Organizers of a series of rallies this week against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project are decrying elevated security measures underway at the State Capitol, calling it a militarized response to peaceful demonstrations.
State officials last weekend reinstalled a fence perimeter around the Capitol and visibly expanded the presence of state troopers at levels not seen there since the immediate aftermath of January's deadly U.S. Capitol siege.
In calling for the fence's return and ramping up the police presence, Department of Public Safety officials cited the likelihood that thousands of people planned to gather at the Capitol complex this week.
Organizers for the Treaties Not Tar Sands demonstrations at the Capitol have planned a series of events that started Monday and will be highlighted by a Wednesday rally calling on Gov. Tim Walz and President Joe Biden to stop the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline from moving tar sands oil from Canada through Minnesota to Superior, Wis.
The organizers said that water protectors — activists who oppose projects and policies that they believe harm water systems — also planned to "hold space and camp out on the Capitol lawn" on the evening after the rally.
On Tuesday, the group described the fence and police presence as an "excessive and harsh response to the ceremony and art unfolding on the lawn."
"We're here at the Capitol for the land, for the water, and for our treaty rights," said Nancy Beaulieu, one of the event's lead organizers. "We've come in a peaceful way. For the grandmas to be met with fencing and so many law enforcement officials, as they sit on the lawn in ceremony, doesn't feel right.
"We are all treaty people, and for the state government of Minnesota to respond to us as sovereign people in this way, with a dividing fence, doesn't make them very good treaty partners."
In a statement this week, Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said that they "welcome Minnesotans to practice their First Amendment rights at the Capitol and will protect their right to do so."
"The state also has an obligation to protect public safety and public property at the Capitol and Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan trust Minnesota's public safety professionals to ensure that people can exercise their First Amendment rights while keeping the Capitol, its tenants, and demonstrators safe," they added.
The groups behind this week's demonstrations have criticized Walz for not objecting to the pipeline project. They also blame his administration for the law enforcement response to protests elsewhere in the state, which have resulted in hundreds of arrests since demonstrations began in 2016.
"The decision to militarize the Capitol grounds rather than welcome the presence of Indigenous grandmothers, art, and ceremony is part of the law enforcement pattern under Governor Walz," organizers said in a statement Tuesday. "Water protectors are planning to show up peacefully this week at the Capitol to defend the land and water for all people, despite being met with intimidation and threat of force."
The Department of Public Safety hasn't publicly cited a specific threat to the complex in its decision to request heightened security measures.
Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Public Safety department, on Friday described the measures as being taken "out of an abundance of caution.
"Increased fencing helps the State Patrol protect people and property and doesn't interfere with permitted, peaceful gatherings occurring at the Capitol," Gordon said.
Curtis Yoakum, a spokesman for the Department of Administration, said the state is working with the vendor to determine the final labor costs of installing the new fence. The previous fence cost the state $72,000 to install and remove.
The Capitol was surrounded by a fence for a year, after Public Safety officials said they documented a credible security threat to the building during the unrest in late May and June 2020 over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Crews removed the fencing nearly three months ago.
The Capitol will be closed to the public through Saturday at the request of the State Patrol. Multiple intersections surrounding the Capitol complex will be closed until at least Monday.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755