Meet the Two Catholic Workers Who Secretly Sabotaged the Dakota Access Pipeline to Halt Construction
Two Iowa-based Catholic Worker activists revealed they secretly carried out multiple acts of sabotage and arson in order to stop construction of the controversial $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. We speak with Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya about how they set fire to heavy machinery being used to construct the pipeline. They say their actions were inspired by the anti-nuclear Plowshares Movement which used nonviolent direct action to target nuclear warheads and military installations.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Iowa, where two Catholic Workers have revealed they secretly carried out multiple acts of sabotage and arson in recent months in order to stop construction of the controversial $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya said that on Election Day last year they set fire to five pieces of heavy machinery being used to construct the pipeline. The two then taught themselves how to destroy empty pipeline valves, and moved up and down the pipeline’s length, destroying the valves and delaying construction for weeks. They say their actions were inspired by the anti-nuclear Plowshares Movement, which used nonviolent direct action to target nuclear warheads and military installations.
On Monday, they spoke out outside the Iowa Utilities Board office. This begins with Jessica Reznicek.
JESSICA REZNICEK: We are speaking publicly to empower others to act boldly, with purity of heart, to dismantle the infrastructures which deny us our rights to water, land and liberty. We, as civilians, have seen the repeated failures of the government, and it is our duty to act with responsibility and integrity, risking our own liberty for the sovereignty of us all.
RUBY MONTOYA: Some may view these actions as violent, but be not mistaken. We acted from our hearts and never threatened human life nor personal property. What we did do was fight a private corporation that has run rampantly across our country seizing land and polluting our nation’s water supply.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was Ruby Montoya, along with Jessica Reznicek, speaking Monday. After delivering their statement, the two used a hammer and crowbar to try to pull off the letters of the Iowa Utilities Board sign in protest of its recent decision to reject a lawsuit by environmental groups to revoke the pipeline’s state permit and force it to shut down. The women were arrested and jailed overnight for destroying the sign, and are now facing possible arrest at any time for committing multiple acts of sabotage.
I spoke to Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya earlier this week. I began by asking Ruby to talk about what they did and why they’re coming forward now.
RUBY MONTOYA: So, on election night, we went to a DAPL easement site in Buena Vista County, and we saw over six or seven pieces of heavy machinery there. And we went with our supplies, and we filled these coffee canisters up with gasoline and oil. We placed those coffee canisters on the inside of the cabs of these heavy machinery, on the seats, and we pierced those coffee canisters so that the flammable liquids would spread. We then lit matches and—in efforts to make those machines obsolete.
We acted after having exhausted all other avenues of political process and resistance to this petroleum pipeline that, to my knowledge, is the largest in the United States as far as the capacity that it is able to carry the oil.
AMY GOODMAN: Jessica Reznicek, how did you know where this pipeline was?
JESSICA REZNICEK: Well, I knew exactly where this pipeline was, because it—it’s not more than 15 miles from this studio. It runs right here through the county I was born in, Polk County, Iowa. I definitely took a lot of inspiration from what I saw up at Standing Rock. But Iowa is impacted greatly by this, and my home city’s drinking water is to be destroyed when this pipeline breaks. And so it’s not a matter of having to find it. It’s right—it found me.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the investigation into the damage to the pipeline has been ongoing. But, apparently, the authorities did not have leads into who committed these acts of sabotage. So, Jessica, why did you decide, you and Ruby decide, to come forward on Monday?
JESSICA REZNICEK: Well, I guess one of the main reasons is Ruby and I felt very disheartened by the fact that oil is now flowing through the pipeline. Obviously, we cannot pierce through empty valves anymore. They are not empty. We halted construction up and down the line for several weeks, turning into months. And we’re now at the phase where we have to deal with the reality that this pipeline—that we failed, as resistance here in Iowa goes. And now oil is flowing through it, and there’s really nothing more to do now than come forward and let the public know that—and continue this public discourse about what that means, where we’re heading, and the consequences of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Ruby, you talked about beginning this action of sabotage on election night. Why the significance of this day, Election Day? And then talk about what happened in the ensuing weeks, what exactly you did.
RUBY MONTOYA: Well, Election Day, it was very serendipitous. It just happened by coincidence. I remember, the next day, we were with the Mississippi can—Mississippi Stand Caravan. And other comrades had crawled into the Dakota Access pipeline and occupied it for over 15 hours, at least. So I remember showing up there at the Des Moines River boring site and still being elated by the action that we took the previous night, because we knew that through the actions of Mississippi Stand, they had halted the boring process temporarily, and through the actions that Jessica and I took the evening prior, we had also halted construction temporarily. So that felt really great, and we saw the effectiveness of these peaceful means to take fire and other materials to these empty structures of metal to disable them so that they could not continue their process of destruction.
As time went on, we saw that construction continued and that pipe was being put into the ground. And so our only viable means was to somehow obstruct this pipe. And that material is made of steel, five-eighth-inch steel. And we had to figure out something that would melt it or somehow make it obsolete. So we began to look for things that would cut through that amount of steel, and that turned out to be oxygen and acetylene, which burns at like over 2,000 degrees, and that melts steel. So, after acquiring that knowledge, we proceeded and found many empty valves. All of the valves were empty. And we began, first in Mahaska County, Iowa, piercing through a valve there. And later, we continued, until we ran out of supplies, hitting multiple valve sites.
AMY GOODMAN: What are the significance of these valves? What do they do?
RUBY MONTOYA: They are access points to shut off the flow of oil. So, I know that that occurred with a group up in the tar sands area of Alberta, Canada. So, you can physically shut these valves off if there is oil in them. But since there was not oil in them, this is the part of the pipeline that is exposed. The rest is underground and underneath our waterways. So, with this steel exposed, instead of having to operate a bulldozer and try to dig it up, it was easier to find these exposed valves and cut underneath the seams of these valves, because these valves have seams. And if you cut underneath the seams, it’s a lot more effective in terms of them having to dig it up further and costing them more money and more time and pushing back that completion date, until—our goal was for them to exhaust their financial means so that they would stop with this pipeline.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Jessica Reznicek, there are many who would say that destroying private property like this is violence. Your response to this?
JESSICA REZNICEK: I completely disagree. I think that the oil being taken out of the ground and the machinery that does it and the infrastructure which supports it, that this is violent. This is—these tools and these mechanisms that industry and corporate—corporate power and government power have all colluded together to create, this is destructive, this is violent, and it needs to be stopped.
And we never at all threatened human life. We never at all—and, actually, we’re acting in an effort to save human life, to save our planet, to save our resources. And nothing at any point was ever done by Ruby nor I in anything outside of peaceful, deliberate and steady loving hands.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what Plowshares actions are, for those who don’t know? You’re both Catholic Workers, Jessica and Ruby, living at the Catholic Worker House in Des Moines. Can you explain what the Catholic Worker movement is all about?
JESSICA REZNICEK: We have a rich tradition, started by Dorothy Day in the 1930s. And we have a rich tradition both in assisting underprivileged people in our communities, via soup kitchens, hospitality, shelters for homeless people who we live with in our communities, and we also have—on the flipside of that, we also recognize the resistance that is needed to help bring underprivileged people back up to the same level as the people who are taking the money from them.
And so, in essence, Ruby and I focus on the resistance aspect here in the Des Moines Catholic Worker. And we have followed suit, and I believe that we are inspired by Mr. Phil Berrigan—the house that we live in is named after. And we do understand the need to dismantle infrastructure when it poses a threat to human life and liberty.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me talk about and ask you about that tradition of the Berrigan brothers, of Father Dan Berrigan and Philip Berrigan, who helped launch the international anti-nuclear Plowshares movement. Father Dan and seven others poured blood and hammered on warheads at a GE nuclear missile plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in 1980. I asked Father Dan Berrigan about this during an interview I did with him around, oh, a decade ago.
DANIEL BERRIGAN: We went in with the workers at the changing of the shift and found there was really no security worth talking about, a very easy entrance. In about three minutes, we were looking at doomsday. The weapon was before us. It was an unarmed warhead about to be shipped to Amarillo, Texas, for its payload. So it was a harmless weapon as of that moment. And we cracked the weapon. It was very fragile. It was made to withstand the heat of re-entry into the atmosphere from outer space, so it was like eggshell, really. And we had taken as our model the great statement of Isaiah 2: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares." So we did it, poured our blood around it and stood in a circle, I think, reciting the Lord’s Prayer until Armageddon arrived, as we expected.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Father Dan Berrigan and his brother Philip Berrigan and others, the Catonsville Nine, in 1968, burned the draft files of people in Catonsville, Maryland, using napalm that was used in Vietnam. Do you consider this a Plowshares action?
JESSICA REZNICEK: It has been characterized by Ruby and I as what we call a rolling Plowshares, yes. An extended Plowshares action, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: At the end of your statement on Monday—and you were standing in front of a Iowa Utilities Board office—can you explain its significance and why you then turned around and started ripping off the metal letters from that sign, as the—as the police moved in to arrest you?
RUBY MONTOYA: The Iowa Utilities Board here in Iowa granted the Dakota Access LLC permits, using eminent domain, as a public utility, for this pipeline. So, the company was allowed by the Iowa Utilities Board to come and seize land from farmers to put this petroleum pipeline underneath their fields. So, the Iowa Utilities Board here in Iowa was key, because Dakota Access pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners were able to sidestep the legal requirement of an environmental impact statement. So, each state had its governing body to either grant or deny these permits to build this pipeline. And here in Iowa, that was the Iowa Utilities Board. And it was granted under the guise, under the lie, of a public utility. And this past Friday, they released another decision, yet again doing the wrong thing and ruling in favor of the Dakota Access pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners. So, that’s why we were there.
There have been many protests, vigils, hunger strikes in front of that building, with no response; public commentary hearings, with no response from this board. Geri Huser, who’s the head of this board—it’s a three-person board—she’s actually under investigation for corruption. And so, the list goes on and on as to why the Iowa Utilities Board is culpable in the allowance of the Dakota Access pipeline to come through Iowa. So we couldn’t have picked a better place to release our statement. And with trying to remove all the letters from the Iowa Utilities Board, we don’t feel that they represent Iowans, nor do they have their best interests in mind. Clearly, time and time again, they are siding with these oil companies, because of corruption.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Ruby, overall, the Dakota Access pipeline, what it means to you? Did you and Jessica go to the resistance camps at the time of the last year during the height of the resistance?
RUBY MONTOYA: I actually met Jessica on the Mississippi River. Prior to that, I was a preschool teacher in Boulder, Colorado. And I found out about the Dakota Access pipeline. I read about what they were intending to do, to put these dirty petroleum pipes underneath our major waterways here in the United States. And I was aghast by their intentions. So I quit my job, and I went to Standing Rock. And I was greatly comforted by the amount of people that were there, the amount of helping hands ready to do resistance work and community work. And I was following the Dakota Access pipeline so closely that I found out about Jessica Reznicek starting an encampment on the Mississippi River bore site. And I went there because I knew that there were not a lot of people there.
AMY GOODMAN: Jessica, how did you get involved with the Catholic Worker movement?
JESSICA REZNICEK: I met the Catholic Workers. They were here in Des Moines, when they were at the forefront of the local Occupy movement happening here at the Iowa State Capitol. Originally, I quit college. I dropped out of college and went to Zuccotti Park to Occupy in New York, received a call from a close cousin of mine here in Des Moines and said, "Hey, they’re occupying Des Moines right now. Something like 30-some people just got arrested yesterday." And so I came back to Des Moines and got plugged into every—all the organizing that was going on here.
Around the caucuses at the time, there was a lot happening here. And time and time again, I looked at who were the key leadership roles in that movement, although it was a leaderless movement, obviously, but it was the Catholic Workers. And I thought, "Ah, I should really check these folks out." And I started, and I came—started volunteering at the house—we have a soup kitchen that’s open five days a week—and began to volunteer five days a week, moved in, and just, really, it’s been quite the journey ever since.
AMY GOODMAN: So, at this point, you have not been charged with anything but pulling off the letters of the sign where you were on Monday when you made your statement.
RUBY MONTOYA: That is correct, yes.
JESSICA REZNICEK: However, while we were incarcerated overnight for that criminal mischief charge, we did have federal agents pull us out of our cells individually, one at a time, and to address the statement. Ruby and I, of course, said that we did not want to cooperate or communicate with them, and we were then released back into our cells. So, it has—I mean, they have let us know that they are aware.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, two Catholic Worker activists who admitted earlier this week to carrying out multiple acts of sabotage against sections of the Dakota Access pipeline that were under construction in Iowa.
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