The ongoing protests against the Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota took a dramatic turn Friday over what appeared to be a potential bomb threat.
Early in the afternoon in Carlton County, as people began dispersing from the protest site following the arrival of the Fond Du Lac Police Department, authorities received a 911 call reporting that "three people had thrown suspicious packages out and left the area," a news release from the local sheriff said.
The release indicates that police originally responded to the scene due to "protest activity blocking Ditchbank Road."
According to a later update from the sheriff (below), the bomb squad was called to investigate a "suspicious device," which was subsequently determined not to be an explosive.
Nonetheless, the investigation resulted in the evacuation of 40 homes within a half-mile radius. All residents have been given the all-clear to return home.
There's no word on what the "device" turned out to be.
Enbridge, the energy company building the pipeline, shut down operations in the area "out of an abundance of caution," per the Star Tribune.
As the paper notes, the company also called out the protesters in a statement, saying that they "need to know actions that put people in harm's way will be prosecuted."
A group involved in Friday's protest, Camp Migizi, said the following in a Facebook post the same day:
Peaceful protests are not illegal. There are no explosives. Law enforcement induced hysteria is being used to manipulate the masses to curt resistance. The only immediate danger is the wellbeing of the rice, and the water."
Line 3, which starts in Canada and runs through Wisconsin, is undergoing a major replacement project in Minnesota. It's been a source of controversy among environmental activists as well as Native American groups, leading to protests as well as arrests.
Earlier this month, three such protesters were arrested at a Line 3 site in Carlton County, with one reportedly sitting inside a length of pipe for hours in order to stop work on the project.