Journalist and filmmaker Phelim McAleer discusses incident at pipeline protest

Published: Oct. 24, 2016 at 10:48 AM CDT
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Journalist and filmmaker Phelim McAleer joined us to discuss his visit to the Dakota Access pipeline protest camps, where he says he and other reporters were assaulted and prevented from leaving.


(Please note - this transcript was copied from an electronic captioning service. We apologize for any errors, spelling, grammatical, or otherwise.)


Reporter 1: “We are from the Sacred Stone Camp.”

Reporter 2: “We're in danger.”

Reporter 1: “We're in danger. We are surrounded by protesters, and they won't let us go.”


Chris Berg: The journalists in that film right there tell investigators they were, and I quote, "scared for their life." One of the journalists in that vehicle, the writer and producer of "Frack Nation" joins us. I want to start here. Who invited you to the camp? Was it someone from standing rock nation or who was it?

Phelim McAleer: Well, I’m a journalist, so I [ inaudible ] leader, I think his name is Mark Tillman, we had a great shot, I met a guy called Mike, head of security, if he had any problems, I was told it was okay, then they dropped the bridge, protested at the courthouse where they were supported [ inaudible ]. I went to the hotel where I met Mark again, we had a chat, we had a photograph, perfectly okay on Monday. Then on Tuesday I went again, and this time I got some on the spot interviews, and that's when things -- when I started asking difficult questions, that's when things turned really ugly.

CB: Walk us through that. A gentleman grabbed on to your microphone. Let us know what the question was that you asked him and then walk us through as video plays why he wouldn't let go of your microphone.

PM: Well, I tell you, I wasn't talking to him; I was interviewing someone else, a lady and a gentleman. And the question I was asking them, after coming some distance to this protest, and they had come by truck, I said how do you have come to protest oil in a vehicle powered by oil, and how do you justify that you're living in a tent, which is an oil based product, if you're protesting oil, is that hypocritical? And it was questions that caused this man to grab my microphone. And I’ll tell you, I was not letting him have it, I was not handing over my footage. I’m a journalist. I was covering them doing what they do, and I was covering it very nicely, and I was asking them difficult questions, as any journalist should do.

CB: People on social media say they were upset because you were filming children. Any veracity to that?

PM: Absolutely not. I’m a journalist for 30 years. I have actually done several documentaries about child trafficking, and I know more about children than most journalists on the planet, and anything of that, all the footage of that, any witness -- it's just completely untrue. I was not filming any children. I filmed only adults. And before the microphone is grabbed if you listen to the footage of us in the car, there is no mention of children there, either. This is something they invent after the event, after they looked like a mob.

CB: I want to get inside being in that vehicle, but if you want footage, if you were filming children. But it's your footage. Will you release all your footage to show that, hey, I’m not filming any kids?

PM: Yes.

CB: Okay. You’re in this car, you call 911, your quote is you were scared for your life. Walk us through, because we can't tell from the footage what was going on outside the car. Share with us what was going on and how scared you were.

PM: Well, we said we're going to leave, we're getting into the car, and our plan was to drive through the gates and leave, because we didn't want to escalate the we drove up a little hill, and suddenly we were boxed in from behind really close, and two vehicles in front of us, and then that's when the crowds gathered around, started banging on the car, they start ordering us out, they wouldn't let us leave. I think my producer might have said 30 or 40 times "we want to leave," and they wouldn't let us one stage they came with guy started to slash our tires, and then they started to shake it. It was really really scary. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I’ve covered troubles in Northern Ireland and Uganda and Madagascar, and that's the most scared I have ever been. It was getting out of control, no one seemed to care that this booked bad, it was becoming a frenzy.

CB: Do you have footage of the dogs or the people with sticks around your vehicle?

PM: I’m calling on them to release all their footage. The problem is, when we filmed that situation, so you could see the camera is very low down in the car, but you can hear us saying we want to leave, we want to leave, and people standing in front of the vehicle not allowing us to leave, and then it was two cars, two trucks in front of the vehicle as well. Then they -- we had to go to the press, where they could take our equipment. We said sure, no they cleared a path, and then we pulled through the gate, and at that stage, what they did then, they closed the truck and pulled a white truck across the gates preventing us from leaving, and if you listen to the press conference of the police, we saw from his angle, a police officer on the road, and he saw them blocking us, 30 or 40 people, some of them masked.

CB: Last question. Being a journalist for 30 years, why not record the dogs and the people with sticks around your car to provide more evidence to show the situation you were in?

PM: Because I wasn't concerned with providing footage at that point in time. I was concerned with getting out of there alive, actually, to keep the trauma down. I feared for my life during this, and I -- I didn't have the camera, the cameraman did, and he was in the back seat, but, you know, you can hear how we were feeling, and there's a police officer who saw it all from the road. He describes 20 or 30 people, many of them masked, around the car, and the car being blocked. If you want to look at that, the press conference gave a very good description of what happened, and I’m calling also on the protesters to release all their footage.

CB: Thank you for that, and, yes, we have seen that video. The video you just mentioned about the police officers. Thank god you're safe, and thank you for your time, sir.

PM: Thank you. That was my first visit to North Dakota, and it was an interesting one.

CB: Well, we hope you come back, we're here in Fargo, you can come to our studio any time. I needed to wrap it up. Stay with us. When we come back, you can tell us your point of view. We’ll be right back.

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