Officers in riot gear fired bean bags and pepper spray at protesters Thursday as they tried to clear them from a camp on private land in the path of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, the AP reports. A North Dakota State Emergency Services spokesperson said officers were responding to "aggressive" tactics by protesters, including some throwing rocks at officers and threatening them. More than 20 protesters were arrested, and at least one was injured. The confrontation marked a major escalation of a protest that has raged for months. Opponents of the pipeline moved in over the weekend to establish a camp on private land where the developer was working to complete the 1,200-mile pipeline. The route of the pipeline skirts the Standing Rock Reservation and the tribe says it could endanger water supplies and disturb cultural sites.
Police and soldiers driving trucks, military Humvees, and buses began the operation to clear the camp at midday and formed a horseshoe-like loop once they reached the camp, where about 200 protesters were awaiting them—some defiant and other praying. The operation to push out the protesters began a day after they had refused to leave voluntarily. Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement that the protesters' actions "forced law enforcement to respond." But Robert Eder, a 64-year-old Vietnam War veteran from the Standing Rock Reservation, said protesters would return. "If they take everybody to jail, there will be twice as many tomorrow, and every day that passes more will come," he said.