HELENA — Dozens of protesters occupied the governor's offices for more than four hours and interrupted their meeting with him by playing old-time tunes on a piano and dancing on an historic conference table after he refused to renounce his support for an oil pipeline project.
The protesters argued that Gov. Brian Schweitzer should oppose the planned Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. after the Exxon Mobil pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River.
That spill has polluted the shoreline and backwaters along dozens of miles of the scenic river and led to friction between the governor and Exxon Mobil amid claims the company has not been forthright about the nature of the spill.
The group of about 70 people descended on the Capitol around midday. Protesters scaled flag poles to string up a banner reading "pipelines spill, Exxon kills. Big oil out of Montana," while others occupied the central area of the governor's office and played drums and chanted.
The group dispersed late in the afternoon after police arrested two men and three women who refused to leave and were chained together.
During the meeting with governor, which lasted about 20 minutes in a reception room, protesters became increasingly restless after Schweitzer said immediately that he would not cede to their demands.
The protesters accused Schweitzer, a Democrat, of hating indigenous people they argued have been harmed by oil development and being in cahoots with "evil" industries.
Schweitzer pointed out that none of the protesters had actually been to the tar sands oil fields in Canada; inferring misinformation was driving opposition. Schweitzer pointed out that Montana has 88 pipelines, and said he supports development of new pipelines that meet modern standards of safety.
The group hissed at that and other statements, such as Schweitzer's assertion that it is more important to reduce the demand for oil rather than try to shut off the supply.
The governor has been an advocate of conservation and developing wind energy in Montana but has also touted development of coal and oil in Montana — much to the frustration The meeting devolved from there until protesters started dancing while one played music on an office piano.
Afterward, Schweitzer noted he was not allowed to finish many answers to the questions he was asked. And he pointed out he never learned exactly what protesters meant by asking him to block big oil from the state.
"I tried to ask them what size oil would be acceptable. I didn't get any answer to that," Schweitzer said.