Dakota Access Pipeline resister stands with integrity in face of long prison sentence

Dakota Access Pipeline resister stands with integrity in face of long prison sentence

Sentenced to eight years in prison for acts of sabotage, water protector Jessica Reznicek reflects on her faith-driven resistance.

By Cristina Yurena Zerr

This article was first published in the German newspaper taz, and has been translated and edited for Waging Nonviolence.

On June 28, the federal court in Des Moines, Iowa was silent and filled to capacity. Fifty people were there to witness the sentencing of 40-year old Jessica Reznicek, charged with “conspiracy to damage an energy production facility” and “malicious use of fire.” The prosecution, asking for an extended sentence, argued that Reznicek’s acts could be classified as domestic terrorism.

This was not the first time Reznicek had been on trial, but this time she was facing a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Sitting across from her was U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger, the prosecutor and an FBI agent. Numerous police officers in bulletproof vests stood around the courtroom. The defendant was called upon to give her closing speech.

In her loud, clear voice, Reznicek told them about her strong connection to the water. In her childhood she regularly went to the river to swim and play. But that’s no longer possible, she said, because the two rivers that run through Des Moines — Iowa’s capital — are now poisoned by agrobusiness pesticides and waste.

It was for these very personal reasons that she decided to fight the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Reznicek told those in attendance. At least eight leaks, she explained, had already occurred in 2017, with 20,983 gallons of crude oil leeching into soils and the waterways. “I was acting out of desperation,” she said, describing her motivations for sabotage.

“Indigenous tradition teaches us that water is life. Scripture teaches that in the beginning, God created the waters and the earth and that it was good.” With these words, she ended her closing argument. The prison sentence followed shortly thereafter: eight years in federal prison, three years of probation, and a restitution of $3,198,512.70 to the corporation Energy Transfer.

The Des Moines River (Cristina Yurena Zerr)

On July 24, 2017 — two years before sentencing — Jessica Reznicek can be seen in a shaky video with her activist partner Ruby Montoya, a former elementary school teacher who was 27 at the time. They stand in front of a group of journalists next to a busy street. The speech they give would drastically change their lives.

After several months of secretly sabotaging one of the country’s most controversial construction projects, the two women, whose paths would later part, went public. “We acted for our children because the world they inherit does not meet their needs. There are over five major bodies of water here in Iowa, and none of them are clean. After having explored and exhausted all avenues of process, including attending public hearings, gathering signatures for valid requests for environmental impact statements, participating in civil disobedience, hunger strikes, marches and rallies, boycotts and encampments, we saw the clear refusal of our government to hear the people’s demands.”

That’s why Reznicek and Montoya burned five machines at a pipeline construction site in Iowa on election night in November 2016. They would later change their methods, using a welding torch to dismantle the pipeline’s surface-mounted steel valves, delaying construction by weeks. “After the success of this peaceful action, we began to use this tactic up and down the pipeline, throughout Iowa,” the two women say.

But no media reported on their activities; the corporation cited other — false — reasons for the delay. When the activists noticed during an action that oil was already flowing in the pipes, they decided to go public, as they had to admit a kind of defeat.

The two women appear clear and determined on this day in the summer of 2017 as they take turns reciting their pre-written text. “If there are any regrets, it is that we did not act enough.” They end their speeches and are led away in handcuffs by three police officers.

Using the slogan “Mni wiconi,” meaning “Water is Life,” in the Lakota (Sioux) language, a broad movement was organized in 2016 against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The protest of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe garnered national and international attention.

The tribe sees the construction of the pipeline as a threat to their water supply because the pipeline runs under Lake Oahe, which is near the reservation. Other bodies of water are also at risk because the pipeline crosses under rivers and lakes in many places, which could contaminate the drinking water of many people in the event of an accident. In addition, ancient burial sites and sacred places of great cultural value would be threatened by the construction. Opponents of the pipeline speak of ecological racism — not only because Indigenous rights to self-government would be curtailed, but also because the construction of so-called Man Camps (temporary container cities for construction workers who move from other states) would lead to prostitution and an increase in violence against Indigenous women.

Their government — the Sioux Tribe is a sovereign nation — issued a resolution back in 2015 saying the pipeline “poses a serious risk to the very survival of our tribe and […] would destroy valuable cultural resources.” Construction would also break the Fort Laramie Treaty, which guarantees them the “undisturbed use and occupation” of reservation land. But their arguments went unheard by both the company and the government.

The operating company said the pipeline would not harm the environment, would not affect Indigenous rights and would not pose a threat to drinking water supplies. But the protest, which stretches across several states along the pipeline, has developed into one of the largest environmental movements in the United States. Native Americans from different nations and reservations are joining, along with landowners, environmental organizations and left-wing autonomous movements.

Reznicek first heard about the pipeline when she was released from prison six years ago, after serving a two-month stint for her protest against a U.S. military weapons contractor in Omaha, Nebraska. An organizer from Standing Rock had come to Des Moines to mobilize people for the protest. “I decided that I wanted to learn more about Indigenous ceremony, understanding that I am a white person, I cannot just go in and express my demands. And I also wanted to focus on stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline Project. So I drove up to Standing Rock.”

Political Prisoner Support for Ruby Montoya and Jessica Renzicek

Political Prisoner Support for Ruby Montoya and Jessica Renzicek

By Max Wilbert

On July 24th, 2017, Ruby Montoya and Jessica Renzicek made a public statement admitting that they had carried out multiple acts of sabotage against the then-under-construction Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in Spring 2017 during the #NoDAPL #StandingRock movement. The two activists set fire to heavy machinery and used blow torches to damage the oil pipeline and valves in an effort to decisively halt the project.

While the Dakota Access Pipeline was ultimately completed, their actions singlehandedly delayed construction for months. Jessica and Ruby are calling on others to consider similar tactics in their struggles against pipelines and other destructive projects.

On June 30, Jessica was sentenced to eight years in prison. Now, Ruby is scheduled to appear in Federal Court to argue that Energy Transfer Partners lied and demonized her and Jessica to try and get them locked up as “eco-terrorists.” Her defense, if successful, could set important legal precedents for eco-activists around the country.

To do this, she needs financial help. Please donate here to support Ruby’s legal defense. Funding will go directly to her attorney, Daphne Silverman.



JESSICA REZNICEK SUPPORT WEBSITE (Jessica is now a political prisoner and we encourage supporters to write letters to her):

Indigenous Environmental Defenders Shut Down Peruvian Crude Oil Pipeline

Indigenous Environmental Defenders Shut Down Peruvian Crude Oil Pipeline

This article originally appeared in Common Dreams.


“Not a single drop of oil is going to come out of the Amazon until the government takes care of us,” said campaigners.

Demanding stronger social and environmental support in northern Peru’s Loreto region, about 200 Indigenous protesters on Wednesday announced a strike two days after they began occupying a station of the North Peruvian Oil Pipeline controlled by state-owned oil company Petroperu.

The strike will continue until President Pedro Castillo, who took office in July and has pledged a redistribution of wealth from mining projects to help local communities, fulfills the Indigenous people’s demands, said the Indigenous Association for Development and Conservation of Bajo Yurimaguas (AIDCBY).

“Not a single drop of oil is going to come out of the Amazon until the government takes care of us,” said AIDCBY.

The group, as well as the Awajun Native Federation of the Apaga River (FENARA) and the Peoples Affected by Oil Activity (PAAP), are demanding the establishment of a trust fund to finance the cleanup of areas affected by oil spills as well as education and healthcare services in the region.

Official statistics show that at least 37 spills from the pipeline were recorded between 1996 and 2016.

According to the environmental protection group EarthRights International, local communities have been affected by major declines in crop yields and contaminated drinking water and have reported “a number of health problems stemming from the contamination, including nausea, migraines, vomiting, stomach pain, skin rashes, and even miscarriages among pregnant women; tests have confirmed contaminants in blood and urine.”

The demonstrators called on Castillo and Energy Minister Ivan Merino to travel to Station 5, the pipeline station the groups have taken over. According to Telesur English, FENARA on Wednesday said the government should not “provoke with a police deployment” but instead allow for “the implementation of an intercultural dialogue.”

Last year, three Amazonian Indigenous people were killed and 17 demonstrators were injured after Peruvian security forces responded to protests over a pipeline run by Canadian firm PetroTal.

Petroperu’s pipeline transports crude oil from northern Peru’s Amazon regions to a refinery on the country’s Pacific coast. The company was forced to halt the pumping of oil this week as the groups took over Station 5.

Ismael Pérez Petsa, a leader of the Lower Puinahua Indigenous Development and Conservation Association, told Radio La Voz de la Selva Wednesday that the outcome of the protest is now in the Castillo administration’s hands.

“Now we’ll see the real face of the executive who campaigned about supporting Indigenous peoples,” Pérez Petsa said. “The ball is with them and today it’s [a] government political decision.”

Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

UPDATE on Jessica Reznicek’s case! SIGN THE PETITION “Protecting Water is Never Terrorism: Repeal Terrorist Enhancement!”, and Free Jessica WEBSITE LAUNCH!

UPDATE on Jessica Reznicek’s case! SIGN THE PETITION “Protecting Water is Never Terrorism: Repeal Terrorist Enhancement!”, and Free Jessica WEBSITE LAUNCH!

Update from July 23, 2021

Contact: freejessicareznicek@gmail.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/freejessrez
Website: Supportjessicareznicek.com
Featured image photo credit: Christina Yurena Zerr

Since sentencing Jessica has remained on house arrest at the Des Moines Catholic Worker, with her cat Noni who has offered constant comfort and solidarity. The United States Department of Justice has notified Jessica Reznicek that she is scheduled to report to Waseca, MN Federal Correctional Institution on Aug 11th at 2pm. Our hearts are filled with feelings of love and gratitude from all the requests to write letters of support to Jessica. Once she is in prison we will launch a letter writing campaign with all the information and directions on how to do so.

The 8th Circuit United States Court of Appeals has set a preliminary deadline of August 19th for an appeals brief to be filed. The appeal will be focusing on Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger’s misuse of terrorism enhancements at Jessica’s sentencing.

Despite federal authorities use of ‘terrorism’ language to describe Reznicek’s actions, no person was harmed by her actions, nor was she technically convicted of any terrorism-related crime. In plain language, there are already laws on books to punish people for arson, and without the domestic terrorism enhancement Jessica would be looking at less than half of the 8 year sentence she has wrongfully received.

ADD YOUR NAME TO THE PETITION: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/protecting-water-is-never-terrorism-repeal-jessica-rezniceks-terrorist-enhancement?source=direct_link&

In the meantime, Jessica remains upbeat and heart-strong as she is receiving enormous amounts of support, solidarity and love from folks around the globe. She is currently exploring ways to earn her bachelor degree while in prison through prison correspondence education programs. For more information on Jessica’s case and to continue to support Jessica visit our website: supportjessicareznicek.com

If you are on organization that would like to add your name to the petition or support team fill out this form: https://forms.gle/EVP17qvNmgp5AYRRA

Thank you for your support!

Love and solidarity,

Jessica and the Jessica Support Team

Update from August 11, 2021

Jessica Reznicek self surrenders for an unjust sentence: appeal and petition move forward.

Contact: freejessicareznicek@gmail.com

Waseca, MN– Today water protector Jessica Reznicek self-reported to the Waseca Federal Correctional Facility to begin serving her 8 year prison sentence for the actions she took to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Jessica spent the week leading up to her imprisonment emotionally preparing with her spiritual community. When asked how she felt she said:

“Today I feel sad to be saying my final goodbyes to loved ones. I am strengthened, however, knowing that I’m still standing with integrity during this very important moment in history, as there truly is no other place to be standing at a time like this.”

Jessica’s harsh sentence was the result of a domestic terrorism enhancement that federal prosecutors are increasingly using against water protectors and climate justice activists who endanger the fossil fuel industries profits. Jessica is still actively pursuing an appeal. Her lead attorney Bill Quigley gave an update: “The legal team is working hard on this appeal to challenge the length of the sentence and to reverse the terrorism enhancement. A number of environmental organizations have agreed to consider signing onto amicus or friend of the court briefs supporting Jessica. The deadline for filing briefs is currently August 19 but we expect that will be pushed back at least a month.”

Jessica and her support team are asking the public to sign this petition to take a stand against the criminalization of water protectors. So far over 5,600 have signed along over 50 organizations including Veterans for Peace, MN350, National Lawyers Guild, CODEPINK, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, About Face: Veterans Against the War, and Center for Protest Law and Litigation.

A statement from the support team read “It is important to highlight this moment. Only days ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their most dire report yet, calling it a code red for humanity. We’re in a moment when scientists, indigenous people, and global ecosystems sound the alarm, and over a dozen state governments in the US introduce critical infrastructure bills targeting pipeline protestors under the guise of “national security”. A moment when the sheriffs and police in Minnesota arrest over 600 people fighting to stop the Line 3 pipeline and charge 100 with the new critical infrastructure laws and dozens more with felonies. A moment when a federal judge orders Jessica Reznicek to pay 3.2 million in restitution to a fossil fuel corporation responsible for building a world that humans cannot survive in, a moment when, today, Jessica reports to prison to start an 8 year sentence labeled a terrorist by Joe Biden’s Department of Justice. What happens to Jessica, happens to all of us! In this moment we must unequivocally tell Joe Biden protecting water is never terrorism. Acting on clear directives from climate science with direct action is never terrorism. ”

When life on this planet is under attack, as Jessica says “there truly is no other place to be standing at a time like this.”

Add your name to the Petition:


For more information on Jessica’s case and to continue to support Jessica visit our website: supportjessicareznicek.com

If you are on organization that would like to add your name to the petition or support team fill out this form: https://forms.gle/EVP17qvNmgp5AYRRA


Is Jessica Reznicek A Terrorist?

Is Jessica Reznicek A Terrorist?

By Paul Deaton in the Blog for Iowa.

Jessica Reznicek, a 39-year-old environmental activist and Catholic Worker from Des Moines, Iowa, was sentenced in federal court June 30 to eight years in prison for her efforts to sabotage construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

In November 2016, Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, a former preschool teacher, set fire to heavy construction equipment at a pipeline worksite in Buena Vista County, Iowa.

Over the next several months, the women used oxyacetylene torches, tires and gasoline-soaked rags to burn equipment and damage pipeline valves along the line from Iowa to South Dakota. Their actions reportedly caused several million dollars’ worth of damage and delayed construction for weeks.

Continue reading this article in the Blog for Iowa

Is Jessica Reznicek A Terrorist?

Water Protector sentenced to 8 years in Federal Prison for actions to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

For Immediate Release Thursday, July 1st, 2021

Editor’s note: If anyone should still have any doubts that we are living in CORPORATE FASCISM, this is imminent proof.

From the statement by Jessica and Ruby when they openly admitted and took full credit for carrying out eco-sabotage:
“Some may view these actions as violent, but be not mistaken. We acted from our hearts and never threatened human life nor personal property,” Montoya said. “What we did do was fight a private corporation that has run rampant across our country, seizing land and polluting our nation’s water supply. You may not agree with our tactics, but you can clearly see their necessity in light of the broken federal government and the corporations they represent.”

Contact: freejessicareznicek@gmail.com

Des Moines, IA –On Wednesday Federal Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger sentenced Jessica Reznicek to 8 years in prison, followed by 3 years supervised probation, and a restitution of $3,198,512.70 paid to Energy Transfer LLC for the actions she took in 2016 to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“I am saddened to be preparing for prison following today’s sentencing hearing. My spirit remains strong, however, as I feel held in love, support and prayer by so many near and far. Regardless of my sentence I am hopeful that movements to protect the water live on in the struggles against Line 3 and the Mountain Valley Pipelines.”
Jessica Reznicek

The judge sided with the Federal prosecutors and applied a domestic terrorism enhancement to Jessica’s case. The enhancement originated in the Bush era Patriot Act, which expanded the definition of terrorism to cover “domestic,” as opposed to international, terrorism. Theprosecutor requested the enhancement claiming that Jessica’s acts of resistance were “violent”, “dangerous”, and sought to “intimidate the government”. The judge decided that this argument provided enough evidence to substantiate the enhancement, saying it was necessary to discourage others from taking similar actions.

The enhancement increases Jessica’s sentence, but also has far reaching implications for broader social justice movements. This use of this enhancement interprets non-violent actions that challenge corporate profit as acts of terror against the government.

On today’s decision one of Jessica’s attorneys Bill Quigley stated, “Unfortunately, actions to protect our human right to water were found to be less important than the profit and property of corporations which are destroying our lands and waters. For a country which was founded by the rebellion of the Boston Tea Party this is extremely disappointing. But the community of resistance will no doubt carry on. And history will judge if Jessica Reznicek is a criminal or a prophet. Many of us are betting she’s a prophet.”

In her statement to the court Jessica highlighted how the water system for her hometown of Des Moines is on the verge of collapse. The city water department has admitted that both the Des Moines and Racoon rivers are so polluted and low that in the upcoming weeks they might not be able to continue to use them to supply the capital with drinking water. Meanwhile “victim” in this case Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiaries are responsible for 313 reported spills since 2012 on liquid lines, 35 caused water contamination. In the last 5 years the company had more accidents harming people or the environment than any other operator.

Jessica will remain on house arrest until she has to self-report for her sentence and plans to file an appeal within the 14 day window allowed by the court.


#FreeJessica #WaterIsLife #NoDAPL

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