‘You are on stolen land’: Native American protesters face off with National Guard and police and at least 15 are arrested after blocking a road leading to Mount Rushmore ahead of Trump’s Independence Day speech
- Protesters, mostly Native Americans, blocked a road leading to Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota
- The blockade was formed hours before President Trump arrived to deliver his Independence Day speech
- Demonstrators climbed on top of the vans chanting ‘Land back!’ while others held signs that read ‘Protect SoDak’s First People,’ ‘You Are On Stolen Land’
- Authorities declared an ‘unlawful assembly’ before police and National Guard soldiers moved in and a standoff ensued, with cops using pepper spray
Published: 21:43 EDT, 3 July 2020 | Updated: 22:49 EDT, 3 July 2020
More than 100 protesters faced off with the National Guard and police officers in Keystone, South Dakota on Friday after crowds blocked off a road leading to Mount Rushmore ahead of President Donald Trump’s arrival.
Activists and members of different Native American tribes gathered on a highway protesting the occupation of South Dakota’s Black Hills that they say were taken from the Lakota people against treaty agreements.
One group parked three vans across the road and took the tires from two of them to make it more difficult to remove them. Several demonstrators climbed on top of the vans chanting ‘Land back!’
Others held signs that read ‘Protect SoDak’s First People,’ ‘You Are On Stolen Land’ and ‘Dismantle White Supremacy’ while playing Lakota music in the 95F degree heat.
Authorities declared an ‘unlawful assembly’ before police and National Guard soldiers moved in and a standoff ensued, with officers using pepper spray and smoke bombs to disperse crowds.
At least 15 protesters were arrested after ignoring police officers’ orders to clear the area, according to The Rapid City Journal.
Independence Day standoff: Activists and members of different tribes from the region blocked a road as they protested in Keystone, South Dakota on Friday
Crowds gathered with signs and placards reading: ‘this is stolen land’ and’Protect SoDak’s First People’ ahead of Trump’s arrival
Demonstrators, mostly Native Americans, were protesting the occupation of South Dakota’s Black Hills that they say were taken from the Lakota people against treaty agreements
Hours later President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were seen disembarking from Air Force One upon arrival at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota
Tow trucks then began removing the vans from the road.
The confrontation unfolded hours before Trump‘s fiery Fourth of July speech at the national monument including denunciations of protesters he says are trying to ‘tear down’ the nation’s history.
He planned to condemn those who pull down statues to a big fireworks show and include his more traditional July Fourth praise of America’s past and values.
The president has spoken forcefully against other protesters in Washington, D.C., and other cities who have tried to topple Confederate monuments and statues honoring those who have benefited from slavery.
He planned to target ‘the left wing mob and those practicing cancel culture,’ said a person familiar with his remarks and describing them only on condition of anonymity.
The president was to preside over a fireworks display at an event expected to draw thousands, even as coronavirus cases spike across the country.
Trump was expecting a South Dakota show of support, with the state Republican Party selling T-shirts that feature Trump on the memorial alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
Authorities declared an ‘unlawful assembly’ before police and National Guard soldiers moved in and a standoff ensued
But concern about the coronavirus risk and wildfire danger from the fireworks, along with the Native American groups’ protests were also present.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, a Trump ally, has said social distancing won’t be required during the event and masks will be optional.
Event organizers were to provide masks to anyone who wanted them and planned to screen attendees for symptoms of COVID-19.
Noem and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., were among the crowd meeting the president and First Lady Melania Trump at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Noem wasn’t wearing a mask; Thune removed his face covering as he waited to greet the president.
The Republican mayor of the largest city near the monument, Rapid City, said he would be watching for an increase in cases after the event, the Rapid City Journal reported.
Tiffany Trump and her boyfriend Michael Boulos arrive with President Donald Trump on Air Force One at Ellsworth Air Force Base
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are greeted by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Senator John Thune
Members of the National Guard faced off with protesters who had blocked the road leading to Mount Rushmore
Cops in riot gear and military personnel moved in to try to disperse crowds
Enthusiastic attendees were unlikely to disqualify themselves ‘because they developed a cough the day of or the day before,’ Mayor Steve Allender said.
The small town of Keystone, which lies a couple of miles from the monument, was buzzing with people Friday hoping to catch a glimpse of the fireworks and the president. Many wore pro-Trump T-shirts and hats. Few wore masks.
‘This is going to rank up in the top Fourth of Julys that I talk about,’ said Mike Stewhr, who brought his family from Nebraska.
Mike Harris of Rapid City, who said he was a Republican, wore a mask and waved an anti-Trump flag. He also was sporting a handgun on each hip. He said he was worried the event would spark a COVID-19 outbreak.
‘I think it’s a bad example being set by our president and our governor,’ Harris said.
Leaders of several Native American tribes in the region also raised concerns that the event could lead to virus outbreaks among their members, who they say are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of an underfunded health care system and chronic health conditions.
‘The president is putting our tribal members at risk to stage a photo op at one of our most sacred sites,’ said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
Some Native American groups used Trump’s visit to protest the Mount Rushmore memorial itself, pointing out that the Black Hills were taken from the Lakota people