"Thousands" of U.S. military veterans and volunteers are readying their return to Standing Rock as President Donald Trump tries to move the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) forward and clashes between law enforcement and Water Protectors continue to break out.
"We are committed to the people of Standing Rock, we are committed to nonviolence and we will do everything within our power to ensure that the environment and human life are respected. That pipeline will not get completed. Not on our watch," Anthony Diggs, a spokesman for Veterans Stand, told CNBC.
In early December, Veterans Stand mobilized more than 2,000 veteran to descend upon Standing Rock, North Dakota. The vets volunteered to act as peaceful human shields for Water Protectors who were facing increasingly violent confrontations and mass arrests from heavily militarized police.
As it happened, their arrival coincided with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denying a key easement for the pipeline to travel under Lake Oahe. The corps' decision temporarily halted pipeline construction to allow time for an Environmental Impact Study.
However, with Trump now in office, the $3.7 billion project has found new legs. Last week, the president issued executive orders to "review and approve" the DAPL as well as the long-contested Keystone XL in "an expedited manner." He also asked the corps to reconsider the environmental review.
To make matters worse for pipeline opponents, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) separately claimed that the final easement for the DAPL has already been granted even though the Standing Rock Sioux said they had not received notice that the easement was granted, calling the lawmakers' claims "premature."
In light of recent news, Veterans Stand launched a new crowdfunding campaign to continue their commitment of protecting their "indigenous brothers and sisters" and possibly mobilizing again.
The group has already raised more than $110,000 in less than a week from nearly 2,000 donors. The plan is to reach $500,000. Part of the money will go to "basic transport of supplies and personnel," Diggs told CNBC.
"We have had thousands of volunteers reconfirm their dedication to the cause, and readiness to help," the group said. "The success of our fundraising campaign will ultimately dictate out overall potential for a boots-on-the-ground presence but our learnings from the first mission in December have allowed us to create the right infrastructure to move quickly."
Just this week, police arrested 76 Water Protectors for allegedly trespassing on private property owned by the pipeline operator. Video footage showed several officers arriving to the scene in armored vehicles. Officers wore riot gear and some carried arms.
The demonstrators said they were peacefully assembling at the newly erected "Last Child" camp.
"A lot of water protectors really felt that we needed to make some sort of stand as far as treaty rights," said Linda Black Elk, a member of the Catawba Nation told The Guardian. "We basically started to see police mobilizing from all directions. Someone came along and told us we had about 15 minutes before the camp would get raided."
"There were a lot of people who felt like the prospect of treaty rights was something worth getting arrested over," she added.
For months, Water Protectors have been trying to block the highly contested pipeline which they say violates sovereign treaty rights and the pipeline's path could cross a vital source of drinking water.
As Veterans Stand said in their statement, "Given the current news reports of escalations in timelines for the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and increased security forces we are left asking, how can something good for America when it disregards due process of law, risking our civil liberties and essential natural resources?"
"We believe that human rights and the sustainability of the environment come before the opportunity to profit."
A report from The Free Thought Project suggests that officials from both the U.S. government and indigenous tribes have been emboldened by Trump's orders to push the pipeline forward.
On Thursday, officials from the ATF, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Standing Rock division of Fish and Wildlife, tribal police, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reportedly showed up at the Camp of the Sacred Stones—the original DAPL protest campsite. According to the report, the officials refused to offer a warrant or explanation for the sudden appearance.
Johnny Dangers, who has resided in the camps, captured the visit in a livestream video, calling it a "raid."