- Police clashed with dozens of protestors who forced their way inside the Interior Department on Thursday
- Demonstrators held five days of protests in DC calling for Biden to end all fossil fuel projects
- Multiple security officers were injured and 55 demonstrators were arrested at the Interior Department
- Activists forced their way in to hold a sit-in, which critics claimed was reminiscent of January 6 riot
- The protest was part of ‘a historic surge of Indigenous resistance’, activists said
- Footage captured protestors who made it inside the Department of the Interior who linked arms for sit-in
Dozens of climate activists have been arrested after they clashed with police in Washington DC and forced their way into the Interior Department building in scenes that some have called reminiscent of the US Capitol riot.
An Interior Department spokeswoman said a group of demonstrators rushed the lobby on Thursday, injuring multiple security officers, at least of whom was taken to a nearby hospital.
Police and protesters clashed outside the building, and officers used Tasers and batons against several unarmed protesters, representatives for the activist group said. The group said 55 participants were arrested.
The dramatic scenes came during five days of demonstrations in the capital organized by a Native American climate group calling itself ‘People vs Fossil Fuels’, which is demanding that President Joe Biden cease approvals for fossil fuel infrastructure and lead a renewable energy transformation.
Footage shared by Washington Post reporter Ellie Silverman shows protestors pushing their way into the Interior Department, while chanting ‘sign the treaty’ and ‘protect the water’.
An overwhelmed officer appears to flash his taser at the angry crowd gathered at the entrance to the federal building.
Another video shows one protestor try to climb into the building through the door while the crowd cheers in support.
Footage also captured protestors who made it inside the Department of the Interior, who were linked arm and arm for a sit-in protest while officers look on.
Conservative critics quickly compared the scenes to those of January 6, when thousands of Donald Trump’s loyalists stormed the US Capitol.
Andy Ngô, a conservative commentator who frequently criticizes left-wing demonstrations, called the climate demonstrators ‘extreme’ and tweeted that it was ‘a scene reminiscent of Jan. 6.’
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was traveling Thursday and was not in the building during the chaotic protest.
Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, is the first Native American Interior secretary.
‘Interior Department leadership believes strongly in respecting and upholding the right to free speech and peaceful protest,” Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Haaland, said in a statement.
‘Centering the voices of lawful protesters is and will continue to be an important foundation of our democracy. It is also our obligation to keep everyone safe. We will continue to do everything we can to de-escalate the situation while honoring First Amendment rights.”
She said protesters who were arrested were taken in for booking.
The protest was part of ‘a historic surge of Indigenous resistance’ in the nation’s capital that started on Monday, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, outside the White House, said Jennifer Falcon, a spokeswoman for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
More than 100 people were arrested as protesters linked arms and sat along the White House fence line to call on the Biden administration to do more to combat climate change and ban fossil fuels.
Demonstrators defaced the Andrew Jackson statue at the center of Lafayette Park across the street from the White House was defaced with the words ‘Expect Us’ – part of a rallying cry used by Indigenous people who have been fighting against fossil fuel pipelines.
Jackson, a slave-owning president, infamously forced Cherokees and many other Native Americans on deadly marches out of their southern homelands.
Protesters also climbed a flagpole outside the Army Corps of Engineers office, demanding a stop to Line 3, an oil pipeline upgrade that was recently completed in Minnesota. The pipeline will bring tar sands oil from Canada to Wisconsin.
Falcon said in an interview that her group has no formal role in that protest, which she said was led by ‘autonomous, frontline leaders’ and ‘water protectors.”
The protests continued on Friday as Indigenous groups and other environmental activists marched to the Capitol.
Nearly 80 people were arrested on the fifth day of the ‘People vs. Fossil Fuels’ protest. That brings the total arrested during the week to more than 600, organizers said.
Under a banner declaring ‘We did not vote for fossil fuels,’ activists pressed Biden to stop approving new pipelines and other fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency.
Demonstrators urged members of Congress to ‘listen to the people’ who sent them to Washington and take urgent action to phase out fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.
Capitol Police said 78 people were arrested on obstruction or crowding charges. Three of those arrested also were charged with assault on a police officer.
Speakers said Biden was not following through on his promises to act on climate change.
‘It’s ridiculous. He promised, just like they’ve done in the past, “We’ll talk about it, we’ll bring it to the table.” Where’s our seat?’ asked Isabelle Knife, 22, a member of the Yankton Sioux tribe of South Dakota.
‘We haven’t had a seat. We haven’t been heard,’ Knife said. ‘It takes youth to be on the frontlines. It takes us to put our bodies on the line.’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was ‘listening to advocates and people who have been elevating the issue of climate for decades.´´
Environmental activists ‘have important voices, and they´ve put climate on the front of the agenda when it wasn´t 10 years and 20 years ago,´´ Psaki said Thursday.
She encouraged activists and anyone who supports action on climate change to look at Biden´s proposals in a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a larger Democratic-only plan to address social and environmental issues.
‘He’s trying to push across the finish line … an enormous investment and commitment to addressing the climate crisis,’ Psaki said. ‘That´s in his legislative agenda that´s currently working its way through Congress now.’
‘It doesn’t mean his climate commitment ends once he signs this into law; it just means that’s what our focus is on now, and it will have a dramatic, important impact,’ she added.