Authorities used pepper spray and fired bean bags at activists demonstrating against a controversial North Dakota oil pipeline as the standoff there reached a new peak Thursday, according to officials.
Armed soldiers and police in riot gear removed the demonstrators using trucks, military Humvees, and buses Thursday afternoon, according to The Associated Press. Two helicopters and an airplane scanned the operation from the air.
At least 16 protesters had been arrested at the protesters’ camp shortly after 3:30 p.m. local time (4:30 p.m. ET) as law enforcement slowly closed in and tensions escalated, North Dakota State Emergency Services Spokeswoman Cecily Fong told NBC News.
A woman who was being arrested pulled a .38 caliber revolver and fired three shots at law enforcement, “narrowly missing a sheriff’s deputy,” Fong said later Thursday evening. The woman was taken into custody and no shots were fired by law enforcement, she said.
The protesters were ousted from the camp that authorities said was on private property in the path of the pipeline late Thursday afternoon, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier told the AP.
The sheriff said that while the camp was secure, officers were still dealing with protesters in the surrounding area, according to the AP. Kirchmeier added that authorities would maintain a presence in the area for the time being to keep protesters off the land. Fong confirmed to NBC News that the camp was cleared.
The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe criticized law enforcement’s “militarized” response to the camp and called for demonstrations to remain peaceful, but stressed that activists would not give up their cause.
“Militarized law enforcement agencies moved in on water protectors with tanks and riot gear today. We continue to pray for peace,” Dave Archambault II said in a statement Thursday evening.
“We won’t step down from this fight,” he added. “As peoples of this earth, we all need water. This is about our water, our rights, and our dignity as human beings.”
Archambault also called on activists to “remain in peace and prayer.” “Any act of violence hurts our case and is not welcome here,” he said.
Protesters allegedly started two fires on the Backwater Bridge protest site and threw Molotov cocktails at law enforcement Thursday night, Fong said.
About 250 protesters had gathered at the camp and another 80 demonstrators with a dozen horses were at the site of a county road, according to a statement from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
Protesters on horseback galloped toward the law enforcement line before wheeling around and some had begun throwing objects at the officers, Fong said. Demonstrators also allegedly set four DAPL construction vehicles ablaze, Fong said Thursday evening.
“They’ve definitely escalated, they’re throwing rocks and debris,” she said. A handful of officers suffered minor injuries, she said.
Officers fired bean bag rounds and used pepper spray on protesters, Fong said.
Authorities also used a long-range acoustic device with a high-pitched tone to disperse the protesters, who set tires on fire on the highway Thursday afternoon, according to a post on the Morton County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page.
Read More: NBCNews.com