On Tuesday, May 14, a series of emergency preparedness drills were held in schools in at least five South Dakota school districts:

While the drill actually commenced at 12:30 p.m., things began early when a bus driver reported a suspicious SUV with several people following during his morning route. Next, a letter handed to a student at the Elementary School over the lunch hour is turned in to Principal. The letter threatens that “things dear to everyone will be destroyed unless continuation of the Keystone pipeline and uranium mining is stopped immediately.”

While the entire scenario was scripted, the use of pertinent and timely issues seemed to make it more realistic. Similar letters were scripted to have been sent to the other respective schools, each of which had slightly different scenarios presented to them.

This despite the fact that no Keystone XL or uranium mining protester has ever harmed anyone in the course of protesting the planned pipeline, much less attacked a school. If terrorism from domestically-driven sources is what you fear, you’d be better off watching out for eliminationist right-wing groups like certain portions of the “Tea Party” movement or the Minutemen.

Phyllis Cole-Dai of Fast for the Earth, a group opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline project, did a little research on this issue:

The script presenting a threat (“inject”) posed by a terrorist in opposition to the KXL or uranium mining was co-authored by two men at the county level of planning. The first is Ken Hawki, chair of the Lawrence County Local Emergency Planning Committee and Assistant Emergency Manager for Lawrence County. The second is Fred Wells, a 25-year veteran of the military (specializing in anti-terrorism planning) who now volunteers his expertise to “two different fire departments and his county” (Butte, I think). (A sidenote: While I don’t mean to cast aspersions on Mr. Wells’s military service, his involvement in this seems noteworthy when there are increasing reports of Big Oil utilizing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency tactics against groups that oppose its projects.)

After these two men wrote the script, it was presented for consideration to a 15-20 member group that was planning a crisis management drill in three schools (not five, as the journalist reported). Members of the group were representatives of local emergency responders, local emergency management, and the three school districts involved (Deadwood, Custer and Hot Springs). The group gave its consent for the script to be used and it was then prepped to meet federal guidelines for such drills and submitted.

Ms. Cole-Dai had some lengthy and apparently relatively civil talks with these men, and tried to explain to them the problems with their terror drill script (emphases mine):

Regardless of their intentions, the planners’ identifying this drill with a particular group of people holding a particular point of view is not legitimate. It stigmatizes their position and their right to dissent, and also “criminalizes” it, at least in hypothetical terms. I urged them in future to hold drills in which no particular group, or representative thereof, is identified as a threat. The threat itself is what must be responded to.

…Using a threat from “an environmentalist” (which is a gross mischaracterization or oversimplification of the opposition to the KXL and uranium mining projects in South Dakota) does not add “realism to the scenario” because it’s unrealistic. So far as I know, and so far as the planners know, there have been no threats of violence made against schools or any other public places by anyone in the opposition to these projects. In fact, the opposition has been explicitly nonviolent in its resistance. Yes, it’s possible that an isolated individual may take extreme action, but that’s true of any group. As Fred Wells said himself, even in fire departments extremist individuals are present–but who has ever run a school drill where the threat of violence is coming from a firefighter? Why paint any group with such a brush?

This might be the start of a nationwide movement, intended or not, to get children to fear all dissent. Have any similar mock drills been held in schools in your areas? If we speak up now, we might be able to nip this in the bud, or at least make it so that it doesn’t paint an unrealistic picture of who would be most likely to target a school.