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School Terrorism Drill Brands Pipeline/Uranium Opponents as Terrorists

Has your government ever labelled you a potential terrorist? My state government may have just done that to me.

Last Tuesday, May 14, five Black Hills school districts—Rapid City, Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer, and Hot Springs—participated in a terrorism response drill. County and state emergency response personnel also participated. Here's how Curt Nettinga describes the scripted events in Hot Springs:

While the drill actually commenced at 12:30 p.m., things began early when a bus driver reported a suspicious SUV with several people following during his morning route. Next, a letter handed to a student at the Elementary School over the lunch hour is turned in to Principal. The letter threatens that “things dear to everyone will be destroyed unless continuation of the Keystone pipeline and uranium mining is stopped immediately.”

While the entire scenario was scripted, the use of pertinent and timely issues seemed to make it more realistic. Similar letters were scripted to have been sent to the other respective schools, each of which had slightly different scenarios presented to them [Curt Nettinga, "Mock Drill Has Positive Results," Hot Springs Star, 2013.05.21].

Wait a minute: Canadian companies threaten South Dakotans' land rights, water quality, and safety, and public officials in South Dakota tell kids to be afraid of citizens who have the audacity to stand against that foreign corporate agenda? Good grief! If our public officials can weave that kind of propaganda into their emergency exercises, I think they've just given me license to label them, TransCanada, and Powertech as corporate fascists.

Let me be clear: blowing up schools has never entered my head as a moral or effective response to TransCanada's or Powertech's predations. But I want to know whoever's head it did enter.

Whose cockamamie idea was it that scripting an imagined eco-terrorist agenda into an emergency readiness exercise would help teachers lock their doors faster, would help kids be quieter, or would help bomb squads find the fake bombs faster? Seriously, I want a name. I want an agency. Whose idea was it to label the political opponents of South Dakota's Canadian energy sell-out—people like me—as likely terrorist threats?


  1. Jana 2013.05.21

    OMG!!! You have got to be F'ing kidding me!

    Have KXL pipeline opponents been violent in the past? Yeah...You...environmental mom...on the ground and spread em!

    Guessing the reporter from Hot Springs will be hot on this. If not, then maybe Woster and the RCJ?

    Screw it. Someone from each of the school districts, county and state officials had better have a response by tomorrow...or by golly someone could do something crazy like post on a blog....

    Seriously...who is responsible?

    Oh, forget the media. Follow the money! Who paid these people? And why did they give them that scenario? That's the scariest thing they could come up with?

    Really...KXL protesters?

    Here are some more believable threats:

    The injustice of "Crash" winning an Oscar over "Brokeback Mountain" (Ed, Gordie and Brad know what I'm talking about.)

    A Cub's fan protesting the designated hitter rule that is destroying baseball.

    A GOP stalwart upset that there isn't a 9 month waiting period for a legal abortion.

    A Mitchell Newspaper editor angry that more candidates don't put their children above their political career.

    A Lincoln Day Dinner attendee that is upset their chicken wasn't really made of rubber.

    We do know that it couldn't be someone with a mental disease who has been committed to be hospitalized because they were a threat to know...their 2nd amendment rights are more important than being a threat to others.

    Right GOP legislators? I mean that could never...*cough* Sandy Hook *cough*...happen...right?

    Find the idiot who paid for this and then find the company that pushed this scenario...and then make them watch the Cubs, "Crash" and "Brokeback Mountain" with Brad Ford, Ed and Gordie.

  2. MC 2013.05.22

    Really? is this the very best they can come up with?

    I can see some of these protesters chaining them selfs to trees, or track hoes, but, blowing up schools?

    You want a real threat? How about a parent who has just lost everything, or that guy on the corner who seems to be talking to dead people?

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.22

    Phyllis, I hope you overcome your speechlessness, join me in speaking to our elected officials rather firmly, and ask them just how their little bit of fascist propaganda improved their emergency response drill.

  4. phyllis cole-dai 2013.05.22

    Absolutely I will join you. Where should we start? Ideas? Calling the school superintendents? Falls River EOC? Governor? All of the above.

    I may also write a letter to the editor. I encourage others to do the same.

    Stigmatizing and criminalizing dissent threatens all of us.

  5. Rorschach 2013.05.22

    “things dear to everyone will be destroyed unless continuation of the Keystone pipeline and uranium mining is stopped immediately.”

    This is a supposed terrorist threat? It sounds to me like concerned people talking about the damages that Keystone & uranium mining might have in store for SD. Do Keystone & uranium mining have the possibility to destroy things dear to everyone? Well we all know that accidents happen and things get contaminated. And we also know that corporations dodge financial responsibility and shunt liability onto landowners and taxpayers when such accidents do happen.

  6. bret clanton 2013.05.22

    Seeing as how I have lobbied in Pierre about safeguards on this issue and for land owner rights does this definition include me? Seeing as how my wife is on staff at the local school am I still allowed to sleep with her??? You notice I am avoiding key words that could possibly trigger scrutiny. I have never been one that subscribed to the black ummm you know theory but maybe.......

  7. Donald Pay 2013.05.22

    Who approved this scenario, and why would anyone in a position of authority in these school districts allow their personnel to be used in this way? It seems to me there needs to be some accountability for this, and the people who were involved need to lose their jobs.

  8. Douglas Wiken 2013.05.22

    This has a long history. Remember Reagan testing his microphone by saying war had just been declared on the Soviet Union?

  9. bret clanton 2013.05.22

    For some reason in response to my inquiries everyone seems to be out of the office in Hot Springs today.....

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.22

    Bret, I'm still waiting for responses as well. I did hear from the state OEM: they say only one of their people was involved in the exercise, and that person had nothing to do with writing the scenario.

  11. Donald Pay 2013.05.23

    Every one of the people responsible for this need to lose their jobs immediately. This is an officially sanctioned hate crime against people who are participating legally in the political process. This needs to be investigated to determine if this exercise went further, using the exercise as an excuse to illegally wiretap or conduct other illegal investigation of people because of their opposition to these projects. All people who participated need to be investigated as to what they did. This is absolutely unacceptable.

  12. phyllis cole-dai 2013.05.23

    Having spent some time yesterday and today on the phone with a variety of people related to this drill, let me pass on the following:

    The script presenting a threat ("inject") posed by a terrorist in opposition to the KXL or uranium mining was co-authored by two men at the county level of planning. The first is Ken Hawki, chair of the Lawrence County Local Emergency Planning Committee and Assistant Emergency Manager for Lawrence County. The second is Fred Wells, a 25-year veteran of the military (specializing in anti-terrorism planning) who now volunteers his expertise to "two different fire departments and his county" (Butte, I think). (A sidenote: While I don't mean to cast aspersions on Mr. Wells's military service, his involvement in this seems noteworthy when there are increasing reports of Big Oil utilizing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency tactics against groups that oppose its projects.)

    After these two men wrote the script, it was presented for consideration to a 15-20 member group that was planning a crisis management drill in three schools (not five, as the journalist reported). Members of the group were representatives of local emergency responders, local emergency management, and the three school districts involved (Deadwood, Custer and Hot Springs). The group gave its consent for the script to be used and it was then prepped to meet federal guidelines for such drills and submitted.

    To sum up these men's position, which was fairly unified: (1) it was never their intent to offend anyone with this script, and they are very sorry that it has given offense; (2) the script was never meant to be made public--beyond the planning group, it was intended only for the eyes of school principals who would carry out the drills; (3) the "environmental issue" (Keystone XL and uranium mining) was chosen because it's a "hot-button" and "relevant" in the area and would "add realism to the scenario"; (4) despite there never having been a known threat of violence made in South Dakota by people opposed to KXL or uranium mining (which these men admitted), there is always a "fringe element on any side of an issue willing to do violence," so their choice of inject was justified; and (5) their primary objective was not to either push or attack a particular environmental or political position but simply to run a drill to help evaluate the crisis plans meant to protect schoolchildren against terrorist threats.

    I appreciated these men's willingness to speak with me. However, I pressed each of them on a number of points, including:

    1) What is not good in public is not good in private. Besides, the "private" ripples out into the public, in a variety of ways, as is now obvious. The public reaction to this drill is not the "fault" of a journalist "getting hold of information he was never meant to have." It's the fault of planners who were doing something they should not have been doing in the first place.

    (2) Regardless of their intentions, the planners' identifying this drill with a particular group of people holding a particular point of view is not legitimate. It stigmatizes their position and their right to dissent, and also "criminalizes" it, at least in hypothetical terms. I urged them in future to hold drills in which NO particular group, or representative thereof, is identified as a threat. The threat itself is what must be responded to.

    (3) Using a threat from "an environmentalist" (which is a gross mischaracterization or oversimplification of the opposition to the KXL and uranium mining projects) does not add "realism to the scenario" because it's unrealistic. So far as I know, there have been no threats of violence made against schools or any other public places by anyone in the opposition to these projects. In fact, the opposition has been explicitly nonviolent in its resistance. Yes, it's possible that an isolated individual may take extreme action, but that's true of any group. As Fred Wells said himself, even in fire departments extremist individuals are present--but who has ever run a school drill where the threat of violence is coming from a firefighter? Why paint any group with such a brush?

    (4) The planners are contributing to an already polarized, and polarizing, climate in this country in which it is considered "extremist" or "illegitimate" or "unpatriotic" to advocate positions other than those supported by "the authorities." Both men (as did other sources I talked with) were feeling a strong backlash from the public since the drill was reported, and one source has even felt physically threatened. I apologized for any perceived or real threats to their well-being, but I also stated that the public anger is understandable. Many citizens are feeling betrayed by their elected and appointed public officials, and they are becoming increasingly resentful of authority figures who are not adequately addressing their legitimate concerns. The planners' recent actions have only added fuel to the fire, unfortunately.

    There's more I could report, but these are the most significant points. I plan to write a letter to the editor for at least a couple of newspaper over here, East River. I suspect it would be good for somebody West River to write for local papers there. We can't let this go unchallenged.

  13. bret clanton 2013.05.23

    How about this lockdown scenario. An obviously distraught individual standing on a street corner. His hands are covered in blood and he is holding a meat cleaver. He is ranting and raving and that's not a believable scenario........

  14. Donald Pay 2013.05.23

    Let's be very clear here about the history of "terrorism" and "sabotage" charges in South Dakota by certain people and industries in South Dakota against environmentalists. You can almost guarantee that at some point some public relations flak for some controversial industry is going to level the "sabotage" or "environmental terrorism" charge against some or all opponents of their operations. It's just an unfortunate, but expected, charge that happens all the time.

    What is really sicking is that it just so happens that the counties mentioned happen to have particular industries that have a history of leveling these false charges, and local governments which echo, rather than condemn, these falsities. So, I'm not so willing to let these folks off the hook. In my mind, these folks may have deeply ingrained prejudices that allow them to think this kind of scenario is not only possible, but absolutely happening.

    In one case that hit especially close to home, our group and an individual we worked closely with were targeted by a false sabotage charge by Brohm Mining, which was trying to escape responsibility for the fact that its heap leach pads were leaking into groundwater. It turned out that state environmental regulators had to investigate whether this charge was in the realm of possibility. Of course, this fiasco should have been a tip off that this company was not fit to continue mining, but the state kept giving them permits and they ended up giving South Dakota a tax eating Superfund site.

  15. phyllis cole-dai 2013.05.23

    Interesting context, Donald. Thanks for providing it.

    When you say that you're "not so willing to let these folks off the hook", I'm not so willing either, but I'm not sure what more we can do. Any ideas? I'm planning to write letters to editor, and I also told the woman in charge of the Office of Emergency Planning in Pierre (who claims not to have known about the script in advance) that this was unacceptable and that she needs to have a serious conversation with all Emergency Planners in the state about what is and is not appropriate. That's not much, I know. Would be interested in additional ideas!

  16. Donald Pay 2013.05.24

    I would guess these drills are accomplished with some federal tax dollars (Homeland Security and/or Department of Education). In order to qualify for those funds, the local authorities must meet certain requirements. I would be looking at getting federal funds taken away from these state and local agencies, or looking at statutes, regulations, Memorandums of Understanding, etc., to find whether law, regulations and guidelines have been broken. I definitely would not just let these good ole boys get away with using my tax dollars to smear my good name.

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