Amy Goodman, a world-respected broadcast journalist, investigative reporter, author, and syndicated columnist, is facing new charges this weekend. A North Dakota State’s Attorney, Ladd R. Erickson, has filed charges against Ms. Goodman for participation in a “riot.” These charges were filed only after the previous charges of criminal trespass were dropped.
An email sent to Tom Dickson, counsel for Goodman, stated that there were “legal issues with proving the notice of trespassing requirements in the statute.”
This followed an email from Erickson earlier in the day where he said that Goodman “was not acting as a journalist.”
This email was sent in explanation for the interview he gave to the Bismarck Tribune where he was quoted as saying, “She’s [Amy Goodman] a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions.”
Amy Goodman released a statement in which she responded to the new charges. “I came back to North Dakota to fight a trespass charge. They saw that they could never make that charge stick, so now they want to charge me with rioting. I wasn’t trespassing, I wasn’t engaging in a riot, I was doing my job as a journalist by covering a violent attack on Native American protesters.” She is currently in North Dakota to appear at the Morton County courthouse on Monday at 1:30 CDT (GMT-6).
The original charges of criminal trespass stem from an incident on September 3, 2016, where Goodman led a news team to a Native American protest against a planned oil pipeline. The $3.8 billion dollar project was slated to destroy burial sites and other locations held sacred by the local Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Her news report was the first look that the world had of the protest. In the video, which reached 14 million views on Facebook, security guards were shown using pepper spray and unleashing dogs on unarmed protesters. The report was rebroadcast on most major American news outlets, bringing attention to what was once a non-issue for mainstream media.
On September 8, 2016, the North Dakota Assistant State’s Attorney Gabrielle J. Goter filed a criminal complaint and warrant for Goodman’s arrest for being on the property. After viewing Democracy Now‘s video report, it was clear to at least one Special Agent in the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation that Goodman was there as a journalist.
Special Agent Lindsey Wohl wrote in her sworn affidavit that, “Amy Goodman can be seen on the video identifying herself and interviewing protestors [sic] about their involvement in the protest.”
According to the North Dakota Criminal Code, Chapter 12.1-25-03, “A person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if he engages in a riot as defined in section 12.1-25-01.” That section defines a riot as “a public disturbance involving an assemblage of five or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons or substantially obstructs law enforcement or other government function.”
While it is clear that the protesters are engaged in tumultuous conduct, what isn’t clear is if there was any danger, grave or otherwise, to any of the security personnel or North Dakota Pipeline equipment. And if Amy Goodman is guilty of being engaged in a riot, where are the charges against the numerous other individuals identified in the video?
The latest charges against Amy Goodman seem to be a move by the North Dakota government to keep reporters away from the sites of the protests, especially because very few of the protesters have been arrested or charged with any trespassing charges or riot violations. Instead, by targeting Goodman and others who are making videos and reporting on-site, they are sending a clear message that they are not welcome. It is troubling because the state’s attorney specifically says that he doesn’t feel that Amy Goodman was acting as a reporter despite his own office showing that she was interviewing protesters. This, in conjunction with Ms. Goodman’s more than 20 years acting as an award-winning investigative journalist, should be more than enough credential to prove she was and is a reporter.
If North Dakota is successful in prosecuting a journalist for reporting on a story that a government official feels shows a bias one way or the other, what message does that send to other budding writers and reporters? Put another way, if Ms. Goodman hadn’t reported on the story, who would have known what was going on? The resulting wave of publicity has reached so far that Bernie Sanders held a protest rally in Washington aimed at drawing attention to the plight of the Native Americans in North Dakota attended by thousands of people who would have otherwise not known about it. So, what is the real purpose of the criminal charges and the arrest warrant? That’s what you should be concerned about: a government that will stifle and silence a reporter for airing a story that they don’t agree with.
[Featured Image by Jason Kempin/Getty Images]