We met carload after carload of those volunteers, and the critical supplies they brought to camp, like firewood and things to wipe your butt with that isn't firewood. Talking to these people, we heard variations of the phrase "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for Facebook." Which is both awe-inspiring and cartoonishly surreal. And now, keeping in mind everything I've told you so far, here's where things get crazy. Like, "too far-fetched for a movie" crazy ...
Modern mobile communications were instrumental to the most formidable protest and revolutionary movements of this century so far, from Egypt's Tahrir uprisings to Greece's Movement of the Squares. Governments always have weapons -- the people only have each other, and occasionally Molotov cocktails. That's why the Egyptian government tried to fight the protests in 2011 by cutting off the entire nation's internet access, and why Turkey's new sorta-dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan attempted to block Twitter access in his country.
So maybe it's not surprising that someone is trying to kick Standing Rock off the internet. (And yes, we've got evidence to back us up. None of this is loopy conspiracy talk.) We first encountered the idea through hearsay, via a man we met at the big camp, in a large tent filled with U.S. military veterans. He'd been a 25 Bravo in the Army -- an information technology specialist. He was the first to allege that the planes flying over were equipped with what he called "scramblers," which "fed white noise into the cell signals" to interfere with internet access at Standing Rock and "keep information from getting out."
Look, not every movement has "printer" money.
"The moment you hit this camp from the highway, the signal goes to [nothing]." He added that, "People are reporting their cellphones are turning on, their [apps] are turning on, their battery is draining." In any other situation, we'd have been prepared to write this off as the world's lamest campfire story. It's the kind of story you'd expect to be followed up with "totally real" pictures of Bigfoot or something. But ...
We ran into similar strange rumors across camp for the next couple of days. People from every corner, whether they had been on site for days or for months, would talk about their cellphone signals cutting out just as drones circled above. Mobiles would switch themselves off and on again -- not in pocket but in hand. Camera apps were opened out of nowhere, and batteries would drain by enormous percentages, killing the phones in minutes, rather than the steady decline of any device pinging back and forth searching for a signal. There were even reports of people's Gmail accounts being hacked.
We were unable to even Instagram this picture of our morning coffee.