Pipeliners for Trump Energy, Extraction, and White Supremacy in the US Midwest

In this excerpt of a longer essay, video artist and researcher Angela Anderson sketches the symbolic connections between fossil fuel infrastructure and settler colonialism in the US Midwest, looking in particular at how »energy« has become a euphemism for the maintenance of patriarchal white settler supremacy in the face of calls for defossilization, in particular from native communities directly impacted by oil and gas extraction and pipeline projects

Angela Anderson — Jun 14, 2021

Truck outside of Williston, North Dakota, May 2018. © Angela Anderson

On a road trip through North Dakota in 2018, investigating the impacts of the recent oil boom and the subsequent expansion of oil infrastructure in the US Midwest, one of the things that caught my attention when stopping at petrol stations was the incredible selection of energy drinks available in the cooler section. I found myself repeatedly confronted by refrigerators full of artificial-looking beverages, bearing names like »Monster,« »Bang,« »Diesel,« »Full Throttle,« and »V8 Energy.«

The bottles formed an intimidating wall of glowing neon colors, their label designs evoking heavy metal or Harley Davidson aesthetics, featuring lightning bolts, flames, bald eagles, ominous looking slashes, and in the case of the »Bang« brand, a target. Words and phrases like »extreme,« »unleash the beast,« »fuel your destiny,« »relentless,« and »no limits« promised virile, performance-enhancing, energy; aggressive and uncontrollable.

The target audience for these products arrived at these gas stations in oversized, jacked-up pickup trucks with thundering exhaust pipes, sporting bumper stickers reading things like »don’t tread on me« or depicting images of dramatically waving American flags. For the most part they fit the profile of the white male between the ages of puberty and retirement.

As I drove through the stunning landscape of the western North Dakota Badlands, I was surrounded on all sides by these trucks. Some of their license plates bore the names of other oil and gas producing states, like Texas, Oklahoma, or Montana. These trucks belonged to the massive, imported, and mostly well-paid workforce needed to install and maintain the impossibly vast network of industrial infrastructure that has inundated the western North Dakota landscape.

You know you’ve arrived in the geological zone known as the Bakken when you start to see fire on the horizon.1 The Bakken formation is a layer of limestone saturated with oil and gas, sandwiched between layers of shale rock two miles underground. It stretches at an angle from western North Dakota into Montana and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Thanks to the technical innovations in hydraulic fracturing – otherwise known as fracking – extracting the oil underneath western North Dakota became profitable enough to set off an oil boom starting in 2006. The fires are from the methane being burned off from oil wells.2 There are hundreds, if not thousands, of gas flares burning at one time in the Bakken, releasing endless amounts of carbon dioxide and other volatile compounds into the atmosphere. As a result, a thick layer of black smog hangs halfway between the ground and the sky over these fires. The residents of the Fort Berthold Reservation of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara nations, which sits entirely on top of the Bakken’s oil and gas reserves, are disproportionately affected by this flaring due to the high concentration of wells on the reservation.

Traveling through the Bakken, I couldn’t help but register the sinister convergence of combustion engines, roaring natural gas flares, neon bottles of artificial liquid promising superhuman powers, and the pervasive rhetoric of »energy« that dominates political discourse in North Dakota. The state’s government, located in the capital of Bismarck just south of the Bakken formation, is controlled by white Republican men, and is predictably pro-industry.3 The unwritten formula for acceptable political discourse in North Dakota looks something like: goodness = industry = Christianity = heteropatriarchy = whiteness. »Energy« is the euphemism for the financialized synergy of these discursive elements.

The historical uprising on the Standing Rock Reservation in 2016 for the protection of the water and Indigenous sovereignty, and against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which now carries Bakken oil under the Missouri River just north of Standing Rock, materialized an already present settler colonial entitlement to stolen land in the form of a massive, highly militarized police and private security operation, hell-bent on protecting the pipeline corporation and the oil companies it serves.4

In her lucid text »Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire,« Cara Daggett writes that »analyzing petro-masculinity alerts us to those perilous moments when challenges to fossil-fueled systems, and more broadly to fossil-soaked lifestyles, become interpreted as challenges to white patriarchal rule.«5

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Pipeliners for Trump Energy, Extraction, and White  Supremacy in the US Midwest

Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline equipment yard, northern Minnesota, April 2021. Photo: Anonymous

The alignment of fossil fuel extraction with racist settler colonial nationalism, infused with misogyny, climate-change denialism and distorted remnants of McCarthy-era anti-communism, is evident throughout the midwest. The Trump presidency bolstered this alignment with his push to build the Keystone XL pipeline and his dismantling of key environmental protections, characterizing the oil industry as a victim of burdensome regulation in his classic gaslighting style.6

The criminalization of protests against fossil fuel extraction via »critical infrastructure« legislation written by oil industry lobbyists7 after Standing Rock and the direct payment of police forces by oil and pipeline companies8 further disclose the anti-democratic entanglements of financial capital and the maintenance of settler colonial fantasies of entitlement which deny historical responsibility for the genocidal policies.

As I write this, Indigenous women, two spirit people, and their comrades are putting their bodies in front of heavy machinery in an attempt to stop the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline through wild rice lakes, sugar bush stands, and underneath the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota.9 Local police forces have stocked up on chemical agents and less lethal ammunition, ostensibly to ensure »public safety.« In The Force of Nonviolence, Judith Butler reminds us:

The state monopolizes violence by calling its critics »violent« … Hence, we should be wary about those who claim that violence is necessary to curb or check violence … the institutional forms through which it (violence) operates compel us to ask: Whose life appears as a life, and whose loss would register as a loss? How does that demographic imaginary function in ethics, in policy, and in politics?10

The conflation of supposed public safety with the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure, and by extension the combustion of oil and gas, done by, for example, energy-drink drinking white men in huge pickup trucks whose racism has been cultivated over generations, produces an adrenaline-laden feedback loop of toxic masculinity, toxic chemicals, and the toxic value system of »generalized equivalence« described by Félix Guattari, where every possible thing or relation is reduced to monetary value.11

The Biden administration’s canceling of the Keystone XL pipeline, shortly after taking office in January 2021, offered a momentary respite from the unbridled model of perpetual economic growth at all costs which characterizes the fossil fuel industry. And yet the specter of oil remains ever-present in the US midwest, from the Bakken to the Mississippi Headwaters, standing in for white settler supremacy, in all of its delusional and destructive ahistoricity.


Angela Anderson is an artist and researcher working at the intersection of philosophy, ecology, economics, migration, and feminist and queer theory. Her artistic production is research-based and takes the form of multichannel video and sound installations, sculptural elements, and photography. Much of her work centers around the devastating effects of large-scale natural resource extraction projects and the complex economic, social, historical, aesthetic, and affectual forces that converge in them. She is Assistant Professor at the School of Art Kassel and a doctoral candidate in the Ph.D. in Practice Program at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. From Wisconsin/USA, she lives and works in Berlin.

  1. The Bakken Formation was named after an oil well drilled on land owned by the North Dakota farmer Henry Bakken by the Amerada Petroleum Co. in 1951.

  2. Because the infrastructure needed to capture methane is costly to install, most often the natural gas is burned off as a waste product.

  3. Named after Otto von Bismarck, the (protestant, anti-socialist, colonial) first chancellor of the Prussian-dominated German Empire (1871–90). Forty-seven percent of North Dakota’s population are of German descent.

  4. For a comprehensive account with historical context, I recommend Nick Estes: Our History is the Future, London 2019.

  5. Cara Daggett: »Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire,« in: Millennium: Journal of International Studies, Vol. 47, no. 1, 2018, pp. 25–44. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305829818775817 (accessed May 5, 2021).

  6. See: https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/icymi-trump-administration-has-removed-environmental-regulations-hamstring-american.

  7. Lee Fang: »Oil Lobbyist Touts Success in Effort to Criminalize Pipeline Protests, Leaked Recording Shows,« in: The Intercept, Aug 19, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/08/19/oil-lobby-pipeline-protests/ (accessed May 5, 2021).

  8. Alleen Brown: »Local Cops Said Pipeline Company Had Influence Over Government Appointment,« in: The Intercept, April 17, 2021. https://theintercept.com/2021/04/17/enbridge-line-3-minnesota-police-protest/ (accessed May 5, 2021).

  9. Line 3 is a pipeline being constructed by the Canadian corporation Enbridge, intended to carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the port of Superior, Wisconsin in the United States. For more information:  https://www.stopline3.org (accessed May 5, 2021).

  10. Judith Butler: The Force of Nonviolence. London 2020, p. 107.

  11. Felix Guattari: The Three Ecologies. London: Continuum, 2008. p. 41.

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