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Tyson Johnson, a University of Nebraska student from Daykin, chose to be arrested outside the White House on Monday instead of attending the first day of classes in Lincoln.

Johnson, 21, and a political science major, was among those taken into custody during the latest round of protests of the proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through the Nebraska Sandhills.

It was not about playing hooky, he said.

"I just feel as though the risk of being arrested is nowhere near the risk of the pipeline going through our state, through our nation. It doesn't make any sense in any regard."

Keystone XL, which would connect oil deposits in Alberta, Canada, with refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast, remains under review by the U.S. State Department. A decision is expected in November.

The White House protest began Saturday and is expected to continue for two weeks. Such Hollywood notables as Margot Kidder and Danny Glover agreed to join in the display of civil disobedience in an effort to stop the project.

Johnson offered his perspective as he and a half dozen other Nebraskans, including Jane Kleeb of Hastings and Bold Nebraska, strode toward a rendezvous point at Lafayette Park, across the street from President Barack Obama's office.

They were planning to join about 60 other pipeline opponents from other states.

Being handcuffed is brand new to his experience, Johnson said.

"This is, by far, the first time I've gotten arrested. I haven't even gotten a speeding ticket before."

Mass arrests in Washington add a chapter to a story that is expected to bring State Department officials to Lincoln and to a Sandhills location, yet to be announced, in September for another round of public input.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said TransCanada has agreed to dozens of extra safety precautions involving potential groundwater contamination and soil erosion.

Some have taken that as a hint that Clinton ultimately will approve the project.

Johnson and Lori Fischer of Shelby, also arrested on Monday, are hoping otherwise.

"I hope it's not," Fischer said, "and I hope that Obama will still be able to change that even if she says it's OK."

Fischer, co-director of the Nebraska Environmental Action Coalition, said being arrested also was a first for her.

"The Park Police were really courteous, really nice," she said, "except for the search, which was a little embarrassing, because they did that right out in front of everybody."

The plastic bands used to pin people's arms behind their backs weren't a highlight either. Hers left a blister on her wrist. "If you moved, they got tighter."

The experience also involved a $100 fine and "a few hours" of being detained. Much of that time was spent on paperwork.

"You just stood there while they put everybody in line and, if you were first in line, you were out faster."

Other protesters arrested on Saturday still were in jail Monday morning. That could be interpreted as an attempt by law enforcement to dampen enthusiasm for joining in the protest.

That did play into Kleeb's decision to step back just before the arrest phase began on Monday.

"I can be there to make plane ticket changes, anything like that, if they hold Nebraskans longer," she said.

The area of the arrests is between two lamp posts regularly used by White House tourists taking pictures.

For that reason, Kleeb said "you can't stand there, essentially, for more than 10 minutes."

But, in this case, arrest was the goal.

"So when they tell us to move on, we don't."

Obama was vacationing Monday, but Johnson didn't see that as defeating his purpose.

"I have no doubt that he's paying attention, that he knows what's going on, and he'll be in communication with Secretary Clinton."

Kleeb characterized the Monday scene as a very serious message on a very serious issue.

But Fischer said there were some light-hearted moments, too.

"Actually, the flight here was more traumatic."

Reach Art Hovey at 402-473-7223 or at ahovey@journalstar.com

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