BISMARCK, N.D. — An American Indian and environmental activist named in a federal racketeering lawsuit says her opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline was constitutionally protected free speech, not an attempt to incite violence as the company alleges.
Krystal Two Bulls asked a judge in a court filing last month to dismiss her from the lawsuit filed by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which built the $3.8 billion pipeline to move North Dakota oil to Illinois.
The company’s $1 billion lawsuit filed in August 2017 and revised in August 2018 claims environmental groups and five individuals, including Two Bulls, interfered with company business, facilitated crimes and acts of terrorism, incited violence, targeted financial institutions that backed the project, and violated defamation and racketeering laws.
ETP’s lawyers maintain that Two Bulls was a key player in the Red Warrior Camp, an aggressive faction of pipeline protesters the company labels “a front for eco-terrorists.” The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council ultimately asked the group to leave the protest area near its reservation in southern North Dakota in late 2016.
Two Bulls’ attorneys argue in court documents that her anti-pipeline activism was not illegal.
“Plaintiff’s attempt to recast Ms. Two Bulls’ lawful advocacy as racketeering is nothing more than an attempt to punish and chill political speech plaintiffs do not like,” they said.
Two Bulls’ attorneys also say she wasn’t served with the lawsuit within the required 90 days of being named a defendant last August. She was served Dec. 5 at the Phoenix airport.
The company has argued that Two Bulls and three other people it added as individual defendants have used tactics such as moving frequently and staying in hotels under fake names to avoid being served. Two Bulls denies hiding, saying in an affidavit that “the effectiveness of my work as an activist demands that it gain public attention.”
ETP late last month asked the judge for more time to track down and serve the three defendants who still haven’t been served. The judge had not ruled as of Friday.
He also has yet to rule on a request by Greenpeace in September to be dismissed from the lawsuit. He dismissed Earth First and BankTrack as defendants last year. He said ETP failed to make a case that Earth First is an entity that can be sued and that BankTrack’s actions in imploring banks not to fund the pipeline did not amount to radical ecoterrorism.
All three groups have called the lawsuit an attack on free speech. Greenpeace also says allegations by ETP under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act are “implausible” and “inflammatory.” The company counters that there is plentiful evidence of “malicious criminal conduct” by Greenpeace.
Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake
Blake Nicholson, The Associated Press