FBI raids Catholic Worker House in Des Moines in search of pipeline sabotage evidence
(Photo: Charly Haley/Des Moines Register)
The FBI raided a Catholic Worker House in Des Moines early Friday in search of evidence linked to efforts to sabotage construction of the Dakota Access pipeline construction project.
About 30 law enforcement personnel, led by agents armed with guns who identified themselves as being from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, entered the Catholic Workers' Berrigan House just north of downtown Des Moines shortly after 6 a.m., said Frank Cordaro, a former Catholic priest who resides at the house. The agents left about 10:30 a.m. after removing about 20 bags and boxes, he said.
Cordaro said it was clear the FBI was seeking evidence related to claims of responsibility for pipeline damage by Jessica Reznicek, 36, and Ruby Montoya, 27, who both reside at the Berrigan House at 713 Indiana Ave. The two women held a news conference outside the Iowa Utilities Board on July 24 in which they described their use of arson and other efforts to halt construction of the pipeline in Iowa and South Dakota.
Huston Pullen, an FBI spokesman in Omaha, gave a terse statement Friday when asked about the execution of the search warrant.
"I can confirm that there was law enforcement activity in that area today, but I can't really divulge what went on," he said.
Des Moines police spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek confirmed that local officers were at the Berrigan House on Friday morning assisting with an FBI investigation, but he deferred further questions to the FBI.
Crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken oil patch began flowing on the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline June 1 through four states to a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill. The two women have told reporters they began efforts to stop the project Nov. 8, 2016. Their first incident of destruction involved burning at least five pieces of heavy equipment on the pipeline route in northwest Iowa's Buena Vista County.
Cordaro said the agents were armed Friday with a search warrant signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Celeste Bremer of Des Moines. There were no arrests and no one was injured.
This is a copy of a search warrant executed Friday at the Berrigan Catholic Worker House in Des Moines (Photo: Des Moines Register photo)
The search warrant said federal agents were looking for property of Reznicek and Montoya that included financial records, clothing, footwear, computers, mobile phones, tools capable of cutting metal, samples of any potential accelerants, duct tape and other property.
"As soon as they realized we wouldn't put up a fight, the guns went down, and they didn't cuff us because we told them we wouldn't give them any trouble," said Cordaro, who also resides at the house along with the Rev. Robert Cook, a longtime Protestant clergyman.
"They were nice. They got us coffee, but we didn't get to see any of the stuff that they took, except to watch it leave," Cordaro added.
Reznicek and Montoya have said they researched how to pierce the steel pipe used for the pipeline and in March they began using oxyacetylene cutting torches to damage exposed, empty pipeline valves. They said they subsequently used torches to cause damage up and down the pipeline throughout Iowa and into part of South Dakota, moving from valve to valve until running out of supplies.
Reznicek and Montoya were arrested by state troopers July 24 for damaging a sign at the Iowa Utilities Board's offices and were charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief. But they were released on bond and have not been charged with any federal crimes for pipeline sabotage.
A look inside the Berrigan Catholic Worker House in Des Moines, which was raided by FBI agents on Friday. (Photo: Charly Haley/Des Moines Register)
Montoya and Reznicek declined to comment through Cordaro on Friday. Shortly after the FBI raid, they left for a trip to Minnesota to meet with other Catholic Workers there, Cordaro said, adding the trip was planned before the FBI raid.
But Cordaro acknowledged Friday that it appears likely the two women will face federal charges related to their claims of responsiblity.
"If I were a betting man, I would bet that charges are going to be filed. Why would they raid our house and take all of our stuff," Cordaro said.
The pipeline has encountered strong opposition in Iowa, particularly from environmental activists. The project, which cuts diagonally through 18 Iowa counties, also has been fought by farmers who have criticized the use of eminent domain to obtain access to their land for the pipeline. Litigation involving the pipeline is still pending in federal court and before the Iowa Supreme Court.
During the July 24 press conference, the two women said they acted because the courts and government value corporate property and profit over inherent human rights to clean water and land.
"Some may view these actions as violent, but be not mistaken," Reznicek and Montoya said in a statement. "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. You may not agree with our tactics, but you can clearly see the necessity of them in light of the broken federal government and the corporations they protect."
Reznicek and Montoya are active in the Des Moines Catholic Worker community, which was founded in 1976 in response to the Gospel Call for Compassionate Action as summarized by the Sermon on the Mount. However, the Catholic Workers are not all Catholics and they are not controlled by the bishop of the Des Moines Roman Catholic Diocese. The Catholic Workers also have no financial ties to the diocese.
The Catholic Worker community has four houses in Des Moines that focus on a nonviolent lifestyle while serving the poor. Some members of the community have been critical of the Des Moines Roman Catholic Diocese and have called for changes that include ordination of women as Catholic priests and stances against corporate agriculture and the military-industrial complex.
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs