By Steve Horn and Curtis Waltman
Behind the scenes, as law enforcement officials tried to stem protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, alumni from the George W. Bush White House were leading a crisis communications effort to discredit pipeline protesters.
Emails show that the firms Delve and Off the Record Strategies, apparently working on contract with the National Sheriffs’ Association, worked in secret on talking points, media outreach, and communications training for law enforcement dealing with Dakota Access opponents mobilized at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. This revelation comes from documents obtained via an open records request from the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department in Wyoming.
As previously reported by DeSmog, the GOP-connected firm DCI Group led the forward-facing public relations efforts for Dakota Access via a front group called Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN). Today MAIN has morphed into a national effort known as Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN).
Delve is an opposition research firm run by Jeff Berkowitz, former Republican National Committee research director and official in the George W. Bush White House. His company led research efforts on behalf of the National Sheriffs’ Association.
Off the Record Strategies, meanwhile, guided the sheriffs’ behind-the-scenes communications strategy. Mark Pfeifle runs the secretive firm, Off the Record Strategies, and served as communications advisor in the George W. Bush administration, leading PR efforts for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The National Sheriffs’ Association, a trade group for sheriffs, has been lobbying the federal government for additional surplus military gear from the Department of Defense under the auspices of its 1033 program. The association was also the central organizing vehicle which brought hundreds of out-of-state cops to Standing Rock via the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).
Law enforcement present at Standing Rock under EMAC came under fire for a heavy-handed and overtly military-like response to pipeline protesters.
According to an October 4, 2016 email sent by Chelsea Rider, content strategist for the sheriffs’ association, Pfeifle drafted the talking points used by law enforcement in an attempt to discredit the anti-Dakota Access movement. Representatives of that movement referred to themselves as “water protectors” because they opposed the pipeline crossing Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, a source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux and others downriver.
The document attached to that email, according to its metadata, indicates it was indeed written by Pfeifle, and then given to the acting public information officer, Donnell Hushka of the North Dakota Association of Counties, who handled information related to the protests at Standing Rock.
The talking points purported that the movement was led by “out-of-state agitators” with gang and drug-dealing ties, had connections to “anarchists” and “Palestinian activists,” used violence, and possessed “guns, knives, etc.” In addition, the messaging included calls to “follow the money” in pursuit of potential funding support from liberal elites such as George Soros and Tom Steyer.