North Dakota Deadliest State To Work – Again

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – North Dakota, once again, topped national charts to become the deadliest state in which to work in America, five years running. 

The 2017 edition of “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” compiled by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization, a national trade union center and the largest federation of unions in America, reported that for the fifth year in a row North Dakota had the most fatalities of workers while on the job, nearly four times the national rate. 

The leading spot comes with a 28 percent increase from the preceding year, 2014. Forty-seven people died while on the job in North Dakota in 2015, and 43 of the cases were investigated by Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, according to the report. The number of fatalities is numerically lower than other states, but is reflective of the ratio of workers to residents.  

North Dakota had a total of 437,072 employees in the state in 2015, with 32,140 establishments. 

A total of four deaths were the result of assault and violent acts, 28 stemmed from transportation accidents, three came from fires and explosions, and seven deaths from contact with objects and equipment, according to the report. 

In 2015, 4,386 workers were killed on the job within the United States, which equates to 3.4 per 100,000 workers. An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 died for occupational diseases, 150 workers died each day from hazardous working conditions, and approximately up to 11.1 million people were injured while on the job. 

In North Dakota, 12.5 per 100,000 workers were injured on the job, according to the report. Wyoming took second spot for 12 per 100,000 workers and Montana third place, with 7.4 per 100,000 workers killed.  

The lowest state fatality rate belongs to Rhode Island with 1.2 per 100,000 workers killed on the job in 2015. 

The fatality rate for 2015 is the not highest yet, which reported 65 workers killed in 2012, and 56 workers killed in 2013. 

More than 570,000 workers’ lives have been saved since the passing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which promised workers the right to a safe job in America. 

“The Obama Administration had a strong track record on worker safety and health, strengthening enforcement, issuing key safety and health standards, and improving anti-retaliation protections and other rights for workers,” the AFL-CIO report stated. 

“With the election of President Trump, the political landscape has shifted dramatically, and many of these gains are threatened. President Trump has moved aggressively on his deregulatory agenda, repealing and delaying worker safety and other rules and proposing deep cuts in the budget, and the elimination of worker safety and health training and other programs.” 

An average penalty for serious violations of $2,723 was levied in 2015 in North Dakota, according to the report. The national median penalty fatality rate was $2,087, according to OSHA statistics. 

The increased rate of deaths on the job is attributed primarily to the oil and gas industry, where Latino workers are the hardest hit across the nation. Since 2009, 220 Latino workers have died performing oil and gas work. In 2012, 11 out of the 12 Latino workers who died in North Dakota were immigrant workers, according to the report. 

Up until 2009, there were no Latino or Hispanic worker fatalities in the state, according to the report. Since then, however, 27 Latinos have been killed in North Dakota. A total of 25 foreign-born workers were killed in North Dakota since 2010, with an addition of four more in 2003. 

“Many oil and gas workers die from traumatic injuries from being struck by or against tools or equipment, caught in-between equipment, falls, electric shock, and burns or scalds,” the report stated. “Deaths from acute chemical exposure near oil tanks often are undercounted.” 

In February 2016, OSHA co-published the “Health and Safety Risks for Workers Involved in Manual Tank gauging and Sampling at Oil and Gas Extraction Sites” to inform employers and workers about the dangers that exist. Many workers along oil extraction sites are exposed to chemical inhalation injuries and benzene – a known carcinogen – exposure. 

Silica dust exposure has also been identified as a major health hazard in hydraulic frakking operations, according to the report. 

In 2015, North Dakota had one worker fatality who was involved in metal and nonmetal mining. A total of 304 workplace safety and health citations were issued in 2016, according to the report. 

 

Might And Money Win Again 

As pipelines leak, and Bakken soil is poisoned, North Dakota politicians snuggle closer to oil tycoons

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– The collusion between might and money historically has been the beginning of the end for countless empires. 

From China’s Shang Dynasty more than 3,000 years ago to the American Revolutionary War against a corrupt monarchy, when power marries money, downfall always follows.  

North Dakota government’s collusion with private corporations is “so expansive that there does not appear to be a sense in the general public where there is anything wrong with this,” Barry Nelson of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition said. 

It was the same when ancient China’s King Zhou Xin created a pond filled with wine to float on, or when King George III raised taxes on the colonies to fill royal coffers. Both leaders, at the pinnacle of empire, decided not to listen to what was right, but to what they thought was profitable. 

No ethics committees or commissions exist within the Peace Garden State. Instead, the North Dakota Century Code leaves ethical decisions up to the individual.

“The resolution of ethical problems must rest largely in the individual conscience… to resist influences that may bias a member’s independent judgment,” North Dakota legislation reports. 

Today, the Dakota Access Pipeline is leaking, and the Bakken earth is poisoned. Politicians are welcoming slick-talking oil tycoons like conquering heroes. Despite a United Nations condemnation of state militarized tactics in March, little, if anything, has changed in the Peace Garden State. Hundreds the 761 activists arrested during the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy still await trial, adding to the approximately $38 million the state has already spent militarizing local police and quelling the disquiet outside of Standing Rock. And while litigation continues, it’s business as usual for state politicians. 

On April 19 Valley News Live “Point of View” Anchor Chris Berg posted pictures of Congressman Kevin Cramer R-ND, ceremoniously giving Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren the pen President Trump used to sign the DAPL executive order. Additionally, Berg thanked Warren online for traveling to the Peace Garden State, and asked Governor Doug Burgum – not for the first time – if the state would accept a fat check from the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners. 

Pictures of Rep. Kevin Cramer presenting Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren with pen President Trump used to sign the DAPL executive order – photo listed on POVnow Facebook page

It is a move many suggest is similar to the age of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency collusion with the federal government. Warren continues to offer to pay in full the state’s expenditures used in militarizing police and cracking down on Standing Rock and the No DAPL movement. 

So far, the offer has not been rejected by state politicians.

North Dakota will receive up to $15 million in federal funding for costs incurred during the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, according to Governor Burgum’s office. 

“We’re committed to pursuing all avenues available to hold the federal government responsible and ensure that North Dakota taxpayers alone don’t bear the enormous costs of law enforcement and other resources expended on the protests,” Burgum said. 

Rep. Kevin Cramer and Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren – photo posted on POVnow Facebook page

Burgum also sent a letter to President Trump stating that the federal government is significantly responsible for costs due to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to enforce regulations. 

“Ethically, it has all the appearances – it has a smell to it – it seems to be undue influence of one industry, one company, on federal and state governments, and you want to believe the government is there to make sure all sides of the issue are addressed,” Nelson said.  

During the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, the state was not looking out for all sides of the dispute, rather to assist oil industry’s agenda, Nelson said. 

“It’s one thing when it feels like collusion between a government official, in this case Kevin Cramer, and a corporate head of a private industry, in this case a pipeline company, if the general public feels all of this was perfectly justified, then what is considered right and wrong anymore? It makes you step back. The North Dakota Human Rights Coalition believes that this kind of collusion between private industry and government is wrong. Good cannot come out of this. 

“It speaks so much about power and money against the people.” 

Bakken earth is poisoned, according an April 27, 2016 study released by Duke University, funded by the National Science Foundation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and published in the Environmental Science & Technology magazine. The study shows that accidental wastewater spills from “unconventional oil production in North Dakota have caused widespread water and soil contamination.” 

Much of the poisons come from brine, or saltwater used in frakking, and is non-biodegradable. 

More than 9,700 wells have been drilled in the Bakken region of North Dakota in the past decade, which led to more than 3,900 brine spills, primarily from faulty pipes, the report states.

The water studied in some spill sites was unsafe to drink, the study reported.

High levels of ammonium, selenium, lead, and salts have been found in the soil; streams have been polluted by wastewater, which contain contaminants, according to the study. Soil along spill sites has also been contaminated with radium, a radioactive element.

“Many smaller spills have also occurred on tribal lands, and as far as we know, no one is monitoring them,” Avner Vengosh, a researcher and a professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University said. “People who live on the reservations are being left to wonder how it might affect their land, water, health and way of life.”

The spills are primarily coming from pipelines in the Bakken area, he said. The spill areas have not affected reservoirs for human drinking water, but some are close. Everyone shudders when news of an oil spill breaks headlines; brine spills are far more frightening, he said.

“Nature cannot heal from inorganic brine spills,” Vengosh said. “The contaminants are going to stay. You can dilute and over time this will help, but the actual concentration will remain.”

In other words, areas where the brine spills have occurred in the Bakken region must be completely removed and disposed of. Radiation, which could spread by wild animals, is another concern that is difficult to control.

“And the more wells you drill, the more spills you have,” Vengosh said..

The narrative spun by the state has assumed that the need for militarized security was because of out-of-state environmental terrorists who chose to stake their claim here, Nelson said. “So no responsibility is placed on bad decisions made by the state legislators, that the company violated laws and did things that were illegal. None of that is laid at their doorstep. All is on the doorstep of people coming from around the country, and locally from Standing Rock. 

“It’s blaming the rape victim that they got raped.”

Additionally, the 1,100-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline, made from “sterner stuff” according to politicians and engineers, and with Russian steel, according to DeSmog, has already leaked 84 gallons in South Dakota. A storage tank outside of Keene, North Dakota spilled 25,620 gallons when an operator overfilled the tank, according to North Dakota Department of Health. 

Both spills took investigators a month to announce the mishaps to the public.

“This spills serves as a reminder that it is not a matter of if a pipeline spills, it’s a matter of when a pipeline spills,” Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said. “The fact that this occurred before Dakota Access even becomes operational is all the more concerning. We fear more spills will come to bear, which is an all too frequent situation with Energy Transfer Partners pipeline projects. As such, eyes of the world are watching and will keep Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners accountable.”

Although most of the world thinks Standing Rock’s movement is dead, remnants remain. For months, Facebook statuses reported former Dakota Access Pipeline activists, or water protectors, felt lost after the February closing of the camps outside Standing Rock. Dozens of cases have been thrown out of court, but not all. 

Some water protectors are still wandering. Others have found new causes defending water at Flint, Michigan, Dresden, Ohio, and against the Piñon Pipeline in New Mexico. Activists have also set up the Four Band Great Sioux Nation Camp on Standing Rock land.

The movement against big oil, for native rights and clean water, has spurred at least fifteen new camps to life around the country, according to Rev. Karen Van Fossan, a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship & Church of Bismarck-Mandan. 

A “Stand with Standing Rock” banner hangs outside her church, a congregation that has been in Bismarck for 65 years. During the controversy her church and church members housed at least 250 activists. The stance her church takes on the issue has created controversy in Bismarck she said, but is also a blessing in disguise. 

“Some of us who are white, and haven’t experienced racism in any kind of real way, have now had some glimpse of what that experience might be like,” Fossan said. 

“In my experience, the water protector movement has given us in North Dakota an opportunity to face some pretty harsh realities about racism in our state. I sometimes hear it said that race relations are more strained now than they have been in some time, and people of color who I know tell me actually, the racism has been there. 

“Now it is just that all of us are taking the opportunity to look at it and contend with it.” 

State support of big business has trampled indigenous rights, but has given the state a unique opportunity for change. 

“I have been increasingly concerned about the role of many governmental entities, locally and statewide, promoting the interests of business and painfully ignoring other voices,” Fossan, who is also a writer, said. 

“Even while I’m deeply disturbed by the executive order to push the pipeline through against the very clear voices of Standing Rock and many other native nations, I do see that here locally in Bismarck and Mandan, we continue to have an opportunity like we haven’t had in a long time to look at the reality of life in our communities, and the reality of racism. Not just personal visible racism that many indigenous people and people of color in our communities experience regularly, but the systems themselves are already rolling along in ways that at best ignore indigenous voices and at worst push a pipeline through, and manifest in the arrests of hundreds of people.”

Fourth Estate For Sale

As dark money pours into a conservative infiltration of traditionally liberal mainstream media, “Who among us is without bias?”

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Working from inside a taffy shop in Medora a little-known conservative nonprofit quickly rose to the national frontline by infiltrating statehouses with trained and like minded journalists. 

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, part brainchild of former executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party, Jason Stverak, was registered in North Dakota during a record-setting blizzard on January 13, 2009 with one main goal: to “perform outreach to the United States’ new media to train and collaborate with those online journalists who are seeking to shine a bright light on the various state and local governments around the country,” according to the Franklin Center’s 2015 Internal Revenue Service filings.

Jason Stverak – LinkedIn photo

The infiltration began long before the recent far-right’s wolf cries against liberal “fake news,” time enough to begin manipulating and financing conservative attacks on labor unions, climate scientists, public schools, and economic regulations. For eight years, the Franklin Center’s lengthening arm has reached into kindergartens and high schools through the Walton Family Foundation, a major funder of charter schools, and into state capitols, becoming at times mainstream media’s unfiltered voice of favored politicians.  

For conservatives, organizations like the Franklin Center are simply trying to “balance the scales” from a left-of-center media domination; for liberals, the strategic placement promotes bias. 

The Franklin Center shrewdly took advantage of a gap, which started in 2001 when cash-strapped news agencies began firing journalists due to a decline in circulations, and it began to “directly address that gap in state-capitol reporting,” according to 2015 IRS filings. The Franklin Center’s aim was to become a watchdog for government waste, fraud, and abuse in state and local governments. Today, the Franklin Center, a nonprofit, helps deliver news free to local newspapers in more than 40 states, including North Dakota, and claims to be the source of 10 percent of all state news in the United States. 

According to 2011 IRS tax filings, the Franklin Center assigned letters or numbers to each contributor to protect anonymity. Realizing that the “press could be the strongest asset of those hoping to found a new nation,” the Franklin Center provided support for “several state-based organizations to establish news organization to provide original news content.”

With its principal office in Alexandria, Virginia, and an address now registered inside Bismarck’s Dakota Community Bank, the Franklin Center is listed as a tax-exempt corporation by the IRS, and receives much of its funding from Donors Trust and its sister, Donors Capital Fund, right wing conservative foundations that funnel anonymously-contributed funds, known as “dark money” to a vast network of think tanks and media outlets, the Center for Public Integrity reported. Both charities are funded in part by  the DeVose family, the Koch brothers and the Bradley family, which have ties to the far right-wing John Birch Society. 

Donors Trust is a charitable organization promising anonymity and non-divergence from the organization’s goals to support conservative agendas, according to its website. Since 2004, Donors Trust has solicited more than $412,270,052 in funds, according to the IRS. 

The Franklin Center’s mouthpiece, Watchdog.org, reports it is a nonpartisan news organization, but receives nearly 95 percent of its funding from the Franklin Center, according to the IRS.

Stverak’s motto on his Facebook fan page is, “One man with a laptop and a wireless card is more powerful than the New York Times.” The page has seen little action since 2014, after he became Cramer’s director of communications. In 2008, Stverak was with the Sam Adams Alliance, a political activist group that helped setup the Franklin Center. He is currently listed as the founder of Haym Salomon Center and a lobbyist for the Christians United for Israel Action Fund, according to his LinkedIn page. Stverak did not reply to requests for comment.

Starting with a budget of zero dollars, the Franklin Center’s budget jumped to $2.4 million within a year, according to IRS filings. From  2011 until 2015, the Franklin Center solicited a total of $45,129,491 for the express purpose of supporting news outlets such as Watchdog.org and fund individual reporters to push conservative agendas through the media such as the Say Anything Blog, according to Source Watch and Media Matters. The Say Anything Blog is now owned by the Forum Communications Company and edited by Rob Port. 

“They’re wrong, but they’re not terribly credible sources” Port said. 

Port is the founder of Say Anything Blog, and was formerly a Watchdog.org reporter, simultaneously writing for Say Anything Blog. Port sees the conservative responses to a predominantly liberal media as an attempt at balance. Nearly half the nation votes Republican, and the media has underrepresented them, Port said.

“The Franklin Center comes up and suddenly they’re evil. The Franklin Center is a manifestation of a sort of polarization that already happened,” Port said. “Where there is demand there will be supply, and I think outlets like talk radio, blogging, and nonprofits like the Franklin Center are serving the demand for something the people aren’t getting.” 

The Franklin Center holds “several training sessions throughout the year, equipping our reporters with strategies and tactics uniquely suited to their mission and reporting efforts,” according to the center’s 2011 IRS filings. Currently, the Franklin Center has 14 listed reporters with Watchdog.org, six communications directors, four people in leadership roles, and two in development working for Watchdog.org, according to its website. 

In 2014, the Franklin Center received $205,000 for K-12 education grants by the Walton Family Foundation, according to the Walton Family Foundation website. The Walton family also despises unions, and it spends heavily to promote charter schools and legislation to allow federal funds into private schools, according to Mercedes Schneider, author of “School Choice: The End of Public Education?” The family’s retail chain, Walmart, has been cited for violating child labor laws and for bribing Mexican officials to speed up building permits. Furthermore, the Walton family has employed prison labor to grow produce, and though it operates 4,000 stores across the USA, its employees must rely on public programs for health care coverage, Schneider reported.

The Franklin Center is also a sponsor of the Koch Industries-funded ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate bill mill where corporations hand state legislators their wishlists, according to Source Watch and Conservative Transparency

“There’s a lot of mythology about this, but usually when people talk about this it is evil money, Koch brothers’ money,” Port said. “A lot of people who make a statement that the Koch brothers funded it, so what? George Soros funded it, so what? I don’t see a problem with people putting more information out.” 

Where many look at the media today and see polarization, Port sees pragmatism.

“There never was unbiased journalism,” Port said. “Who among us is without bias?” 

Agencies like the Franklin Center and Watchdog.org are reinforcing their journalists with bias, and conservatives and liberals alike are guilty of similar tactics, according to C.T. Hanson, professor of communication and journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. 

“It is an ethics issue, and I think it’s a little like using social media for your source of news, there’s no filtering and that’s the problem, if you train people to look at one side of things, or have a bias, then it impacts the information you share with the general public,” Hanson said. 

“And it’s getting worse in terms of having objective truths surface because not only do we have biased reporters but the public is taking sides in terms of media consumption. So we only tune in or we only read publications that fit our mindset, which is a natural thing. You look for information that confirms your beliefs and values and you shy away from the things that seem contrary to what you believe or value. 

“It certainly does get in the way of the truth being told.”

The watchdogs

The North Dakota Watchdog Network is not associated with the Franklin Center’s Watchdogs. “We are completely independent, 100 percent in-state funded,” founder of the North Dakota Watchdog Network Dustin Gawrylow said. The North Dakota Watchdog Network doesn’t try to hide the fact that it has a conservative agenda.

“The Franklin Center tries to give the pure journalism perception, even though everybody knows they’re not,” Gawrylow said. “I don’t try to give that perception. My model is not similar to theirs.”

The North Dakota Watchdog Network started out as the Koch Industries’ supported North Dakota Chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which ended in 2008, he then started the North Dakota Taxpayers Association. 

Dustin Gawrylow – Facebook photo

“We’ve always been the conservatives pushing Republicans in the right direction, wrapped around general transparency and good government,” Gawrylow said. “As long as Republicans are pushing for less government and Democrats are pushing for good government, we will have a better product in the end. Unfortunately, more times than not neither none of those things happen. It’s everybody for themselves, and everyone wants to run their own empire.” 

In 2012, he went after Congressman Rick Berg, criticizing his use of taxpayer-funded “slick campaign” mailers sent to state residents during his campaign for a Senate seat. The controversy created difficulties, and he later started the North Dakota Watchdog Network. 

He tried to obtain sponsorship from the Franklin Center, but “it never went any farther than one discussion. We’ve never really reached out to national money, I run a pretty bare bones operation the way it is.” He is in contact with the Franklin Center and other similar organizations, Gawrylow said. 

Eighty percent of Gawrylow’s network donors are mainstream Republicans in North Dakota, the rest are independent or Libertarian, he said. 

The North Dakota Watchdog Network raised $44,957 in 2015 and $71,236 in 2014, according to the IRS. Funds were spread across the state with at least $43,189 going toward publications, and $63,209 toward professional fees, according to the IRS. In 2015 the North Dakota Watchdog Network overspent, eating most of the previous year’s balance of $17,691. 

Gawrylow, of Bismarck, is not a Trump fan, nor did he climb onto the Obama bandwagon. He is frequently interviewed on radio and television news stations. Gawrylow’s articles are published in publications such as the Grand Forks Herald, Say Anything Blog, and the The Dickinson Press, all of which are owned by the Forum Communications Company.

The conservative fascination with infiltrating the media was in part a response to the left’s domination in the press, he said. 

“Conservatives are always slow to react to technology or structural changes,” he said. Gawrylow is one part lobbyist, or “anti-lobbyist” as he frequently fights lobbyists, one part journalist, and one part activist, who has managed campaigns, participated in legislative races, and writes — unabashedly — about issues in the state reflecting his political views. 

He mixes politics and journalism because he doesn’t claim to be a journalist first. “People know I have an agenda, people know I have my own goals, and instead of being a journalist with an agenda, I try to have an agenda that uses journalism.

As a conservative, he rarely sees a conversation including both sides to an issue in any publication in North Dakota. Media outlets belonging to the Fargo Communications Company pay homage to the establishment on both sides, but not to those outside the aisle, Gawrylow said, and the result is a media war further polarizing the differences between conservatives and liberals, and between intellectuals and anti-intellectuals.

“If you’re the underdog conservative willing to speak out against the establishment Republicans, you get the cold shoulder by the conservative media and the liberal media will let you have as much time as you can possibly use. It’s very shocking, and that’s the way our media works here in this state.”

The Fargo Communications Company owns 30 newspapers, one monthly magazine, 20 shopping and three agricultural publications, radio station WDAY-AM970, and four television stations all affiliated with the ABC Network, according to its website. 

Gawrylow and a listed officer of the North Dakota Watchdog Network, Duane Sand, who has frequently run for government office in North Dakota, are also listed in 2015 as registered lobbyists for Independent Water Providers, water pumping services sold to oil frakking companies, according to the Secretary of State of North Dakota. Sand is also listed as a lobbyist in 2016, and Gawrylow is listed as a registered lobbyist for the North Dakota Watchdog Network in 2017. 

The Franklin Center’s Watchdogs operate in North Dakota and across the United States through Watchdog.org, according to media outlet Mother Jones and the Center for Public Integrity. In 2011, Donors Trust helped the Franklin Center expand state-based reporting projects in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Virginia, according to the Center for Public Integrity. 

“They [Franklin Center] were an organization and somebody who wanted to promote state-based reporting,” Port said. “I was already doing that and I did some of it for them. They weren’t hiding the fact that they were a free market oriented organization. Most of the people who worked there were people who worked in journalism, but absolutely, there was an ideology present, they felt they were right of center at the very least.” 

Port started blogging in 2003, and began writing as a type of journal. He’s a college dropout, once worked with his father as a private investigator primarily investigating insurance fraud, and also spent time working for the Scott Hennen Show, he said. 

He has tried inviting liberals onto his show and to write for Say Anything Blog, but he’s mostly ignored, Port said. “The North Dakota Democratic Party won’t send me press releases. They try to pretend I don’t exist. The left in this state works to ‘othering,’ I think that’s the word for it. I’m the ‘other.’ I’m the boogeyman, and they don’t want to engage me.” 

Port frequently publishes articles from Gawrylow on Say Anything Blog. He also has worked with former president and CEO of Freedom Force Communications LLC Scott Hennen, who hosts the far-right Scott Hennen Show on AM1100 “The Flag” and FM106.9 “The Eagle,” both conservative radio programs that broadcasted one-sided interviews and cast long, dark shadows across the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy in 2016. 

Port once worked for Stverak with Watchdog North Dakota Bureau, where he won “Watchdog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and Americans for Prosperity Award for Online Excellence” in 2011. Between Watchdog.org work and the Fargo Forum, Port detoured and wrote for HPR Magazine as a columnist. His articles through Say Anything Blog are published in newspapers including the Fargo Forum, River Falls Journal in Wisconsin, The Pioneer, West Fargo Journal, Duluth News Tribune, the Jamestown Sun, all of which fall under the Forum Communications Company’s widening umbrella. 

Owned by the Marcil-Black family and run by William Marcil Jr., the Forum Communications Company has opened a port for unprecedented access to right-wing politicians such as Cramer to voice opinions and propaganda — unfiltered, unedited — through Say Anything Blog, which self advertises as “North Dakota’s Most Popular and Influential Political Blog.” 

It could be argued that, through its outlets, Forum Communications Company is passing on biased information funded by right wing advocacy groups with ties to the John Birch Society, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “occasionally” anti-Semitic conspiracy-theorist “political third rail” once exiled from America’s political halls, but now slowly climbing back.

“Adding Rob was 100 percent business decision,” Marcil said. “We watched him grow his audience over the years and become successful. The fact that he is right leaning is a bonus. Our stable of columnists are not conservative.” Some of the Forum Communications Company’s columnists include Mike McFeely, Winona LaDuke, Jim Shaw, Joel Heitkamp, and Amy Klobuchar, Marcil said. 

“None of them are darlings of the Republican Party. In my position I find it interesting that when a person reads their paper they search out what they believe. Liberals like to tell themselves and me the the paper is conservative. The exact opposite for conservatives. Honestly, I would love to have some more conservative columnists.” 

Rob Port’s announcement that Rudie Martinson, board member of the Franklin Center, would be sitting in for his radio show on April 25, 2017 – Facebook

And as if Cramer’s sway with much of North Dakota’s press wasn’t enough, in early April Cramer sent letters to news broadcast companies with questions pertaining to bias. He focused on executives at NBC Universal, ABC, and CBS, arguing that the use of public broadcast resources justifies his interest in the issue, according to news reports. In November, 2016, Cramer announced intentions to call for hearings pertaining to media bias. 

A discussion held by the Northern Plains Ethics Institute was held late March to discuss “fake news” and journalism ethics. Among those included in the discussion were two WDAY anchors, Fargo Forum editors, Hennen, WDAY talk-show hosts, and North Dakota State University professors. 

The panel met at the NDSU Alumni Center to discuss issues including the polarization of the news media and its effects on “fake news” with little success, except to point out that there are dangers when readers are unable to separate fact from fiction. 

The Tides 

The left side of the political aisle is not blameless, and claims its own share of manipulating the news since the 1960s. Online news organizations such as ProPublica and Democracy Now! are openly liberal websites attracting readers who naturally agree with their points of view, just as some conservatives click toward websites such as the “alt-right” Breitbart. 

A difference between left and right is that organizations such as the Tides Foundation, established in 1976, and its “legal firewall” the Tides Center, aren’t as tight lipped about contributors, and have not been actively inserting like-minded journalists into mainstream media, instead, the organization invests in movies, supports activism, and in some cases issues donations to online media platforms.

The Donors Trust’s antithesis, the Tides Foundation, supported in part by billionaire George Soros, is listed as a charitable organization by the IRS, soliciting funds in excess of $405,017,500 since 2013. The Tides Foundation’s primary purpose is grant making and to “empower individuals and institutions to move money efficiently and effectively towards positive social change.” The organization also focuses on education, environment, civil rights, relief services, the environment, media, human rights, LGBT rights, and youth development, according to its 2014 IRS filings. 

Other issues the Tides Foundation rallies behind are gun control, abolition of the death penalty, and anti-war movements, and it is funded in part by the Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, according to its website. 

One controversy the Tides Foundation was involved with was its support of news or fact checker organizations, with a more than $4 million donation to Media Matters, and a $2 million donation to Wikipedia. Media Matters, launched in 2004, is a nonprofit research and information center “dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in U.S. media,” according to its website. It monitors print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets, and issues “rapid response” articles and alerts activists, journalists, and the public about misinformation. 

Another controversy is the Tides Foundation’s relationship with non-profit activist groups organized by billionaire George Soros, and the “Shadow Party,” which is comprised of hundreds of political committees to funnel “soft money” into Democratic Party endeavors. 

Right wing conservatives believe organization like the Tides Foundation are seeking to destroy the American way of life by moving the country’s constitutional foundation to a European-styled socialism. 

The Tides Foundation was registered in Bismarck on March 27, 2002 as a foreign nonprofit corporation, according to the Secretary of State North Dakota. Its principal office is in San Francisco, and its business scope is listed as grant making. 

The fix

One way to reverse the polarization in the media is to offer better salaries to reporters, Gawrylow said. 

“I don’t know how you reverse the partisan media situation, because you can’t do it with state funding because you’re a propaganda machine,” Gawrylow said. “Everything is ratings and sales oriented, but it’s not for the right reasons, not for the old “20/20” investigative journalism with the hidden camera.

“The only way you can get back to it is, number one, reporters have to make more money.” 

You get what you pay for, Gawrylow said, and North Dakota rarely retains its talented writers. Many television station personalities hold little more than internships, and in 2006, he applied for a $23,000  full time job as a political reporter, a sum, he said, which would not have been enough to keep him interested for long. 

“When people complain about the lazy journalists and liberal journalists with an agenda, they’re not paid enough to care,” Gawrylow said. “You don’t get quality, and if you’re only here for six months, you’re not making connections.”

Port never expected anyone to initially read his blog, he said. Now, as a political columnist for the Fargo Forum, he doesn’t see a problem with offering an information highway to North Dakota’s conservative politicians. 

“Maybe that’s because I’m a Republican and they see me as a friendly face. Fine. I don’t see what the problem is.” 

Social media, Port believes, is one of the main reasons for the widening gap between left and right in the press. Facebook algorithms allow the user to see what they want to see, not opposing ideologies. North Dakota Democrats have fallen for that snare, he said. 

“They’re all just talking to themselves,” Port said. “The only people they’re reaching are the people who already agree with them. They’re not changing anyone’s mind. Maybe if we had more voices like mine in the ‘traditional media’ it wouldn’t be an issue.” 

Hanson doesn’t read Say Anything Blog, because it’s heavily biased, he said. “I don’t think it’s accurate. I feel he has an axe to grind, and it’s not objective reporting so why waste my time with it.”

He also believes that social media is exacerbating the polarization of political reporting. 

“North Dakota is politically a very conservative state and not terribly receptive to new ideas or change,” Hanson said. “Look at the state legislature in Bismarck, and it’s pretty dark. If you don’t know the background, or the kinds of trails they’ve been traveling and the connections, you can easily get mislead.” 

City Commissioner’s Recall Petition Dies

By C.S. Hagen

FARGO – The recall petition of City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn fizzled out on Friday after two months of volunteers gathering signatures.

The recall ended because Pipekorn promised to obtain the list of all signatories on the “Scott Hennen Show” AM1100 “The Flag” on May 10, according to a recall committee press release.

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn – photo provided by City of Fargo

“So when they turn in the signatures for the Freedom of Information Act, I am going to request a copy of the signatures so we can  review them as well,” Piepkorn said on the “Scott Hennen Show.” He added that he was concerned the signatures were not legitimate.

Friday was the final day to handover the petition to the city auditor for certification. A minimum of 3,504 signatures was needed.

“Over the past two months our volunteers have worked ceaselessly to hold accountable a city commissioner who continues to abuse his power in the effort to denigrate and marginalize some of the city’s most vulnerable residents,” the recall committee said in a press release.

“Piepkorn’s actions are the actions of a bully and we will continue to work to ensure that no elected official, especially those installed with a minority of votes, uses their office to spread fear, foment distrust or divide our community.”

The recall process garnered support as well as criticism from around the city. Netizens both left and right of the political aisle took to posting their thoughts about the controversy, which stemmed from Piepkorn’s outburst during a City Commissioner’s meeting last October. Last year, Piepkorn’s scrutiny into unearthing the financial “burden” of specific minority groups brought into the area by Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota sparked the anti-immigrant interest of Breitbart News, the “alt-right” online news forum formerly led by Steve Bannon, a coincidence Piepkorn denied he had anything to do with.

The recall effort stirred controversy between would-be allies as well, when the Fargo/Moorhead Refugee Advisory Council, or FMRAC, issued a statement saying they were against the recall, and that recall volunteers had been threatened.

The recall committee stated at the time that volunteers had not been threatened. Fargo Police also received no reports of threats being made to recall volunteers.

“Even if they were over, the committee wouldn’t give him the chance,” a recall organizer Zac Echola said. “If anyone on the list mistakenly added their name or if they are simply unlucky enough to not be in an ICE database, they could be deported, even if they’re citizens. State Department and ICE don’t share data.”

Piepkorn plans to continue his line of questioning into schools and into West Fargo after he said he received information that the City of Fargo spends approximately $225,000 a year on refugees. Piepkorn also plans to ask police to begin documenting refugee status, according to his interview on the “Scott Hennen Show.” In addition, a legislative study committee will begin looking at Fargo and West Fargo city and school numbers that pertaining to refugee resettlement costs in January 2018, Piepkorn said.

Piepkorn has focused primarily on Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, the organization contracted by the state to manage the arrival of refugees and immigrants to North Dakota. The organization has handed over its 2014 990 nonprofit tax returns, and offered repeatedly to meet with Piepkorn to answer questions. Since the beginning, Piepkorn has refused.

A total of three reports on refugee costs have been handed over to the city since October 2016. The first report filed by the Fargo Human Relations Commission in April stated that statistics were difficult to obtain, but that refugees were good for the city having a cost-positive impact of $3,250 per individual. A second report filed on May 4 by the City of Fargo’s Finance Committee stated that the city has spent up to $750,000 on refugees since 2014, including the hiring of a cultural liaison officer, an interpreter, social service grants, and on the Human Relations Commission.

The third report was handed to Fargo City Commissioners last Monday by Fargo Cass Public Health, reaffirming that government agencies do not track refugees, but that the department did spend $60,100 in nursing costs on refugees in 2016.

A total of $3,895,096 went to refugee programs out of $11 million listed as federal government grants for the period up to June 30, 2016, with the City of Fargo directly contributing $500 for the Building Bridges conference, according to Shirley Dykshoorn, vice president of Senior and Humanitarian Services for Lutheran Social Services. One percent of the dollars expended by city health staff went toward refugees, she reported. “We provide dollars for those services under a contract with the Health Department,” she said.

Piepkorn’s statements pertaining to refugee costs have continuously been disproved.

“When I’m being attacked for asking where our tax money is going, that’s very concerning,” Piepkorn said. “This has upset a lot of citizens of Fargo.

He did not raise funds against the recall, but said he’s had offers of help from around the country.

“I will have people from around the country if I want to raise money that will help me, and I’ve had people offer to come to Fargo to help with the recall.”

Although the recall committee did not succeed in their efforts, they hope the recall petition has awakened people in Fargo to what they consider unfair treatment of New Americans.

“Our efforts began with little time to spare, but we did so in order to show folks that they need not be afraid, that they can stand up and participate in their democracy. Although we did not attain a recall, we have begun a vital conversation.”

Federal Loophole In Medical Marijuana Laws, Police Target Bismarck Stores

By C.S. Hagen
BISMARCK – Before the legal ink dried on North Dakota’s medical marijuana laws, Bismarck Police inspected two health food stores in the state’s capital city Thursday, looking for hemp derivatives.

Police targeted the stores selling products containing Cannabinol, or CBD hemp oil, a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3 percent THC levels, and is known for its efficaciousness as an anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and antioxidant, among other uses.

CBD hemp oil is illegal in North Dakota and has been since 1903, Howard C. Anderson, the chief compliance officer for the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy, said. Despite what other media sources have reported, most people in the state were under the assumption that because CBD had a THC level less than 0.3, it fell under industrial hemp regulations and was permitted to be sold, Anderson said.

“That’s why they thought they could have a die-all with 0.3 percent or less,” Anderson said. “Now they’ve learned that’s not true.”

In December 2016, the Drug Enforcement Agency specified CBD oil as a Schedule 1 drug, on the same level as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine.

“They didn’t really change anything, they just interpreted it to make it more clear,” Anderson said. “It’s always been an illegal substance.”

Terry’s Health Products – from Facebook page

Terry’s Health Products and BisMan Community Food Co-op were the stores targeted, according to Buschena. Both stores were mentioned in a television report pertaining to the recent rise in CBD product sales by MyNDNow on May 2.

“Of course if you are going to sell an illegal substance, you probably shouldn’t advertise it on TV,” Anderson said. “I understand they were selling it for a while, and that they thought it was okay.”

“We got a report from the attorney general’s office that there were maybe two business in Bismarck selling CBD products, Bismarck Police Sgt. Mark Buschena said. “This was not a raid. We sent officers to these businesses, identified themselves as police officers, bought the products from the shelf, and then they were sent for testing.”

The tests came back positive for CBD, negative for THC, Terry’s Health Products owner Lonna Zacher said. Her telephone has been ringing off the hook from concerned patrons; social media has “exploded” with indignation, she said.

“I am pulling it away from my shelves because I don’t want to spend 20 years in jail away from my daughter,” Zacher said. “Can’t see it. Hemp-based CBD oil, which is something I don’t even know if you drank 50 bottles of it if you would get high.

“It’s super disappointing.”

“Results from the products purchased by the officers came back today,” the Bismarck Police Department said in a press release. “One of two items purchased at Terry’s Health Products came back positive for Cannabinol.  All three items purchased at the Food Co-op came back positive for Cannabinol. Since being informed of the lab results both stores have willingly turned over all Cannabinol products to the Bismarck Police Department for disposal.”

No charges will be pursued at this time, Pat Renz, crime prevention and community services officer for the Bismarck Police Department, reported.

Public knowledge pertaining to the illegality of CBD hemp oil in North Dakota was lacking, as every online medical directory checked reported that CBD is legal to purchase and to use for adults in North Dakota.

Bushcena said news reports have blown the situation out of proportion, however, the U.S. News & World Report said in early May that a $1.1 trillion error in a spending bill approved by Congress could deprive North Dakotans with protections against federal anti-drug agents and prosecutors.

In other words, North Dakota was one of two states not included in a list denying federal government intervention with its medical marijuana programs.

Former United States Attorney for the District of North Dakota Timothy Purdon said the omission is a possible loophole the federal government could exploit.

Bis-Man Community Food Co-op – from Facebook page

“Other states have legalized medical cannabis laws and have legal protections under law,” Purdon said. He is currently a partner with Robins Kaplan LLP in Bismarck. “North Dakota doesn’t have that protection at this point, and that just creates more confusion. It’s an additional challenge for folks looking for medical cannabis to help ease the pain of their loved ones.”

North Dakota is one of 13 states that has commercial industrial hemp programs, according to legal directory KightLaw. Laws pertaining to hemp products are two-pronged whereas the state may have legalized medical marijuana or hemp products, but the federal government has not, and may actively hunt distributors or users.

Since 2014, federal spending bills have banned the Justice Department from going after state legal marijuana programs through a shield known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. The Obama Administration also issued the Cole Memo in 2013, which empowers states to regulate their own cannabis laws.

Recently, however, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared that he wants to bring back the war on drugs — all drugs, which would mean he would pit himself and the Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and other drug-enforcement agencies, against more than half of the nation.

“For unknown reasons, medical pot programs in North Dakota and Indiana were not listed as being off-limits to federal enforcement in the bill, which was negotiated by congressional leaders before being presented for floor votes,” the U.S. News & World Report said.

“As a matter of fact, medical cannabis remains illegal under federal law, and the US congress has given protection to some states, but it does appear to put this industry in a vulnerable position,” Purdon said.

“It doesn’t mean Department of Justice will take advantage of that, but we just don’t know.”

Senator John Hoeven R-ND, who is on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for including North Dakota on the federal list, said North Dakota was not included because medical marijuana will not become available for another 12 to 18 months. 

“The provision is included in the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) funding bill, which was drafted and approved by the CJS appropriations subcommittee in April 2016, prior to North Dakota’s approval of medical marijuana usage,” Hoeven said. 

“In the meantime, we will ensure the list is updated in the FY18 bill, so the state should be included before North Dakota’s program is up and running.” 

The North Dakota Health Bureau referred questions to Jack McDonald, attorney for North Dakota Newspaper Association & North Dakota Broadcaster’s Association, who said that CBD oil was on the menu as a replacement for marijuana during the latest legislative session. 

“For a long time it was one of the big issues of contention,” McDonald said. “It was only going to be that oil for a long time.”

In the future, people will be allowed to produce and sell CBD products, but they must be licensed, he said. “We will have to have strict regulations on how and where they do that. I have never heard before that it was legal.” 

“We watch these laws very close and if indeed this became a Schedule 1 drug we were completely unaware of it,” Zacher  said. “We have carried this product for 3 years without issue. Hundreds of reputable companies carry these products. Hemp based CBD oil is an amazing dietary supplement with an endless amount of health benefits.”

“If test results with no CBD in them, then it’s business as usual,” Bushcena said. “If they are, then we will notify the stores as such.”

If stores owners are convicted, the maximum penalty is up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $70,000, according to the North Dakota Century Code.

Zacher plans to fight to get CBD products legally back on her shelves, just as the original owner, Terry Hagen, fought federal regulations in the 1980s, she said. Law firms such as Hoban Law Group, who is representing the Hemp Industries Association, Centuria Natural Foods, RNH Holding LLC, reached out to Zacher telling her they are suing the Drug Enforcement Agency after it announced CBD as a marijuana-based drug instead of a hemp-based oil.

 

Showdown At City Commission Hall

Recall organizers face city commissioner after report on refugees, LSS reveals financials

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – 
As the two-hour-long Fargo City Commissioners meeting prepared to adjourn Monday, Erin Buzick, an organizer of the recall petition for City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, was given permission to speak. 

“Basically, I said that I understand that my inclusion in this community comes with a price tag to the city,” Buzick said. “However, I have never been reduced to a dollar sign. My intrinsic value has never been debated in the commission hall nor in the local media.”  She addressed Piepkorn on ongoing issues pertaining to refugee resettlement. 

“Commissioner Piepkorn, I know you’re fond of saying you’re not very smart,” Buzick said. “I respectfully disagree with you. I find it very difficult to believe that when you started this line of questioning that you didn’t understand the impact of your words.” 

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn – photo provided by City of Fargo

“If you want to look back and see the numbers we were told the original cost was $28,000 to the city, and now it’s turned out to be $220,000 a year,” Piepkorn said. “Those are specific for refugees. LSS [Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota] told us they were getting $800 per refugee, and it turns out last year they received $4 million dollars. So those are lies, aren’t they? Or are they truths?” 

Abdiwali Sharif, a former refugee, also spoke before the City Commission. 

“As a former refugee myself, and I hope I can relate to many other refugees who have made Fargo their home since World War II, I would like to know why the city is targeting refugees?” Sharif said. 

“While I understand Commissioner Piepkorn’s agenda to prevent more refugees being resettled in Fargo citing cost issues, everyone should know by now that he is not doing it for the right reasons. He is doing this to marginalize refugees, and I am shocked that the city and the mayor has not done anything to prevent such behavior that enables discrimination of thousands of its residents.” 

“I think I said a couple times that the costs are important, but that I hope the city is not going down the road of trying to quantify people,” Buzick said. “I hope that Fargo can recognize that people are people, and should be treated as such.”

Her statement was met with silence. Piepkorn had already moved to adjourn, but the motion was not seconded, which led into a few minutes of back and forth between Buzick and Piepkorn. 

Mayor Tim Mahoney ended the debate, and the recall petition has slightly more than a month to finish, according to State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. 

On May 5, Stenehjem replied in a letter to Fargo City Attorney Eric Johnson that all recall elections are valid if filed one year before end of term. Apparently, there was confusion about timing specifications within the North Dakota Century Code pertaining to the preceding year or one actual year – 365 days – for a recall to take place. 

Piepkorn’s term ends on June 12, 2018, so as long as the recall filing officer certifies the petition is valid prior to June 12, 2017, the recall election may occur, Stenehjem said. If the petition is not properly filed by June 12, then a recall election cannot occur, according to the North Dakota Century Code.

Minutes before the verbal tit-for-tat, the Fargo Cass Public Health turned in a report to Fargo City Commissioners stating that government agencies do not compile statistics based on refugees. 

The report, the third of its kind, reaffirmed that government agencies do not track refugees, according to Fargo Cass Public Health Director Ruth Roman. 

“But we don’t compile those kinds of statistics,” Roman said shortly before the meeting adjourned. Roman received a request for dollars spent on refugees, she told city commissioners, and approximately 35 to 40 percent of costs from nursing are reimbursed through the federal grants and through insurance.

Under a budget of $549,156 in 2016, Fargo Cass Public Health spent $51,647 on interpreters, $56,749 in 2015, and $47,188 in 2014, according to a report provided by the department.

Fargo Cass Public Health also completed a manual count by referral for the past year, which included 34 new families introduced by Lutheran Social Services from April 1, 2016 until March 31, 2017. The estimated costs for providing services for the 34 families is $5,950, Roman reported. 

The only refugee status Fargo Cass Public Health tracks is nursing, Roman reported, which oversaw 86 individuals in 2016 with a cost of $60,100, another 97 individuals in 2015 at a cost of $52,925, and 160 individuals in 2014 at a cost of $84,060, Roman reported.  

The first report filed by the Fargo Human Relations Commission in April stated that statistics were difficult to obtain, but that refugees were good for the city having a cost-positive impact of $3,250 per individual. A second report filed on May 4 by the City of Fargo’s Finance Committee stated that the city has spent up to $750,000 on refugees since 2014, including the hiring of a cultural liaison officer, an interpreter, social service grants, and on the Human Relations Commission. 

“I would encourage people to look at last October when I brought this point up initially, we were told some numbers that were not even close, they were way low,” Piepkorn said during the meeting. “They were obviously incorrect. The other question I have is ‘Why don’t people want us to know these numbers?’ To me, this is public tax money. When people say ’It’s not our business,’ it is our business. It’s public tax money that we’re spending.” 

City Commissioner John Strand – provided by City of Fargo

City Commissioner John Strand said that the report reflected the “tip of the iceberg” to better understanding the issues. “All of these services would be provided by the city anyway. So it’s hard to tell how many of our existing services like nursing care are for refugees, and then we don’t track refugees, which makes it even more complicated.” 

A legislative study committee will begin looking at Fargo and West Fargo city and school numbers that pertaining to refugee resettlement costs in January 2018, Piepkorn said. 

“The bigger thing that should be happening is that we should be reimbursed by the federal government,” Piepkorn said. “We don’t have anything to do with it. We don’t even know how many refugees are coming this year, and yet we’re having to pay. Eventually what’s going to happen is that we’re going to request the federal government to reimburse us and that’s how it should be.” 

Tensions surrounding refugee resettlement in Fargo and have created strife, ripped allies apart, since Pipekorn’s outburst during a City Commissioner’s meeting last October. Last year, Piepkorn’s scrutiny into unearthing the financial “burden” of specific minority groups brought into the area by Lutheran Social Services sparked the anti-immigrant interest of Breitbart News, the “alt-right” online news forum formerly led by Steve Bannon, a coincidence Piepkorn denied he had anything to do with. 

Lutheran Social Services is the organization contracted by the state to manage the arrival of refugees and immigrants to North Dakota. The organization provides resettlement services in Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and in Moorhead, Minnesota, according to Lutheran Social Services’ 2014 990 tax filing. 

The organization’s New Americans Services program provided services to 436 new refugee arrivals, 149 secondary migrants, 10 people seeks asylum, two parolees, and 14 unaccompanied refugee minors in 2014, according to tax filings. Of that number, 321 found employment in 2015 through Lutheran Social Services assistance. In 2014, immigration specialists assisted 1,267 individuals with green cards, and provided 19,570 days of care to refugee children who had no parents. 

A total of $3,895,096 went to refugee programs out of $11 million listed as federal government grants for the period up to June 30, 2016, with the City of Fargo directly contributing $500 for the Building Bridges conference, according to Shirley Dykshoorn, vice president of Senior and Humanitarian Services for Lutheran Social Services. One percent of the dollars expended by city health staff went toward refugees, she reported. “We provide dollars for those services under a contract with the Health Department,” she said. 

Lutheran Social Services not only resettles refugees to a state that until recently has remained homogeneously white since its inception in 1889, but helps New Americans find jobs, with emergency cash services, startup food, and other core services. In 2017 alone, the organization has also provided $282,395 worth of awards to units of local government including the Fargo Adult Learning Center, Fargo Board of Education, the Somali Community Development of North Dakota, the New American Consortium, and the Family Healthcare Center. 

“There have been a lot of people feeling they are targeted, by the request of having a whole group of legal immigrants studied,” Dykshoorn said. “You could argue that there are other people in the community that have costs associated with them.”

For instance, college students, Dykshoorn said. Have college students affected increased police numbers? 

“They are legal residents of the community, it’s sort of a carry over from elections and immigration issues that have been put forth,” Dykshoorn said. “That’s the other part of the discussion; it’s difficult to segregate data. As a person who has a legal right in this country you are allowed to move where you choose.

“You can’t look at it with a narrow lens.” 

Her organization has repeatedly requested sit-downs with Piepkorn. So far, he has refused. All information Piepkorn is requesting is through the City of Fargo, which is then sent back to the city and then to Piepkorn, Dykshoorn said. 

Not only has Piepkorn not visited Lutheran Social Services, he is not believing the facts that are being given him, Dykshoorn said. 

Piepkorn has stated that Lutheran Social Services CEO Jessica Thomasson makes $350,000 per year, which is incorrect, Dykshoorn stated. Thomasson’s annual salary is approximately $143,000. Additionally, statements have been made that the organization spent $15 million on a new Fargo office building in 2015, on land purchased in 2008, but the facility actually ran a cost of $5 million paid for with donations, cheaper than renting. Lutheran Social Services conducted a nearly six-year capital campaign before the building was built, Dykshoorn stated. 

“He’s requesting through his city channels, and thinks there are a lot of other costs to city government. In some respects he’s requested the information from the right source, but he doesn’t believe what has been provided to him.” 

Lutheran Social Services is monitored several times every year by the federal government and by contracted voluntary agencies, Dykshoorn said. 

“If they thought we were doing something inappropriate they would be right on us,” Dykshoorn said. “We are regularly under the microscope for the services that are provided. We will try to provide the education and clarity to him [Piepkorn] that he is requesting.” 

Comparing Piepkorn’s inquest into refugee resettlement as fear mongering, the recall petition of Piepkorn began in March, and division was recently incited between recall organizers and the Fargo/Moorhead Refugee Advisory Council, or FMRAC. Council members stated that recall organizers had been harassed and threatened while on their routes; recall organizers said they had not heard of any reports of threats. Fargo Police said no incidents of threats or harassment have been reported. 

“We have a simple message,” FMRAC responded to an email and directed to Piepkorn. “Please do not spread false rumors. Refugees have already suffered enough, and they don’t deserve to be targeted the way they are right now.” 

On April 30, FMRAC directors invited Piepkorn to an honorary membership on the council. So far, Piepkorn has not accepted. The invitation came days after hate fliers were pinned to telephone poles in downtown Fargo. The fliers were reportedly sponsored by “alt-right” and hate groups such as VDare, Occidental Observer, American Renaissance, Counter-Currents, Redice-TV, and the Flyovers. 

Pinning advertisements on public or private property without consent is illegal, according to the North Dakota Century Code. Fargo Police Public Information Officer Joseph Anderson reported no one involved with disseminating the hate fliers had been arrested yet. 

The recall committee has until this Friday to finish the petition, as the city needs up to 30 days to have the petition certified. 

FMRAC Steps Up, Defines Its Stance 

While racist propaganda circulates Fargo, and a city leader targets refugees, divisions among refugee and activist organizations threaten to undo cooperation efforts

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– The Fargo/Moorhead Refugee Advisory Council clarified recent actions Tuesday by doubling down on its stance against the recall effort of a Fargo city commissioner primarily due to threats, but not without admonishment. 

“We have a simple message,” the Fargo/Moorhead Refugee Advisory Council, or FMRAC, said in a response to an email and directed to City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn. “Please do not spread false rumors. Refugees have already suffered enough, and they don’t deserve to be targeted the way they are right now.” 

On Sunday, FMRAC directors invited Piepkorn to an honorary membership on the council. So far, Piepkorn has not accepted. Fauzia Haider, a former FMRAC member, resigned from FMRAC last week stating decisions were being made “behind the scenes.” 

While rumors swirled and fingers pointed in directions few knew how to follow after FMRAC advocated an immediate end to Piepkorn’s recall efforts, FMRAC did admit the controversy created a division within the council. 

The recall committee remains committed to its efforts to recall Piepkorn, organizer Erin Buzick said. 

“One of our former officers was conflicted, and decided to support the recall effort publicly, while many others expressed the support only in an individual capacity,” FMRAC said. Currently, FMRAC has no official council spokesperson, but plans electing one on Sunday, Hukun Abdullahi, a member, said. 

“The council understood the need for people who wanted to do this, but at the same time understood the repercussions this could have in the future. This is our city after all. The council did not want to escalate the cost-issues, which is enabling the commissioner to go after the refugees in the first place.” 

NDSU professor Denise Lajimodiere and Zeinab Egueh, speaking after a meeting on hate issues this past weekend – photo by C.S. Hagen

Piepkorn took aim last year at Lutheran Social Services during City Commissioner meetings, saying he wanted an investigation into how much money LSS was spending on resettlement programs, how much immigrants are costing the city, and if New Americans are related to increased crime rates.  Last October, reporters from Breitbart News, the “alt-right” online news forum formerly led by Steve Bannon, showed up at the meeting, a coincidence Piepkorn denied he had anything to do with. 

Lutheran Social Services is the organization contracted by the state to manage the arrival of refugees and immigrants to North Dakota.

After a six-month study, the Fargo Human Relations Commission released a report declaring that although financial statistics focused on a particular class or race of people were at best difficult to obtain, refugees and immigrants were good for Fargo.

FMRAC further stressed that recall volunteer safety issues are the council’s most pressing concern. 

“As mentioned in the press release, the safety of the community and community members outweighs any issues that are on the table,” FMRAC said. “We were informed about the incidents that were happening during the signature collection process, and in order to prevent any kind of escalation of violence, we decided to take this decision collectively as the council. 

“Fight pushes people away, and puts people in precarious situations to defend rather than negotiate. Ironically, many refugees who are here do understand the consequences of picking up fight especially with their own government. The current political climate and other barriers do not give our refugees a whole lot of wiggle-room to speak up.” 

FMRAC was not aware of any incidents that were reported to police.

Recall committee volunteer Zach Echola said volunteers go out in pairs, and he knows of no instances where they have been threatened. Buzick reported that recall volunteers and organizers have experienced threats by those that should be allies, and discussed one case where a volunteer was met by someone who said they didn’t like foreigners. 

On Monday, April 24, the 27th day of Nisan of the Hebrew calendar, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, racist, Trump-supporting posters were pinned to telephone poles in downtown Fargo. The posters went up shortly after the Fargo Human Relations Commission announced findings of a six-month study that showed refugees and immigrants in Fargo are good for the city. Fargo Police do not have any suspects in custody at this time. 

FMRAC’s initial announcement to end the recall efforts came days after the posters were discovered. 

“We were late in the game to know about the incidents, to be honest,” FMRAC said. “Had we known about this earlier, we would have taken this step calling to end the petition much sooner. It’s our understanding that volunteers were made aware of the resistance they would face, but the remarks from some specific households were truly discriminatory and threatening.

“Even a simple message such as ‘Go back to your own country,’ can be very hurtful and the council understands that.”

FMRAC further reported it is “disheartened that it has lost some of its dedicated allies,” but plans to reunify ethnic communities and the upcoming elections may bring also about some change. 

“Even the commissioner’s great-grandfather left Poland to seek better futures for his children,” FMRAC said. “If you are concerned about the costs, please understand that the initial cost to help us find a job or to learn English is nowhere comparable to the cost of engaging in a warfare with another country, which ends up creating more refugees. 

“Please advocate against wars instead of refugees. The council believes the taxes generated from refugees via employment, property ownership, and entrepreneurship not only replenishes those initial costs, but helps achieve economic stability for years to come.” 

Former City Commissioner Mike Williams said Piepkorn has no credible basis for his statements, which included CEO of Lutheran Social Services Jessica Thompson’s inflated salary, tripling the amount of funds spent on a new “Taj Mahal” building, and blaming LSS for being behind the recall effort. In the past, Williams said he has buried Piepkorn with facts, to prove points.

“I’ve been involved with New Americans for quite a few years now,” Williams said. “I understand we are better together, a stronger community with diversity.”

He disagrees with the recall effort and told the recall committee as much over the weekend when he said they challenged him.

“I was just stunned,” Williams said. “It’s well documented that I’ve been an ally of New Americans. I went on to say that our goal here is to get the facts out, and I don’t see how the recall will help with that.”

Buzick said she challenged Williams on issues. “He pushed very, very hard for us to drop the effort,” Buzick said. “I was not able to get to the end of my inquiry before he cut me off and started screaming.  His tirade was so intense, that one member left the room to compose themselves.  He then basically wrapped it up telling us we were naive idiots.”

Williams, who said he is an activist who happened to get elected, said the recall committee is filled with good people with good intentions, but the dissension is hurting their cause.

“It’s their prerogative, and if they want to do that that’s fine. I didn’t threaten them and I didn’t call them naive. It’s important we keep it together, they’re laughing at us when they see dissent.”

The study released in March entitled Refugee Resettlement in Fargo report, agreed that refugees and immigrants are good for Fargo.

A first generation immigrant is cost positive in North Dakota by approximately $3,250, and long term benefits are incalculable, according to the report. 

Additionally, New Americans, or refugees and immigrants, make up approximately three percent of North Dakota’s population, according to the American Immigration Council. They are employers, taxpayers, and workers in fields few local citizens are willing to go, according to the Refugee Resettlement in Fargo report. Foreign-born residents contributed $542.8 million to Fargo’s GDP in 2014, and have a spending power of $149.4 million, the report states. 

Recall Will Go On

Amidst hate fliers, agendas aimed at city refugees and immigrants, concerned citizens prepare to fight racism

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– Despite an announcement by the Fargo/Moorhead Refugee Advisory Council, the recall petition of City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn will go on. 

“Everyone on the recall committee agreed to continue,” Erin Buzick, an organizer for the recall committee, said. “After discussing the release from FMRAC with dozens of refugee and immigrant leaders we heard only one message. The press release was not agreed upon or discussed as a group.  There were maybe a handful of FMRAC officers told about the letter and it was agreed upon last week that it would not go out.”

On Thursday, FMRAC issued a press release advocating the immediate end to Piepkorn’s recall.

“In light of the potential recall election of City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, FM Refugee Advisory Council (FMRAC) recommends the recall committee end its recall efforts effective immediately. The decision to reach this conclusion has been made after meeting with ethnic leaders and other ethnic community members affiliated with FMRAC.”

FMRAC has remained neutral on Piepkorn’s recall issue, but stepped up last week reporting that volunteers involved with the recall have recently been threatened. 

“Some of the volunteer ethnic members who have gone door-to-door collecting signatures, have been threatened and treated with profanity,” FMRAC’s press release stated. “This has resulted in the council to take a stand against this recall effort, solely, to protect individuals, and due to violence it may incite which might result in creating unsafe communities for refugees and their families.”

The FMRAC announcement spurred former member Fauzia Haider to resign.

“Just wanted to let everyone know that that I am no longer associated with FMRAC,” Haider said in a statement. “I have my own reasons, lack of communication and lack of trust is one of the major ones. People make decisions behind the scenes and I have no way of knowing who is doing what. Decisions are made on ad hoc basis on the spur of the moment, and I can’t work in that environment.”

Angel Lira of the FM Gay Men’s Chorus speaking – photo by C.S. Hagen

Issues pertaining to violence and the potential for violence were discussed Saturday at the Red Raven Espresso Bar when the North Dakota Human Rights Commission and the Moorhead Human Rights Commission organized a meeting attracting more than 30 concerned citizens, professors, and community leaders. The meeting was organized shortly after hate posters targeting the “parasite class” appeared on telephone poles throughout the downtown area. 

The fliers prompted Mayor Tim Mahoney to condemn the person or persons responsible. 

“North Dakota has the highest per capita hate crime rate in the nation, second only to Massachusetts,” Barry Nelson, of the North Dakota Human Rights Commission, said. Minnesota has hate crime laws; North Dakota does not, he said. 

“Hate crime is a very difficult thing because you have to get inside the mind of the person who committed the act,” Fargo Police Cultural Liaison Officer Vince Kempf said. He searched through the websites allegedly involved behind the fliers and found nothing that raised criminal red flags, he said. 

“Where does the hate come from?” Paul Jensen, a commissioner for the Human Relations Commission, said. “How can we understand each other better? Both cultures must try to find middle ground.” He asked about host families attached with Lutheran Social Services, the organization contracted by the state to manage the arrival of refugees and immigrants to North Dakota. 

The recall began after Piepkorn’s aimed speculations at Lutheran Social Services during City Commissioner meetings. His job, Piepkorn said, is to determine how much money LSS is spending on resettlement programs, how much immigrants are costing the city, and if New Americans are related to increased crime rates.  Last October, reporters from Breitbart News, the “alt-right” online news forum formerly led by Steve Bannon, showed up at the meeting, a coincidence Piepkorn denied he had anything to do with. 

After a six-month study, the Fargo Human Relations Commission released a report earlier in March declaring that although financial statistics focused on a particular class or race of people were at best difficult to obtain, refugees and immigrants were good for Fargo.

Tax records show that LSS received more than $11 million in federal grants in 2015, of which $3.9 million was allocated to refugee resettlement. Additionally, LSS received $500 from the City of Fargo to support an annual conference. 

Foreign-born residents contributed $542.8 million to the city’s GDP in 2014, and have a spending power of $149.4 million, the Refugee Resettlement in Fargo report announced. Police stated that although crime reports do not include immigration statuses, crime rates are not directly affected by immigrants and refugees. 

North Dakota’s resettlement program began in 1946 when the Lutheran Welfare Society, now known as Lutheran Social Services, began admitting Protestants fleeing Nazi Germany. 

“Quite frankly, people are scared,” Zeinab Egueh, from Djibouti, said. Recent hate speech included in the fliers has refugees worried not only for their own safety, but that the issue may be swept under the rug and forgotten. 

“We’re here to create jobs, we are trying to make the country great,” Egueh said. “We came from far worse and we can do better.” 

“I want to mix cultures, I want to diversify myself,” Samuel Frazer, from West Africa, said. “Yes, I am an African, yes, I have an accent, but I can read and write.” 

“In Minnesota, immigrants are an asset; in North Dakota immigrants are a burden,” Hukun Abdullahi, of the non-profit  Afro-American Development Association, said. 

Denise Lajimodiere, an assistant professor at North Dakota State University who plans to retire soon said that prejudice against Native Americans in Fargo is one of the reasons she is leaving.

“It’s killing my spirit to work here,” she said. “It has not been a good experience for my family here and I don’t know what the solution is. It’s been pretty distressing.” 

NDSU professor Denise Lajimodiere speaking, Fargo Police Cultural Liaison Officer Vince Kempf in background – photo by C.S. Hagen

A friend once took her to railroad tracks in Moorhead, informing her that the city had at one time been a Sundown Town, a city where all non-whites had to leave at the sound of a bell at sundown. Her parents went through “absolute hell” through boarding schools, and she testified to as much before the United Nations. 

“There is still settler colonization here in North Dakota. We need to decolonize ourselves.”  

Zac Echola, a volunteer for the recall petition, said he became involved to give voice to those who are constantly marginalized. Volunteers go out seeking signatures in pairs, and he knows of no cases where threats have been involved. 

“Direct action is a hard and necessary approach,” Echola said. “The sort of things FMRAC brought up in their letter would sadly continue regardless of any recall. A recall is a direct action that acts as a check against all of that nonsense. It forcefully says ‘we will not allow you to control this issue.’ Of course that causes tension even among friends. It’s unfortunate that opposition to the recall action have chosen to stoke that fear instead of standing in solidarity.”

Buzick said volunteers of the recall petition have experienced intimidation tactics by those they consider allies, adding that on one occasion a Fargo resident told a volunteer that they didn’t like foreigners. The petition is struggling toward filling half of the required signatures needed, Buzick said. 

“Every time we gain momentum,  there has been another white guy that writes about how we are hurting refugees and immigrants,” Buzick said. “However, they all seem to have forgotten to ask people that worship at the masjid, that wear a hijab, or that were not born here what they think.”

The only time Buzick has felt threatened was when a former city official yelled at her, she said. Buzick was cut off while questioning a former city commissioner, who stated he was against the recall effort.

Concerned citizens – photo by C.S. Hagen

“He pushed very, very hard for us to drop the effort,” Buzick said. “I was not able to get to the end of my inquiry before he cut me off and started screaming.  His tirade was so intense, that one member left the room to compose themselves.  He then basically wrapped it up telling us we were naive idiots.”

Attempts to contact the former city official were unsuccessful. 

Despite the controversy the recall has created, the petition is necessary, Buzick said. 

“It is important because of the very real and very enormous effort being led to stop us. This recall effort has revealed the cowardice of the ‘white moderate’ Martin Luther King wrote about decades ago.  If we stop now, then we allow intimidation and underhanded tactics to win.  

“This is a long game and we are not about to blink.”

The North Dakota Human Rights Commission and the Moorhead Human Rights Commission plan to hold more meetings in the future to discuss methods for better community integration. In the meantime, Nelson said, smile and welcome New Americans. Knowledgable white people also need to step up and begin educating fellow white people not on “white guilt” but on mutual understanding. 

 

White Power Seeking Limelight

Alt White: The Siege of North Dakota. Part five continued – series on racism in North Dakota. The state is no stranger to hate groups seeking attention, and while Pioneer Little Europe and the Creativity Movement form hit lists of North Dakota small towns, a new white supremacist group surfaces in Fargo. 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– North Dakota has a history of giving birth to Nazis and white supremacists seeking the spotlight. 

Michael Lynn Hansen, would be 63 or 64 years old today – photo from Skyjacker of the Day

June, 1975, Fargo native Michael Lynn Hansen first hijacked a Western Airlines flight in protest of the Vietnam War and in the name of defying American imperialism, threatened to kill President Nixon, according to the Chicago Tribune. After demanding at gunpoint for the pilot to fly to North Vietnam, the plane landed in Cuba, where Hansen spent three years in prison, kickstarting his Nazi indoctrination, Hansen said in an interview with Eguene Register-Guard, an Oregon newspaper. 

Cuban officials released Hansen into US custody, and he was sentenced to ten more years imprisonment stateside. After his release, Hansen planned to unite hate groups including the Ku Klux Klan and Posse Comitatus to start a right-wing newspaper. He founded the Christian Nationalist Socialist White People’s Liberation Army in 1981 declaring at that time that a “white revolution” was brewing across the country, a term that is reminiscent with the Creativity Movement’s belief that RaHoWa, or Racial Holy War, is eminent. 

Hansen later produced the “White Power Hour” in Fargo, carried by Post-Newsweek-owned Cablecomm Fargo, and maintained an audience of about 23,000 subscribers, according to The Free Library. He wore a National Socialist uniform and framed himself before a Third Reich battle flag, taping the show in his living room. Hansen planned to spread his white Aryan views through public access cable in Salt Lake City.

Gordon Wendell Kahl FBI Wanted Poster

In 1983, Wells County native Gordon Wendell Kahl, aka Sam Louden, leader of the militant group Posse Comitatus, an early anti-Semitic, white supremacist organization refusing to pay taxes, gathered local support. Kahl shot and killed two federal marshals at a roadblock outside of Medina, North Dakota, then led federal investigators on a four-month-long manhunt, which ended with the death of a sheriff and Kahl’s own life in Arkansas. 

Kahl’s defiance of the law prompted the 1991 movie In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas, a documentary entitled Death & Taxes, and was included in the novel Downtown Owl: A Novel by Chuck Klosterman. 

More recently, Craig Cobb, born in Missouri, has attempted to takeover small towns in North Dakota, including Leith and Antler. A church Cobb purchased in Nome burned down on March 22. Deputy State Fire Marshal Ken Sisk said in a report the case is being investigated as arson as the structure had no electrical service, no source of heating, and was secured with new locks. 

Craig Cobb – photo from the Southern Poverty Law Center

Cobb has publicly declared ties to the Pioneer Little Europe movement, which consists of Nazis, neo-Nazis, Creativity Movement members, and other hate groups attempting takeovers of at least 12 dying towns in North Dakota. 

In January, Creativity Movement reverend, or “creator,” Nick Chappell, announced that plans were being made for the Fargo/Moorhead area. The group, which Chappell calls a religion, prefers a silent approach to recruit members. 

Once a rising star in the American Nazi party, Chappell left the Nationalist Socialist Movement as director of the Viking Youth Corps during a “Soviet-style purge of its ranks,” according to Nationalist Socialist Files. When he left the Nazi Party, Chappell was ranked high on a confidential Nazi blacklist and labelled by American Nazi Party Commander Jeff Schoep as an “oath breaker” and “race-traitor.” 

“We don’t believe in rallies due to they create a mob atmosphere and people don’t listen they just do what the mob wants when it’s worked up in a frenzy,” Chappell, who calls himself a racial loyalist, said. “You get far more accomplished one on one and in smaller meetings.”

Jamie Kelso – photo from the Southern Poverty Law Center

In Grand Forks, Jamie Kelso, director and membership coordinator for the American Freedom Party – formerly known as the American Third Position, a political party initially established by skinheads, is a well-known figure with political ambitions.

Kelso is a bullhorn for white supremacy ideals, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit hate crime watchdog. He claims he is not a racist, but a “red-blooded American,” and he hosts “The Jamie Kelso Show” for the American Freedom Party. He was once the personal assistant for Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and served as a moderator for hate-web guru Don Black’s forum Stormfront, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Militant and racist groups have hibernated quietly in North Dakota since the 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan grew bold enough to take out advertisements in the Fargo Forum. The Peace Garden State has remained predominantly white since becoming a state in 1889. The US Census Bureau reported in 2016 that North Dakota is 88.6 percent white, with 2.4 percent of the 757,952 population being of African descent, 5.5 percent of Native American, and one percent from Asian origins. 

Another Fargoan sought his 15 minutes of fame earlier this year and this week after hate posters were spread throughout the downtown area. Although nonprofit hate group watchdog Unity-USA is investigating the culprits, netizens, family members, and friends know who the individual was. 

Pete Tefft aka Chad

Chad Radkersburg, which is an online Facebook alias for Pete Tefft, according to family, sent out an advertisement for the First Annual FEHU BBQ at Lindenwood Park on Saturday. FEHU is a Futhark rune representing a new beginning. Tefft also goes by another name, Otto Van Tism’ark, according to friends who wish to remain anonymous and an announcement made by JoAnna Braun, Tefft’s niece.. Tefft was denounced by self-proclaimed Nazi hunter Luke Safely as a Nazi in February. 

“I am not posting this because I am spiteful or because I don’t think it’s okay for people to have different views,” Braun said. “I am posting this status because I believe my uncle is dangerous, and I believe more people probably agree with me. His group of “pro-white” locals only has a small number of members to my knowledge, but hate grows quick. 

“Luckily, love grows quicker.” 

“It seems likely that the use of FEHU in this case means the start of a new supremacist group in the Fargo-Moorhead area,” Unity-USA reported. 

Reportedly twelve people attended the First Annual FEHU BBQ, according to netizens. Radkersburg, or Tefft, was contacted for comment, but did not respond. Posting such advertisements on private or public property is illegal, according to the Fargo Municipal Code. 

The FEHU rune

“No person shall, without first obtaining the consent of the owner or proprietor, post handbills, placards, or posters, or make, print, or mark any word, letter, or advertisement of any kind upon any private house, store or other building, or upon any fence, railing, wall, vehicle, or other property; nor shall any person make, print, post or mark any word, character or advertisement upon any public building, bridge, fence, railing, sidewalk, utility pole, vehicle or other public or private property within the city. ”

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney issued a statement condemning the fliers late Thursday afternoon. 

“This behavior does not advance our mission to preserve the values of diversity and inclusion that help make Fargo stronger,” Mahoney said. “We must commit ourselves to resisting hate, violence, and other practices. To do this, we need to act as a united metro area with the involvement of our civic organization, law enforcement agencies, and community members.

“As your mayor, I have been and always will be proud to promote Fargo as a community that is welcoming and embracing of all people. The Fargo I know is a city that celebrates and promotes diversity, all while preserving and respecting the safety and dignity of our citizens. As parents, we should remember that our children learn directly from us. These young people are the future. Divisive actions, even the isolated incidents like those seen this week, have the potential to alter what the Fargo of tomorrow will ultimately be.” 

Fargo resident Ruth Anna Buffalo, a member of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said she visited Mahoney earlier Thursday afternoon. The racist fliers disturbed her, and the incident is an issue that cannot be overlooked, no matter who the disseminator is, she said.

“My whole point in meeting with the mayor was to see if he could put out a statement saying it’s wrong,” Buffalo said. “How best do you combat something like this? With the Trump wave as it is, it has the potential to embolden a whole group of people.” 

The anti Semitic and racist posters went up in time for the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, Monday, April 24, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The posters began being pinned to telephone poles less than a week after the Fargo Human Relations Commission announced findings of a six-month study that showed refugees and immigrants in Fargo are good for the city. 

Published announcement by Chad Radkersburg, on same day Pete Tefft was published on his views pertaining to the Women’s March -Twitter

One of the posters signed by “The Flyovers” depicted the communist hammer and sickle, the Jewish star, a syringe, and a marijuana leaf as rain falling on a family under an umbrella emblazoned with a sign reminiscent of a swastika. Another poster featured a man wielding a sword on a horse in a battle scene. 

“This country is your birthright,” the poster said. “Don’t give it up.” 

A third poster found near the Downtown Fargo Fire Department, said “Trump was the first step. We’re the Next,” and supported by VDare, Counter-Currents, American Renaissance, The Right Stuff, Redice.TV, and The Occidental Observer, all of whom are listed as nationalistic and racial purist hate organizations. 

Pete Tefft’s editorial to the Fargo Forum January 30, 2017

A fourth flier posted by AltRight.com in Roberts Street alley said, “White people have a right to exist.” 

A fifth flier listing Bible verse John 2:13 pictures a whip and tells “Real Christians, drive out the parasite class.” 

The Flyovers poster – photo provided by Christopher A. Smith

Christopher A. Smith frequently walks through Downtown, and discovered some of the posters over the weekend and on Monday evening. 

“I thought, when I saw the posters, that it was interesting timing with the upcoming Black Lives Matter Banquet at Minnesota State University Moorhead and the Holocaust Remembrance,” Smith said. 

“My first impulse was to rip them down, but then I thought it would be better to document the signs and share them on social media to perhaps bring up awareness that such things are in the area.” 

Unity-USA, a nonprofit local hate watch group, alerted netizens early Tuesday morning. 

Trump poster – photo provided by Christopher A. Smith

“According to sources, several fliers have been posted by an unknown hate group in selected locations in downtown Fargo,” Unity-USA reported. While it is unknown which group is directly responsible, Unity-USA is conducting research and trying to track down suspected groups/group members.” 

VDare was established in 1999 as a nonprofit by the Center for American Unity in Virginia, and is “dedicated to preserving our historical unity as Americans into the 21st Century,” according to its website. 

American Renaissance was founded in 1990 and promotes pseudo-scientific studies and research to show minorities in language that avoids open racial slurs, according to Unity-USA. It is best known for its American Renaissance magazine and website, which regularly feature eugenics and racist articles. 

The Right Stuff blog is a racist outlet hosting podcasts including The Daily Shoah, and popularizes the use of “echoes,” or Anti Semitic markers using triple parenthesis around names to identify people of the Jewish faith on social media, according to Unity-USA. 

Counter-Currents is a website popular among “hipster racists,” according to Unity-USA, and pushes fake news and memes that are considered popular to young adults. 

Birthright poster – photo provided by Christopher A. Smith

The Occidental Observer is a far-right online publication that covers politics and society from a nationalistic and Anti Semitic perspective, according to Unity-USA. 

Redice.TV is an online hate video service with a formal media infrastructure, Unity-USA reported. 

Parasite poster – photo by Christopher A. Smith

The Flyovers is a term designating “Red States” that voted for President Trump. “It is unclear if this is the term they are using to designate this particular group, but it seems that this might be the case,” Unity-USA reported. 

Family members who wish to remain anonymous are trying to help Tefft, but the timing of the posters and Nazi accusations coincide with agendas announced by racist hate groups for the Fargo/Moorhead area, leaving investigators and residents questioning if the posters were coincidence or part of a grander scheme.  The tone of the fliers distributed in downtown Fargo are similar to a leaflet found at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead approximately 10 years ago.

Nazi leaflet found at the Hjemkomst Center

White Supremacist Fliers Hit Fargo Streets

Alt White: The Siege of North Dakota. Part five in the series on racism in North Dakota. While Pioneer Little Europe and the Creativity Movement form hit lists of North Dakota small towns, a new white supremacist group surfaces in Fargo. 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– Three days after white supremacists advertised for a like-minded gathering at Lindenwood Park, posters depicting hate speech were posted on telephone poles along downtown back alleys.

FEHU BBQ Ad – online sources

The posters went up in time for the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, Monday, April 24, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The posters also went up shortly after the Fargo Human Relations Commission announced findings of a six-month study that showed refugees and immigrants in Fargo are good for the city. 

One of the posters signed by “The Flyovers” depicted the communist hammer and sickle, the Jewish star, a syringe, and a marijuana leaf as rain falling on a family under an umbrella emblazoned with a sign reminiscent of a swastika. Another poster featured a man wielding a sword on a horse in a battle scene. 

“This country is your birthright,” the poster said. “Don’t give it up.” 

A third poster found near the Downtown Fargo Fire Department, said “Trump was the first step. We’re the Next,” and supported by VDare, Counter-Currents, American Renaissance, The Right Stuff, Redice.TV, and The Occidental Observer, all of whom are listed as nationalistic and racial purist hate organizations. 

A fourth flier posted by AltRight.com in Roberts Street alley said, “White people have a right to exist.” 

White right poster – photo provided by Christopher A. Smith

A fifth flier listing Bible verse John 2:13 pictures a whip and tells “Real Christians, drive out the parasite class.” 

Parasite poster – photo by Christopher A. Smith

Christopher A. Smith frequently walks through Downtown, and discovered some of the posters over the weekend and on Monday evening. 

“I thought, when I saw the posters, that it was interesting timing with the upcoming Black Lives Matter Banquet at Minnesota State University Moorhead and the Holocaust Remembrance,” Smith said. 

“My first impulse was to rip them down, but then I thought it would be better to document the signs and share them on social media to perhaps bring up awareness that such things are in the area.” 

Birthright poster – photo provided by Christopher A. Smith

Unity-USA, a nonprofit local hate watch group, alerted netizens early Tuesday morning. 

“According to sources, several fliers have been posted by an unknown hate group in selected locations in downtown Fargo,” Unity-USA reported. While it is unknown which group is directly responsible, Unity-USA is conducting research and trying to track down suspected groups/group members.” 

VDare was established in 1999 as a nonprofit by the Center for American Unity in Virginia, and is “dedicated to preserving our historical unity as Americans into the 21st Century,” according to its website. 

Trump poster – photo provided by Christopher A. Smith

American Renaissance was founded in 1990 and promotes pseudo-scientific studies and research to show minorities in language that avoids open racial slurs, according to Unity-USA. It is best known for its American Renaissance magazine and website, which regularly feature eugenics and racist articles. 

The Right Stuff blog is a racist outlet hosting podcasts including The Daily Shoah, and popularizes the use of “echoes,” or Anti Semitic markers using triple parenthesis around names to identify people of the Jewish faith on social media, according to Unity-USA. 

Counter-Currents is a website popular among “hipster racists,” according to Unity-USA, and pushes fake news and memes that are considered popular to young adults. 

The Occidental Observer is a far-right online publication that covers politics and society from a nationalistic and Anti Semitic perspective, according to Unity-USA. 

Redice.TV is an online hate video service with a formal media infrastructure, Unity-USA reported. 

The Flyovers is a term designating “Red States” that voted for President Trump. “It is unclear if this is the term they are using to designate this particular group, but it seems that this might be the case,” Unity-USA reported. 

The First Annual FEHU BBQ was hosted by a person identifying himself as Chad Radkersburg at Lindenwood Park on Saturday. FEHU is a Futhark rune representing a new beginning. 

“It seems likely that the use of FEHU in this case means the start of a new supremacist group in the Fargo-Moorhead area,” Unity-USA reported. 

Reportedly twelve people attended the First Annual FEHU BBQ, according to netizens. Radkersburg was contacted for comment, but did not respond.

North Dakota’s Marijuana Gets The Puff-Puff Pass

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – A hesitant round of applause rippled across the Peace Garden State Tuesday when the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act became law. 

Governor Doug Burgum, voted the nation’s third most popular governor by the Morning Consult Governor Approval rankings, signed Senate Bill 2344 on Monday, making medical marijuana legal – to an extent – in North Dakota. The law began as an initiated measure and was passed by all state voting districts in 2016. 

The road to becoming law was bumpy, as it was postponed, and then immediately drafted into self-defeating Senate Bill 2154 after the legislative body received pressure from advocates and the media saying government was dragging its feet. The new bill, SB 2344, was then proposed, passing both House and Senate, and health officials promise the state will have medical marijuana on the market within a year.

On a scale of one to 10, some proponents gave the new law 7.5 points, while others no better than a five. 

“I just got a message that the governor just signed it,” Representative Pamela Anderson said. “It’s a good day. What the Senate sent over to the House was a bad bill, we amended it and and got it to 80 percent of the original measure.” 

Riley “Ray” Morgan, Measure 5’s initiator, gave the law an approximate 7.5 points. “Let’s not forget unless this didn’t get forced down their throats by the voters of North Dakota, we have seen the Republican-led legislature turn down medical cannabis this session as well,” Morgan said. Within a year, “If they don’t have it ready to go by then, there is going to be hell to pay.”

The fight for medical marijuana hasn’t been easy, Anderson said. 

“It’s been two years, and the volunteers and compassionate care committee went out and obtained those signatures,” Anderson said. “This is what North Dakota wanted, and they got it.” 

Although the law will not allow home growing, or edibles, and intoxicant THC-content will be lower than what the original measure proposed – no more than 2,000 milligrams of THC in a 30-day period – the law is “light years” ahead of the Senate’s first bill, Morgan said.

Allowed: plant flower – up to 2.5 ounces per month, patches, tinctures, topicals, and capsules. Clear legal protections are now given to patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana businesses and staff. Patient identification card prices have been lowered to $50. Users will need authorization by a doctor or a nurse practitioner and be certified by the state. 

Illegal: edibles, concentrates, and home growing. Seriously ill patients who live 40 or more miles away from a dispensary will have to travel. Written certifications by medical professionals still remain a problem. Minors, who are defined as anyone under the age of 19, will be limited to the use of pediatric medical marijuana oil, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. 

The law resembles half of what the original Measure 5 wanted, Jason Spiess, longtime researcher and writer on cannabis issues, said. 

“To me, the real story is that 65 percent of the voters can approve a measure and less than one percent of the state can literally cross it out and change it,” Spiess said. “That’s scary. This experience taught me that the people of North Dakota really have no power at all.”  

Spiess gave the new law five points – out of ten – and is concerned about the future price per ounce of medical marijuana. 

“Honestly, I think the people who want the medicine will drive to Colorado to get it,” Spiess said. “I have yet to see any projections from the state indicating what the price on an ounce will be under their model. I do not think anyone will pay $400 to $500 for an ounce. The poor cannot afford it and the rich will continue to use their black market sources they have had for years.

“I believe the new law will increase the black market.” 

As an owner of The Crude Life Media Network, and weekly energy columnist for the Bismarck Tribune, Spiess is also wondering who and how authorized growers will be selected. 

“The word in North Dakota is the circle of powers at the state capital have already pre-selected the growers,” Spiess said. No legislators will go on record saying as much, but “plenty of legislators are saying off the record.” 

The new law is not without its problems, Morgan said. 

“I know the House worked extremely hard on this, and they did make more than 40 changes to what the Senate did,” Morgan said. “The amount of cannabis purchased in a month by patients is troubling as is the amount of THC that is in medical cannabis,” Morgan said. “The legislature and Department of Health are not the patient’s doctor and shouldn’t be limiting amounts and THC content.” 

House Minority Leader Corey Mock D-ND, a co-sponsor of SB 2344, said the law will improve as it rolls out. 

“While not a perfect implementation of Measure 5, it is a good bill that makes medical marijuana, a federally illegal product, available to North Dakotans while complying with an official memo by US Department of Justice,” Mock said. “It decriminalizes medical marijuana and gives flexibility to the Department of Health to make necessary changes to enact the law quickly and effectively. 

“We’ve been assured that all rules will be in place and medical marijuana should be available by next summer, but we’re well positioned to have everything in place by early 2018.” 

Paul Armentano, deputy director for the NORML Foundation, a nonprofit organization seeking to eliminate penalties and legalize marijuana, said North Dakota is not alone with its issues passing the Compassionate Care Act. 

“We’re seeing very similar efforts in other states, meaning lawmakers are significantly amending language and intent of the initiatives voters passed,” Armentano said. “This is a very interesting situation, one that you tend not to see in politics, the will of the voters is sacrosanct, but in these particular instances the will of the voters is case aside.

“When it comes to marijuana legislature, they tend to over-legislate.” 

High dispensary fees, cracking down on home growing, and limiting the number of dispensaries will send marijuana prices skyrocketing, Armentano said. 

“The state wants it both ways,” Armentano said. “They want to cap the regulated market and maximize the profit, so their solution is to allow a very limited number of producers and dispensers, and then to exorbitantly charge fees to those producers and dispensaries.”

Currently, law stipulates a $5,000 non-refundable application fee, a $90,000 dispensary fee and a $110,000 manufacturing fee to be paid every two years, according to Kenan Bullinger, newly appointed director of medical marijuana division for the North Dakota Department of Health. 

“The price of cannabis is going to be a reflection of the level of regulation that is imposed,” Armentano said. “If those individuals are forced to pay exorbitant application fees, then those prices are going to be passed on to the consumer.”

Bullinger works out of a department of one, with no budget yet, he said. “And right now I’m getting tired of myself,” Bullinger joked. 

Some Department of Health employees thought the measure would not pass, but they prepared for it, Bullinger said. “There were a lot of commercials out there that tugged at the heartstrings of North Dakotans, and there is some benefit in this to people with these conditions. Why not give the people who have suffered a little bit of hope and relief? We thought it might not pass, but the people have spoken and we are going to listen.”

Now that medical marijuana is the state law, he’s preparing to hire staff, which will oversee application processes for the two companies that will be authorized to grow marijuana. Some of the stipulation and mandates will include: plans for growing without using chemicals, indoor growing, alarm systems, background checks for employees, and financial stability. 

“We want these places to survive,” Bullinger said. “And we really don’t know how many qualified patients we will have in North Dakota. It’s a crapshoot.” The Department of Health could have thousands of patients at the get-go, or only a handful, he said. 

“I know a lot of people have said we’re dragging our feet, but we’re not dragging our feet,” Bullinger said. “Medical marijuana has to be produced and sold in the state here. We will get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible and make sure the product that gets on the market is safe. We got a lot of work to do.” 

 

Global move toward decriminalization 
Every 37 seconds someone is arrested on marijuana charges, the American Civil Liberties Union reported. From 2001 until 2010, more than eight million people have found themselves on the wrong side of the law, costing law enforcers approximately $3.6 billion per year. Black people are also 3.73 times more likely to get arrested on possession charges than white people, the ACLU reported. 

Political hysteria about drugs led to draconian penalties, which have filled prisons across the nation. 

Since President Reagan’s crackdown on drugs, incarceration of users has skyrocketed, according to the Drug Policy Institute. In 1980, nonviolent drug offenders numbered 50,000 nationwide, and jumped to 400,000 in 1997. As the drug war began running out of steam, George W. Bush threw more money into the programs, which ended in more than 40,000 paramilitary-style SWAT raids on Americans every year, according to the Drug Policy Institute. 

Today, the pendulum has begun swinging the opposite direction, with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promising to legalize marijuana, and with Uruguay becoming the first country in the world to legally regulate marijuana in 2013. 

Countries including Portugal, Mexico, and Colombia, have decriminalized all types of drugs including weed, cocaine, even heroine, which are technically illegal, but those who are caught receive no jail time.

“Portugal decided to treat possession and use of small quantities of these drugs as a public health issue, not a criminal one,” media outlet Independent reported in 2015. 

Since Portugal’s decriminalization, drug use and new HIV cases have fallen, according to the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. Today, Portugal has one of the lowest overdose percentages in Europe, with three drug overdose deaths for every one million adult citizens, compared to 126.8 deaths per million in Estonia, or 44.6 per million in the UK, according to The Washington Post

In 2015 alone, the United States had more than 52,404 drug overdose deaths, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Opioids claimed 13 lives in Fargo in 2016, according to the Fargo Police Department. 

Although lower death rates cannot be attributed solely to drug decriminalization, at the very least the country has not seen the “severe consequences” opponents, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, predicted. To this day, the US FDA has not approved marijuana as a “safe and effective drug,” and proposes using synthetic versions instead.

In the USA, as of March 2017, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana, according to nonprofit debate organization ProCon. Eight states, including Washington DC, have adopted recreational use, according to media outlet the Cannabist. Some states, including California, allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow six plants in their homes. 

California was the first state to legalize marijuana in 1996, with Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Maine following soon after. North Dakota is the latest of three states to join more than half the nation in decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis. 

Politicians including President Clinton, who said he “didn’t inhale” in 1992, President Obama, who said he inhaled and enjoyed it in 2001, and Burgum, who recently stated he smoked marijuana while on a hitchhiking trip to Alaska, believe marijuana should be at the very least, decriminalized. 

While more than half of the 50 states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana, the federal government is reluctant to take a stance despite presidential announcements of support. Federal monies have not been shifted into funding health-based approaches, and the war on drugs continues, although to a lesser degree. Each year, more than 700,000 people are arrested for marijuana offenses, according to the Drug Policy Institute. 

“Progress is inevitably slow, but there is unprecedented momentum behind drug reform right now,” the Drug Policy Institute announced. “We look forward to a future where drug policies are shaped by science and compassion rather than political hysteria.” 

Armed DAPL Mercenary Arrested in Bismarck

Dakota Access LLC security guard disguised as water protector who tried to ram car into Standing Rock main camp in 2016 faces drug and gun concealment charges 

By C.S. Hagen
BISMARCK
– The disguised DAPL security guard set free by law enforcement last year after reportedly driving crazily toward the main No DAPL camp armed with a semi-automatic AR-15, was arrested Tuesday on unrelated charges, according to police. 

Kyle Thompson mugshot – Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department

Kyle James Thompson, 30, was arrested at 8:03 p.m. Tuesday for simple assault domestic violence, carrying a concealed weapon, and for possession of schedule I, II, and III drug paraphernalia, according to the Burleigh County arrest records. By Wednesday afternoon the domestic abuse charge was dropped, leaving two Class A misdemeanor charges: carrying a concealed firearm in his vehicle, and possessing drug paraphernalia, namely syringes and spoons, to consume methamphetamine, according to the Burleigh County Clerk of Court.

Bismarck Police Officer David Haswell stopped Thompson’s car on East Broadway Avenue in Bismarck for a welfare check, according to Clerk of Court records. “Police were notified by witnesses that a male subject was hitting a female subject in the car,” Haswell reported. “I made contact with the driver, Kyle Thompson, and asked him to exit the vehicle. While he exited the vehicle I noticed a handgun concealed between the driver seat and the center console.”

Thompson’s DAPL security badge taken from pickup truck – online sources

In the backseat, Thompson allegedly also had a rifle, Clerk of Court documents reported. Officers also located a small zipper case inside the vehicle with multiple syringes, spoons, a white residue, a grinder with residue, and a glass smoking device, Clerk of Court documents said. 

“The capped needles field tested positive for methamphetamines,” Haswell wrote. “Thompson does not have a concealed carry permit.” 

Nearly six months ago when law enforcement took over the Standing Rock’s Treaty Camp, pitched in the Dakota Access Pipeline’s route, Thompson was arrested by Bureau of Indian Affairs agents after activists slammed a vehicle into his pickup truck. He was disguised as a “water protector” in a t-shirt and bandana covering his face. A short foot pursuit ended in a pond near the camp where according to video reports and interviews with activists, Thompson fired his weapon twice. 

In November 2016, Thompson and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation found no evidence that Thompson fired his weapon. Documents linking Thompson to Thompson-Gray LLC, a security firm, were found inside the pickup truck. 

Brennon Nastacio and Kyle Thompson on October 27, 2016 – online sources

After BIA agents handed Thompson over to Morton County officials, he was released, and he was called a victim by Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. 

“Three days ago on October 27th, I was in a situation in which myself and others were faced with the difficult decision to take another’s life or not,” Thompson said on his Facebook page shortly after the ordeal. “I drew out my rifle after my vehicle was disabled and over 300 protesters were rapidly approaching my location, a few had knives and were dead set on using those knives.” 

Brennon Nastacio – Facebook page

The man who stopped him, Brennon “BJ” Nastacio, a Pueblo Native American from Boulder, Colorado, was placed on Morton County Sheriff’s Department’s Most Wanted List. He turned himself in and now faces felony terrorizing charges. Nastacio has had a preliminary hearing where he said the judge already set a court date of October 5. 

“I found that to be fishy,” Nastacio said. “But I pray that he [Thompson] finds help that he needs while being incarcerated. People are so quick to wish bad and talk negative, I am not one of them. I think we endured enough bad and negativity and to add more just isn’t how I was raised. So I am hopeful that this is a wake up call for him to stop walking down that path of destruction.” 

Nastacio remains hopeful that his name will be cleared. “But I am aware that my case is in a county where 92 percent of the people there think that we are guilty. I can only be hopeful and pray for a good outcome.” 

Two others were charged with Class C felony crimes when activists stopped Thompson: Michael Fasig of Minnesota and Israel Hernandez of New York, according to Morton County Sheriff’s Department. The two “committed reckless endangerment offenses when they rammed a truck driven by another individual,” a Morton County Sheriff’s Department press release reported.

Provided by Morton County Sheriff’s Department

Thompson-Gray LLC is listed under Silverton Consulting International, according to the Ohio Secretary of State. The company was not authorized to work in North Dakota, the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation reported. Rumors at the time when trained dogs attacked activists in September 2016 reported G4S, a U.K.-based security company that often goes by nickname the “Chaos Company,” was involved as the Dakota Access Pipeline’s private security firm are unfounded, and denied by G4S staff. 

G4S does have multiple companies established in North Dakota, according to the North Dakota Secretary of State. 

Charles Graham Clifton with horses in 2015 – photo provided by Joshua Franke-Hyland

Charles Graham Clifton is listed as the owner of Ohio-based Silverton Consulting International, a new company reported as “shady” in online reviews. Clifton is also the owner of AMGI Global, Ltd. Co., now dissolved for tax reasons in Texas, Knightsbridge Risk Management, now dissolved for noncompliance in Colorado. He has connections to the ISSE Foundation Inc., Red Rock Ordnance LLC, and Red Rock Armory, all dissolved for tax issues in Texas, the Lodestar Services International, dissolved in Colorado in 2011, and Humanitarian Defense, dissolved for tax reasons in Wyoming 2010. 

Joshua P. Franke-Hyland once worked with Clifton at AMGI Global, Ltd. Co., he said. “It was a 100 percent failure,” Franke-Hyland said. Clifton is “a scam artist with a very long history of scamming people of all types.” 

Barbara Marie Colliton – photo provided by Joshua Franke-Hyland

Clifton is on the run, Franke-Hyland said, from bench warrants for felony theft and civil lawsuits. Franke-Hyland believes the use of attack dogs was issued by Barbara Colliton, Clifton’s partner and frequent registered agent. Colliton was arrested in December 2016 but released in Taylor County, Texas after restitution was paid, Franke-Hyland said. 

Another company that used attack dogs on September 3 was the Ohio-based Frost Kennels, whose owner, Bob Frost, admitted to using the dogs on September 3, 2016. 

“We went out there to do a job and we did it,” Frost said in September 2016. “So we just said f*ck it, and got our dogs, and tried to make a bridge between them and the workers.” 

Morton County Sheriff’s Department said the companies involved as security firms for Dakota Access LLC on September 3 were not licensed to work in North Dakota, but did not file any charges against security personnel or companies involved. 

Franke-Hyland sued Clifton in Bexar County, and Clifton also is listed as being sued in Bastrop, Texas. 

“Clifton’s dream is to be G4S-AMGI, and was supposed to be Clifton’s answer to G4S,” Franke-Hyland said. “AMGI, like everything else Clifton touches, was complete sh*t. He is a risk in every sense in the word. His best day is as an incompetent short con that refuses to pay the bills.” 

Commission Study Shows Refugees Good for Fargo

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Recent attempts to curb the influx of refugees into Fargo fell flat Thursday when the Fargo Human Relations Commission announced its findings after a six-month study into the impacts of resettlement. 

“The nature of the question posed to us was in direct opposition to our existence as set by city ordinance,” Barry Nelson, member of the Fargo Human Relations Commission, said. The commission’s mission is to promote acceptance and respect for diversity and discourage all forms of discrimination and was tasked with determining the costs of immigrants and refugees in Fargo. 

The Refugee Resettlement in Fargo report was instigated by Fargo City Commissioner John Strand in October 2016 after City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn raised the issue one week after an approved budget was made. Piepkorn added the proposal into the city commission meeting questioning federal monies being used through Lutheran Social Services to settle refugees and immigrants in the Fargo area. Coincidentally, last October, reporters from Breitbart News, the “alt-right” online news forum formerly led by Steve Bannon, showed up at the meeting. 

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn – photo provided by City of Fargo

Despite a six-week notification, Piepkorn did not attend the meeting and was on vacation in Mexico, according to organizers of the Sponsoring Committee to Recall Dave Piepkorn. The petition to recall Piepkorn was approved recently by North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger, and the committee is nearing the halfway mark for signatures needed to trigger a recall election.

“Piepkorn was the only commissioner absent from today’s meeting,” the Sponsoring Committee to Recall Dave Piepkorn said in a press release. “When we submitted our petition language for the recall, we specifically noted ‘his refusal to accept facts when presented to him’ as a major grievance. With his feet to the fire, Dave Piepkorn chose a vacation over accountability.”

One person opposed to the recall cursed a Sponsoring Committee to Recall Dave Piepkorn organizer on the way out from City Hall.

Fargo Human Relations Commission Barry Nelson – photo by C.S. Hagen

“The attempt to isolate residents in an attempt to identify costs is next to impossible and illegitimate without context,” Nelson said. “In the context and level of our community assessment it appears that the positive financial and cultural impact far outweigh any initial costs of investment.”

The issue of refugee resettlement is a political issue as much as it is a humanitarian one, Nelson said.

Although Piepkorn stated in October that he did not alert Breitbart News to the issue, and that his main concern was the city’s financial impact of refugees, he also believed refugees were taking jobs away from Fargo residents.

“I’ll get to the nut of it,” Piepkorn said in October 2016. “I believe the refugees that come here, they have health care, they have housing, they have transportation all provided for them. They are competing against the people who live here making 10 bucks an hour, but they have a huge advantage because refugees have all those advantages. We’re bringing in competition against the current residents and I believe that’s hurting our low income people who live here. It’s almost as if it would be better for them to apply as refugees and get benefits than to be an American citizen.”

The Fargo Human Relations Commission disagreed. 

Healthcare benefits are provided by medical assistance through federal government grants and administered through Lutheran Social Services, Dr. John Baird, M.D., public health officer for the Fargo Cass Public Health Resettlement Agency, reported. 

New Americans, or refugees and immigrants, make up approximately three percent of North Dakota’s population, according to the American Immigration Council. They are employers, taxpayers, and workers in fields few local citizens are willing to go, according to the Refugee Resettlement in Fargo report. Foreign-born residents contributed $542.8 million to the city’s GDP in 2014, and have a spending power of $149.4 million, the report states. 

A first generation immigrant is cost positive in North Dakota by approximately $3,250, and long term benefits are incalculable, according to the report. 

During the meeting, testimonies were heard both on video and in person by business owners across the city, all who said refugees are helping local economy. Fargo has more jobs than the city can fill, according to city leaders and local business leaders. Some of the companies involved included the Holiday Inn, Sanford Health, Cardinal IG, the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, Rainbow International, and the Immigrant Development Center. 

Approximately 65 percent of Cardinal IG’s workforce are immigrants, Mike Arntson, plant manager, said. “They’re not refugees anymore,” Arntson said. “They’ve found a home. We hire the best qualified applicants that show up at our doorstep.” 

Arntson pointed to similarities between the fear mongering prior to World War II in Nazi Germany attributing high-crime rates and job losses to outsiders.  “And boy, how shortsighted does that look 80 years later? So 80 years from now what are people going to say about us when they read about… Mayor Mahoney in a book?” 

Mayor Tim Mahoney said more than 20 years ago Fargo couldn’t attract many people to stay. 

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney – photo by C.S. Hagen

“This is a great report, I’m very excited about this,” Mahoney said. “In the early 90s, Fargo was struggling as far as growth and development. We had a stagnant population. We weren’t bringing people in, people were leaving our state. So when the governor at that time said we needed to bring people into our state, we needed things to happen here, a lot of us thought that was a dream that we could never fulfill. 

“The reality is that in Fargo that dream has been fulfilled.” Now, the Fargo area has approximately 235,000 residents, and the city is still growing, Mahoney said.

“To me, the things I heard most from new Americans is getting jobs, getting interviews, getting into the workplace, and soccer,” Strand said. “Imagine if you come here and fill out an application for a job, and they ask you, ‘What’s your work record here?’ and you don’t have one. ‘What’s your history of residences here?’ and you don’t have one. ‘What’s your citizenship here, do you have it?’ and you don’t have it. How do you get a job? You might have high level degrees from other parts of the world, but you can’t even get that interview.” 

“I want to thank the community for showing up today,” Strand said. “This is an opportunity for all of us and I want to acknowledge Commissioner Piepkorn for helping us decide to open this dialogue because it’s needed and it’s valuable. We’re all in this together and we’ll all be better for it in the long run.” 

“They should be commended for becoming active in our community,” Cass County Social Services Director Chip Ammerman stated.

Charlie Johnson, president of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau agreed saying that from a workforce perspective, refugees are paramount to the city’s betterment. Refugees go through extreme vetting before arriving in the United States, and local press has frequently not made the distinction between illegal immigrants and refugees, he said. 

“I wish that some people who have been here their whole lives could go through that kind of vetting,” Johnson said. 

Schools are the epicenter of the community, Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Schatz said, but refugees still need more assistance through ELL or English Learner Language programs. 

“Terminating or slowing down the refugee resettlement program would have a negative cycle of effects on the City of Fargo, both immediate and long term,” the Refugee Resettlement in Fargo report stated. “Immediate effects would include further exacerbating the work force shortage, requiring more businesses to leave and/or outsource their operations. Long-term effects include economic slow-down due to a loss of business revenue and creating an inability to keep our younger generation in Fargo and/or attract new talent to the area.” 

Fowzia Adde (right) speaking, Ayat Ibrahim (left) – photo by C.S. Hagen

Ayat Ibrahim was born in Iraq, and life was good for her and her family until the wars began. She waited in Syria for five years before being accepted to come to Fargo. She couldn’t speak English, but now has only a slight accent. She encouraged Fargo residents not to be afraid, but to come and speak to them and learn what they’ve been through. 

Fowzia Adde, executive director of the Immigrant Development Center, helps immigrants with small loans to startup businesses. “There are refugees that are better than me,” she said. “New Americans don’t come with a lot of credit, or a house, so I help them.” She listed companies around town that started from nothing, such as the Fargo Halal Market and the city’s first minority taxi service. 

“They surprise us after two or three years,” Adde said. “They make more than what I am expecting in my mind. It’s a blessing to have new Americans, we just need to teach each other and learn from each other and heal this wound.”

Adde couldn’t imagine when the national controversy over immigration policies started that the conversation would start in Fargo. “We need to figure out how to make this community welcoming to everybody and not just new Americans.”

Precise statistics are difficult to find, but new Americans are less likely to commit crimes than long term residents, Vince Kempf, Liaison Officer for the Fargo Police Department, said. After 25 years of service, and according to information provided by the American Community Survey, male immigrants are nearly three times less more likely to commit crimes that domestically born males. 

“Everybody would feel more at ease with these issues if they would just go out and meet people,” Kempf said. 

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand – photo by C.S. Hagen

“This shows that the community is interested and engaged, and a really good reflection of who we are,” Nelson said.

“I’m not a big conspiracy theorist, I got thick skin,” Piepkorn said last October. “But I’m already getting criticized. I think this is an issue around the country, it’s not just only in Fargo.” At the time, he believed 80 percent of Fargoans were behind his concerns. 

“I really welcome us having this process no matter however uncomfortable it is at times,” Strand said last October. “It’s putting Fargo in a light that I’m just not real proud of. When I read in Breitbart.com that I’m the one with an agenda, and they’re quoting you [Piepkorn], that just startles me, frankly. The way we present our community is so important. I think the news will be good in the end, and i think that good news will prevail, and I think the good news will contribute to Fargo being perceived again as Fargo friendly, a welcoming, inclusive, diverse, forward moving, loving community.” 

North Dakota’s Body Hunter, Seeker of the Missing and the Dead

Human Trafficking Part 1: Missing persons posters are everywhere, stapled to telephone poles, taped to post office doors, fed through Facebook feeds and chats. They pop up every few days as desperate cries from family of loved ones who suddenly disappear. The posters are usually ignored, until the tragedy hits home, victims say. Sometimes, the missing are found, but most of the time their trails grow cold, police either don’t file reports or have no more leads, and that’s when Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase picks up the hunt. 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– A body hunter’s untiring enemy is spring, with all its melting snow. While the days lengthen and the sun thaws the prairie grasses, Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase enters what she calls panic mode. 

Ponds flood, potentially covering evidence. Prairie grasses can grow up to seven feet tall. There are cadaver dogs to arrange, volunteers to enlist. Preparations take money, which comes in the form of donations and from her own pocket book. On the Dakota plains, snakes stir, looking for warmth. Coyotes grow brave from from lean winter months and begin to scavenge.

“I got tracked by a mountain lion once, and chased by a few buffalo,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. Most summer weekends she spends searching for corpses in the North Dakota plains. “Almost got the snot slapped out of me by a badger. Adds character, my son told me.”

Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase taking video of suspected burial area – photo by C.S. Hagen

Formerly a bounty hunter, she’s now a body hunter, an independent “seeker for the missing.” who like the badger, never gives up the hunt. The dead leave clues, sometimes hidden within juniper bushes or a few feet under disturbed topsoil in the Bakken oil patch. Clues point to trails – linked piece by seemingly inconsequential piece – sometimes hundreds of miles long. 

Many missing persons’ cases delve deep into North Dakota’s underworld of drugs, human trafficking, and cash-hungry oil workers. Yellow Bird-Chase has worked cases where men have been buried alive, where women have been shot execution style, and cases fit for a television miniseries season of “Fargo,” such as the double homicide-for-hire case stretching from North Dakota to Washington. 

“I’ve always been good at scouting people out,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. She is a Fargoan, and the founder of the nonprofit group Sahnish Scouts of North Dakota, a citizen-led organization dedicated since 2014 to finding missing people for their families. Sahnish means “the people” in Arikara. 

“If we knew there were dead somewhere, we would go and try and recover them,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. Her group started as a recovery team in the Bakken oil fields, and over time built a reputation. Her work attracted the attentions of the New York Times and Associated Press. Soon, the cries for help began pouring in. She has worked on dozens of missing persons’ cases over the years, and is currently focused on the case of Ron Johnson, who at 74 years of age went missing near Spirit Lake in 2011. 

She is also working the cases of: Kristopher “KC” Clarke, 29, Damon Boyd, 29, Edward Ashton Stubbs, 15, and Joseph Lee, 44, and her investigations take her to primarily four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana. 

Yellow Bird-Chase, 49, is part Arikara, part Mandan, part Hidatsa, and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She’s patient as a bullsnake, nimble as a Bighorn Sheep, leaping over “quick mud” and gullies. Deer, pheasants, and mountain bluebirds stop to watch. She calls to them. 

“Hey you, have you seen K.C.?” 

She’s been searching for Kristopher “K.C.” Clarke for nearly five years. The 29-year-old’s murderers are behind bars, but his body has never been found. 

Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase investigating a bone – photo by C.S. Hagen

Clarke was killed by a murderer-for-hire on February 22, 2012 after he left the overworked employment of his one-time Texas friend, James Terry Henrikson, “the boss,” an owner of the trucking company Blackstone, LLC. She began combing a part of the Badlands near Theodore Roosevelt National Park nearly two years before police caught the killers and obtained confessions. 

Shovels – photo by C.S. Hagen

She’s not psychic, she said; she simply has indescribable feelings, instincts, at times even forewarnings. Before police solved the case, she said she was threatened and her car wheel fell off on the interstate near Valley City. Not long after, the same thing happened to her daughter’s car, she said, which proved foul play. The murderers were trying to get rid of her, another on their growing hit list, she said.   

The searches intensified, and after five years she believes she is close to finding Clarke’s final resting place. She’s waiting on cadaver dogs, and even if the next massive search toward the end of April doesn’t succeed, she’s not giving up. 

“I’ll find him,” she said. Stratigraphic columns filled with layers of black coal, red fossil soils, and yellow paleosol fill her hunting ground behind her like a natural canvas, more precise and rugged than any Georgia O’Keeffe painting. 

Yellow Bird-Chase’ fingers are blackened from her day job as a welder, she works her “true calling” every summer weekend and most every other winter weekend. During the weekdays she works from her Fargo apartment, papers piled from dining room to office, an organized mess, she says, but still knows where everything is. 

During the years of searches, she experiments with the earth, sometimes filling holes with watermelons and then filling them in to see what happens to topography a year later; other times studying a corpse’s bone scatter by wild animals. 

Yellow Bird-Chase has three rules for everyone who helps on her searches: don’t fall behind, come prepared, and never lie. 

The Bakken – photo by C.S. Hagen

The oil murders 
Yellow Bird-Chase’s mission to find the missing and the dead began shortly after her release from prison on drug-related charges.

“About five years ago one of my aunt’s daughters called me and said, ‘Hey, there’s this white kid whose name is K.C. Clarke working in the oil fields and he went missing.’” Yellow Bird-Chase said. “He was white, and went missing on the rez.” 

She slipped into the gray area – the no man’s land between sovereign tribal law and US and state governments, she said. Native American communities fall under a combination of tribal, state, and federal laws. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is primarily responsible for investigating and prosecuting federal crimes such as murder and rape; misdemeanor cases are mostly prosecuted by tribal law enforcement, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who are typically first on any crime scene. 

Cattle, flaring, and oil on Fort Berthold Reservation- photo by C.S. Hagen

The law also differentiates Native American from the non-native, meaning BIA cannot investigate a crime committed by someone not belonging to the reservation, and federal or state police typically have legal troubles investigating a crime committed by a native who is on the reservation. Poor communication between tribal law enforcement, state, and federal authorities inadequate resources, and an increase in crime lead to a “maze of injustice” and loopholes those who know how to work the system can exacerbate. 

As a Native American and private citizen, Yellow Bird-Chase could help investigate both worlds, she said. 

“It was a jurisdictional conundrum, a big circle of jurisdictional denial,” she said. “At first, I was like, yeah, okay, whatever, but that started the big K.C. adventure.” 

Clarke’s murder led in part to the downfall of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation Chairman Tex Hall tight-fisted rule, and also to the arrests and later convictions of five men involved in two murders over Bakken oil money.

According to court documents of the United States District Court Eastern District of Washington, Henrikson hired Tim Suckow, 53, aka. “Donald Duck,” to kill his former friend for $20,000. 

James Terry Henrikson “the boss”

Clarke was a personable guy, according to Scott Travis Jones of the United States Attorney’s Office, who liked motorcycles. Yellow Bird-Chase agreed, but said the young man also had problems, like everyone else. Clarke became a salesman for Blackstone as he was constantly at customers’ job sites. He worked 24-hour-shifts, showered, and went out on another 24-hour shift repeatedly. He lived out of his pickup truck, and was not happy about it, Jones said. 

Clarke decided to jump the fence for Running Horse Trucking, a competitor of Blackstone due to the mistreatment. 

The decision “enraged” Henrikson, according to Jones, who said “He was going to kick K.C.’s ass, kill K.C., and that K.C. was stealing contracts from him.” His thoughts turned to murder, and he ordered Clarke to go on a mandatory vacation for two weeks. 

“The shop” where K.C. Clarke was killed – photo by C.S. Hagen

Hardly halfway through the vacation, Henrikson, through his wife at the time, Sarah Creveling, called Clarke back to “the shop,” a building the company worked out of and situated on Hall’s property. After Clarke placed a new handgun back into his pickup truck, Henrikson distracted Clarke with a new motorcycle while Suckow snuck up behind him and smashed him in the head with a floor jack, a tire-changing tool used for semi trucks. Four blows, and Clarke’s skull “went soft,” Suckow said. 

Clarke’s truck was first dumped outside of Watford City, and later moved to Williston, where the vehicle sat for four months along the side of a road, according to court documents. Clarke was put into a toilet box and buried in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. His handgun, a .45, was shredded by a Sawzall, and the barrel crushed.

For nearly two years, Clarke’s disappearance puzzled law enforcement and family, and not until DNA evidence found in a welding glove linked Suckow to a second murder of a Blackstone investor, Doug Carlile, did Clarke’s case break. Carlile was shot seven times in his Washington home over a plot of land supposedly rich with oil. Henrikson needed more investment, hundreds of millions to begin his own drilling operations, and potential investors didn’t like Carlile, court documents reported.

Yellow Bird-Chase said she learned about ill intentions toward Carlile and warned him twice. Both times, Carlile was more worried about his investments than to take the threat seriously. 

Once again, Henrikson turned to Suckow, who, along with accomplices Robby Wharer and Lazaro Pesina, later confessed to both murders, saying they were following Henrikson’s orders. 

Other Blackstone investors and a former business partner were targeted by Henrikson, according to court documents. One man on Henrikson’s hit list, Jed McClure, escaped unscathed after Todd Bates, hired Chicago hitman Martin Marvin “The Wiz” to kill McClure. McClure was also an original investor in Blackstone who claimed early on that Henrikson and former wife were fraudsters, and were complicit in Clarke’s disappearance.

Jay Wright, a former employee, and Tim Scott, to whom Henrikson owed money, were also on Henrikson’s hit list, according to court documents. 

Man camp – photo by C.S. Hagen

The entire ordeal began with rights to work on Native American lands. Henrikson obtained three Tier 1 “TERO” cards, which helped him obtain special preference for bidding on contracts, according to court documents. After being fired from two companies, Henrikson’s vehicle “conveniently broke down in front of Hall’s home.” He asked for help, and over time Henrikson and the chairman struck up a business partnership, according to court documents. Although Hall denied they had a relationship outside of business, Henrikson took Hall’s adopted daughter, Peyton Martin, as his mistress, and both men were photographed together while on vacation in Hawaii.

Henrikson is currently serving two life sentences plus thirty years in a high-security penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, according to the Bureau of Prisons. His right-hand hitman, Suckow has found religion and is serving a total of 30 years for both murders. Wharer is serving 10-year sentence for driving the getaway car, and Pesina a 12-year sentence for breaking into Carlile’s home. Others involved are also serving time behind bars. 

 

The hunt goes on
Before Clarke’s murder was solved, Yellow Bird-Chase posted more than 50,000 fliers, she said. She met with Homeland Security, sheriff’s deputies, and court officials regularly, trying to learn news of Clarke’s body. Clarke’s family and information off the Internet helped direct her searches, but she still searches. 

Not long from her release from prison, Yellow Bird-Chase said her initial involvement in hunting the missing and the dead changed her life. 

Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase comparing maps – photo by C.S. Hagen

“I always had that carrot in front of my head,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. “Okay, I don’t have to worry about the dope, just have to wait until I get out of prison. Okay, I just got to wait until Im off parole, okay, I just got to wait until I am off probation. When I was getting off probation, I was like, ‘Oh, shit,’ I was doing good. My head was clear, but there were so many things. I felt guilty for what I did: helping people with their addictions, so I wanted to find a way to give back.”  

She missed the first years of North Dakota’s oil boom, and when she returned to the area to search for Clarke’s body, she experienced a type of culture shock, she said. 

“Buzzing traffic, oil workers, oil drills pumping up and down. I had to acclimate myself to this whole situation. There were a million people all over the place where before there wasn’t anybody.” 

Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase on the hunt in the Badlands – photo by C.S. Hagen

Her search for Clarke’s body so far has been comparable to “looking for teal-covered sand at the bottom of the ocean.” Clarke’s body was identified by both men who assisted in his death and ensuing coverup, but both men pinpointed the burial site with a difference of a quarter of a mile, according to court documents.

In those days, law enforcement rarely helped her, she said. “I’m kinda known as the fire under people’s asses,” she said. “I will call them out, I will go to jail for it, I don’t care. If someone has a missing family member, I will find them. I know what to do. If the police have a problem with that, how are you going to deny a family their loved one? It’s either you don’t care or you’re just lay. Or maybe you’re not educated and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.”

She has distracted police while her volunteers fan out to search, once finding a body that had evaded police for hours within thirty minutes, she said. 

Blue bird – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Before I was met with, ‘You can’t be here, or you’re impeding an investigation,’” she said. “They used to see me as a threat, now they see me as a threat that won’t go away. Now we have the full cooperation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and we’ve even been offered assistance on any reservation in the United States from that department. 

“It’s been a long time coming, but it made a complete turn around.” She’s even had “anonymous tips” from law enforcement leading her in directions the police didn’t go, she said. 

Morton County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on one case Yellow Bird-Chase is working in their jurisdiction, according to Morton County Public Information Officer Maxine Herr. 

Ground soaked with oil spills at unattended storage area near Fort Berthold Reservation- photo by C.S. Hagen

Official statistics aren’t accurate, she said. Rarely do families report missing people immediately, and police sometimes fail to file a report, which is crucial in order for discovering information on national databases on any potential victim. Many of the missing are victims of crime, but many more fall prey to human trafficking. 

NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, reports North Dakota currently has 31 open cases of missing people. 

Reports of human trafficking in North Dakota have been on the rise since 2012, according to the Human Trafficking Hotline Center. In 2016, a total of 66 calls were made, resulting in 19 active cases, compared to a total of six human trafficking cases in 2012. 

Director of the state’s human trafficking coalition FUSE (Force to End Human Sexual Exploitation), Christina Sambor, reported that the North Dakota Human Trafficking Task Force assisted with 79 cases of human trafficking in 2016. A total of 66 victims were involved in sex trafficking, while 26 victims were children. 

Fargo’s most recent trafficking case ended on March 10, when nine people were arrested in a joint undercover operation, according to the Fargo Police Department. Among those arrested, five were from Fargo, one was from Bismarck, one from Grand Forks, and another from Halstad, Minnesota. All face felony arrests for Patronizing a Minor for Commercial Sexual Activity, a Class A felony punishable up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. 

One of the men arrested was Dan Kenneth Durr, 42, president and CEO of Don’s Car Washes, Inc. Don’s Car Wash began in 1958, and Durr took over the company as president after Duane Durr retired, he said in an interview on Fargo/Moorhead/West Fargo Chamber of Commerce. 

Although Native Americans in North Dakota comprise only five percent of the population, they are the hardest hit ethnic group from human trafficking, according to North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services or CAWS North Dakota.

“The rate of violent crime estimated against Native Americans is well above that of other U.S. racial or ethnic groups and more than two times the national average,” CAWS North Dakota reported.  

Senator Heidi Heitkamp D-N.D., is an avid fighter against human trafficking, and released a podcast earlier this year called “The Hotdish,” a platform for discussing issues to combat the traffic of abducted humans. 

“Human trafficking is a serious problem worldwide, and unfortunately North Dakota is no exception,” Heitkamp announced on her U.S. Senate website. “North Dakota is no stranger to this horrible crime. Places like Minot, where we rescued a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old when their mothers discovered them on Backpages,” Heitkamp stated in her podcast. “How in the world can we allow that to happen in our country?” 

She highlighted a website called Backpage, reportedly a major facilitator of human trafficking. A report released to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in early January cited Backpage on its role in trafficking, particularly with minors. 

Although Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer refused to comment during the hearing, the website shut down its adult section of its website, according to the U.S. Senate.

Yellow Bird-Chase said statistics don’t reflect reality. “For North Dakota, as big of denial as they’re in, it’s not so much that it has increased, for population, it’s probably the same. We have a new culture of sex workers here, and they’re not afraid or are inhibited by letting people know what they’re up to. It’s always been here.” 

Picture taken during a search – photo provided by Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase

Because of Yellow Bird-Chase’s past, she can’t become a private detective, she said. She loves her job as a welder, but her true calling always beckons. She is searching for a grant writer, and volunteers help with raising funds. 

“I would like to do this full time, but I’m not going to have an agency telling me what is a priority case.” 

Dozens of missing persons are listed on the Sahnish Scouts of North Dakota Facebook page. Most are young, female; some are children. 

“When you don’t have any closure it’s hard to know how to grieve,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. “Some people just write it off and don’t talk about it ever again. And there’s some people who talk about it nonstop night and day, and they die of a broken heart because they never find out what happened to their loved one.” 

All missing people should be reported immediately, and family or friends should obtain a report number, she said. 

“If that person is missing for five seconds, you can call it in and they have to take a report. Get that officer’s name and thee report number. Once you get that report number, call me.” 

To support Yellow Bird-Chase and the Sahnish Scouts of North Dakota donations can be made to: https://www.youcaring.com/sahnishscoutsofnorthdakota-769883 

Into the Bakken sunset – photo by C.S. Hagen

Opium Wars: Fargo’s Cold Blanket of Death

From the west to China, China back to US, after more than a century the opium trade comes full circle; local addict reveals secrets behind the illicit trade 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– “Jackie” isn’t ready to come out with her real name yet. She’s a heroin addict, a Fargoan clean for nearly a year. In her 20s she overdosed three times, carried an overdose reversal drug in her purse, which saved her life. She shot “downs” or heroin, free based “ups” or methamphetamine. 

One of the main questions she used to ask was, “Does it have legs?” Heroin, sometimes laced with fentanyl and known north of the Mississippi River as “China White,” has “legs” long as a spring day, less than 12 hours. It comes as a white or silver grey powder known as “gunpowder,” as patches imported from China, or as black tar mostly from Mexico, and it claimed 13 lives in Fargo in 2016.

“It’s instant euphoria, like a warm blanket,” Jackie said. “Nothing else matters, the world just dissolves. At the same time music sounds better, colors look sharper and brighter, gives you a false sense of ‘swagger.’ I’m usually kind and gentle, but what I regret most is doing things that were against my values: stealing from stores, from friends and family to sell – dining and dashing – lying, pawning my guitars, amplifiers, and television for drug money.” 

Her plunge into the underworld began as a teenager, started with a little marijuana and a prescription. She never meant to become addicted to opioids, but the prescriptions for Xanax and Klonopin, an anti-epileptic medication also used to treat panic disorders, helped ease her into street drugs. 

“It [Klonopin] lowered my inhibitions, made me apathetic and ambivalent,” Jackie said. “It begins to kill a lot of your passions for things. I don’t blame it on that, but it made me care less, and put myself in risky situations.” 

At first she dabbled, shot heroin only on the weekends, but availability became easier from friends who called themselves bums sitting outside grocery stores waiting to sell or trade. Smart dealers and buyers hide in plain sight, she said, making drug transactions in daylight. She turned to heroin, snorted it, and eventually began shooting it into her arm. “For most people they say they will never use the needle, but the further you go down the ladder you use it because you need less of the drug to get you by.” Heroin’s effects are purer when shot into the vein. 

She spent more than $100 a day, sometimes traded her prescription pills for street drugs, which led to fentanyl, she said. The synthetic opioid pain killer can be 100 times more powerful than heroin, and is used in hospitals to treat extreme pain. 

Fentanyl was found once digging through trash bins at a retirement home. She heard it was sometimes stolen from family or off delivery trucks, and her friend ordered the drug from China off the dark web. Heroin costs $400 a gram in Fargo, far more for fentanyl. 

Unlike licensed pharmaceuticals, however, street drugs aren’t regulated. “It’s like walking into a bar and not knowing if you’re getting 100 proof or a beer,” she said. Trust, in an untrusting world, is hard to come by, and drug dealers in Fargo mix opiates with brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder. “Tons of different baby products, which is really dark.” 

She never got caught; her former boyfriend did. 

“I miss it, I miss the chaos,” she said. “It’s boring sometimes as hard as it is when you don’t have a steady hookup, someone getting raided, someone getting jacked, there’s so many factors, and the thrill of finding it.

“You make so many damn rationalizations. We would do as much as we could handle, which is eyeballing it. And now that I’m talking about it, I’m like ‘Oh my god, I was crazy.’ And it is crazy. You really just come up with excuses.” 

Dealers and users order products such as “pinky” U-47700, another synthetic opioid, and fentanyl over the dark web, and later mailed, as was the case with “Operation Denial” and “Operation Deadly Merchant,” 2015 drug busts led by the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force involving the overdose deaths of five people in North Dakota and North Carolina. A total of  five people were arrested and indicted from North Dakota alone during the operations.

Tens of thousands of people in the USA die from opioid overdoses every year, a fact Jackie says does not work as a deterrent for users, rather an incentive. Nationally, overdose deaths have surpassed traffic incidents and firearm-related accidents to become the leading cause for accidental deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

“That whole scene of the underground, that artistic, dark allure that influenced me.” Idols she looked up to, such as Kurt Cobain, lead singer for the band Nirvana who shot himself in the head with a shotgun in 1994, used. “I was influenced by musicians and artists who I looked up to that did heroin.” 

Synthetic opioids have also sparked American government and drug enforcement pleas to China for stricter regulations. China has heard the cries for help, but some question if the recent crisis in Fargo and other cities in the USA are not reprisals for the 19th century Opium Wars.

 

The opium wars

Under the imperial auspices of free trade, Western powers instigated the Opium Wars in China more than a century ago. Today, while trade disputes foment once again, Chinese opium – though altered – has reached across the seas to haunt America’s small town streets. 

For generations, opium in China was the historical bankroller behind Britain’s power, and the dirty secret behind some of America’s most affluent families. Opium money was the fortune from which Boston’s Cabot family endowed Harvard, and the Russell family promoted Yale’s Skull and Bones Society. It was also the tight lipped secret behind why U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not work a regular job in his life, for his grandfather, Warren Delano, was one the America’s most buccaneer opium dealers in South China.

Now Fargo, incorporated a decade after the Second Opium War, is fighting desperately to stay one step ahead of the dealers. Nationally in 2015 opioid overdoses have taken the number one spot for accidental deaths with a total of 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The epidemic has been driven by opioid addiction through the prescription of pain relievers, and the importation of the synthetic opioids from abroad. 

The Center for Disease Control said not only are the deaths alarming, but the financial cost due to a loss of productivity reached $20.4 billion in 2013. 

“The United States is in the midst of an alarming opioid overdose epidemic and U.S. employers are challenged by the epidemic’s toll on their workers,” the Center for Disease Control reported. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from opiate overdoses, which is nearly quadruple from the year 2000.

In other places the powdery killer is known as “TNT,” “Murder 8,” and “Dance Fever,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  It is a schedule II drug, and while meticulously weighed when prescribed by pharmacists, a minuscule mistake by street dealers could mean death. 

Picture a raisin cut into 500 pieces. One microscopic sliver is the maximum dose of China White a person can ingest without overdosing, Fargo Police Lt. Shannon Ruziska said. He is the unit leader for the Metro Area Street Crimes Division. 

First Step Recovery Agency Director Michael Kaspari show the tip of a pen, any more could be a lethal dose for fentanyl abusers – photo by C.S. Hagen

A dose is smaller than a pen’s tip, First Step Recovery Agency Director Michael Kaspari said.

The opiate phenomenon in Fargo is now a crisis, Ruziska said, and the drug primarily comes from China and Mexico, he said.

The drug has torn apart families, friends, and life, according to local statistics. Out of the 69 overdose calls Fargo Police responded to in 2016, 15 died. Only two overdose deaths were not related to China White, according to Ruziska. 

“It surprises me that it’s not higher,” Kaspari, a registered nurse, said. “It’s such a powerful drug. You sit down to veg out on the couch, and you go to dead. And yet that’s still not a deterrent.” 

A user’s response is shocking, he said.

Drug dealer: “There’s a new form of heroin that will kill you.” 

Drug user: “Really? How do I get it?” 

Fargo is at the “tip of the spear” as two major highways intersect the city, Kaspari said. 

“It’s an easy death, you go to sleep and never wake up. And being dead is not the worst thing that can happen.” An overdose on fentanyl typically slows the circulatory system to one breath per minute, which naturally leads to death, or if saved, to a variety of permanent muscular or mental damage. 

“Thirteen deaths, in their mind that’s what the crisis is, it’s 13 deaths, which is tragic, unacceptable, 13 deaths. But I was in a meeting the other day with the state’s attorney… and he said ‘With respect, you guys have no idea what’s going on in the streets,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Geez, we’re up to our ass in alligators here and he’s telling me it’s worse out there?’” 

On Christmas Day 2016 alone, one police officer responded to five overdoses, Kaspari said. 

Although Fargo Police responded to 69 overdose calls in 2016, many more addicts, fearing criminal charges, were never called in, Ruziska said. 

Fargo Police Departemtn Lt. Shannon Ruziska

“I know there are a lot of overdoses that we don’t know about,” Ruziska said. Such as one instance where people administered Narcan – twice – before calling 911. Narcan is a nasal spray used for emergency treatment of known or suspected opioid overdoses. FM Ambulance and Fargo Fire Department carry Narcan on calls; police officers do not carry the nasal spray with them, but it is available in the evidence processing area, according to Fargo Police Crime Prevention Officer Jessica Schindeldecker.

The user who took Narcan twice survived, but the stigma relating to criminal charges for reporting dangerous drug abuse is something the police department wants the public to know has changed. In many cases, reporting an overdose will not lead to an arrest. 

Protected under the Overdose Prevention Immunity Law are those who report and cooperate with officials when an overdose occurs, according to the North Dakota Century Code. Up to three people are eligible for immunity for any one occurrence. In order to be immune, however, the reporting person must remain on scene, must cooperate with emergency medical services and law enforcement, and the overdosed individual must be in need of emergency medical services. 

“Some individuals think we are not trying to save lives by doing these investigations and showing up on scene,” Schindeldecker said, “but we can’t save lives without getting these drug dealers out of our community.”

From among 2016’s 69 incidents of drug overdose calls, police obtained eight search warrants to recover evidence, “so we can find out what happened,” according to Sgt. Matt Christianson, head of the narcotics division for the Fargo Police Department. Other investigations occurred in a public place or police received permission to search premises. 

“Several” federal indictments of people who sold or delivered drugs to victims, were issued, ten search warrants were obtained, leaving 45 cases where a few were arrested on open warrants, and one person was brought to jail for overdosing three times in four days, Christianson said. 

“This is exactly why people don’t call the police,” Frankie said. 

“Of the remaining incidents, we didn’t arrest anybody or bring charges against anybody on scene, because it either fell under the immunity law or there wasn’t enough evidence or anything to charge them with a crime,” Christianson said. 

The Fargo Police Department wants to save lives, and arrest drug dealers, Christianson said. “To me, getting drug dealers off the street does save lives. In today’s culture it is very easy to criticize law enforcement, however… none of us want to see anybody else die before their time from a drug overdose or anything else for that matter. It is very important for us to get in there and get these dealers off the streets.”

Jackie said the fear from getting arrested in an overdose situation has not been alleviated in Fargo. 

“Why are we just arresting people?” Jackie said. “It is true, the law and the books are there, it’s called the Good Samaritan Law, or the Good Sam Law. It’s been around in other states for many years. People have said that within the last few months that people have called for help from an overdose, but days later they were raided.”

It’s a trick, she said. “It’s failed, the war on drugs has failed. Incarceration costs society more than rehabilitation. Why are we arresting people when they call for 911 because of an overdose? The Fargo Police Department can’t be trusted because they have shown that they care more about arresting people than saving lives They’re not violating the immunity law, they’re searching people days after they called 911.”  

Most people don’t deal, they’re middlemen, she said. In Fargo, it’s who you know, which is different from larger cities like Minneapolis where a white girl in a known neighborhood will draw attention, including ready-to-sell dealers. “In Fargo, you have to know a direct person, and even so people are really scared, where in a big city people would just walk up to my window and say ‘Hey, you look like a junkie, do you want some?’  It was faster than McDonalds.” 

Dealers primarily come in from outside North Dakota, Christianson said. “They bring it in here, and honestly they don’t care what happens to the people they give the drugs to, all they care about is getting their money.” 

Dealers are also hard to pin down. They move from place to place and sell to every layer of society, the poor and the rich. “It really covers all the demographics, it really doesn’t discriminate,” Ruziska said. 

While the epidemic is ongoing, and police see little light at end of this “fentanyl tunnel,” Ruziska hopes anyone suspected of overdosing is reported immediately. “Call us right away, you won’t get in trouble. You really are immune, except for those delivering the drug.” 

China’s chemical factory scene – photo provided by media outlet People’s Network

The China connection

The Free Asian Radio Mandarin, a government media outlet, reports China has known of the fentanyl problem, and began restrictions on the sale of fentanyl and the even more potent carfentanil throughout drugstores and websites nationwide less than a year ago. In 2016, the China National Narcotics Control Commission announced new regulations pertaining to fentanyl and 18 ingredients involved in manufacturing the drug, called fen tai ni (芬太尼) in Chinese, but added that nine months were needed to see any effects coming from stricter policies. 

Many companies in China manufacture the ingredients and the actual drug. China is a major producer and exporter of fentanyl, according to a 2017 International Drug Control Strategy Report released by the US State Department.

One company that distributes fentanyl in China is the Hotai Pharmacy Co., Ltd. in rural Hubei Province. The company has sales offices in Guangdong, Shanghai, Henan, Jiangxi, and Shandong, and is listed by the Hubei Provincial Administration for Industry and Commerce as a limited liability company owned solely by Wang Jinyu. It has a registered capital of ¥1 million, which is a comparably low amount for a pharmaceutical company. 

A company called Kinbester Trading Co., Ltd. located in the port city of Xiamen, is also listed by media outlet Epoch Times as a distributor of a raw ingredient called NPP used in making fentanyl. The company sold 10 kilograms worth $2,500 to Mexico, and employees stated they did not produce the ingredient, they simply sold it. The company has a registered capital of ¥500,000, was established in 2002 as a limited liability company, and is not authorized to sell dangerous chemical goods, according to Zhejiang Provincial Administration for Industry and Commerce. 

Another company in Shanghai, China Pharmaceutical (Group) Shanghai Chemical Reagent Company, is one of China’s largest producers and distributors of chemical reagents including fentanyl. The company has a registered capital of ¥45 million and is owned in part by the Sinopharm Group, the largest state-owned pharmaceutical enterprise in China. The Sinopharm Group is riddled with red flags and corruption allegations including the 2014 and 2011 arrests on bribery charges of former vice president Shi Jinming, and Zhao Chuanyao, a former general manager for a subsidiary of the group. 

A Chinese chemical reagent laboratory – photo provided by online sources

China began cracking down on illegal fentanyl distribution as early as June 2015, according to government media outlet People’s Network, when custom agents seized 46.8 kilograms of smuggled fentanyl in a Guangdong port. The drug was found inside six boxes containing shoes, clothing, and other personal items, and four smugglers including a customs broker involved with the case were arrested, according to the People’s Network. In February 2016, a fentanyl trafficking ring was broken up in Hunan Province resulting in the arrests and convictions of three people. 

The China National Narcotics Control Commission accedes that Chinese companies do manufacture the drug, but that only one-third of China’s products reaches American streets, while the remaining two-thirds are smuggled in from Mexico. 

On March 2, 2017, the US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement said during a conference that the United States and China have had a joint liaison group for law enforcement since 1999, and that a resolution will soon be issued under the United Nations Subcommittee on Narcotic Drugs to help curb the fentanyl crisis.

Additionally, the State Food & Drug Administration reported negotiations are underway for US law enforcement officials to help train Chinese drug agencies with investigation techniques into money laundering in relation to the fentanyl and synthetic opium trade, and the Narcotics Control and Public Security Bureau agreed to share information, when possible, pertaining to smuggling secrets. 

The Voice of America cited China’s chemical industry’s lack of regulation issues in September 2016, saying that despite China’s efforts to curb illicit sales of fentanyl, the “smuggling of such drugs and their raw materials between China and Mexico still flourish.”

Since Xi Jinping’s rise to the presidency and the secretary general of China’s Communist Party, China’s propaganda machine has been spinning anti-Japanese, anti-colonialist rhetoric, and has angrily pointed toward China’s embarrassing defeats from the two Opium Wars fought in the 19th century as fodder to incite nationalism. As a trade war looms between China and the Trump Administration, some think America’s fentanyl problem may be retaliation for the Opium Wars, little-known conflicts nearly forgotten by the West. 

“I’m not necessarily espousing this but when you think about it, it makes sense,” Kaspari said. “I have heard people primarily in law enforcement talking about bio-terrorism, that one of the reasons this is being pumped out of China and into our country is with a bio-terroristic intent. Can I point to it and say there’s any hard evidence? No. But if it looks like a skunk and smells like a skunk…” 

Authorities in America can do little but watch, Kaspari said. “We can see when a shipment of carfentanil hits Chicago, they have to read the papers and we can see it move across the county and then it hits Minneapolis/St. Paul, and then we know it’s on the way because there’s a spike in overdose deaths.

“And then it hits Fargo and, boom,” Kaspari snaps his fingers. “We have three overdose deaths. It’s coming into the country in bucket loads. A kilo of it is worth I think $1,200, and has tens of thousands of doses. It’s like a wave coming across the country when a new shipment comes in.”

 

Angel in disguise

“Fentanyl is not the devil, it’s a miracle drug for severe pain management,” Kaspari said. “It’s a beautiful thing.” Longtime use of it builds a tolerance, however, and could be addictive if hospital personnel are not trained properly. 

In the past, police have not known how to deal with addicts, leaving two choices: the emergency room or jail. The single biggest complaint is that suffering people do not know who to call. 

Fentanyl bust in China – photo published by media outlet People’s Network

Fargo Cass Public Health Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator, Robyn Litke Sall, said in a Facebook speech that Fargo has a “social detox” center, a place where someone can sit and be monitored until ready to be brought home. Across the state border, however, the Clay County Detox Center has doctors, nurses, and medication, and differs from Cass County’s “drunk tank.” Historically, Fargo has shuffled addicts across the Red River for help, Kaspari said.

“That’s one very big roadblock to people who want to enter treatment because they have to go through detox in order to get into treatment and participate in that project and unfortunately there isn’t really anything here that can help them go through that difficult process that would get them ready to go to treatment,” Sall said 

The Treatment and Recovery Group is working on expansion of facilities, Sall said. Emergency room detox is also currently not available, and such services are not reimbursed through insurance companies.

“The main problem in Fargo is that we do not know how to help people coming off heroin,” Jackie said. “We don’t offer methadone or suboxone for detoxes, which help alleviates withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.” 

Addicts are welcome at the First Step Recovery, for starters, Kaspari said. First Step Recovery is a nonprofit organization and a part of The Village Family Service Center established in 1891. The center treats alcoholism and addictions as a disease, like diabetes or some forms of heart disease.

Under the Mayors Blue Ribbon Commission, politicians and authorities from Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead, Dilworth, and Horace are pooling resources to battle the crisis. A cocktail of medications is already available to ease the symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction, but additional services are forthcoming – within weeks, Kaspari said. 

“A lot of our perceived holes in our system are just that, perceived,” he said. 

“I’ve been to a lot of these types of workgroups, and all they’ve ever done is talk about the problems,” Kaspari said. “The first meeting when I saw who was attending, you could have knocked me over with a feather.” Everyone at the table was asking what their roles were, he said. 

Substance Use Disorder Vouchers are also available to help those dealing with addiction, according to the Fargo Police Department. Year-long treatment programs focused on accountability and are known as Drug Court, and if successful can erase charges off a drug offender’s record. 

“It often takes several attempts of treatment to try and make it work, that’s not lost on us, we do our best to try and help people get down that road,” Christianson said. “We are a starting point for people to get help… we’ve had people call us and say ‘Hey, thanks for arresting me, I know I wasn’t nice to you at that time it happened, that really turned my life around.’ That doesn’t always happen, but there are certainly cases where that is the case.” 

Jackie accepts her addiction is life long, and is using non-traditional methods to keep herself clean. 

“The statistics are extremely abysmal,”Jackie said. “I don’t even like to look into that too much because most people end up dying or going to jail.” 

Under 10 percent succeed, she said, which is a hard statistic to prove, but it’s the number stuck in her head. 

“I’m just starting to deal with all the bullshit of life, again.” The daily grind is what can wear down resistance. “I detoxed for a few days in the hospital, but I left, or I would have gone insane. For me, I had to cut out toxic people and active users from my life, focus on healthy things like exercise, have music as an outlet, and reconnect with family and friends. The main thing is build a life worth living, build things that build your community, part of it for me is giving back.”

White Supremacist’s Church Burns In Nome

Investigators suspect arson, white supremacists question an “Act of God”

Alt White: The Siege of North Dakota. Part four in the series on racism in North Dakota. Pioneer Little Europe and the Creativity Movement plow ahead with plans in making an Aryan enclave in Nome, ND, but an old Lutheran church bought by Craig Cobb burns to the ground. 

By C.S. Hagen
NOME
– Either arson or “an act of God” left the Zion Lutheran Church in ashes Wednesday, according to law enforcement and one of the building’s owners, white supremacist Craig Cobb. 

Welcome to Nome – photo by C.S. Hagen

Residents of the tiny town of Nome, population 62, alerted authorities to the fire Wednesday afternoon at 295 3rd Avenue. Firefighters from the neighboring town of Fingal, Nome’s volunteer firefighters, and the Barnes County Sheriff’s Office responded after the fire was reported. The first pictures of the blaze were published online in Facebook shortly after 3 p.m. Strong winds helped engulf the 110-year-old church in flames, and within an hour only the chimney and foundation remained. 

Nome is on a hit list including 11 other towns by Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota as one of the places marked for “takeover.” Pioneer Little Europe is a white supremacist operation welcoming Nazis, members of the Creativity Movement, Ku Klux Klan, militants, white nationalists, and racialists to build “arks of survival,” or Aryan enclaves. Previously, Cobb attempted to establish white enclaves in Leith and in Antler. He is currently serving four years probation for terrorizing and menacing residents in Leith in 2013. 

Barnes County Sheriff’s deputies, the state fire marshal, and ATF agents began investigating the fire as arson Thursday morning, Barnes County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Don Fiebiger said. 

“There is no power in the building, there is power up to the building, and it is being investigated as arson,” Fiebiger said. 

Liz Brocker, the public information officer with the Attorney General’s office refused to comment except to say, “Information is confidential.” 

Charred remains of Zion Lutheran Church in Nome – photo by C.S. Hagen

The church was sold for $8,000 by Anthony Cibelli of Florida to Alexis L. Wolf and Kevin A. Richman on September 26, 2013, and then for $8,000 on January 14, 2017 to Cobb with a listed address of 208 E. 3rd Street, Sherwood, according to Barnes County Recorder.

“Quiet enjoyment and peaceable possession of the premises” was guaranteed by the grantor, Richman, according to the property deed. Back taxes and specials of $875.80 were paid by Richman, who is listed as the only owner on the new deed before the handover to Cobb.

Investigators on site – photo by C.S. Hagen

Next-door neighbor, Linda Henrickson, has lived in Nome for 49 years. She was preparing to bury her husband who recently died of cancer, and said she hadn’t seen Cobb in months.

“I didn’t even know about it,” Henrickson said. “I heard a noise earlier, but it was so windy.” When she heard the news she ran to the dining room window and saw the church she attended for decades engulfed in flames. 

 A large 1923 painting of “Jesus welcoming the children,” hangs on her wall. She bought if at the church auction in 2012 and said it used to hang above the church’s altar. Across the room a pencil sketch of the church as it used to look was also purchased at the same auction. Her husband was born in Nome, across the street. Her daughter was once the organist. Her late husband, Bruce, was once the town’s mayor who brought running water into the area, Henrickson said. 

“This used to be a nice little community,” she said. “But it’s becoming a tourist attraction lately.” 

Typically, the town is quiet. Henrickson never talked to Cobb, but saw him once carrying a table, chairs, and a propane tank into the church. 

Abandoned building in Nome – photo by C.S. Hagen

Abandoned houses line Nome’s streets. On Main Street, a skeleton of a building sits on one side, a grocery store named Ruud’s Market has the inside lights on, but the front door is locked and the shelves are empty. A half-boarded up post office sits next door. Main Street is a dirt road, as all the other streets in town. 

At the end of one street, slightly apart from the rest of the town, Kenny Ussatis said he had heard about Cobb, but didn’t pay him much attention. 

“Nobody’s really said anything about him,” Ussatis said. “I’m sure some feel they didn’t like it, but to me it does not make a whole lot of difference.” He attended the church all his life until it shut down due to “running out of people.” The town once had up to 400 residents, he said. 

The loss of the church was not a hard blow for Ussatis, he said. “It was time,” he said. 

The only noticeable business in town, Inter-Community Telephone Co., stands close to a cleanly kept park with swings, an aluminum slide, and an old merry go round. Mary Peterson, a town council member since 1990, used to be the church secretary, treasurer, and custodian. She echoed the sentiment that Cobb keeps to himself, and wasn’t making a stir. 

Nome’s playground – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Whatever happens, happens,” Peterson said. “If he did something wrong then we would deal with it, but so far, he minds his own business.” 

Rumors are circulating as to the actual cause of the fire, Peterson said, but would not elaborate. 

Cobb is one of the best known white supremacists in North America, according to nonprofit hate group tracker Southern Poverty Law Center. He had a falling out with white supremacists after a DNA diagnostics test in 2013, which proved Cobb was 14 percent Sub-Saharan African. He is also a professed member of the Creativity Movement, which believes race, not religion, is absolute truth and that the white race is the highest expression of culture and civilization. The movement also believes that a “holy racial war” is eminent. 

Members of Stormfront, a website started by hate-web guru Don Black, congratulated Cobb on the purchase of the church, saying at least Cobb was active. 

Nome’s Main Street – photo by C.S. Hagen

“If it was arson, that reflects very poorly on the townspeople of Nome,” a sustaining member named Richie wrote. 

“Perhaps put it down to an Act of God, presumably him punishing an atheist for buying a church,” a sustaining member named Lord Flints Volunteer wrote. 

“Whatever anyone’s opinion he is not all talk,” Richie wrote. “He gets off his backside and makes an effort.” 

“How has all the crap targeted at Craig not been considered a violation of the Fair Housing Act?” another sustaining member named WhiteNationhood wrote. 

Cobb claims arson, and is offering a $2,000 reward for any information related to the incident,” according to media outlet MyNDNow. 

Investigators on site at former Zion Lutheran Church – photo by C.S. Hagen

The sleepy town air is tinged sweetly with burning wood fires. Wind whispers through tall pines, and returning geese call out noisily. The former town school, an impressive brick structure now shadowed by trees, is used as a storage space. Like many North Dakota small towns, it is dying, and is a perfect target for white supremacists linked with Pioneer Little Europe. 

The final hymn sung at the church’s closing ceremony June 24, 2012 was “The Church’s One Foundation,” which, excluding a cracked chimney and local memory, are all that remains. 

Residents don’t want another Leith, they said, but also don’t appreciate the recent attention. 

“We don’t need all the publicity,” Ussatis said. 

Nome’s dirt roads – photo by C.S. Hagen

FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force Targets Standing Rock Activist

Senators, lawyers, activists speak out against FBI, citing misguided attempts to link free speech to domestic terrorism

By C.S. Hagen
CANNON BALL
– Joint Terrorism Task Force agents contacted an Indiana activist days after he returned home from Standing Rock’s fight in North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Aaron Pollitt, 28, from Indiana, was charged on October 22, 2016 by Morton County Police with engaging in a riot and criminal trespass, according to Morton County Clerk of Court. His trial is pending. 

Aaron Pollitt – from Facebook page

After three weeks of direct action and living in the Standing Rock camps, Pollitt, listed as a water protector by Unity-Bloomington, said he left the fight to go home and vote in November 2016 when he was contacted by law enforcement who identified themselves as the Indiana State Police Intelligence Division. They stopped by his house – twice – called, and left messages, according to Pollitt. According to Indiana State Government website publication of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy Basic Courses, one of the agents involved is connected to JTTF, or the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. 

HPR Magazine chose to withhold the name of one of the agents identified for potential endangerment reasons. 

“First time it happened I did not know why a police officer came out to my house,” Pollitt said. “They wanted to talk to me, wanted to take me out for a Coca Cola, and they also said it didn’t have anything to do with my arrest.

“I told him I didn’t want to talk about it, but they came out again about a month later. I told them I had a lawyer to talk to, so I was a little more clear.”

Pollitt is a carpenter, worked as a stagehand at Indiana University, and is applying to be a ranger in the Forestry Bureau, he said. He is also a musician, a flutist, practicing a type of music called Kirtan, or Vedic chanting. According to a 2010 letter Pollitt is also an adventurist, and an environmentalist who aided in the development of a documentary called “Spirit of the Orca.”

“Strange times we live in,” Pollitt wrote in a Facebook post pertaining to Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Al Franken’s request about an explanation why at least three U.S. citizens opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline are being investigated by JTTF. 

“I am concerned that the reported questioning of political activists by one of the FBI’s terrorism task forces threatens to chill constitutionally protected conduct and speech,” Franken, a Democrat and a member of both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Indian Affairs, wrote in a letter on March 1, 2017 to FBI Director James Comey.

The Guardian reported in February that investigations into three activists at Standing Rock is being construed by the FBI as acts of terrorism. FBI personnel could not be reached for comment. 

Pollitt will be defended in court by Valley City Attorney Russell Myhre. Myhre condemned his client’s targeting by JTTF agents. 

“This type of contact, and I have been subjected to it in the past, has a chilling effect upon free speech,” Myhre said. “It appears to be an attempt to tamp down any further attempt to exercise free speech by water protectors.”

“It was really eerie, it is really concerning to be investigated by a terrorism task force or state police, but I am not too concerned,” Pollitt said. “I feel like I am pretty safe.” 

JTTF is America’s front line on terrorism, according to the FBI, and work as small cells of highly trained, locally based, investigators, analysts, linguists, SWAT experts, and other specialists from dozens of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

“By assigning JTTF agents and officers to investigate Standing Rock protesters, I am concerned that the FBI has opted to view civil rights activism through a national security lens,” Franken wrote. “Embracing such tactics risks chilling the exercise of constitutional rights and further undermining trust between federal law enforcement and our tribal nations.” 

First page of Senator Al Franken’s letter to FBI concerning its investigations into No DAPL activists

While at the camps outside Standing Rock Pollitt said evidence of racism and hatred were everywhere. He was “cussed out” by Bismarck residents, he said, because as a white person he resembled a protester. He joined the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline because he sees North Dakota government as corrupt, bought by big oil money, and does not truly care for the environment or for the state’s Native American population. 

“I feel personally this is a critical time to make changes so we do not destroy our planet,” Pollitt said. “That voice needs to be loud and clear, but it is continually met with violence.”

His three-week experience at the camps showed him that Standing Rock and supporters were peaceful and nonviolent, he said.

“This is an assault on the rights of people to be scaring us away from our right to protest and to free speech,” Pollitt said. “To be assaulting people with crowd control weapons I think it is an attempt to oppress a certain portion of the population, and a lot of money is being poured into that part of the system by the new administration.

“We need to have the freedom to really express ourselves, especially if it’s a tremendous portion of the population that wants this change. This militarized police force is trying to suppress that voice.” 

Franken and The Guardian reported three people have been targeted in the United States by JTTF, and it is unclear if Pollitt was one of the three or a fourth US citizen targeted, Myhre said. 

In Morton County, Highway 1806 is now open to the public, but law enforcement ask for all travelers to pay close attention to traffic signs as the road will continue to be watched. 

On Monday, Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, LLC, said in court documents that there have been “recent coordinated physical attacks along the pipeline that pose threats to life, physical safety and the environment.” No mention was made of who was responsible for the alleged attacks, and the company plans to have oil running through the 1,172-mile long pipeline early as March 28.

Valley City’s Troubles, a Microcosm of the Nation

Despite nearly a dozen city officials pushed from office, Valley City’s 15-year-old infighting is far from over

By C.S. Hagen
VALLEY CITY
– Russell Myhre lit a second cigarette, pulled his wool coat closer against the February chill after proudly revealing a red heart tattoo on his chest. He waved to Fred Thompson, former Valley City Police Chief, from across the parking lot behind his law office. 

“Hey, Mr. Thompson, come on over here, my friend,” Myhre said.  “You just wandering around?” 

“Nope,” Thompson said. No mistaking the man was law enforcement. Large framed, shoulders slightly stooped, he eyed the area before shaking Myhre’s hand. “Taking care of shit.” 

Two survivors of Valley City’s past decade of political turmoil, a verifiable “Game of Thrones,” Myhre described the contention between politicians and a local citizen’s group. One former police chief, retired in late 2016 after months of investigations, now looking for work; one attorney, nearing 70, tired of the fight and on his way out of Valley City’s political arena. Both “moping with intent to lurk” they say jokingly while discussing the city’s fierce struggles. 

Russell Myhre and blood brother Isaac Dog Eagle, Jr., fifth generation direct descendant of Sitting Bull – photo provided by Russeel Myhre

Stories roll from Myhre’s tongue easily, voice purring in English or Lakota like a finely-tuned Harley Davidson engine. He doesn’t fit the stereotype for any city attorney, describes himself at times as a city enforcer. A Harley clock, pictures of years gone by – Isaac Dog Eagle, Jr., a Standing Rock Sioux medicine man who adopted him as a brother, Myhre as a lobbyist for ABATE of North Dakota – hang from his office’s windowless walls.

No windows because in his line of work, he needs to eliminate routes for attacks. He once carried a pistol in his waistband, used to hide another in a desk drawer. Myhre has been shot at, stabbed, beaten and left for dead while busting drug dealers, brushed the fear from his sinewy shoulders and kept cruising. 

“And I’m still alive,” Myhre said. “People who know me say I’ve lived several lives.” One life he led started before 1982 when he became involved in Native American causes, and later met his wife, a model and “aspiring starlet” Benedicta “Bennie” Frances Callousleg, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who passed away in 2009. They had two children, Amanda and Joshua. 

Six years of near-constant conflict with the Citizens for Community Involvement, however, and he’s finally following nearly a dozen others’ routes to leave government work in Valley City. He’s rearranging his career, “easing” his law practice to another city, plans to rebuild his former practice, but will not sever ties with Valley City.

Russell J. Myhre, Valley City Attorney in his office – photo by C.S. Hagen

Citizens for Community Involvement, or CCI, is a grassroots organization in Valley City, Keith Colville’s brainchild, former president Robert “Bob” Drake said. The group’s mission for the past 15 years has been to fight city hall on decisions and personnel they don’t agree with. Among other issues, CCI’s goals include abolishing property taxes, opposing real estate assessments, and eliminating the Valley City Police Department,. They’ve called for armed citizen patrols when brawls went viral outside city bars, and they’ve investigated, frequently petitioned, for the dismissals of many city and county leaders they deem corrupt. 

Heroes, some call CCI; others curse the name. 

At least 11 city leaders and employees have left or will be leaving their posts in nearly as many years in Valley City, due in part to the ongoing conflict. Despite the exodus of politicians, CCI’s “duty” isn’t finished. Most recently, after Mayor Dave Carlsrud, a former high school wrestling, basketball, and football referee, made a public plea to residents to recognize rules of order during city commission meetings, CCI member and Valley City resident Lloyd A. Nelson took the podium and refused to leave until police approached him, according to Myhre. 

“I would have to say that virtually all of the appointed officials have had various threats, false charges of corruption and criminal acts, and informal smear campaigns against them,” Myhre said.

CCI members have run for political office; most, so far, have failed. They had a friend with former Mayor Bob Werkhoven, who resigned shortly into his second term due to “health issues,” but only after an investigation and grievance claims that he created a hostile work environment, according to city records. Myhre, Thompson, and current City Administrator David Schelkoph filed grievances against the former mayor, receiving settlements: Myhre received approximately $212,000, Thompson received $110,000, and Schelkoph’s settlement amounted to a three-year extension of contract, legal fee payments, and a “golden parachute” guaranteeing him six-months severance regardless of whether he voluntarily resigns or is involuntarily terminated. 

Today, many people are reluctant to run for government, Myhre said. Many, including him and his daughter Amanda, most of his staff at Myhre Law Office, are moving away. 

“I cannot get other attorneys to come here and take over and you know what?” Myhre said. “They say, ‘Why would I want to move to Valley City?’” Applicants for the police chief position after Thompson stepped down were also few and far between, Myhre said.

“Are the citizens of Valley City going to stand up?” 

So far, mostly at night, in local restaurants and sometimes deep in their cups, Valley City residents sidle close to share their disdain for city politics, whispering support to Myhre, he said. 

“Not many can withstand the constant attacks.”

Myhre says CCI’s actions to replace law enforcement with an elected sheriff’s department is a tactic of the Posse Comitatus, an early anti-Semitic, white supremacist organization that in 1983 found a champion in Gordon Wendell Kahl. After refusing to pay taxes and garnering some local support, Kahl shot and killed two federal marshals at a roadblock outside of Medina, North Dakota, then led federal investigators on a four-month-long manhunt, which ended with the death of a sheriff and Kahl’s own life in Arkansas. 

“Giving all police powers to a locally elected sheriff, of course, is a page right out of the Posse Comitatus playbook,” Myhre said. “Such groups’ goals are to bring a whole bunch of people in and overwhelm a community.” A tactic white supremacist groups also use under the Pioneer Little Europe campaign to buy out properties and infiltrate a small, dying town, and then insert their followers into positions of power. Valley City has been targeted as one of twelve North Dakota towns for takeover, according to Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota. 

“Another goal is to destabilize the existing government, and I think that’s what they’re following here in Valley City. They have gone seriatim against virtually every elected or appointed official in the city and have made accusations against them. Either they have dug up really old stuff that goes far beyond the memory of man, or they make something up out of nothing.” 

“No one has the right to bully or intimidate this question into existence,” Schelkoph said in an email. 

Others aren’t sure about a racist connection, but say CCI’s methods resemble the John Birch Society, a conservative and influential conspiracist group supporting anti-communism and limited government, and is described as being radically far-right in its philosophies, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit hate watch firm. 

CCI members reportedly called the first city administrator, Dave Johnson’s adopted Chinese daughter, a “gook,” which may have been part of the reason Johnson created the 2006 website portraying CCI members as Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. Myhre’s daughter, Amanda, said she has been called a “prairie n***er” by CCI members while waiting in town for automobile repairs. 

In 2013, when the local Pizza Corner began hiring immigrants and African Americans to expand its business, some of the mostly-white residents of Valley City didn’t like to see their city changing, Myhre said. Fights began breaking out on weekends outside of bars during smoke breaks, and CCI proposed setting up a civilian armed patrol. 

“Especially if non-whites were involved, it soon became very racially tinged,” Myhre said. “It set the city on edge, and that was the first indication of what he [Drake] wanted to do.” CCI’s motion to establish the armed civilian patrol was denied. 

“I think white supremacy is one of the underlying themes we have going here,” Myhre said. The overall theme is about the taxes, the sovereign citizens, some of these concepts that they got, and they have been attempting to disrupt city government. It’s not just the city attorney, or the city administrator, they go after all of them.” 

The connection to CCI’s white supremacist tactics lie with facts, Myhre said, and the groups’ repeated attempts to create havoc in city government. 

CCI members deny having anything to do with racist or white supremacist agendas. 

Wes Anderson, the curator for Barnes County Museum, said racist roots in Valley City date to the 1920s, when the city had a covenant banning all black people from living in Victory Park. The museum holds newspapers and books dating to a time when blatant racism was not only allowed, but accepted. Tucked safely away in back offices and boxes he has a Ku Klux Klan sword discovered in the floorboards of a local home, and Nazi armbands brought home from World War II as souvenirs. 

Wes Anderson, curator of Barnes County Museum – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Dark history,” Anderson said. The items have come out for display before, but Anderson says it’s uncomfortable and awkward. “Not a proud part of our history. There are better stories to tell. I keep the Nazi stuff off display as it is hard to maintain good security on them as there is indeed a value to them.” 

As a historian, Anderson said Valley City struggles can be examined and possibly understood under the Strauss-Howe generational theory. 

“There’s a school of thought that history is on a four cycle pattern of generations,” Anderson said. “There’s a generation of builders, and a generation of users, and a generation that tears down, then a generation that suffers, followed again by a the generation of builders. The World War II generation were the builders, and you can see that, they’re the ones that were in these communities and they created all these groups, the Eagles, the Elks, the Legion, they religiously protected all these groups. 

KKK sword at Barnes County Museum – photo by C.S. Hagen

Each group potentially clashes with the next, and today the theoretical circle lands on Millennials  – or the builders – who have returned with a renewed interest in community involvement and politics.

If the theory is true, it would help explain, at least in part, some of the city’s tensions over the years. 

Citizens for Community Involvement 

A few blocks from City Hall, seated in a semi circle in a back room of Iron Stallion Cycles, a motorcycle dealership, six members of CCI gathered to discuss their 15-year-long fight. None appear tired or ready to give up; they’re energized, preparing for the next battle. 

Their eyes are set on Mayor Carlsrud, who is a “milk toast guy” never listening to the real issues, they said. 

Long time CCI leader Drake, one of the group’s most prominent members, leans his large frame into an office chair, chuckles when asked if CCI is in league with white supremacists. 

“I know all these guys in CCI, and there’s not one of them who is bigoted,” Drake said. “All they want is to make Valley City a better place to live.” 

Nelson, a former command sergeant major who fought in the Gulf War, agreed. He’s elderly, enjoys playing the piano, and is a lifelong Valley City resident who recalled days when he didn’t have to lock his car. Now, he bolts his front door for a short walk to the garage, he said. He is angered by the recent resurrection on Blogpost of a “spoof” website originally created by Johnson in 2006, which depicts Nelson as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and Drake to Adolf Hitler. The website was last updated on January 27, 2017 from Mountain View, California. 

“They just made a few changes and posted it again,” Nelson said. The website ruined his race for mayor in 2006, he said. “It’s a huge mental disturbance for me. The people who hate the Ku Klux Klan are going to hate me.”

Garbage has been dumped in his yard; swastikas have been painted on his sidewalk, he said. He’s been repeatedly kicked from city commissioners’ meetings. 

“I’m fearful,” Nelson said. “That is a hateful website and people are suffering because of this. People are afraid something is going to happen to them, and I am.”

CCI members (left to right) Lloyd Nelson, Cole Mindt, Robert Drake, and Brian Mindt – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Its unbelievable what they did,” CCI member Jack Ertelt said. He’s tall, wears a cowboy hat, and is a lifelong resident of Barnes County. “Look at what they did? Thirty years in the military and Bob a prominent businessman, and smear them like that? Once they go to that level there is no end to it.” 

They say an arrest on a terrorism charge brought against Drake on September 18, 2016 for threatening former City Commissioner Richard Ross, also ruined his bid for county commissioner. The felony charge was lessened to a misdemeanor, but Drake had a criminal judgment ordered against him stipulating an “evaluation” and requiring that he complete “anger-management” classes, according to court documents. 

At times, the group acts as a godfather for the community, settling issues residents don’t feel comfortable taking to the the authorities. Tips are told to the group’s members sparking many of their investigations and petitions. 

“We’ve had people come to us with an issue, because they’re scared to go to the city for fear of retaliation, so we bring their issues up for them,” Brian Mindt, Iron Stallion Cycles proprietor said. “Either they don’t know the channels, or they’re scared.” 

City officials call their group toxic, Mindt said. A small copy of the US Constitution protrudes from his breast pocket. Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” plays over the store’s speaker system. Besides motorcycles and parts, Mindt also has a mini museum of handguns that his son Cole describes. German rifles converted into shotguns after World War II, Confederate and Yankee led bullets from the Civil War. An axe with the word “ISIS” handwritten onto the head hangs from a wall. Above the store’s main counter a sign: “Trump That Bitch 2016.” 

Mindt supports President Trump with a “Make America Great Again” hat. He turned to his computer and opened a picture of a friend he has, a Mexican, who plans to move to Valley City. “It’s all a part of the smear campaign,” he said. “It’s not that we are against government, we just want them to be held accountable for what they do.” 

CCI believes City Hall’s “crimes” have gone mostly unpunished. With nearly a dozen “notches” in their war clubs of former city leaders and employees who have either stepped down or quit because of their pressure, there are more that need to go, they said. 

“Corruption draws corruption,” Ertelt said. “There’s going to be characters forever until we take care of what’s going on at City Hall. Their house of cards could come falling down on them. The exposure is widespread, it’s one article after another.” 

They speak about favoritism shown to city leaders’ children after committing crimes, crooked commissioners who took advantage of the 2009 flood control programs to fatten their wallets through real estate deals. Worse than shady deals they hint at murder by police – unproven – and a case that will probably never see the light through their eyes. 

“I don’t think there is another group like this in the state of North Dakota,” Ertelt said. “A watchdog group that pays attention to their local government whether it’s local or county, and they’ve never had to deal with organized opposition, although it is a loosely-knit opposition, the fact remains it’s here, and it’s staying here, and for how many years before I came on board.” 

Although CCI’s inception dates back further than any of the current members remember, they say it became active in 2003 during controversies surrounding real estate assessments and a 911 emergency telephone center the city and the county both wanted. 

Last week, Drake’s son, Tony, was attacked inside CH Carpenter Lumber Co. building. “They laid in wait for us, or somebody, to walk into the back area where I usually hang out, when Tony went to the bathroom they hit him in the back of the head and knocked him out.

“Whoever it was ran out the front door, and we don’t know who he was.” Drake is following leads, video footage to find the attacker, and doubts the reason for the attack was burglary. “They didn’t leave when they knew we were there, if it was a burglar ready to steal something, he would have run out the front door while we were in the back for five or six minutes.” 

He doesn’t think the attack had anything to do with CCI’s fight against City Hall, but, “I’m not ruling it out.

“He got hit hard, but he was okay by the time police investigated and everything.” He refused hospital treatment, but friends and family are watching him for any signs of concussion. 

Drake described himself as a “bull in a china store,” while his son inherited his more diplomatic genes. 

“I’m more kill people with kindness, he’s more run over them with a truck,” Tony said. Although he and his father do not agree on many issues, their platform is the same.  

Despite Mindt’s gruff appearance, long, greying beard, he’s speaks softly, used to be a Mason and an assistant Boy Scouts leader. Once, with his daughter, he drove more than 400 stuffed animals to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Minneapolis. 

“And I’m still this mean hateful guy,” Mindt said. He recently lost a Supreme Court case involving a district judge, a Hispanic FedEx driver named Sergio Hidalgo Jr., racial slurs including the “N” word, and a secret knock. 

Shave and a haircut, get lost. Mindt taps out the secret knock on his desk. He tells all delivery companies to use the secret knock at the back door to stave potential robberies. Mindt was charged with a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct in October 2015. He filed an appeal in the North Dakota Supreme Court in June 2016, citing District Court Judge Jay Schmitz should have recused himself as he is married to an American citizen from Puerto Rico, and racial slurs including the “N” word were used during the argument.

“There was this FedEx guy, I tried to explain something to and he just went off,” Mindt said. He attempted to appeal the judgment against him in Supreme Court arguing that “Jay Schmitz did not use reasonable judgment in handing down his decision.

“With Judge Schmitz being in an interracial marriage with a black person that is bias and prejudice. He should have recused himself right from the start.” 

“So you would have us say that a white person could not judge a black person?” Justice Lisa Fair McEvers said. 

“Probably not fairly if you are married to one, and your criminal complaint contains alleged racial slurs in there,” Mindt said. “Any reasonable man would say that ‘No, you probably would not.’”

Six other judges could have heard Mindt’s case at the southeast judicial district level, Mindt, who defended his own case, said.  

“So you would have us perpetuate your racial stereotypes by entering that kind of judgment?” McEvers said. 

“…It’s human nature to be at least somewhat biased,” Mindt said. 

“Why should we assume bias?” 

“Because he is in an interracial marriage.” 

“You have pointed to nothing in the transcript that shows bias,” McEvers said. 

“Not in the transcript, no,” Mindt said. “But he is in an interracial marriage. When he goes home he has to answer to that. That is always in the back of your mind.” 

“You are guilty of the crime you are charged with,” McEvers said. 

“No, ma’am, I am not.” 

During the investigation, Mindt hired Darrell Graf as a private investigator, Myhre said. Graf, the former chief of police in Medina during Kahl’s shootout with US Marshals in 1983, has been alleged to be a  Posse Comitatus sympathizer, according to History Commons.

During Mindt’s FedEx trial, Graf came into Myhre’s office. The Kahl shootout in Medina became a 1991 film entitled In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas, and it alleged that Graf warned the Posse Comitatus about federal marshals imminent arrival. Myhre believes that Graf was simpatico with those people, and is partly responsible for deaths of the two US Marshals: Kenny Muir and Bob Cheshire, a personal friend of Myhre’s. 

“Here I am, 30 some odd years later, and I’m talking to the guy I think was responsible for killing my close personal friend sitting across from me,” Myhre said.  

Graf came into his office to complain about not being able to interview police officers involved in Mindt’s case, Myhre said.

The future
Valley City isn’t all infighting and tension, it is the 13th largest city in North Dakota with approximately 6,500 residents. It has an active college, Valley City State University, and is nestled between high hills cozied up to the Sheyenne River.  

Myhre’s last day as city attorney approaches, and he’s glad to be leaving town. He said he has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the conflict, and allegations against him that he gave alcohol to a minor, a charge that was investigated and dismissed by the Bureau of Criminal Investigations. He plans for a fresh start, in a new city.

Thompson is thinking about applying for police work again, possibly “throw his name in the hat” for the recent vacancy in West Fargo. 

He will be sad to leave Valley City, he said, despite his four-year and eight-month term as Valley City’s police chief facing sexual misconduct allegations and an investigation about him drawing his sidearm on a father playing war games with children in a yard, he has fallen for the city. 

But he still harbors ill feelings for the troubles he went through, he said. 

“They didn’t want the guy from the big city, that’s been a continual thing all along.” Thompson was a former captain in the Henderson Police Department in Nevada. “They have no idea what they did when they made me leave. The biggest supporter of this town, and they threw it away. The chances of them finding someone with experience is somewhere between slim and none.” 

If CCI gets their way, for instance by combining the city police with the county sheriff’s department, Thompson said corruption will run rampant. 

“It gives you the opportunity to have corruption in the police department,” he said. “If you control the purse, and control things like housing, it would be pretty easy to make it so certain people don’t live here.” 

“Someone once told me that the nicest thing about North Dakotans is that they leave you alone,” Myhre said. “The bad thing about North Dakotans is that they leave you alone, and that’s part of what this is. No one wants to confront these bad actors, these miscreants and malefactors, who cause all this disruption, because they think it’s not my problem. If I say something then they’ll turn their attention on me, and I don’t want that. That’s why I think they’ve managed to buffalo this city for over a decade.” 

“If you look at this city we have a lot of good things happening here” Thompson said. “This is one of the most beautiful places in North Dakota, we have so many people who are good, honest people, and yet we have this small contingent that has bullied and buffaloed the people, making them afraid to speak.” 

Drake was not born in Valley City, but doesn’t plan on leaving. He owns businesses such as Budget Burger, and other properties, but he’s currently not planning on running for political office again, admitting the fire in his belly has simmered due to aging.

“People in Valley City are the greatest people I’ve ever met,” Drake said. “It’s just the few who happen to rise to the top that basically get in-between a rock and a hard place and say I’m just going to go along with it.”

Once Myhre steps down as city attorney, Drake said their relationship, once at a friendship level, cannot be repaired. 

“It’s all really crooked, and it all stems around incompetent and very vindictive city attorney.” He filed the same complaint that Myhre gave alcohol to underaged girls to the North Dakota Bar Association Disciplinary Board. “And at this moment they’re looking into admonishing him or filing charges of their own,” Drake said. 

“The complaint by Drake to the state bar association’s inquiry committee, while not resolved at this time, appears to be dismissed summarily,” Myhre said. “This is an indication that it lacks merit.” 

Drake is also hoping Schelkoph soon steps down. In a letter written to City Hall, Drake wrote to Schelkoph: “You said if the people don’t want you, you would leave. I think it is past time. I think you should seek employment in another state. Leave.”

When asked if they retaliate against people who disagree with them, CCI members laughed. 

“How am I going to retaliate?” Drake said. “I don’t have authority, I don’t retaliate. All I do is hear an allegation like the chief of police sexually harassing a female officer, and look into it. They’re throwing stones at everyone but themselves. If you go in and put it in writing, they say, ‘Oh, it’s just an allegation we aren’t going to investigate that.’ Well, everything is an allegation until it’s investigated.” 

While Nelson was in Iraq, he once received a report that the leader of the Alabama group under his care was mistreating black people. “I wrote him up, and when he came back to the United States, he was out of the National Guard immediately. So that makes me a racist? They have no idea of the background or what goes on with any of us. You know what the hell they do with white supremacists? Look at that Craig Cobb.” 

As to disbanding city police, that fight isn’t over yet either, Mindt said. “The theory behind that is all we’d be doing is changing these men in blue into brown. We got too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” he said. “They would be held accountable, because in four years we could vote them out.” 

“There are a lot of different people in this country now,” Nelson said. “And there is no more punishment any more. Things have changed, it’s the teacher’s fault, or you shot somebody and it’s the gun’s fault.” 

“We’re a constant nemesis for the city that won’t go away,” Ertelt said. “Every time they mess up it gets exposed, and comes right back to CCI.” 

“If we just gave up, and folded, and quit, things would get so much worse so much faster,” Mindt said. “I want Valley City to be the town of roses and everything they say it is.” 

“They already think we’re a hateful group and that we’re going to bring out the militia and take over the city,” Tony said.

“You’re never popular in your own city,” Nelson said.

“That’s biblical, Lloyd,” Drake said.

Scooting closer, hands folded almost prayer like, Drake said what Valley City needs. 

“Valley City needs an honest newspaper. That would take care of the entire problem.” 

“I see what has taken place here as a microcosm of what is happening on a macro scale, both in terms of local and state political science, but what is occurring in terms of an emerging shift in the political narrative,” Myhre said.

To an extent, CCI agrees on that point. “If you want to know what Valley City is, it is a microcosm of what’s going on in Washington D.C.,” Tony said. “Every person has their kryptonite, and this city’s kryptonite is the truth. And you can quote me on that.”

United Nations Denounces North Dakota State Government

Sweet crude oil preparing to flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline as work finishes, a look at the financials and Russian steel origins behind the pipeline

By C.S. Hagen
CANNON BALL
– Bakken oil could be flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline within a week, but Standing Rock still hopes for a legal miracle as the United Nations condemns what it calls widespread discrimination and North Dakota’s militarized responses.  

As Standing Rock’s legal options diminish, an injunction filed by the Cheyenne River Tribe, part of the Great Sioux Nation, was once again turned down  by federal judges on Tuesday. Previous injunctions filed by the tribe to stop pipeline construction have also been denied by US District Judge James E. Boasberg, citing the the tribe waited too long to bring up the claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz stated on Monday that Native Americans have the right to defy undue pressures by extractive projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. In a scathing report, Tauli-Corpuz said the United Nations is concerned about the safety of indigenous peoples, their cultures, their sacred sites, and their human rights issues in the United States. 

During her human rights mission for the United Nations, Tauli-Corpuz said she discovered widespread discrimination at local and national levels. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was not consulted as a sovereign nation. 

“In the context of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the potentially affected tribes were denied access to information and excluded from consultations at the planning stage of the project,” Tauli-Corpuz said. “Furthermore, in a show of disregard for treaties in the federal cross responsibility, the Army Corps approved a draft environmental assessment regarding the pipeline that ignored the interests of the tribe. 

“The draft made no attempt of proximity to the reservation or the fact that the pipeline would cross historic treaty lands of a number of tribal nations. In doing so the draft environmental assessment treated the tribe’s interest as nonexistent, demonstrating the flawed current process.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continually dismissed risks and did not conduct an adequate cultural assessment before authorizing the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe or authorized the dumping of materials and waste into waters on Indian reservations, Tauli-Corpuz said. The Army Corps utilized a loophole in environmental assessment laws by fast tracking permits, and after the agency approved an environmental assessment study earlier this year, it backtracked and issued the final easement permit. 

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak has stated that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was contacted from the beginning of the pipeline planning stages.

The problem is not contained only to Standing Rock, but widespread throughout the USA, Rauli-Corpuz said.

In addition to local and federal government dismissiveness, Native Americans face the full force of negative health impacts from extraction, with rising levels of heavy metals in water and contamination in livestock from spills, faulty well construction, and the effects of frakking, or toxic and non-biodegradable discharges into surface waters. The oil boom has also enticed thousands of oil and gas workers creating an “incredible increase” of human trafficking, drugs, and sex crimes, Tauli-Corpuz said. 

Highway 1806 – photo by C.S. Hagen

“The trauma accumulated as a result of a the largely discriminatory policies of the government toward Indian tribes and individuals since first contact and today, still results in distrust of government initiatives and poor health outcomes for Indian individuals,” Tauli-Corpuz said.  

Her research showed that government, rather than people, have the final say in matters related to Native Americans, and “it is imperative the federal government properly consult before encroaching on indigenous lands,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

With few legal options left to halt Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, LLC, Standing Rock and supporters are preparing to march in Washington DC on March 10 at the Native Nations Rise campaign. 

Activists preparing to leave pause on the Cannon Ball Bridge on Highway 1806 – photo by C.S. Hagen

“They want us to believe that the fight is over,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a press release. “But we can still win this. We can unite in peaceful, prayerful resistance against this illegal pipeline.” 

Officials plan to reopen the tribe’s main artery, Highway 1806, by March 13 if there is “no identifiable threat from protesters to block the highway,” the North Dakota Joint Information Center reported. 

Boom 

The North Dakota political machine has been repeatedly rated one of the worst in the United States for transparency by political watchdogs such as The Center for Public Integrity, and its reactions toward the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy have been scrutinized by press from around the world. 

Before pipeline construction began, a 78-page assessment report was compiled by Iowa-based Strategic Economics Group, Inc., written by Harvey Siegelman, Mike Lipsman, and Dan Otto, for Energy Transfer Partners. 

The pipeline companies promised jobs, growth, and stability, according to the November 12, 2014 report entitled Assessment of the Economic and Fiscal Impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois.

The report states that the pipeline project would create approximately 32,721 job-years – amount of work done by one person for one year. An average salary per worker was listed as $57,000 a year. “The increase in employment will generate a $1.9 billion increase in labor income, and a nearly $5 billion increase in production and sales in the region,” the report stated. 

After the pipeline is finished, 160 ongoing jobs will be added to the economy in North Dakota, generating $11 million in labor income and more than $23 million in new production and sales per year, the report promised. 

The pipeline was planned to cost Dakota Access, LLC $1.4 billion in North Dakota, of that amount an estimated $655.9 million, or 47 percent totaling $397 million, was planned to result in direct and indirect purchases in North Dakota. 

The total impact of the pipeline project in North Dakota was expected to add nearly 7,700 job-years of employment, generate more than $450 million in labor income, and add about $1.05 billion to the production and sales within the state, according to the report. Additionally, the state was to benefit by receiving revenues of approximately $32.9 million in taxes, of which $1.7 was for local governments, and $5.9 million from individual income taxes. During the first year of operation the state is slated to receive $13.1 million in new property taxes for local governments. 

The construction state of the pipeline was expected to generate $9.6 billion in total output nationally, but only half of that, $4.96 billion in output, or production and sales, would be captured in the four-state area. “That is because many of the manufacturers of products that will ultimately be purchased for this project are located outside of this region,” the report states. 

More than two years after the report was written, one of the authors, Lipsman, said he felt that the report will prove accurate, but that at least two more years were needed for government agencies to compile all the necessary information. 

“Obviously there’s been a lot more spent by Dakota Access because of all the slowdown,” Lipsman said. “Initially, we thought the construction would take two years, and then we came back and they said it would take one year, but with all the delays it’s now in the second year.”

Crews moved from state to state, Lipsman said, and although the actual number of people on the job might be less than what Strategic Economics Group, Inc. reported, he calculated job hours, and not actual personnel numbers.

“Especially since they were doing this so fast a lot of people got significant overtime, Lipsman said. “When we did ours in job years, the actual number of people who were on the project might be less than what we forecasted, but that was because we assume a 40-hour week, but if someone is working 15 to 20 hours of overtime you have less bodies but still as much labor going in.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline used less than 57 percent American-made steel, according to the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, an industry group lobbying for completion of the pipeline. Despite President Trump’s executive order demanding pipes to be made from American-manufactured steel, most if not all of the steel pipes planned for the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL projects have already been purchased. Piles of steel tubes are scattered throughout the Midwest. 

Dakota Access, LLC pipes – online sources

“Much of the steel for the Dakota Access project appears to have been manufactured in Canada by EVRAZ North America, a subsidiary of the Russian steel giant Evraz,” according to DeSmog, a news outlet focused on global warming misinformation campaigns. 

EVRAZ is owned in part by Roman Abramovich, a Russian multi-billionaire who assisted President Vladimir Putin into office in the late 1990s, according to DeSmog. The company’s management team is nearly all Russian nationals and former government workers, which should send red flags up with all American companies. 

For the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Abramovich reported a record profit of £18 million, according to media outlet Journal Star.  

Bakken oil production saw its “largest decline ever in North Dakota production” in September 2016, pumping out 895,330 barrels per day, according to media outlet Oil Price. Production of oil rebounded to 942,455 barrels in December 2016. The price of North Dakota sweet crude was up slightly in January to $40.75, and in February up again to $42.50 per barrel, which is a far cry from the all-time high in 2008 of $136.29 per barrel, according to Oil Price.

Winona LaDuke, a longtime activist and founder of Honor the Earth, disagrees with the math behind Bakken oil. She was part of the fight that shut down Enbridge’s Keystone Pipeline, and says that since Enbridge is an approximately 28 percent investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline, or as she says the Dakota Excess Pipeline, Enbridge should also be responsible for 28 percent of the injuries that occurred outside of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. 

LaDuke says the Bakken oil patch is busted, and the state should be focused more on infrastructure on people rather than for companies. More people today are employed in solar energy facilities than in oil patches, LaDuke said, and the future does not rest with fossil fuels. 

Government projections estimate 900,000 barrels of oil will be hauled out of the Bakken per day until 2019. “What I’m trying to figure out is where’s the oil for the 570,000 barrels a day pipeline you are shoving down our throats? All the oil going out of there now, is the same that will be going out of there in two years.” 

 

The workforce and mineral rights

On the ground reporting, live streaming videos, and reports from activists in the field rarely reported seeing local license plates on Dakota Access Pipeline vehicles, semis, or trucks. And while the state has been quite content bringing in outside companies, supplies, and an out-of-state workforce for the project, its response has shown contempt against all outside activists fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The North Dakota Joint Information Center frequently posts updates on arrests, identifying repeatedly that out of the 761 people arrested, 94 percent were not from North Dakota. 

Former main entrance to Oceti Sakowin blockaded against police advance – photo by C.S. Hagen

On the construction side of the pipeline, Pam Link, director of governmental relations and new business development for the Laborer’s International Union of North America Local #563, said business couldn’t be better. In 2016, Local #563 had from 400 to 600 union members working on the Dakota Access Pipeline.  

“A vast majority of them were North Dakotans,” Link said. Most of the jobs were short term, but members are already back at work across the state, she said. Her union currently has approximately a dozen workers involved at the drill pad crossing the Missouri River. “We have massive work going on, starting right now, it’s unbelievable, how busy we will be, it’s unbelievable how much work we have.”

Link wouldn’t say if the work load increase was due to changes made by Trump’s Administration, but said in 2016 her union was focused primarily on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Local #49 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Laborer’s International Union of North America Local 300, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, among others, also had members working on the pipeline, according Link. None replied to telephone calls for comment. 

“A larger percentage of positions in the earlier phases of oil development are shorter term or transient in nature, but as more wells are added, more people will be needed to service and maintain those wells,” Tessa Sandstrom, the director of communications for the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said.  

Not including transportation and construction jobs, the Bakken workforce has increased from 5,000 jobs in 2005 to 81,500 in 2013, Sandstrom reported. Numbers began to decline in 2015, but “they will still be a pretty big chunk of North Dakota’s total workforce,” Sandstorm said. 

“The petroleum industry will continue to provide economic, tax, employment, and energy security benefits well into the future of North Dakota,” Sandstorm said. “The Dakota Access Pipeline will play a large part in that because it will make transporting North Dakota crude more economic which means we will get a better price for the barrel.”

Pipeline oil will decrease the cost of transportation per barrel, allowing the state to accumulate at least $100 million or more per year if total oil prices do not sink lower than $50 per barrel, Sandstrom said. While the pipeline controversy cost the state more than $38.2 million taxpayer dollars, according to information released Tuesday by the North Dakota Joint Information Center, the state could easily see its investment paid back through pipeline taxes. 

“It’s easy for detractors to immediately jump to this as being only a benefit for the oil companies, but it, in fact, is a boon to the state and mineral owners as well. Mineral owners would stand to gain between $100 to $120 million per year because of this pipeline”

“In terms of businesses benefitting from oil and gas development, it is not a few local drillers who benefit from the work here,” Sandstorm said. 

North Dakota has more than 400 individuals and 115 companies or independent contractors who are involved in the drilling and well production processes in the Bakken, Sandstorm said. There are also 117 certified native-owned companies that provide oil and gas development services. According to a 2014 study made public by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, more than 876 business in North Dakota are part of the larger oil and natural gas supply chain. 

“These aren’t just the stereotypical roughnecks or roustabouts either,” Sandstorm said. “These positions, businesses, and contractors range from the skilled trades, such as electricians, to engineers and from human resources professionals to legal and environmental consultants.”

Exact numbers of people employed or those who are benefitting from the Dakota Access Pipeline, such as mineral rights owners,  are at best difficult to pin down. At the height of the state’s most recent oil “boom” from 2010 until 2014, the state’s population increased by 66,000, according to the North Dakota Census Office. 

Gary Preszler, chairman for National Host Production Deduction Committee and former commissioner for North Dakota Land Management, also owns a large mineral interest in Billings County, from  which he said the royalty payments have put his children through college.

“The average mineral owner is not going to get wealthy from their checks, because wells deplete and start producing less and less,” Preszler said. “The average mineral owner is not going to have any life-changing windfall. They might improve their lifestyle a little bit.”

The average mineral rights owner is a retired elderly person receiving $50 a month, he said. 

The history of mineral rights in North Dakota is confusing even to oil company accountants, and many mistakes have been made in the past, Preszler said. The puzzle dates back to the 1930s Great Depression when many farmers and ranchers sold their mineral rights to survive. 

At the beginning, the state kept five percent of the mineral rights giving 95 percent to purchasers, then in the late 1940s, the state began keeping 50 percent, then 100 percent in the 1960s, Meszler said. Farm credit service banks and the state-owned Bank of North Dakota also own mineral rights in western North Dakota’s oil-rich lands from foreclosures, and typically keep 50 percent mineral rights when land is resold. Professional oil workers and oil companies also have purchased mineral rights directly from landowners. 

Today, third generation cousins scattered across the United States and oblivious to their ownership titles also are heirs to mineral rights, Preszler said. 

“When you’re a mineral owner, it’s not all the sudden the money pours in,” he said. Oil price swings, production tapering, and mechanical failures fluctuate royalty checks. Sometimes, “You go that mailbox for the month and there’s nothing there,” Preszler said.

The Minerals Management Division of the Department of North Dakota Trust Lands manages 2.567 million mineral acres throughout the state, of which 1.215 million mineral acres are in the oil and gas producing counties, and another 1.352 million acres are in non-producing counties. Schools and other trusts own 1.84 million acres, and foreclosed properties formerly managed by the Bank of North Dakota and Sovereign Lands make up the remaining 728,000 mineral acres.

The state of North Dakota covers 45,250,560 acres, according to North Dakota Studies, of which, including some acreage in South Dakota, 4,689,920 acres are on Native American reservations. The Bakken oil patch, in its entirety, spans approximately 15,360,000 acres.

While some in the Peace Garden State may be profiting from Bakken oil and the Dakota Access Pipeline, few think about the long term environmental and sociological effects, the reason behind Standing Rock’s resistance against the pipeline. Additionally, the United Nations wants the state to pay more attention to those who are to a large degree not profiting from the oil “boom.” 

“The United States government should fully realize the rights of indigenous peoples as enshrined in the UN declaration and the rights of indigenous peoples, and i strongly recommend that the United States government continue to improve on its policies to develop stronger government and government relations with the tribes,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

“Two Worlds Collided” 

Native American Commission holds hearing on the sweat lodge incident, propose mandatory native history classes for Fargo public schools, sensitivity classes for Fargo Police 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– Lamar Heidersheid brought his 15-year-old daughter Angelina to the Fargo Community Sweat Lodge for the first time last week. 

He wanted the experience to be special for her, and to bring their Cherokee culture one step closer to heart. Instead, nearing the end of their fourth round in the sweat lodge, they were raided by Fargo Police. A fellow Native American, Zebedia Gartner, was arrested, and the group spent at least 45 minutes in the cold, wearing little clothing and covered in sweat, witnesses told members of the Native American Commission, the Fargo School Board, City Commissioners, and members of the Fargo Police Department on Thursday. 

Lamar Heidersheid looks on as his daughter, Angelina, speaks before the Native Amerian Commission – photo by C.S. Hagen

“When I saw the flashlight that night it was a shock to me,” Heidersheid said. “I had just gone through four rounds of sweat lodge so my mind was in a different place, like going to church. It took me a few minutes to realize what was going on until I saw the officer take Zeb to the ground.” 

Gartner, 20, an Anishinaabe from Fargo, tried to rationalize with police who were ordering them out into the cold and wind, but his pleas were ignored. Gartner became angry, witnesses said, and police threw him to the ground, kneed his back, and forced him to walk across half frozen ground in bare feet. Gartner wasn’t released from Cass County Jail for nearly 17 hours, and was forced to pay a fine of $400 for an extra piece of chicken taken from Cashwise Foods on January 24. 

Native American Commission – photo by C.S. Hagen

Angelina was forced outside the sweat lodge in spandex shorts and a wet T-shirt. “I was freezing and nobody asked me if I was okay,” she said. “Zeb was handcuffed really hard, his hands were turning colors.” 

When asked if the police raid was daunting enough to keep her from attending a second sweat ceremony, she said no. “I’m used to disappointment and pretty negative things,” she said. 

Heidersheid and others refused to believe police did not know the area was the Native American equivalent to a Western church. 

“It’s just lies,” Heidersheid said. “How could he not know? He [arresting officer J. Rued] needs to go. This had to have been inspired by the pipeline raids.” 

The same day as the sweat lodge incident hundreds of police finished evicting most of the former Oceti Sakowin camps pitted against the Dakota Access Pipeline near Standing Rock. 

Native American Commissioner Sharon White Bear asked the same question. “We’ve been trying to educate people, but we get road blocked,” she said during the meeting. “The things that happened with that young man, I wonder if it didn’t have any follow up to Standing Rock.” 

Others who were at the sweat ceremony during the incident said they could not believe officers involved did not know of the sweat lodge when it has been at the same site for years. Another person was worried about the women who stood out in the cold, fearful of possible hyperthermia setting in. 

Chairman of the Native American Commission, Guy Fox, said he attempted to tell police on February 23 that the sweat lodge was approved for use and on land donated by the city, but police officers did not listen. 

Fargo Police Deputy Ross Renner speaking to the Native American Commission – photo by C.S. Hagen

“We have to mark the line right now,” Fox said. “This was not that an officer saw a fire, but that he did not see a sweat lodge.” Fox made the suggestion that everyone involved during the sweat lodge incident – participants and law enforcement – get together for a sweat ceremony. Fargo Police Deputy Chief Ross Renner nearly agreed. 

“There’s value in the suggestion and I think we can commit to doing that,” Renner said. “Now I understand it more because of what you’ve shown me here tonight. I do think there is some room for us to really move forward… hopefully it will prevent some of these things similar to this from happening in the future. I understand why that occurred and how we ended up were we are today.”

Renner said he now understands the interruption would have been like police raiding a funeral or a wedding ceremony. 

“Had I not been here tonight, I probably would have responded very similarly to how that officer responded… Those two worlds collided, and it’s because of a lack of understanding.”

Renner and Fox then shook hands. 

Native American Commissioner Maylynn Warne lectured the audience about Native American history, going back to before the 19th century. She described how Native Americans numbered nearly 45 million before Europeans arrived, and then their numbers fell from war, disease, and persecution to 250,000 by 1900. 

Today, there are 5.2 million Native Americans and 566 tribes in the USA. Sweat lodges, among other traditions such as sun dances, war dances, even clothing and hairstyles were illegal when she was three years old. The freedom of religion did not apply to her or other Native Americans until 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed under President Carter. 

“Today, we still face a lot of discrimination,” Warne said. “We still contend with racism and bigotry. We fight for clean water for everybody and when we bring up this whole painful history, we don’t forget because we’ve had to fight for so many years.” 

Proposed new sweat lodge three dimensional design – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Some in our community think there is a scar, there is a fresh wound that hasn’t healed yet,” Native American Commissioner Clifton Alexander said. He wants accountability on all levels in order for healing to take place. “

The Native American Commission displayed a three dimensional design for a renovated sweat lodge area to be constructed from cedar. The Fargo Police Department was asked to consider long term cultural sensitivity classes for all law enforcement personnel, and the Fargo Public School Board was asked to to accept mandatory education on Native American history for all students. 

“If people aren’t willing to learn and change, then more occurrences will continue,” Alexander said. He made the proposal to work with the city to improve the area. 

“Fargo has it within itself to do this. We can do this.” 

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