Listen: Power on the Line: The Smoldering Conflict

MPR’s Greg Barron presents the documentary “Power on the Line: The Smoldering Conflict.” Barron spent several days in central Minnesota and produced this searching look at the deep commitment of the opposing sides in the Minnesota power line controversy.

The documentary feature took a close look at the issues and events surrounding what had become a major controversy in Minnesota: the routing of needed high-tension power lines across the state. For a period of many months, protesters (including many farm families living along the proposed route) fought fiercely...some committed acts of sabotage by cutting the towers down at night.


1979 MNSPJ Page One Award

1979 The Major Armstrong Award Certificate of Merit

1978 United Press International UPI Achievement Award


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[ELECTRIC BUZZING] GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): Certainly electrical energy is needed. And the question that we have before us is a matter of is there going to be electric service? Or isn't there going to be electric service?

GREG BARRON: Mm-hmm. Who's responsible for toppling the towers?

SPEAKER: I'm not sure I hear bolt weevils have a lot to do with it, and wind. I don't really care. I just hope they keep coming down.


SPEAKER (ON RADIO): 10-4, out.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): You keep your eyes open. If anything develops out there, let me know right away.


GREG BARRON: You go along with these towers coming down?

SPEAKER: Yeah, I go along with them. I wish a few more would come down.

SPEAKER: I think it's $138 million of damage just since February worth of destruction. And that's just destruction in towers. That doesn't include the cost of protection. I think this is a cost that we just can't tolerate.

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): The once quiet fields of West Central Minnesota have become a battleground, a battleground and a war fought with rocks, wrenches, rifles, and words. I'm Greg Barron. For more than two years now, angry farmers have vigorously opposed the construction of a high voltage power line running from Underwood North Dakota to a point near the Twin Cities, 650 towers, 177 miles of line traversing hundreds of farms. In recent months, after a series of defeats at the State Capitol and in the courts, the controversy has grown to enormous proportions. And there is no end in sight.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Yeah. Go ahead.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): I have a vehicle coming at you. Let me know if that son of a gun stops.

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): After a winter of confrontation, confrontation involving power line survey crews, protesting farmers, and hundreds of state troopers, the battle has evolved into a guerrilla war. One protester calls it the energy war. While there's been occasional violence, this war hasn't cost any lives yet. But the potential is there. It's made of the same thing all wars are made of, pride, fear, political and social ideals, and a huge financial investment.

DAN EARHART: Unfortunately, the cost of this line has been escalated tremendously because of the power line opposition, vandalism, sabotage. Criminal element now that has become involved in the destruction of towers.

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): Dan Earhart works for the United Power Association, one of the two rural cooperatives building the line. He's director of UPA's External Relations Division. And we talked in the company's boardroom. The directors had met there the day before. And according to Earhart, they were furious and frustrated over the continuing protest activity.

DAN EARHART: --apprehension. From the initial phase of this project, the cost in Minnesota has been about $43 to $44 million. We're, at this time, just approaching the $44 million figure. If we use this number and apply the interest, over 8% interest, which we must pay, and the money borrowed to construct this line, this will nearly be $140 million that the consumers will pay over the period of years.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): I don't know if it's anything. But he's parked down the hill. And we got another car coming here real slow.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): OK, 10-4. Let me know.

DAN EARHART: The criminal, as I mentioned earlier, the criminal element has become involved. And power line towers have been toppled. There are four of them that have been actually toppled to the ground. And six more have been unbolted and have received extensive damage. This alone has been about $260,000 to $300,000. And the consumers must pay for this.


GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): As we spoke, construction on the line continued. While ironworkers assembled the towers, line crews are stringing cable in the area where the towers are ready. It's a massive, complex, highly coordinated operation involving hundreds of imported skilled workers and millions of dollars of sophisticated equipment. Stretching across hundred miles of Minnesota farmland, logistics are coordinated by two-way radio. It's a small army stretched thin. It's a small army under siege.

DAN EARHART: We see continual harassment of construction workers, and harassment of UPA employees, and harassment of the guards that we have hired. By the way, we have now over 300 security people that are unarmed, who are responsible for patrolling and trying to maintain some integrity in the construction of this line. The cost of that alone is $27,000 a day.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): 02 to security three.


SPEAKER (ON RADIO): There's a car stopped up here about a quarter mile up the road.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Can you watch them is that a Brown Pontiac?

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Can't see.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Hey, you watch it. Let me know what develops.


DAN EARHART: But these people are verbally harassed. We have construction workers that report regularly gunfire. We have reports of bullets landing within six, seven, eight feet from them. And they've been working under these conditions for weeks, months. And it continues. And they seem to have almost accepted that they're going to be harassed and abused out there. And yet construction is continuing. And we are progressing with the line now in Minnesota is approximately half completed.

GREG BARRON: Is it fair to assume that reports you've received indicate that there's an animosity now between construction line workers and protesters?

DAN EARHART: I think there always was some animosity between the two groups. But it has escalated recently because of the towers going down, and because of things that have happened out there in the recent weeks. It is a very highly emotional situation. And we're very fearful that it could lead to an outbreak of physical violence. And we are doing everything we possibly can to avoid this.

RALPH JEROME: It's been a principle of the contractor's operation that we would not have contact between protesters and between the workmen on the job.

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): Ralph Jerome is a project administrator for Commonwealth Incorporated. Commonwealth designed the line. And it's responsible for supervising construction. Jerome has regular contact with the work crews. And he offered to introduce me to some of the men. On the way, he talked about how workers are reacting to the protest activity.

RALPH JEROME: --period. The instructions to the workers was and is that when confronted by a group of protesters, to withdraw from the area and not come in physical contact. This has caused though the workers to become very dissatisfied and very difficult for them to understand the reasons behind it. It would seem that protesters can do acts of destruction, but yet the workmen themselves are restricted from trying to prevent these acts of destruction.

When these-- these workmen work not on salary, but on hours. And only on hours that they are physically working. If they are prevented from working because their equipment had been damaged, or they are driven off the job by a larger group or a large group of protesters, then for that period, they don't get paid.

GREG BARRON: So it's fair to assume that these workers have built up some measure of resentment at this point.

RALPH JEROME: There's no question about it.

GREG BARRON: What's your name?

BILL RUSSELL: Bill Russell.

GREG BARRON: What's your job, Bill.

BILL RUSSELL: I'm a lineman.

GREG BARRON: How do you feel about all this? You know there have been these towers going down lately. And I know there's not a lot of good feeling, or that's what I've been told, between the workers and the people around here who have been doing the protesting. What thoughts have you on all this?

BILL RUSSELL: Well, I've worked all over the United States. And this is the first job I've worked on like this.

GREG BARRON: What do you mean?

BILL RUSSELL: I mean, I've been up towers and heard shots. And you just don't know what's going to happen next.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): At the present time, someone was coming a little bit. Right now, we've got about five cars coming down the road.

BILL RUSSELL: I just keep on working. It's all we know.

GREG BARRON: Is this the first place you've worked then, here in Minnesota, where you've had this kind of problem?

BILL RUSSELL: Yes, it is. I worked in Minnesota three times before. And every job I've worked on, we've never had no trouble.

GREG BARRON: What kinds of incidents have you seen? Or what kinds of problems do the rest of the guys talk about?

BILL RUSSELL: I've seen guard poles cut in half in two almost all the way, just sitting there waiting to fall. I've seen bolts cut 3/4 of the way in too, and then put back in the tower, waiting for somebody to step on it and break. Seen people shooting.

GREG BARRON: You've seen people shooting?

BILL RUSSELL: Well, I didn't. But this one boy down from us seen the guy aiming a gun right up towards him and shoot.

GREG BARRON: Do you worry about that much when you're up there on the tower?

BILL RUSSELL: You look around. And if you hear a shot or something, you let the helicopter know, or anybody on the ground that can check it out and see. But--

GREG BARRON: You've got a radio up there with you, huh?

BILL RUSSELL: No, we don't.

GREG BARRON: So all you can do is shout down, or--

BILL RUSSELL: Well, the chopper usually right around there. And you can signal him. And he can check it out. Or they can find out.

GREG BARRON: Well, how's this left you feeling about the protesters in general? Is it the protesters who are causing the problem? Or is it some other group? Or how do you figure it?

BILL RUSSELL: It's the protesters. Lots of the farmers, a few of the farmers. And then they got some people from Minneapolis like Crocker and them, who are professional protesters or whatever. And I don't know.

GREG BARRON: How do you feel about these protesters?

BILL RUSSELL: I don't feel very good about them whatsoever. I've seen them carrying pipes and everything else.

GREG BARRON: A little angry about it, or just what?

BILL RUSSELL: I'm pretty angry about it. I know if they mess with me, I'm going to have to do something.

GREG BARRON: What's your name, again?

DON HARGROVE: Don Hargrove.

GREG BARRON: Don, what you do?

DON HARGROVE: I'm a lineman for Midland out here, foreman.

GREG BARRON: Well, what I'm trying to figure out is just what life is like out here, how much of a problem this protest movement on the line is causing, how much real danger there is, danger of-- danger of it going any farther.

DON HARGROVE: Well, I don't know how much farther it's going. But since I've got here, it's about three months. It hasn't stopped. And it's, every week, picked up little momentum you know. It's been rather quiet this week. But we had a tower go down that we'd guide off. Probably satisfied the protesters a little bit, see. So and it had a little rain. And I'm satisfied with the end of this week that it'll crank up again.

As far as safety-wise out here, it's in my opinion very unsafe, because we was at a tower and had to take step bolts that had been sawed 2/3 of the way, and then put back in the-- not seen put back on the tower. So if you climb a tower and grab one of them, or step on it, it'd be the worst thing. And you wouldn't unknowing you're coming off of there. And there were bolts at loose and cut half in two that was in the lacing too. I even have a piece of one of them in my truck over here. I just kind of kept for my own satisfaction.

GREG BARRON: What do we have people coming out of the fields and climbing these towers at night, is that it?

DON HARGROVE: Well, I'm not saying it's a night. But it must be at night, you know. They're not-- haven't spotted any in the daytime, except two different times where they would been camped in the towers overnight, you know, and we had to go let them out, you know, that kind of deal.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Are you clear?

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Yeah they took off now. I think they're just horsing around.

DON HARGROVE: We had one incident out here where a guy last week climbed up a tower about 40 feet and just went to shaking the tower with his hands like he was berserk or some crap. So you know he wasn't only doing harm to himself there. But they're climbing up here at night. It's got to be at night, because they ain't nobody's seen him doing the damage to the tower during the daytime.

GREG BARRON: Well, I guess that's got to leave you and the rest of the work crew feeling a little what? Angry? Is that the right word?

DON HARGROVE: Well, you could say angry. I'm satisfied that they're-- I know it's left me disturbed at times. And we can't just do our work here, because we're not here to bother any of these local people around. And I don't know if it's local people bothering us. I've only had one incident myself with one local man, a Turk, I believe his last name. I was up a tower about 15 feet. And he came up to the bottom of the tower and called me everything that you can think of, things that I'm sure not used to, and don't like to be called.

GREG BARRON: What'd you do about it?

DON HARGROVE: Well, I didn't do anything. We told us to be nice little boys. So we've been trying to be nice little boys. But I'm not saying that's going to go on too much longer either.

GREG BARRON: Yeah. Well, that's my next question. How long can that go on?

DON HARGROVE: It's not going to go on too much longer. And everybody's pretty well fed up. Everybody that I've talked to on the line there about to reach the limit. I know I have.

GREG BARRON: We're going to see somebody punching somebody out?

DON HARGROVE: I'd say it's coming to that. Yeah, definitely, shortly.

GREG BARRON: Already it seems to me that there are some parallels between the kind of activity that the protesters are engaged in, the kinds of security precautions you're engaged in, and guerrilla warfare.

SPEAKER: Certainly there's an association now. When the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota allows that this line is needed, and proper, and all the laws have been abided by, all the regulations have been followed, and in view of this final recognition of the legality of the line, the need for the line, procedures for the line, in view of all that, there is a continuing protest activity, terrorist activity, malicious mischief, vandalism, destruction of property, certainly there is a guerrilla warfare, if you want to call it. It hasn't surfaced very often. But it surfaces in dollars and cents, damaged equipment, damaged material.

GREG BARRON: You said one time some protesters were observed crawling through a field with straw on their hands as camouflage, just like in Vietnam.

SPEAKER: Same way certainly young men in their 30s, early 40s, late 20s, a lot of them could be Vietnamese War veterans, Korean War Veterans. And all their training coming in to use. The Valard yard one night, we were heavily anticipating-- I say heavily. We were anticipating some dissident action. And the guards there were equipped with very powerful flashlights.

And in patrolling the area, would shine their lights to where they'd hear noises. And on that particular night, men were found in camouflaged suits with straw in their hats, so they would blend in easily with the foliage. But upon shining the light on them, why not wanting identification, they would turn and leave the area, run from the area, guerrilla activity, certainly.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Yeah. They're coming back. You wouldn't believe the people coming in here.


GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): An important part of the construction company's security apparatus is a small fleet of helicopters. They're used to ferry construction workers from one part of the line to another, and to survey work progress. But they've also become essential in efforts to spot damage to towers caused by sabotage.

Security officials declined to say how often reconnaissance flights are scheduled. But they do say they are frequent. They also note, they've been experimenting with sophisticated night viewing equipment designed to help spot trouble after dark. The equipment was developed for anti-guerrilla activities in Vietnam. Chief pilot, Ron Magnus flew combat missions in Vietnam. And now he flies the line.

RON MAGNUS (ON RADIO): I just do an unscheduled recon on the way back in here. Well, usually, I like to do that when we're going someplace, is to follow the line just to check.

GREG BARRON (ON RADIO): I take it it is possible to detect [INAUDIBLE] tower rolling along at a good speed.

RON MAGNUS (ON RADIO): Oh, yeah, I wouldn't say we wouldn't miss one. But so far, I don't think we've missed any. We, you know, we got one when we made the recons, and when the towers falling over. And any time that's happened that we haven't made a recon just before or so on. So I think we've detected all that it's been unbolted when we went by. We usually fly fairly slow so that we are in a fairly low, I should say, so that we can't detect anything unusual.

GREG BARRON (ON RADIO): Have there have been any incidents of shooting at you or any of the helicopters?

RON MAGNUS (ON RADIO): A lot of times we'll go by an area. And somebody on the ground, one of our workers, will call us on the radio and say there's been a lot of shots fired as you went by. And I don't know which direction they were fired, or for what reason they were fired. But we'll come back by the area again a little later. And the guard will call us and say, again, that shots have been fired.

A lot of times, I think, they fire the shots on purpose to try to intimidate us. We really can't hear them from the helicopter, unless you're real close to him. And it doesn't really bother us too much. And since, as far as I know, none of us have been hit with any bullets or anything, so we're not really too intimidated by it. We usually report it and make a written report on it. For quite a while there was almost a report a week there.

GREG BARRON (ON RADIO): How long does it take to fly the line?

RON MAGNUS (ON RADIO): Well, we usually don't fly the whole thing end to end, all at once. So I don't really know. But it would take on the order of 2.5 hours to start at one end and fly it all the way to the other end, looking at each tower for-- see if it's unbolted. It's 177 miles long and quite a few curves. And if you see something unusual, we usually turn around, and go back, and look closer. A lot of times, it's nothing. But sometimes, when we went back, we have found something wrong, too. That's tower number 1,100. That's the first tower that went up in the state of Minnesota. And this is where we first started stringing wire here from tower 1,100.

GREG BARRON (ON RADIO): I've been told that occasionally, farmers get together, the protesters I mean, have a bonfire, that they call a weenie roast right away, sometimes.

RON MAGNUS (ON RADIO): Oh, that's true. We put up these guard poles so that when we pull a wire across, the roads or other power lines that are already here, we don't get our wires down, and the other wires are in the road. And we lay the guard poles out sometime a day or two ahead of time before we set them up. So they come along and take our guard poles down if they were up, or just take them if they were laying beside the road, and build a fire there, have a weenie roast with our guard poles.

And they would have a midnight Skeet shoot or whatever. I don't know how you shoot Skeet at night. But that's what they said they were doing when the Sheriff would come by. And of course, that was, again, it was to try to intimidate the guards that we had at the site, or try to intimidate anybody from coming up there to see what they were doing. And of course, if there's no guard watching, they were free to tear up, you know, bend the steel and do anything they wanted at the site. And if we had equipment there, they usually slice the tires, and cut the hoses, and put dirt in the gas tank, and so on.

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): Heading in now, the helicopter will land at a base in Pope County near what seems to be the center of protest activity. At the same site, two trailers serve as a communication center and security headquarters for the construction project. Daryl Connell and Mike True are in charge of all security operations. As of yet, no one's been apprehended for the destruction of towers. And neither of the men are optimistic.

SPEAKER: We've had indications in the past that protester movement has lost its momentum and that it's on its way down, that we're going to be fairly safe from vandalism. And all of a sudden, it's spurs back up again, and we're right back where we were two weeks earlier. No, it's the most unpredictable thing in the situation that I've ever run into completely.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): They're starting to get pretty rowdy right now. I don't know how long we're going to hang in here, or what's going to take place. We got another lock out here now, a couple more in a way.

SPEAKER: It's a group of people dedicated to stop this line, and another group of people dedicated to build it.

SPEAKER: I would have to agree with that. They've said many times since I've been here that one way or the other, they're going to stop it. You can call it guerrilla warfare or anything you like. But they're just dedicated. And I don't think they're going to quit. I'm concerned about that. I'm concerned about what they're going to do after it is finished. If it is completed, what kind of problems there are going to be.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Going to be a barn burner by the time she's done, I think.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): I'm sure they have around 50 to 60 now.

GREG BARRON: You see a possibility of continued vandalism and destruction, even after that line's up and operational.

SPEAKER: At this time, the way things are going, I don't see why it should change. I think Daryl will agree that they're not going to stop. You've got some hardcore people out there that are going to continue to fight this thing, even after it's completed.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): For the record, we're getting hit with wrist rockets. And they cracked a window on the Clark crane. They also have a big guard here with a big belly. He got hit in the belly with one.

GREG BARRON: Who's responsible, in your mind, for the sabotage taking place now?

SPEAKER: There's been a lot of speculation on who's responsible for the sabotage, or I think we're talking specifically about the toppling of the towers. But I'm only speaking for myself, because this is something that isn't a law enforcement item. And certainly electric utilities are not in the law enforcement business. And we don't wish to get into the law enforcement business. But I expect that there are some isolated groups of local people that are involved in the dismantling of this tower.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): And you better believe it. I don't know. I think we lost another window. We haven't checked yet.

SPEAKER: I think it's also possible that there may be people coming from outside of the area that have an interest in protest movement. Some of these people have done nothing else than protest for a period of years. And they follow one protest to another.

GREG BARRON: There is some evidence of this, isn't there?

SPEAKER: Oh, certainly. Yes, there's people that live in Lowry full-time. They moved up there because of the power line protest. And they've maintained a residence up in Lowry, and do nothing except protest this power line, and think of ways to use the media, and to get information out to the public, which is, of course, slanted in their behalf.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): I think tonight's the night that the one squad car lost a window. And they're getting pissed. So I think showdown time is near.


(SINGING) Early one morning while driving around

I saw a band of troopers, they were leaving this town

I stopped on the roadside to clear my mind

I tried to forgive for that damn power line

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): The Kettle Inn, also known as Chick's Bar is a sort of unofficial headquarters for the protest movement. Located in the small town of Lowry, it serves as an informal meeting place and communication center. The latest news of protest activity is passed from person to person, young and old. It's passed over three, two beer and the sound of the jukebox. Bridget, the bar owner, augments her income by selling custom knit sweaters. She also sells t-shirts depicting a falling tower. The t-shirts are a popular item.


(SINGING) Society was approaching--

Meeting me there was Debbie Pick. At 21 years old, she is one of the people frequently referred to as an outside agitator, a fact she says she finds amusing. Pick's been living in Lowry about eight months. She says she was involved with the anti-nuclear movement in the Twin Cities and came to Lowry to join the protesters out of a concern over what she sees as the dangers posed by the proliferation of high voltage transmission lines.

She sees it as more than a local issue. Working out of a rented room nearby, she earns her living by working for the protest legal defense fund and coordinating the protesters' newsletter. She's well known by virtually everyone involved. And utility officials often name her as both a key leader and a possible suspect in the tower toppling.

DEBBIE PICK: I just think that that's silly, because there's so many people that are involved now. There was just an article in the Wilmer paper that came out today that said, it's not like last winter. You can't zero in on the real leaders anymore, like they used to with constantly calling the Woitas and everybody. And there aren't.

There's a whole lot of people involved, whether they have to be out baling hay for 10 hours a day, or they can get away to go out into the fields to protest, or to meetings in Belle Plaine, or to help with the newsletter or anything else. There are a lot of people. And there really are no leaders. There are people who've given leadership at different times, and have been with it for the whole four years. But there aren't leaders anymore. And I don't really think there's outside agitators anymore, either.



What they're afraid of more than local opposition, I think the only thing they're afraid of more than that is that there's opposition statewide, and that there's opposition throughout the country. We have set up networks now as far as California and Massachusetts. And we've been in touch, even with protesting farmers in Sanrizuka, Japan.

We were very much involved with the power line protest out in New York. And that's very frightening to them, because then what they're seeing is a birth of a movement, not just a few angry people where they chose to build a line this time around. And they feel the threat that this line might not go through. But that national movement of opposition that incorporates all different kinds of people from all different walks of life is very threatening to them, because that threatens their very jobs and existence.



I think that it's a political statement now that towers are going down, and that damaging the line is something that was inevitable. People, I think, have still pretty much kept to their principles of trying to stay non-violent in this movement. If they wouldn't have, you would have had bloodshed back last January when the troopers came out. But damage to the line, I think, is something that the cooperatives expected. They had to.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Yeah, Security 2 to Security 1. I think they have roughly 90 to 100 people there now. We're getting pelted with wrist rockets. The law is pissed. I tell you. She's going to happen soon, it looks, if this keeps up.

GREG BARRON: When is the tower toppling going to stop? Is there any end to that? Will it end when the line is energized?

DEBBIE PICK: No, it won't end. I don't think it will ever end. I'm fairly confident of that. I don't think people are going to stop fighting. People really feel like they're winning. A lot of people who even were giving up hope for a while last spring are feeling really confident because they see the cooperatives running scared. They see the support that's been coming in for us, that we're still fighting. They get frustrated because of a lot of the publicity with cost because UPA CPA has millions of dollars to send out press releases every day. And we don't.

But I think people, for the most part, are feeling really good. And people will stop this line, whether it's bringing down a tower, whether it's going to the Capitol again, or whatever it might take, or an occupation of Midland's office, you know. People are not going to let this line get built.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): We have a little more help. We have a little more help on the way. They must have a good hundred. We have some guys working the cornfield. And I got a couple of guys back with the crane. I'm just going to make damn sure that big crane doesn't go tonight. We're going to guard it with our necks.

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): About eight miles down the road from Chick's Bar, a number of towers across a farm owned by Tony Bardos. He has a small herd of dairy cows. And he raises a little corn and small grain. He works the place with his wife and six children. Debbie Peck had given me a list of farmers I should talk to. And the power line officials had suggested names as well. And Bardos' name was on both lists. We met at the barn during milking time. You go along with these towers coming down?

TONY BARDOS: Yeah, I go along with them. I wish a few more would come down. And I think they will as time goes on.

GREG BARRON: Why is that?

TONY BARDOS: Well, they shouldn't have did this to us in the first place. And we did everything we could lawfully. We went to Minneapolis, got lawyers, went through the courts. But either the judges are paid off, or they just don't realize what's going on out here.

GREG BARRON: How many other farmers feel about the same way? Does every-- but not everybody feels the way you feel.

TONY BARDOS: Well, there's a lot of us yet out here. I don't know the exact number. But there are some of us.

GREG BARRON: Enough to stop the line, huh?

TONY BARDOS: I think there's enough.

GREG BARRON: What do you think it's going to take to stop that thing? You know, these guys are putting it in there. They're making-- they're making a lot of progress out there I know there have been delays. But they got those helicopters going. And the workmen are working. And it's going to be pretty tough stopping them, isn't it?

TONY BARDOS: Well, I think if there's still one protester left in each County, that's enough to do it in time. They've got to keep getting juiced in there. And what will it take? It won't take much to keep it from not having juice.

GREG BARRON: Who's knocking them towers down, you figure?

TONY BARDOS: I don't know who's doing it. Maybe the guards so they can keep their job. We don't know.

GREG BARRON: You know the power companies, what they say is it's costing a fortune in millions of dollars. And there isn't anything they can do except charge that to the people who use the electricity. And they say there's some people don't have much money. And they're just innocent in all this. And it's going to cost more, and more, and more.

TONY BARDOS: Yeah, it's going to cost so much that it isn't going to pay to have this line up, because they'll never get it through the way they're going at it. They've been crooked and liars from the start.

GREG BARRON: You think if they get it finished so that they can put the power in it that that'll put an end to the towers coming down?

TONY BARDOS: Well, they say they'll get the FBI out here. But he puts on his pants the same way I do. So he isn't no different than anybody else.

GREG BARRON: I think they're-- I can't be sure. But I think there are more people today who are opposed to the protest, because there's been so much more destruction lately, so much more damage to the equipment, and such a higher cost. Don't you think that if these towers keep coming down that maybe public opinion will swing around against you, and it'll make it even harder?

TONY BARDOS: Well, I think public opinion will be against us. But then they'll see that we're not going to let them build it or get juice through it. And they'll say-- they'll sit down and take a look and see what they're doing to us out here. We shouldn't have to have the burden for what good that line does for people out East in Chicago and New York. And they've told us that all the juice is coming into the state of Minnesota for the 34 cooperatives. And now I hear that we're getting 20% of it. And 80% of its going out East. So what am I supposed to think?

GREG BARRON: What about the people who say that well, they support the farmers. And they feel sympathetic. And even if the farmers are right, the courts have ruled against them, by and large. And they're just breaking the law. And no matter what, breaking the law is the wrong thing to be doing.

TONY BARDOS: Well, I think there's a lot of different laws and ways you can look at it. There's moral laws, too. And I don't know. I don't figure it's wrong what we're doing out here. And sure, people think you got to stay with the law. But what is the law? Who makes it? We should have more of a say on what goes on in this state too. You know, they just can't run over us like a bunch of dogs. Get backed in a corner, and you got to come out and fight sometime.

GREG BARRON: Is that what it feels like?

TONY BARDOS: Yeah, that's what it feels like. Back me up in the corner and run over me.

GREG BARRON: So you figure this situation is just going to go on for a while.

TONY BARDOS: Well, I think it'll go on until they stop building this line. Well, look at the Vietnam War. That got stopped. And I think protesting did that. And if you figure it out, there wasn't even 1% of the country that was protesting against the Vietnam War. So if you take one person underneath the line, that's it all the way, you know, according to Vietnam War, if you want to use that for an example.

AXEL JONSSON: In Pope County, there have been 72 arrests. Six of these were felonies. Two were convicted. The sentences to these two were alternative community service, in other words, a big, fat goose egg, nothing.

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): While farmer support for the protests is clear, it has also turned neighbor against neighbor, farmer against farmer. Wilmer Minnesota is about 30 miles South of the Bardos place. And headquartered there is the Kandiyohi Cooperative Electric Power Association.

At a recent meeting in a local restaurant, co-op consumer members, many of whom are farmers, met with area legislators to protest what they see as a lack of law enforcement. For more than three hours, farmers and other rural residents angrily charged protesters with anarchy. And they called for swift state action. Axel Jonsson, manager of the co-op reflected the group's sense of frustration.

AXEL JONSSON: Is this law enforcement? It's lawlessness. It's anarchy. That's what it is. What's the governor going to do about it? I blame Governor Perpich. I may be sticking my neck out from here to the sidewalk in this one. But I blame Governor Perpich for much of this in the first place.

When these co-ops have the right to build the line, they got all the permits, they got the certificate of need, they did everything possible, they sent to the state, we'll spend $700,000 on an ozone study, which was nonsense, but they agreed to it, then Governor Perpich should have said, OK, everything's been cleared. We're all ready to build that line. Now you people are going to let them go ahead. And I'm going to see to it that they do it, because this is a land of laws. It isn't a land of anarchy.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Yeah, we're all right. We just lost the back window, that's all.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): The cars that are coming our way from there, now the lights go out. Now I see spotlights up there. And they're right around the towers where the wire is.

AXEL JONSSON: How about Virgil Fuchs? He was arrested. He hasn't even come up for trial yet. I don't remember how long ago that was. But that was a long time ago.

SPEAKER: Two and a half years ago.

AXEL JONSSON: Two and a half years ago. He hasn't even been up for trial. And I imagine as time goes on, he probably won't even be tried, if we allow things to continue. And this is why we have the legislators here tonight.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): That same amount of people. We lost another window on our rig. We're getting surrounded here a little bit now. We're going to be in a hell of a lot of trouble here, if we don't get help in about five minutes.

AXEL JONSSON: Is this anything that we've grown up to believe in our government, to believe in the laws? My gosh. In my lifetime, I've observed the laws to the letter. I haven't done a thing wrong that I know of. And I think maybe I missed something. What about all our young people? Why should they observe the laws? Why shouldn't they go out and steal and do all kinds of things, as long as they can get away with it? Well, that's because things like this are allowed to go on, I'm sure.

GREG BARRON: Sheriff Emmons, how do you generally assess the nature of the problem around here? What is it you're up against?

SHERIFF EMMONS: Well, I'm up against a court order that says I have to enforce it, to give the power companies' workers, the contractors, their protection. At the same time, the farmers out here feel as though I'm taking sides, which I'm not. I'm under a direct court order to enforce this thing. And being a law officer, we enforce the laws that's put on the books. And that's what we're trying to do out here.

GREG BARRON: Well now, I was at a meeting last night in which there were a number of people from a local distribution co-op. And Sheriff Emmons, they're really very, very upset. They were angry, in fact. And they were saying, time after time again, that they just don't believe that they're getting the kind of law enforcement they're entitled to.

SHERIFF EMMONS: Well, I don't agree with that. Last winter, when we had these big amounts of protesters coming out, we had as high as 200 protesters out-- or 200 patrolmen out here in the field, giving them protection. And as the thing tapered off, we cut down the number of men. As for what's going on right now, I've got three deputies and myself covering the whole County of Polk County. And there's no money available for any more men in these small counties. And that's what we're up against.

GREG BARRON: Well, I've heard some of the people out on the power line, some of the workers telling me stories that I would get the Sheriff out there. And they're talking about Sheriff Emmons too. They're saying there'd be some sort of confrontation out there. And Ira Emmons would come out there. And he'd just tell these people, well, now you-- well, now you go on home. And the power line workers, they wanted you to actually arrest some of these people.

SHERIFF EMMONS: Yeah, there's cases where they wanted me to arrest people. And they flipped the coin over on the other side. And you got the protesters wanting you to arrest the power line people for violations of getting off the easements and stuff too. The way the laws are, it is easy to go out there and arrest people as people think it is. They don't understand the law and the court procedures that we've got to work with.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Hang on to your ass. There's about six cars headed your way. Get back to me the minute one car stops in front of you.

GREG BARRON: Who do you think is responsible for all this vandalism?

SHERIFF EMMONS: Well, we've got in our County a half a dozen or a dozen farmers that are kind of hotheaded. And they'll do things if they're pushed, asked to do it. We've got George Crocker, Debbie Pick, and some of these others like that are they're coming in here and pushing these farmers, call them, tell them to get out there and protest, get out there do this.

And I think they're the ones that's responsible for this movement to keep them moving like it is. And that's all that Crocker, and that bunch has ever done in their life is go around protesting one thing or the other. That's the way they make their living. And that's my personal feelings. I think if we got rid of them people, our troubles would be pretty well over with.

GEORGE CROCKER: Which way do we get out of here?

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): George Crocker is another central figure in the protest movement. Like Debbie Pick, he moved to Pope County from the Twin Cities. That was about seven months ago. Crocker is in his late 20s. And he seems to be highly regarded by protesting farmers. He's been active in protest demonstrations. And he is viewed as an articulate anti-power line spokesman. Late one night, he agreed to take me out in search of protest activity along the line. In West Central Minnesota, confrontations between farmers and guards are a regular feature of life after dark. On the way, I asked about the future of the protest.

GREG BARRON: When's this protest going to end? Where's the end to it all?

GEORGE CROCKER: Well, the end to this protest is when the line's stopped. And then we'll be moving someplace else. This is the energy war is going on. And this is a struggle that's going to be with the society, with the American Society from this time forth.

GREG BARRON: Want to make a difference? When the line is energized, there's the problem with the FBI coming in. And there's the added danger of taking down a tower with all that high voltage electricity.

GEORGE CROCKER: Well, as far as the feds are concerned, there's more than a little bit of evidence that points that they're already involved, if not directly, but certainly indirectly. It's also true that there's not an awful lot of difference between the feds and the state, except that the feds are a little more sophisticated. If we get into federal court and start dealing with the FBI, why, it's a little more likely that the real issues of this whole power line are going to come through to the people, not only of Minnesota, but for the rest of the nation as well.

So I don't see that as being a real threat. But if they do come in, why, we'd would be able to deal with that. And the other thing about just the added danger, well, yeah, it'd probably be more dangerous to take down a tower if there was 800 kilovolts at 1,000 megawatts going through that line at the time the tower came down. I think people are a little smarter than that. I think they'd find a way to cut the juice off before the tower comes down.

GREG BARRON: Well, UPA officials tell me that if the power were to be cut off due to a toppled tower while the line was energized for, let's say, a day, for 24 hours, I believe, is the way they put it, it would cost somewhere in the order of 3/4 of a million dollars. We now know that the companies have more than $1 billion invested. There's no way, is there, that they're going to back off from this commitment? All they can possibly do is put more money into the line. There's no way that a protest movement could possibly stop this line, unless this continues indefinitely, unless it takes on really enormous proportions, or you're wrong.

GEORGE CROCKER: Well, one thing is that this thing, not only is going to, but already has taken on enormous proportions. And I'd like to compare that a little bit to all those dollars and cost things to a historical situation. Think of all the hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars that were poured into the effort of the United States Army in Vietnam in an effort to squash a movement of people who were dedicated to ensuring that they had a voice in determining their own fate and their own future.

The efforts of the United States military in Vietnam were not successful. The efforts of the utilities and their agents through West Central Minnesota will also be unsuccessful. And it doesn't matter how many millions and billions of dollars they pour into this thing. They ain't going to get it.

GREG BARRON: Another problem, as I see it, is the growing public relations effort by the utilities, a public relations effort that, in my mind, rather reasonably notes that the cost of the protests, the cost of the sabotage, the cost of the delays, is all going to have to be passed to the customers, and that the customers are going to have to pay for this.

GEORGE CROCKER: Well, this whole cost question becomes very interesting. And the farther you go into it, the more interesting it becomes. The cost of this facility alone is something like 30 times as great as the cost, the dollar cost of the protest. What the protest has done, it's not so much jump the cost of this project as raise some very, very critical issues that this society must face, and will face over the next decades.

Issues of social import, as to who's going to be deciding how we meet our energy needs? Who's going to be deciding what the costs are that we're willing to pay to the environment, what the costs are that we're willing to pay as far as people being free, people being able to determine their own fates, their own interests, and their own lifestyles? Is it going to be the people who are involved with decisions, who make the decisions? Or is it going to be a corporate elite, a very small percentage of the population, 1% of the population that decides how we're going to live, and what we're going to pay for the way we live?

GREG BARRON: So this is as much a protest against the way corporate America is organized, as it is against this particular power line.

GEORGE CROCKER: Absolutely. And the longer this struggle goes on, the more clear that becomes. The people, not only in West Central Minnesota, but if you look, you'll also find that people in almost every other state of the Union in one place or another, are struggling against a power line or a power plant.

GREG BARRON (VOICEOVER): About a half a mile ahead on a side road, we saw lights, among them, the flashing lights of a police vehicle. Crocker wasn't surprised. He said one sort of incident or another is taking place constantly. And nighttime clashes between farmers and security guards are now a matter of course. This night, five young farmers were involved. No one knows when the tension will trigger violence. And no one knows when the tension will end.

GREG BARRON: What's going on over here?

SPEAKER: Minnesota Public Radio.

SPEAKER: Listen, this is good.

SPEAKER: We're just having a little friendly get-together with the Sheriff.

GREG BARRON: What kind of get-together you got going?

SPEAKER: I don't know. It's his party.

SPEAKER: He just got in his car, I'll tell you that. They're all leaving.

SPEAKER: Does he wave at you?


SPEAKER: Get them to leave.

GREG BARRON: Huh? Well, what's the situation? How would you describe it?

SPEAKER: Explosive.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): Had a rough check. The law lost about 10 windows. And we lost about three or four. And crane lost a couple. I'll contact you later.


GREG BARRON: Now what you-- now, what are you guys doing out here?

SPEAKER: Well, it's in question on if they can-- burns can drive out on private land.

SPEAKER: Catch you later.

GREG BARRON: Who stopped you here? There's a Sheriff's--

SPEAKER: Deputy--

GREG BARRON: Isn't it--

SPEAKER: --the deputy.


SPEAKER: --what's going on.


SPEAKER: He doesn't know himself.

SPEAKER: --going on.

GREG BARRON: Well, what did he-- what did he see--

SPEAKER: --brakes. Come on. Ready? Ready? Here we go.

SPEAKER: Let's go. What?


GREG BARRON: What did he see going on that he got to wondering about?

SPEAKER: I don't really know. Well, we told the guards they had to get off on private property up here.

GREG BARRON: This is your place here?

SPEAKER: No, no.


GREG BARRON: You just--

SPEAKER: It's a good friend of mine. He told me to watch it for him tonight.

GREG BARRON: OK. And you had some guards were down here on a access road--

SPEAKER: Up here, yeah.

GREG BARRON: And the guards were on the private property, were they?


SPEAKER: Hey, what's going on here?

GREG BARRON: Well, we got another one.

SPEAKER: --going down?

GREG BARRON: That's what it looks like.

SPEAKER: Hey, you got a problem?


SPEAKER: Look a little weird.

SPEAKER: Get his mirror?

SPEAKER: Ready spit on it.

SPEAKER: --hit him in the face.

GREG BARRON: Well, where you live?

SPEAKER: Where do I live? I live North of Bullard.


GREG BARRON: That's only a few miles from here.

SPEAKER: Right, we're just-- well, actually, we're Northwest of Bullard right now.

GREG BARRON: OK. So what'd you see-- what did you see over there on this guy's property?

SPEAKER: Well, we seen these vehicles driving in and out all evening here. So we went and told them that this was private property. And according to the condemnation, they have no right there.

GREG BARRON: Right on the field there, they were driving out there?

SPEAKER: Well, they were in the right of way. But according to the condemnation, they have no right out there.

GREG BARRON: Oh, yeah, this is-- I've heard this before. There's the idea that--

SPEAKER: The condemnation gives them the right to survey, construct, maintain, and reconstruct. But it says nothing--

GREG BARRON: --that the Sheriff's deputy there?

SPEAKER: Yeah, that's Kujawa.


GREG BARRON: He's one of what? Three of-- Iris got what? Two deputies?

SPEAKER: Three, three deputies.

GREG BARRON: So you know these guys.

SPEAKER: Oh, yes, we're on first-name basis.

GREG BARRON: This isn't the first time you've been involved in one of these little deals, well, [INAUDIBLE].

SPEAKER: Pardon.

GREG BARRON: What are you boys throwing?

SPEAKER: Haven't thrown anything. Just talking to him.

GREG BARRON: OK. Anyway, so where were they on the property?

SPEAKER: They were going down to the field road on the right of way.

GREG BARRON: Yeah, OK. So you told them about this interpretation of the law.


GREG BARRON: What they do?

SPEAKER: Well, they left at the time. And evidently, then they called the Sheriff. And he was kind enough to find his way out here, which, whenever we call him for any problems, he can't find his way out here.

GREG BARRON: And so what happened here?

SPEAKER: Well, he read it. And he said he couldn't make a ruling on it tonight, that we should check in on it tomorrow. He said he'd go check.

SPEAKER: I'll go check.

GREG BARRON: Who are the rest of you guys here? How many are you?

SPEAKER: I don't know, two-- I don't know, what? There were five of us, two, four, six of us.

GREG BARRON: Kind keep an eye out for things every now and then, anyhow.

SPEAKER: They has to. We've had a lot of incidences happen where rocks were thrown through trailer house windows, and different things like this, and--

GREG BARRON: Well, I was talking with some of the security people. And they say they've had a few rocks thrown through their windshields too--

SPEAKER: I understand they have--

SPEAKER: --here and there.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): We found out what they're shooting at us. I got some of this. And besides the glass report, we have numbers of headlights shot or busted out, plus the law's got a lot of dents.

GREG BARRON: You guys ever do any of that?


GREG BARRON: But it happens, or you heard it happens.

SPEAKER: I've heard it happened, yeah. I definitely heard it happen.


GREG BARRON: That's pretty funny?

SPEAKER: George laughs a lot.


SPEAKER: He gets the giggles, I think.

GREG BARRON: OK. Well, so what do you figure that's about it huh? These guys just take off and leave you be?

SPEAKER: --going back into the easement. We're going to have to drive back down in there--

SPEAKER: --have to wait until--

SPEAKER: --they drive in there--

SPEAKER: --jut ask for trouble.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): We could probably run a guesstimate of maybe $3,000, $4,000 damage to vehicles.

SPEAKER: We got to wait until tomorrow, why shouldn't they have to wait until tomorrow?


So I told them they better hit the road

Because this farm of mine is all I own

Give me them Polk County blues

And now they want to call up the National Guard

Keep me off my own front yard

What can a poor man do

But when they called up the governor

He was too busy becoming our next senator

Give me them Polk County blues

So he told the sheriff it's up to you

You make a point that power line gets through

What can a poor man do

SPEAKER: It is a very highly emotional situation. And we're very fearful that it could lead to an outbreak of physical violence.

SPEAKER: Get backed in a corner, and you've got to come out and fight sometime.

GREG BARRON: When is the tower toppling going to stop? Is there any end to that? Will it end when the line is energized?

DEBBIE PICK: No, it won't end. I don't think it will ever end.

SPEAKER (ON RADIO): There are a lot of times we'll go by an area. And somebody on the ground, one of our workers, will call us on the radio and say there's been a lot of shots fired as you went by.

SPEAKER: I'm concerned about what they're going to do after it is finished, if it is completed.

SHERIFF EMMONS: I've got three deputies and myself covering the whole County of Polk County. And there's no money available for any more men in these small counties. And that's what we're up against.

GREG BARRON: It's going to be pretty tough stopping them, isn't it?

GEORGE CROCKER: Well, I think if there's still one protester left in each County, that's enough to do it.

SPEAKER: The protest and opposition effort in this particular transmission line is a spawning ground for other protest efforts across the country.

DEBBIE PICK: And people will stop this line.

SPEAKER: It's a group of people dedicated to stop this line, and another group of people dedicated to build it.

[MUSIC PLAYING] Then they're the folks who are getting mad

Because we're out protecting our land

What can a poor man do

But if that drop keeps coming, you just wait

Trouble is you might be too late

Give me them Polk County blues

Cause that farmer out there

He grows that food

That feeds both me and you

What can a poor man do

So I looked at my watch at a quarter to 9:00

Stole the quarter, I saved some time

Give me them Polk County



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