A recent hoax in Minnesota highlighted the lengths some activists will go to in order to persuade public opinion and shape their own narrative in the media.
An activist group called the “Yes Men” developed an elaborate plan about the fictitious development of a pipeline in Duluth. The goal of this stunt was to try and create fear about pipelines and prevent the construction of a major pipeline that is being upgraded and replaced for efficiency and improved safety.
The Yes Men created the “Indigenous Pipeline Council”, a fake group behind their hoax that resulted in a local television station reporting on their fake news conference as factual information. The fake news conference was held at a banquet hall in downtown Duluth, where two men named “Carl Iron Eye” and “Coyote Mick Tomi” delivered a PowerPoint presentation that included asking the unsuspecting audience members to put on a black foam headdress with the words “Oil Chief” written on the headpiece and dance around the room.
Fox 21, a local TV station in Duluth covered the news conference and published an inaccurate story on its website. The story Fox 21 posted online was removed from the website and the outlet acknowledged their reporting error the next day.
One stunt, that was recorded and posted online in a blog post titled “Don’t drop the casket”, showed activists dressed in yellow hazmat suits removing fake coffins from graveyards in Duluth in front of churchgoers. The activists arrived at the location in a white truck with a decal that read “The Sacred Remains Relocation Unit” and pretended to displace remains in the cemetery to make room for the fictitious “ICP pipeline.” Despite bystanders looking concerned, the pipeline activists continued their prank.
The fake news stunt also garnered support from Honor the Earth through the Stop Line 3 coalition - the same group that was considered one of the leaders at the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest (DAPL). Earlier this summer, Minnesota Sheriffs reached out to local law enforcement in North Dakota to ask for advice if Honor the Earth’s Line 3 protests ramped up. It’s no surprise Minnesota law enforcement wanted to avoid another standing rock considering the DAPL protest came at a high cost to taxpayers. North Dakota taxpayers footed a bill of over $1 million dollars for clean up crews to remove 48 million pounds of trash.
The Trump administration has also taken steps to curb dangerous and illegal stunts that sometimes occur during high-profile demonstrations by releasing a proposal to strengthen the punishment for individuals who engage in "vandalism, tampering with, or impeding, disrupting or inhibiting the operation of" existing pipeline or pipelines under construction.
Pipeline tampering happens more often than you might think. In 2016, four out-of-state pipeline protestors associated with the group Climate Direct Action were accused of tampering with Enbridge pipeline valves in Clearwater County, Minnesota. The activists used bolt cutters to cut padlocks and chains to access the pipeline facility to attempt to stop the flow of oil. And there is photographic evidence to prove it. The group recorded their illegal activities and posted the evidence on social media. This was a dangerous stunt conducted by activists who didn’t know what they were doing and could have caused environmental damage.
It’s clear these groups have a long history of trying to stall or prevent pipeline projects at any cost. This fake news stunt may have been the latest play in their playbook after the Minnesota Supreme Court recently ruled against several environmental and tribal groups that petitioned to stop the pipeline’s construction.
Despite how these groups are portraying the dangers of pipelines, they are actually the safest way to transport petroleum oil, a necessary resource that powers how Americans live every day. The Environmental Protection Agency enforces strict rules and regulations that must be met before a pipeline can begin construction.
A significant number of America’s pipelines run through Minnesota, which is why it’s important that residents are informed with accurate information from their news stations regarding issues that could impact their community, especially economically. The local television station was quick to correct it’s a factually inaccurate story but let’s hope groups like these don’t attempt to misinform the public again.