The lengthy authorized saga of alleged DAPL arsonist Ruby Montoya

Every week after FBI brokers ransacked her bed room in August 2017, Ruby Montoya sat earlier than a videographer. Just steps away from the rooms the place FBI brokers had hauled dozens of baggage and bins from the Des Moines Catholic Worker House the place Montoya lived, the 27-year-old addressed his questions with a preternatural calm.

“You really put your life on the line. How do you feel about the whole ordeal?” he requested.  

“I don’t have kids,” she defined. “I don’t have any obligations like that, and I saw a necessity to act in a different way that I believe is more effective.” 

That “way” entailed a collection of arsons that Montoya and her good friend and Catholic Worker housemate, Jessica Reznicek, dedicated alongside the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline just a few months earlier. Beginning on election night time 2016 and persevering with intermittently by way of early May 2017, the ladies ignited oil-soaked rags to attempt to destroy heavy equipment. They additionally lit acetylene torches to burn holes within the 1,172-mile-long pipeline, which on the time was beneath building however nearing completion. 

Though the ladies had been by no means apprehended by regulation enforcement whereas taking these actions, they didn’t cease completion of the pipeline. So, that July, Montoya and Reznicek referred to as a press convention and took credit score for the arsons, though they knew doing so would expose them to felony prosecution. “If we have any regrets,  it is that we did not act enough,” the ladies mentioned of their joint assertion, which was supposed to steer consideration towards the menace the pipeline posed to consuming water sources alongside its route from North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. (This pipeline has leaked at the least 5 instances because it started carrying oil in May 2017.)

“We anticipated the repercussions of every action that we took,” Montoya informed one other interviewer that very same summer season. “We were fully prepared going into it, in that mental mind game of, ‘I’m driving myself to jail right now.’”

Despite expressing their willingness to give up themselves to authorities within the weeks following their credit score declare and the FBI raid that adopted, regulation enforcement officers didn’t deliver costs for greater than two years. By early September 2019, the ladies had been a thousand miles aside. Reznicek lived with nuns and attended every day mass on the St. Scholastica monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Montoya taught grades 3 and 4 on the Running River Waldorf School in Sedona, Arizona.

A photo of two women in front of a camera crew reading off of a notecard
Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, proper, stand in entrance of the Iowa Utilities Board in July 2017 and skim statements taking credit score for acts of sabotage towards the Dakota Access pipeline.
Courtesy of Des Moines Catholic Worker Archives

By that month’s finish, nevertheless, a grand jury had indicted each girls on 9 similar federal felonies. Each confronted a most 110 years in jail — one of the aggressive prosecutions of environmental activists in U.S. historical past. After accepting a plea deal, Reznicek was sentenced to eight years in jail final yr. Half of these years are the results of a controversial  terrorism enhancement that the federal government utilized to her sentence. On Wednesday, greater than 5 years after admitting to her crimes, Montoya is scheduled to be sentenced at a federal courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa.

Both girls initially dedicated to taking part in a joint protection settlement engineered by Lauren Reagan, a lawyer with the Civil Liberties Defense Center, an Oregon-based nonprofit that has represented high-profile eco-activists, together with members of the Earth Liberation Front. In early 2021, Reznicek and Montoya accepted similar offers to plead responsible to 1 cost solely: conspiring to break an vitality facility. In change, the federal authorities agreed to drop its extra eight costs.

In the times earlier than and after Reznicek’s June 2021 sentencing, nevertheless, Montoya endeavored to exit the joint protection settlement and alter her plea to not responsible. For over a yr, Montoya has tried to proceed with a trial. The resolution seems to be, partly, motivated by the terrorism enhancement utilized to Reznicek’s sentence. The girls repeatedly described their actions as peaceable and nonviolent; no one was harmed on account of their actions, partly as a result of they focused websites at night time, after they had been empty.

The enhancement cost shocked Bill Quigley, a retired regulation professor at Loyola University who served as a part of Reznicek’s protection. “I never ever believed that Jessica’s actions constituted terrorism, and I never believed that any judge would think that her actions did,” he informed the Real News Network.

In June, Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger denied Montoya’s movement to retract her responsible plea. Nevertheless, the paperwork produced to assist her movement have sophisticated the general public narrative across the girls’s actions. Had Montoya’s retraction been accepted, in response to at the least 5 affidavits entered into the courtroom file over this previous yr by Montoya’s new lawyer, Daphne Silverman, the courtroom would possible have heard arguments concerning the function unaddressed childhood trauma performed in exacerbating Montoya’s local weather nervousness. Additional paperwork filed by Silverman claimed that this abuse additionally made Montoya inclined to the coercive techniques of presidency brokers or non-public safety officers employed by the pipeline firm — operatives who the paperwork recommend pushed the ladies to resort to arson, going so far as to show them how one can function welding torches.

Though Montoya had beforehand acknowledged beneath oath that she didn’t endure from any psychological well being situation and that she had been supplied with passable authorized recommendation and counsel, Montoya’s authorized group efficiently argued for a postponement of her sentencing the month after Reznicek was sentenced, partly by arguing that the complete extent of Montoya’s traumatic historical past had not beforehand been disclosed to her authorized group.

Montoya’s sentencing was postponed for 2 months. However, 5 days earlier than she was to be sentenced, Montoya abruptly dropped her authorized group and secured illustration from Silveman, a Texas-based lawyer who had represented different Dakota Access Pipeline protestors. 

Prior to this illustration, Montoya constantly appeared as somebody who knowingly sacrificed her freedom, and who intentionally selected to take unlawful actions within the hope of stopping water contamination by stopping oil from flowing by way of the pipeline.

From late August 2021 onward, nevertheless, Silverman filed paperwork that underscored her shopper’s vulnerability. “Ms. Motoya is exceptionally bright. She presents with calm composure,” Silverman wrote in her 19-page movement to withdraw Montoya’s responsible plea in August of final yr. But, Silverman warned, “bright and a facade of composure doesn’t overcome trauma.”

Silverman used a collection of letters equipped by Montoya’s household and pals to argue that, owing to extreme and complicated childhood abuse and neglect, Montoya was unduly influenced by the Des Moines Catholic Workers. In different phrases, Montoya didn’t take part within the actions with the identical state of mind as Reznicek, a long-time activist, and subsequently deserved a distinct judicial course of. 

Montoya’s new protection highlighted her lack of a prison file, in distinction to Reznicek’s lengthy record of protest-related arrests. Gabriel Montoya, Ruby’s older half-brother, identified that his half-sister had “never showed any real interest in politics or civil rights as a teenager or college student, which would seem off for a purported radical.”

“What turned a relatively apolitical former kindergarten teacher into a dedicated environmental activist?” he requested in his affidavit.

 “The natural trauma response to protect,” Silverman argued, “made it impossible to choose her own interests over those of her co-defendant, Ms. Reznicek.”

These letters — written and equipped by Montoya, her two stepmothers, a former employer, and her housemate-turned-counselor — say that Montoya was sexually assualted by a nonfamily member as a toddler and severely uncared for and bodily harmed all through her childhood in Phoenix, Arizona. They declare that this foundational trauma made her weak to manipulation as an grownup, and that she unwittingly adopted the nihilistic mindset of those that had wronged her as a toddler when she turned to arson as an grownup.

In a September letter to the decide, Montoya speculated that the courtroom seen her as a “haughty ruffian … spinning out, lost, terrified, and alone in the world after angering a multi-billion dollar corporation in their own flagrant and consistent disregard for the law.” Montoya argued that her actions towards the pipeline had been an inevitable reenactment of her unrealized and untreated post-traumatic stress dysfunction.

“My previous lawyers would not hear me” she informed the decide, “when I would attempt to articulate that I was ‘not the same’ as [Reznicek], that I ‘did not know or understand’ what I was doing at the time.”

A close-up of Ruby Montoya (a woman with long brown hair) looking somber while sitting inside a vehicle
Montoya sits in a police automotive after being arrested on the Iowa Utilities Board in 2017.
Courtesy of Des Moines Catholic Worker Archives

Another cause Montoya withdrew her responsible plea was that, in response to Silverman, her earlier authorized group ignored respectable protection methods. Foremost amongst them had been allegations that authorities brokers or non-public pipeline safety operatives who had been pretending to be activists exploited Montoya’s rising exasperation and unhappiness because the a number of protests she participated in didn’t jeopardize completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

The infiltration of the Indigenous-led Dakota Access Pipeline protests by undercover non-public safety brokers and FBI informants has been well-documented by The Intercept and different news retailers, although no reviews have claimed that Reznicek or Montoya themselves personally encountered undercover infiltrators. However, in a movement to compel the invention of extra proof, which was granted by the courtroom, Silverman asserts that somebody “incited Reznicek and Montoya to use fire and trained them on the welding torch, a person we believe is a government operative.”

According to the movement, a non-public intelligence officer “embedded in the places where [Montoya and Reznicek] stayed such as camps and in the Catholic Worker House, as well as the Standing Rock Camp … and that this officer or officers [were] clearly participant(s) in conversations that led to/resulted in the charged conduct, that is, specifically including but not limited to evidence of Ruby Montoya’s intent and the coercion imposed on Montoya.”

In a sworn assertion she offered in assist of those assertions, Montoya claims that “at least three people” manipulated her on this method, “unlawfully pressuring me to engage in these illegal acts.” The first approached her within the fall of 2016, displaying her photos of pipeline valve websites that had been sabotaged and claiming that sabotage of building websites was an everyday incidence.

Montoya met the second alleged operative late that November within the kitchen of a protest camp in North Dakota. After this particular person argued that conventional protest actions weren’t working, Montoya says they informed her, “Sabotage always works.” They steered utilizing thermite to break the undertaking’s metal pipes. As a blizzard blew in later that day, in response to Montoya’s affidavit, that particular person handed Montoya a recipe for thermite. The particular person later supplied Montoya a trip to Iowa, throughout which she says she observed that they paid for lodging with a government-issued bank card.

After Montoya reunited with Reznicek in Iowa, the ladies mentioned these concepts. They finally drove to the person’s condominium in Colorado, the place Montoya says she noticed “army training manuals on how to destroy infrastructure.” The particular person and their roommate subsequently demonstrated how one can use thermite and an oxy-acetylene welder, telling the ladies,“that’s what will burn through steel.”

This narrative contradicts or at the least complicates the reason Montoya and Reznicek gave in the summertime of 2017, after they claimed they acted alone in response to a non secular calling, impressed by activist traditions of participating in symbolic property destruction. Montoya and Silverman, her lawyer, declined Grist’s requests for interviews.

Despite this barrage of filings by Montoya’s protection, there was finally no official courtroom dialogue about Montoya’s life circumstances, nor that she had coercive authorized illustration. Furthermore, claims that her actions had been influenced by authorities or non-public safety brokers is not going to be argued. In June, Judge Ebinger dominated that Montoya “failed to show a fair and just reason to allow her to withdraw her guilty plea.”

Perhaps the one factor that has remained constant all through Montoya’s authorized odyssey is her declare that her actions have been grounded in concern for the well-being of youngsters. Describing in July 2017 why she left her job to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, she publicly claimed that she and Reznicek “acted for our children” as a result of “the world that they are inheriting is unfit.” In a subsequent interview she mentioned, near tears, “I was a preschool teacher and I love kids. We’re not leaving them anything.”

Montoya’s 2021 letter to Judge Ebinger expresses the identical concern: “I am of the millennial generation, the most educated, most underpaid, and most in-debt generation that this country has produced.” During Montoya’s three a long time of life, she wrote, “‘Armageddon’ has always been on the newsreels … from global warming to climate change to climate chaos to soon climate catastrophe. We have finally hit a ‘code red’ but these alarm bells had been incessantly ringing all my life. Many of my generational peers have refused to have children, and it is not because we are selfish but prudent given the state of our world.”

If Montoya now regrets her means — claiming that the traumatic violence of her childhood led her to interact in damaging acts as an grownup — Montoya’s ends stay the identical: “Now, as an adult, I wished to act in a way that was protecting all children, from the violence perpetuated on our very existence — we all need clean, drinkable water to grow into healthy, well-adjusted members of society.”