The Standing Rock protesters were an unprecedented coalition of indigenous peoples, veterans, and activists of every stripe, and they faced down vicious mercenaries who targeted them with "anti-terrorist" tactics.
But the oil industry and its authoritarian pals didn't just buy muscle, they also bought ideas: hiring firms like Delve and Off the Record Strategies to secretly develop talking points and coordinate PR strategy to discredit the water protectors.
These PR firms worked with DCI Group — a GOP PR favorite — who created an astroturf organization called the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN) (now called Grow America's Infrastructure Now, or GAIN).
Significantly, the PR apparatus mobilized to discredit the water protectors cut its teeth selling America on George W Bush's Iraq invasion. For example, Off the Record principle Mark Pfeifle was GWB's communications advisor for justifying the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. That's just the tip of the iceberg: the rogues' gallery of PR flacks who worked to justify the poisoning-at-gunpoint of the Standing Rock water supply are a who's who of GWB-era dark arts practitioners, and leaks of their talking points documents show that they originated the fake news that the right-wing press circulated about the water protectors.
Pfeifle, who heads Off the Record Strategies, specializes in "damage control," according to a 2005 Baltimore Sun story profiling the Bush White House communications strategy to fend off domestic critics of the Iraq War.
"Pfeifle's specialty is damage control. And at the moment, there is more than enough damage surrounding Bush," The Sun wrote of the campaign Pfeifle co-ran with the host of MSNBC's "Deadline: White House," Nicolle Wallace, who then was a top communications advisor to President Bush. "With public alarm about the war mounting and public trust of Bush plummeting, the White House has gone on the defensive with a public relations push designed to discredit his opponents. The operation has all the trappings of a political campaign — including rapid-response statements targeted at opponents, using carefully compiled research."
Pfeifle isn't the only person with ties to the Iraq War who did public relations for Dakota Access. James "Spider" Marks led intelligence-gathering for the 2003 "shock and awe" campaign for Operation Iraqi Liberation. Today, he serves as a consultant to Energy Transfer Partners and sits on the advisory board of TigerSwan, the company's private security firm and a funder of the National Sheriffs' Association.
With a tagline of "Private Council/Public Results," Off the Record Strategies does all of its business behind the scenes and rarely issues public comments.
"If we told you exactly what we do, we'd have to go on the record," reads its website. "We're strategic counselors with decades of high-level experience and a no-holds-barred approach to meeting — and exceeding — our client's needs through personal and confidential service."
Emails Show Iraq War PR Alums Led Attempt to Discredit Dakota Access Protesters
[Steve Horn and Curtis Waltman/Desmog]