family, who now own the land.

Shanai Matteson: That story about our way of life as extraction is so deep.

Alleen Brown: Matteson’s grandfather worked as a miner and her cousin is a retired member of a construction union. Matteson thinks Enbridge has used Minnesota’s historic economic dependence on extractive industries and its conflict-avoidant culture to advance the pipeline project.

Buying Indigenous Support

Alleen Brown: An Enbridge proposal leaked to Minnesota’s Star Tribune newspaper demonstrates how much tribal buy-in is worth to the pipeline. The company proposed a package worth more than $25 million to the Red Lake Nation to drop its lawsuit and publicly communicate its opposition to “unlawful protesting.”

When I visited the Red Lake pipeline resistance camp, the Red Lake River was still frozen. The camp was a handful of cold-weather tents, including a donated Mongolian style yurt, on a hill overlooking the spot where the pipeline’s easement intersects with the river. It’s outside of the reservation, next to a highway on treaty land.

Enbridge attempted to win them over, Tribal Secretary Sam Strong:

Sam Strong: The letter was just disregarded.

Alleen Brown: Enbridge continued to push, hiring Red Lake tribal members to promote the pipeline and trying to buy local support. Strong again:

Sam Strong: That divide and conquer strategy is the same strategy that the federal government used to terminate Native people.

Alleen Brown: Red Lake wasn’t the only tribe approached by Enbridge — and other efforts were more successful. The Fond du Lac band, whose reservation is bisected by Line 3, opposed the pipeline before accepting its own version of the proposal made to Red Lake. The details of the deal have not been made public but a letter sent to tribal members in January, shared with Indian Country Today, indicates that the $400 monthly payments all tribal members receive from tribal enterprises are now coming from Enbridge.

On the cusp of summer, Enbridge began preparing to drill under more than 20 rivers and waterways. Water protectors are urging the Biden administration to intervene. In the meantime, they are traveling in growing numbers to stand with the Anishinaabe-led movement — and being greeted by an intensifying police response.

So far, Enbridge and law enforcement have only shown flashes of the kinds of spectacular displays of repression seen at Standing Rock. In June, water protectors gathered for the largest yet direct action against Line 3 at a pipeline pump station.

[Helicopter sound]

Again, a Customs and Border Protection helicopter showed up, sending a cloud of dust and debris flying over the protest. Authorities denied it was intentional. But the helicopter’s low flight path, in an area where water protectors were locked to construction equipment, appeared to violate Federal Aviation Administration rules.

CBP says the agency can’t comment on the flight, which is under investigation, but that a key mission of the agency’s Air and Marine Operations is to support law enforcement partners.

The pipeline fights in the upper Midwest represent only one point in a global spectrum of corporate efforts to suppress water and land defense movements. In places like Guatemala, the confrontations can grow much more deadly, says Granovsky-Larsen, the corporate counterinsurgency scholar.

I ask him and his co-author Larissa Santos, of the University of São Paulo in Brazil, whether they think Enbridge’s response to the Stop Line 3 movement fits the definition of corporate counterinsurgency.

Larissa Santos: It aligns very much with what we understand as corporate counterinsurgency.

Alleen Brown: She’s less convinced, though, that the actions of Enbridge and the Northern Lights Task Force violate the spirit of the Public Utilities Commission permit. She proposes an idea I hadn’t considered — that the permit language itself is part of the strategy, sending a message meant to pre-empt concerns that counterinsurgency tactics will be used..

Larissa Santos: It won’t be the same that happened to Standing Rock. We want to have an agreement. We went to have dialogue with the population to avoid the use of, of confrontation, you know. So, I see these also as an information strategy from, from above to pacify resistance.

Alleen Brown: Enbridge, for its part, avoided my questions about whether it was in the midst of a counterinsurgency. Spokesperson Kellner underlined that it was the Public Utilities Commission that set up the escrow account and that local law enforcement is in charge of public safety. She touted the corporation’s relationship with tribes, pointing out that Fond du Lac had led a cultural resources survey along the entire Line 3 route. Kellner said, “We understand there are differing opinions about the energy we all use. As a company, we recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully.”

I pose one last question to Granovsky-Larsen that had been nagging at me as I reported the story.

Alleen Brown [in interview]: Is it possible to build a tar sands oil pipeline in an era of climate crisis without counterinsurgency tactics? And if we reject counterinsurgency tactics are we rejecting projects like this?

Simon Granovsky-Larsen: I don’t see any scenario where tar sands extraction and  transport could gain the necessary legitimacy where a company wouldn’t feel the need to either implement counter-insurgent tactics or, or a harsher form of repression.

Alleen Brown: We’re facing a climate crisis that threatens everything we know. There are very serious consequences to whether or not these extractive industries are successful in advancing their agendas as they use public resources. I think looking at the way that taxpayer funded resources are used by these companies to advance these kinds of things is kind of a central way that we can consider where the pressure points are, you know the police don’t have to accept money from Enbridge, and if they didn’t what would this all look like?

Ali Gharib: And that does it for this episode of Intercepted. What a story. This episode was reported by Alleen Brown and edited by me, Ali Gharib. It was produced by Laura Flynn. Special thanks to W. Paul Smith and Akil Harris for their research support and Holly DeMuth. Find Alleen’s full story and all of her reporting about climate change, pipelines, and resistance at The Intercept.

You can follow us on Twitter @Intercepted and on Instagram @InterceptedPodcast. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Betsy Reed is the editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed our show. As always, our theme music was composed by DJ Spooky.

Correction: July 13, 2021, 6:45 p.m. ET
A previous version of this episode misstated that Mara Verheyden-Hilliard was waiting to pick up Jane Fonda’s dinner.