Montana Law Enforcement Gearing-Up For Mass Anti-Pipeline Protests

By Hunter Pauli,


Above Photo: Montana law enforcement agencies are preparing now for what they expect could be massive protests over construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, similar to the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline near near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in 2016. Photo by Maggie McGuane

State and federal agencies are training Montana law enforcement officers to surveil anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists’ social media and arrest protesters en masse, according to correspondence obtained by the ACLU of Montana and provided to Montana Free Press.

Agencies coordinating to train law enforcement officers in eastern Montana include police and sheriff’s departments, the Montana Highway Patrol, the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council.

While a federal lawsuit filed in Great Falls by environmental groups and indigenous rights organizations seeks to halt construction scheduled for next year by pipeline company TransCanada, the correspondence between various government agencies reveals that Montana’s police forces expect the lawsuit to fail, and that opponents will then take the fight to the streets of northeast Montana.

In a separate lawsuit filed Sept. 4 by the ACLU, the civil liberties organization claims federal agencies aren’t cooperating with public information requests concerning those agencies’ roles in Montana’s counterprotest coordination plan.

A group of protesters pose in front of the Missouri River in Great Falls in May in support of a federal lawsuit against the Keystone XL oil pipeline. /Photo by Hunter Pauli, MTFP

Much of what is known about the police preparation for Keystone XL protests in Montana comes from right-to-know requests filed by ACLU of Montana after the group obtained a report co-authored by the Montana Analysis and Technical Information Center, previously known as the Montana All Threat Intelligence Center. MATIC is a “fusion center” operated under the Investigations Bureau of the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation. Fusion centers were created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to share intelligence between law enforcement agencies regarding terrorism.A third lawsuit filed Sept. 10 by the Fort Belknap and Rosebud Indian reservations of Montana and South Dakota accuses the federal government of ignoring threats to drinking water and cultural sites. The Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeast Montana oppose the Keystone XL pipeline because it threatens their drinking water, but have not sued to stop construction.

The report, titled “TTPs Used in Recent US Pipeline Attacks by Suspected Environmental Rights Extremists,” profiles the 2016 valve shutoffs of an oil pipeline operated by Enbridge Inc. in four states along the Canadian border, including Montana, and alleged monkeywrenching at the Standing Rock protests. TTP stands for “targeting, tactics and procedures,” according to the report.

ACLU of Montana Legal Director Alex Rate says the document and correspondence proves law enforcement agencies in Montana are illegally surveilling Indian pipeline opponents, conflating their defense of drinking water with terrorism, and chilling their First Amendment rights.

Alex Rate, ACLU of Montana

Rate says the ACLU received limited right-to-know responses from federal agencies, and that information requests fulfilled by state agencies revealed specific examples of state and federal coordination unacknowledged by federal agencies.

“There’s a whole lot more going on than we’re aware of right now,” Rate says.

Gov. Steve Bullock’s communications director, Ronja Abel, issued a statement when asked about Bullock’s involvement with counterprotest coordination and the ACLU’s claim that it infringes on civil rights.

“Primary responsibility for these law enforcement activities falls under the Montana Department of Justice. However, the Governor’s Office has encouraged all relevant federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement to maintain a response that protects citizens’ rights granted under the First Amendment and safeguards public safety,” Abel stated.


The emails released to the ACLU are not the only source of information detailing police preparation to oppose protests.

Ross Canen is sheriff of Dawson County, where Keystone XL is slated to cross the Yellowstone River. According to a news report in the Glendive Ranger Review, Canen told a meeting of the county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee in May 2017 that he “got kind of volunteered to be the point sheriff of the six counties it goes through.”

Canen, dubbed the “Keystone cop” by the newspaper, said coordinated law enforcement preparations are designed to avoid getting “caught off guard,” as law enforcement officials in North Dakota were when protesters arrived in large numbers to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. Various law enforcement agencies are coordinating through three “work groups,” and Canen told the Ranger Review he expects the biggest flashpoint to be Glasgow, just west of the Missouri River crossing point.

According to the Ranger Review article, Canen said police are being trained to manipulate social media to their advantage.

“[Canen] noted that part of that preparation involves training local law enforcement agencies on how to use social media sites like Facebook to their advantage, noting that is something North Dakota law enforcement officials initially failed to do, allowing [Standing Rock] protestors to largely control the narrative of what was happening for much of that protest due to their savvy use of social media,” the article stated.

Canen said the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation was already monitoring the social media posts of anti-pipeline activists in May 2017, the Ranger Review reported.

According to John Barnes, spokesman for Attorney General Tim Fox, DCI is not “‘surveilling’ anyone in regards to Keystone XL,” nor is the agency “training on ‘online surveillance.’”

“In certain situations, DCI pays attention to public-domain websites, just like anyone with internet access can do,” Barnes said.

Barnes suggests that law enforcement officers responding to Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota were doxxed by some pipeline opponents, and that the trainings serve to teach Montana officers how to defend themselves against such actions.

According to Barnes, “bad actors” associated with DAPL protests “maliciously targeted public officials and law-enforcement personnel online,” necessitating the protection of such personal information through “cyber education.”

“In the event people choose to protest the Keystone XL pipeline in Montana, it is imperative that law-enforcement personnel protect the First Amendment rights of everyone while also protecting private property and public safety,” Barnes said.

Rate, with ACLU of Montana, says the priority for law enforcement is clear:

“If history is any guide, law enforcement will be more focused on protecting private property (i.e. protecting the commercial interests of Trans-Canada) than the constitutionally protected First Amendment rights of pipeline protesters,” he said in an email.

“We already know that law enforcement is diverting resources from policing [oil pipeline] man-camps in order to monitor and surveil protesters,” Rate said, referencing a confidential Fish, Wildlife & Parks email that says, “although man-camps bring a certain degree of law enforcement challenges, the primary enforcement focus is protest activity.”

“What is the public safety issue that demands this diversion of resources?” Rate said.

Fort Peck tribal member Angeline Cheek is an outspoken opponent of Keystone XL, and has helped organize prayer walks across the reservation, including one starting Sept. 21, to raise awareness of the threat the pipeline poses to the tribal community. / Photo by Erika Peterman, MTFP

“We have to look at history. We’re used to this. There have been many movements. It’s nothing new to us,” she said.One protester concerned about her First Amendment rights is Fort Peck tribal member Angeline Cheek, a veteran of the Standing Rock protests and a member of Montana-based Indian People’s Action. Cheek is an outspoken opponent of Keystone XL, and has helped organize prayer walks across the reservation, including one starting Sept. 21, to raise awareness of the threat the pipeline poses to the tribal community. She says police training to surveil and arrest protesters doesn’t surprise her.

Cheek may not be surprised by the government response, but she’s still insulted.

“We’re innocent people. It seems like our rights are being violated. They don’t follow the treaties and they don’t follow the laws themselves,” she said.


On June 20, 2018, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services eastern district field officer Jeff Gates sent an email to undisclosed recipients advertising a “Social Networking and Cyberawareness” training session the following week in Circle hosted by the Montana Highway Patrol and the “Department of Justice.” Though the recipients were undisclosed, Gates stated in the email that he was “trying to get the word out wide on multiple distribution lists,” and had previously sent similar emails to Montana law enforcement officers, emergency responders, and other officials in areas along Keystone XL’s proposed route.

A flyer advertising a “Cyberthreat & Social Networking” training session in Glendive.

Gates’ email does not clarify whether he was referring to the Montana Department of Justice or the U.S. Department of Justice. The ACLU lawsuit described the training as presented by the U.S. DOJ, but a copy of the flyer advertising the training obtained by Montana Free Press shows the training was conducted by DCI and the Montana DOJ, not the U.S. DOJ.

After being sent the flyer by Montana Free Press, ACLU of Montana legal director Alex Rate said the error will be corrected, but has no impact on the lawsuit’s claim that federal agencies are illegally withholding information.

Rate said the Montana DOJ has yet to release documents requested by the ACLU of Montana. Barnes said Montana DOJ is still working on the records request.

The day after Gates emailed the Circle training flyer, Jeff Faycosh, a DCI criminal investigator and candidate for Custer County justice of the peace, forwarded Gates’ email and the flyer to 18 law enforcement personnel, mostly sheriffs and chiefs of police near the pipeline’s proposed route.

Circle was not DCI’s first cyberawareness training. On April 25, 2018, Gates had sent an earlier flyer advertising cyberawareness trainings to dozens of local, state, and federal law enforcement and emergency services officers, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Montana National Guard, as well as TransCanada’s Keystone XL manager for Montana and top corporate security officers.

The flyer in that email is identical to the later Circle training flyer except for date and location. It lists three trainings: May 30 in Glasgow at the Valley County District Courtroom, May 31 in Glendive at the Glendive Medical Center, and June 1 in Miles City at an office of the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior.


Additional emails from Montana Disaster and Emergency Services field officer Gates obtained by the ACLU from Dawson County show that MDES organized a “Large Incident Planning meeting” on June 12 in Miles City at the offices of the Bureau of Land Management.

At 2017’s annual meeting of the Montana Petroleum Association, sheriffs from Fallon County (where Bakken oil will join Keystone XL at an “on-ramp”) and Lewis and Clark County (home to the state capital) gave a presentation called “Environmental Activism: How will it play out in Montana?”

The sheriffs were joined by John Strandell, chief of the investigations bureau of DCI. MPA Executive Director Alan Olson was at the presentation, and claims Strandell said that DCI was “tracking various factions.”

Don Greenwood, TransCanada’s senior corporate security adviser and owner of corporate security company Don Greenwood & Associates, was also scheduled to present. Olson said Greenwood was stranded by Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Houston, and wasn’t able to attend.

Greenwood did deliver a presentation at this year’s MPA meeting, called “Pipeline Operations and Expansion Projects in Montana,” on Aug. 29 in Billings. Though Olson did not attend, he said both year’s presentations and both meetings were question and answer sessions. Neither were recorded, Olson said.

According to an email dated April 30, 2018, and obtained through the ACLU’s right-to-know requests, Strandell met in January with MATIC manager Anne Dormady and FWP chief of law enforcement David Loewen for an “in-depth discussion/briefing about Keystone XL pipeline activity.”

The email, marked “Confidential – Do Not Forward” was sent by Loewen to FWP higher-ups, including Director Martha Williams.

In the email, Loewen stated that DCI is “organizing law enforcement planning and response and collaborating with all necessary law enforcement agencies,” and that there had been “extensive conversations with North Dakota to learn what worked and what didn’t.”

Loewen said in the email that the Montana Highway Patrol “will be the primary enforcement agency for protest activity with local law enforcement supplementing.”

The email mentions a three-day crowd-control training conducted in Sidney in February, which Loewen said would be “extremely valuable training for our wardens even if serving a support role. If protests escalate, a call for all law enforcement will be needed.”

According to a report in the Sidney Herald, Richland County Sheriff John Dynneson said that Federal Emergency Management Agency officials trained his department in counter-protest techniques for use against opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline. Emails obtained by the ACLU show this training was held at the Richland County Fairgrounds Event Center Feb. 21-23, and was billed as a “Field Force Operations” training.

On Feb. 20, there was a one-day FEMA training at the same location for judges, county attorneys, commissioners, and DES employees on “what to expect with protesters in our county,” according to emails sent by FEMA and Dawson County Undersheriff Katie Mills. That training was requested by Sgt. Jay Nelson of the Montana Highway Patrol Special Response Team, according to a Jan. 18 email Nelson sent to a FEMA training coordinator.

Additional emails reveal previous riot-control trainings, including a three-day Department of Homeland Security and FEMA Field Force Operations workshop in October 2017 hosted by the Billings Police Department and Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department.

According to the flyer advertising the training, the course provided law enforcement officers “with instruction in protest types and actions, legal considerations, responsibilities of mobile field force teams, and crowd-control methods.” According to the flyer, the course culminated with a series of hands-on activities that allowed law enforcement responders to practice skills including baton-holding, mass-arrest procedures, and riot control formations “in a realistic context.”

The flyer was stamped with the insignias of the Billings Police Department, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, FEMA/DHS, and Montana Disaster and Emergency Services. On Sept. 13, 2017, about a month before the course, Gates, the MDES field officer, sent the flyer to dozens of government employees, emergency services workers, and law enforcement officers in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado, including many that Gates would later email in 2018 about cyberawareness trainings.

According to emails from FEMA support staff released to the ACLU by the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office, 57 people registered for another Glendive field force operations training April 9-11, 2018, and 25 registered for an April 12-14 “Field Force Extrication” training on how to remove protesters who lock themselves to things like construction equipment. “Extrications” are typically performed by trained “cut teams.” The trainings included instruction by a Montana Highway Patrol officer, a Houston riot cop, a New York City Police Department officer, a National Park Service warden, and a Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police sniper, among others.

“In a perfect world we will have the SWAT team from Western Montana leave one or two of their cut team members here to aid/lead us,” Dawson County Undersheriff Katie Mills said in a January 2018 email to deputies. “This is probably the most important training you could have in handling protesters.”

“It is a rare occasion to have this crew come to our area and teach this. We would usually have to go out of state for this type of training,” Mills said in another email to deputies.


On April 25, 2018, the same day Gates distributed the DCI cyberawareness flyer, Michael Rankin, an intelligence specialist with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana, emailed Gates a different flyer for an Aug. 9 anti-terrorism training event at Fort Harrison, the Montana National Guard base near Helena.

“If you’d like to forward it to the whole group we’d appreciate it. Although the flyer doesn’t specify them- DES, fire, EMT, etc. are all welcome,” Rankin stated in the email.

On April 29, Gates forwarded this flyer, titled “ATAC2018Flyer,” to dozens of municipal, county, state and federal law enforcement officers, emergency services coordinators, and others, most of whom Gates had sent the DCI cyberawareness training flyer four days previously, or the FEMA riot training flyer in September 2017.

ATAC stands for Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, a program founded after 9/11 and chaired by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana in Billings. The council’s purpose is to share information and coordinate between state and federal anti-terrorism authorities.

“The Montana U.S. Attorney’s Office anti-terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC) and the United States Secret Service would like to invite you to a full day of anti-terrorism training free of charge,” the flyer reads.

“The event is open to law enforcement at the Federal, state, tribal and local levels- including officers, agents, intelligence, critical infrastructure protection and security personnel. If your job description involves the anti-terrorism mission, you are the target audience. Our trainers this year are two groups from the United States Secret Service- the Critical Protective Analysis Group (CPAG) and the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC). Topics will include active shooter, terror attacks on hard and soft targets and homegrown violent extremists (HVEs),” the flyer continues.