More than 2,000 U.S. veterans are planning to descend on North Dakota this weekend, where they will make a human shield around the protesters there. More than 7,000 people are camped out in a massive months-long demonstration organized by the Standing Rock Sioux in opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which they say threatens tribal lands.
The group, Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, has decided to protect the camp after the federal government called for its evacuation.
While the deadline for the evacuation has passed, both local authorities and the Army Corps of Engineers have confirmed that they have no plans to remove anybody by force, despite an emergency call from the state’s governor on Monday to immediately vacate the camp.
Veterans Stand for Standing Rock is headed by former U.S. Marine Michael Wood Jr. and Wesley Clark Jr., whose father is retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark.
Another notable member of the armed forces, Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic representative from Hawaii and a major in the National Guard, also said that she would join the protest effort on Sunday.
The veterans say they want to give the protestors a break and also shine a light on what they say is the violent, inhumane treatment campers have experienced at the hands of authorities.
“We want to give them a moment of peace so we can take a little bit of pressure off,” explained Ashleigh Jennifer Parker, spokeswoman for Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, who served in the Coast Guard.
“People are being brutalized, being thrown into crowds. They’re spraying old women, elders of the tribe with tear gas and pepper spray and this is just unconstitutional,” Parker said. “I can’t believe the media hasn’t taken more of an interest in this.”
The Morton County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that it is aware of the veterans’ plans, but offered no other comment.