Center for a Stateless Society
A Left Market Anarchist Think Tank & Media Center
“Libertarian” DAPL Shill Defends “Property Rights” of Robbers

I keep thinking I couldn’t be any more repulsed by right-libertarian apologists for big business. And every time, I run across something like William F. Shughart II’s crude apologetic for the Dakota Access Pipeline at the so-called “libertarian” Independent Institute (“Environmentalists’ Questionable Tactics in North Dakota,” Sept. 12). Since the beginning of capitalism, its propagandists have used the rhetoric of “property rights” to defend the enormous piles of stolen loot that the propertied classes sit on top of — loot whose robbery was foundational to capitalism as a historic system. Shughart’s sorry commentary is very much in the grand capitalist tradition of “OK, no more stealing, starting…NOW!”

“Anyone who wants low-cost power and a more diversified U.S. energy portfolio,” Shughart begins, adopting the mealymouthed voice of a typical concern troll, “should be shocked by recent events on privately owned land near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in southern North Dakota.” Shughart’s reasons for shock are considerably different from those of us who have been following frontline accounts of the confrontation on social media for the past few weeks. “Over the past weekend, four security guards and two guard dogs were injured by protesters interfering with construction of one of the largest and most important U.S. energy projects, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).”

This is a bit like the statement in the satirical 1066 And All That that the Pope and his bishops seceded from the Church of England. Anyone following direct accounts of the protests, with the graphic imagery in photos and video, has probably come away with something like a scene straight out of a Billy Jack movie: poorly trained wannabe Pinkerton thugs hired by the pipeline project, siccing dogs on unarmed, largely non-violent protestors (including pregnant women). Not Shughart, though. Just “four security guards and two guard dogs” injured.

His description of the “economic benefits” of the pipeline reads like something written by a paid DAPL flack: The pipeline, “a monumental engineering feat,” will transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil a day, and “will create between 8,000 to 12,000 good-paying jobs.”

First of all, a lot of really evil projects have created jobs. So does the US military-industrial complex. So did the Nazi death camps.

And those rosy estimates of the pipeline’s capacity neglect inconvenient facts — for instance, the coagulation temperature of that oil is higher than even the average temperature in North Dakota, let alone average winter lows.

And the most disingenuous part of Shughart’s piece is the heart of it — his hand-wringing over “property rights”: “Peaceable assembly and freedom of speech are constitutionally protected rights, but so are the private property rights that are so essential to liberty and a civil society.”

You’d almost get the idea that the pipeline wasn’t being built almost entirely on stolen land. Shughart denies claims that First Nations weren’t consulted by the Army Corps of Engineers before construction, but the fact that the project was even considered in the first place, let alone treated as a matter of debate, is a gross injustice. The sacred land and burial sites on the pipeline’s route are already protected by treaty. The pipeline route comes within a half mile of a Hunkpapa reservation, and actually occupies land which itself was stolen from its indigenous inhabitants. By any standard of justice, the ACE’s jurisdiction for private land giveaways should be considered null and void.

The project — like all pipeline projects — has also relied heavily on eminent domain, and could never have even existed without the delegated power to condemn land by force. Farmers throughout the Midwest have had their farms seized against their will by the DAPL project. What does it say about a “libertarian” publication like the Independent that it runs a pro-DAPL puff piece that bloviates about “property rights” without even mentioning eminent domain, and someone has to go to liberal sites like Think Progress and Democracy Now to see the issue even discussed?

Another property rights issue is the grave threat the possibility of a pipeline rupture presents to the drinking water of the First Nations along its route, and the irreversible, irremediable nature of the devastation that will result. We regularly see news stories of oil pipeline leaks all around the United States. We had one here in Arkansas, and there’s one going on in Alabama right now. In case you didn’t know, the liability for oil pipeline leaks is legally capped at an amount less than the cost of proper safety measures to prevent it. In any just, legitimate libertarian regime, the right of a community to take direct remedial action against immediate threats to the water commons in their environs would be considered an inalienable “property” right. And the people taking direct action to prevent construction of a pipeline, built on stolen land, that poses an immediate and unaccountable threat to the safety of their water, are entirely justified in doing so.

All of Shughart’s love for the project boils down to the fact that it provides “cheap energy,” as if an economy built on cheap, subsidized energy had a natural right to continued cheap energy inputs regardless of the land theft, environmental degradation and brutalization of human beings that went into it. “The inconvenient truth is that fossil fuels now and for the foreseeable future are our most economical energy sources.”

The real inconvenient truth is that our economy has developed in extremely wasteful and irrational directions, and treated energy as a free input rather than something to be economized on, because the economy is built on subsidized energy and raw material inputs provided by the state in collusion with extractive industries. DAPL or no DAPL, we are at or near the point of Peak Fossil Fuels, and our economy will have to develop along a different path whether Shughart likes it or not. That means, among other things, a return to cities and towns where people live within walking, bike or public transit distance of the places where they work and shop, and the replacement of global supply and distribution chains with small-scale manufacturing for local consumption.

Shughart also clutches his pearls over the projects’ economic losses resulting from the “disruption” of the project, including $1 million in damage to pipeline equipment from suspected arson at three locations, and delays from protestors chaining themselves to equipment.

All I can say is, good! I’m only sorry that anything less than every single bit of construction equipment was destroyed, and that the costs resulting from delay fall short of every cent its backers put into it. But God willing, that will be remedied in the days to come.

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