Category: Dakota Hate (page 1 of 2)

Series of stories on racism in North Dakota, how an isolated state’s small towns are being targeted by white supremacists, and desperate residents fight against the invasion. From Nazis to the KKK, the Creativity Movement to supremacists, the Peace Garden State has been steeped in racism disguised as “North Dakota Nice” for more than 100 years.

“This Is A Brave Space”

Local white-rights activist claims Charlottesville rally was a trap, dozens gathered locally to remember a victim and renounce hate

By. C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Pete Tefft woke up Saturday morning in Charlottesville, Virginia, eager to march for what he believed in: white rights. The racist hors d’oeuvres from the night before – a torch lit march to the Confederacy’s top general Robert E Lee’s statue – was too small a sampling, and he wanted more.

Sure, fights had broken out Friday night. While being filmed by a Unicorn Riot crew he was challenged, and a like-minded person nearby clobbered the journalist.

Pete Tefft in Charlottesville Unit the Right Rally – Unicorn Riot screenshot of video

“Cite a source for what you’re saying about white people being murdered in South Africa,” the journalist said.

“Cite a source?” Tefft said. “On the Internet.”

“That’s a f*cking rabbit hole,” a bystander yelled, and then punched the journalist.

“Hard to get excited about walking into a war zone,” Tefft said. “Everyone needs to do their duty though. I’m still in shock from seeing our guys beaten, maced, and pelted with projectiles while the police stood by and did nothing.”

Saturday night at 8:29, live updates published by the Daily Stormer, a white nationalist platform featuring the Summer of Hate Edition, included congratulatory messages.

“To those of you in Charlottesville, go out and enjoy yourselves,” the update stated. “If you’re at a bar in a group, random girls will want to have sex with you. Because you’re the bad boys. The ultimate enemy of the state. Every girl on the planet wants your d*ck now.

“And to everyone, know this: we are now at war.”

The altercation Friday night didn’t leave Tefft fazed, nor did the violence the following day alter his conviction about white rights.

“The AltRight went to an assembly that was peaceful and legal,” Tefft wrote early Monday morning on his Facebook page. “The AltRight went to assemble in order to advocate for the rights of white people to exist and protest the erasure of American culture, history, and to uphold the First Amendment. We followed every legal measure and were cooperative with authorities…”

“The state violated our Constitutional rights and let Antifa and BLM do the knife work for them. Any blood is on the hands of the police, the city of Charlottesville, and the state of Virginia.”

Tefft continued by saying the rally was not a Ku Klux Klan or neo Nazi rally, but an AltRight rally.

Richard Spencer and white-right activists facing police line – online sources

“This was a rally by people advocating for white identity. And it was brutally shut down. The media sees the deaths as a godsend so that the tyranny of the government can be forgotten and retroactively justified,” Tefft said.

“It was a trap, plain and simple. But let us be clear. Ultimately, this was a victory for us. Our movement will be emboldened by Charlottesville. The ‘Unite the Right’ rally legitimized our struggle.

“The is the beginning of the white civil rights movement.”

Since Tefft’s turn to white supremacist ideals, friends and family have denounced him, yet he still remains loyal to his cause. His father, Pearce, recently published a letter condemning his son’s beliefs.

“I, along with all of his siblings and his entire family, wish to loudly repudiate my son’s vile, hateful, and racist rhetoric and actions,” Pearce Tefft wrote. “We do not know specifically where he learned these beliefs. He did not learn them at home.”

The Tefft family has remained mostly quiet since Fargoan Luke Safely identified Tefft as a Nazi last February.

“Peter Tefft, my son, is not welcome at our family gatherings any longer. I pray my prodigal son will renounce his hateful beliefs and return home. He once joked, ‘The thing about us fascists is, it’s not that we don’t believe in freedom of speech. You can say whatever you want. We’ll just throw you in an oven.’

“Peter, you will have to shovel our bodies into that oven, too. Please son, renounce the hate, accept and love all.”

So far, the Charlottesville tragic events have spurred little response from the state’s Republican leadership. Senator Heidi Heitkamp D-ND, tweeted Sunday evening. “Yesterday was a terrible and tragic day. The KKK and neo Nazis have no place in our country.”

On Sunday, Congressman Kevin Cramer R-ND, re-tweeted a post by Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representative, saying, “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.”

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke pointed to President Donald Trump as the bedrock for the “Unite the Right” Charlottesville rally.

“Today will be a historic day, remembered as the moment everything changed,” Duke tweeted.

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country,” Duke said in a video uploaded to Twitter. “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”

James Bergman preparing to sing “We’ll Still Stand” – photo by C.S. Hagen

Later, Duke reminded President Trump on Twitter on exactly who his greatest constituency was. “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror and remember it was white Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”

Shortly after one woman, Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a car allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, plowed into a crowd, and two police officer were killed when their helicopter crashed, Trump gave a press conference weakly condemning the violence.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence, on many sides,” Trump said. “On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country.”

At least 19 others were also injured during the rally.

Trump’s vague statement spurred Merck CEO Ken Crazier to quit the president’s manufacturing business council, according to the USA Today. His casual remarks also inspired a question from Richard Spenser, a white supremacist and president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank.

“Did Trump just denounce Antifa?” Spencer tweeted.

Heyer’s death prompted a Fargo/Moorhead response late Sunday night, when nearly 100 people gathered for a candlelight vigil on Veterans Memorial Bridge. With only a few hours of preparation time, Fargoan James Bergman wrote the song “We’ll Still Stand,” which he performed for the first time Sunday night.

“If I stand up against hate (in spite of all my fear), and someone strikes me down, the ground might be bloody but my conscience will be clear,” some of the song lyrics stated.

Candlelight vigil on Veterans Memorial Bridge to remember Heather Heyer – photo by C.S. Hagen

“The idea that people who marched in Charlottesville believe they are Christian, that is disgusting to me,” Bergman later said before the crowd. “We can’t afford to be silent right now. We need to show up, we need to stand up, and we need to speak up against hate.”

Moorhead Mayor Del Ray Williams spoke at the event.

“I don’t know if racism or hatred has necessarily increased in our community,” Williams said. “It is a hard thing to measure. What seems to have changed is the nationalists seem to feel emboldened to speak out publicly. I am proud of our community members that came out to the candlelight vigil last night to offer support and love to counter the nationalist movement.”

Ruth Buffalo, an organizer of the event, encouraged people to speak their minds. “This is a brave space, to step forward and take action,” Buffalo said.

“We need to be kinder than is needed,” Jen Welle, of Moorhead said.

“This has been happening in our country for a long, long time and Heather is another name on that long list,” Melissa Gonzalez, of Fargo said.

“We are called to speak for those who are voiceless,” Martin Avery, of Fargo said.

Diogenes Alexander Rex and Hamida Dakane during the candlelight vigil on Veterans Memorial Bridge – photo by C.S. Hagen

Amal Dei, a former refugee from South Sudan, spoke about how her heart was torn apart when she heard of Heyer’s death. “But love will always win no matter what.”

Dana Bisignani, of the Democratic Socialist Party, quoted Welsh socialist Raymond Williams. “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing.

“Part of the reason we have so much hate is because of decades of decimating our public schools,” Bisignani said.

Shaun King, senior justice writer for the New York Daily News, condemned the violence in Charlottesville.

“I see Heather as a martyr in this modern day movement against injustice and oppression,” King said. “I’ve said it many times, but if you ever wondered what it would be like to be alive in the Civil Rights Movement, you are living in that time right now. And if you ever wondered who you would be or what you would do in those circumstances, the best indication is what you did this weekend.”

During a North Dakota United Against Hate rally in early August, Tefft said he planned to first attend the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, and then begin planning rallies in the Fargo/Moorhead area.

“I want to bring awareness to a lot of these issues, and the only way to do it is out in the public square,” Tefft said. One of the issues he plans on focusing on is mass immigration into North Dakota, which he claims is an anti-white policy.

Candlelight vigil in Fargo for Heather Heyer – photo by C.S. Hagen

Dave Piepkorn: Behind Bannon’s refugee resettlement plans?

Fargo city commissioner claims information provided to city is lies

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– The Fargo City Commissioner leading the charge against refugee resettlement in Fargo claimed partial responsibility this week for helping the national push on the same issue.

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn – photo provided by City of Fargo

During an interview Monday morning on AM 1100 The Flag Need To Know Morning Show, Dave Piepkorn responded to information related to a Freedom of Information Act request, made to the city by the High Plains Reader, or HPR Magazine, into any connections between Piepkorn and Breitbart, an alt-right media outlet once managed by special advisor to President Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon.

Breitbart reporter Lee Stranahan attended a Fargo City Commissioners meeting last year and published a story about refugee resettlement in Breitbart on October 22, 2016.

HPR Magazine’s FOIA request was called a subpoena by a host on the Need To Know Morning Show.

“Obviously they’re trying to discredit me, doing whatever they can to do that,” Piepkorn said during the radio show. “What they thought was that Steve Bannon, as you know, who is active on the President’s staff, I think what they thought that they were basically telling me what to do and giving me instructions when actually, if you look back at the initial executive orders for refugee restrictions, they actually used quite a bit of my material in the original one, so that is what went down.”

Piepkorn admitted his self-reported influence at a national level pleased him.

“That’s very flattering, obviously to be a humble little city commissioner in Fargo, North Dakota, is pretty cool,” Piepkorn said.

Trump Administration executive orders filed on January 25, entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” and “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” and on January 27 entitled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” make no mention of any of the issues Piepkorn introduced to the City Commission on September 26, 2016.

During the meeting, Piepkorn raised the topic that Fargo, Cass County, West Fargo, and accompanying school districts were spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on refugees in what he called an “unfunded mandate.”  

Worried about tuberculosis, Piepkorn also became critical of health records and criminal records of New Americans arriving in Fargo during the city commissioners meeting.

Exactly which refugee restriction policies Piepkorn claims to have influenced were unclear at this time. Piepkorn did not return direct calls for comment.

Refugee resettlement issues sparked a movement to recall Piepkorn’s seat as a commissioner for Fargo, which failed in May for lack of votes.

“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 at the time.

“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.”

Since January 2002, 3,677 refugees were settled in Fargo, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota reported. A total of 1,553 people came from Bhutan, 811 people from Somalia, 672 from Iraq, 228 from Congo, 209 from Liberia, and 204 from Sudan. The American Communities Survey reports the population of foreign-born people in the Fargo/Moorhead area is 10,663, or 4.5% of total population, as of October 2016.

Piepkorn called to have city leaders included in refugee resettlement decisions, but he also stated on October 10, 2016 that he was shocked to learn that refugees receive all the rights of a legal resident.

For months, the Fargo City Commissioners have heard feedback from local businesses, from police, from Lutheran Social Services, and from others involved with refugee resettlement, all of whom have said that having refugees in the Fargo/Moorhead area are cost-positive.

“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 filed by the Fargo Human Relations Commission.

“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.

The Fargo Police Department and the Fargo Human Relations Commission also published a report in January saying that crime rates are not higher in refugee populations.

“There are good and bad people in every population,” Fargo Police Officer and liaison to the Fargo Human Relations Commission Vince Kempf said. “In my experience, the ratio of persons committing crime remains the same from culture to culture. From a law enforcement perspective, the cost of refugees being placed in Fargo is impossible to calculate, as are the benefits of having refugees settled here.”

According to the American Community Survey immigrants are less likely to be criminals than native-born people, citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics incarceration rates of 1.6 percent of immigrant males aged 18 to 39 as opposed to 3.3 percent rate of native-born males of the same age group.

The total population of Fargo is 105,549, of which 95,205 are white, 3,137 are Asian, 2,852 are African American, 2,308 are Hispanic, 2,206 are two or more races, and 1,452 are Native Americans, according to statistics provided in 2017 by the U.S. Census Bureau.These numbers do not reflect areas surrounding Fargo, including West Fargo or outlying areas.

Fargo reflects state statistics as being 90 percent white  
In the state, Native Americans make up for the second largest demographic, with 605,449 white people, and 36,591 Native Americans. Only 7,960 people are listed as African American, and 13,467 as Hispanic, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

The issue has been brought to the state legislation’s attention, which has agreed to a series of meetings to discuss the refugee resettlement issue in North Dakota.

While on live radio, Piepkorn pointed out that people have been lying to the Fargo City Commissioners.

“And I do think that this next step with the legislature having this review, that’s way more serious because it’s one thing to have a city commissioner asking questions, but when you start not telling the truth to a legislative committee and will have the state auditor and things like that involved, it’s much more serious when you don’t tell the truth,” Piepkorn said.

“There’s this idea that the ball is hidden somewhere,” Fargo Community Development Administrator Dan Mahli, said. “No one is hiding the ball. We’re not keeping track of that level of detail, when someone uses city services, or calls the fire department, or the police. Sitting down and talking about where we are at and finding out how we can improve. Let’s do that.”

Separating who is a refugee and who is not is a near impossible task, Mahli said.

“The thing that stands out is that every one of these studies speaks of the difficulty of segregating the data between foreign-born populations, refugee status, and people of color,” Mahli said. “The idea of comparing the studies, that frankly none of them are about refugees, even the one from the finance committee, it says the information herein cannot be separated as a refugee study.”

Barry Nelson, of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition and of the Fargo Human Relations Commission, said Piepkorn’s allegations that people have been lying to the city commissioners saddens him.

“I think it’s a sad state of affairs when you have a seated elected official who doesn’t like the information being reported on by a group of citizens and volunteers who work diligently on trying to do justice,” Nelson said. “And he ends up calling the information fake news, propaganda and lies. It’s a very, very sad state of affairs.”

Nelson, along with city employees, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota employees, have repeatedly asked for a sit down with Piepkorn.  

“Let’s have a conversation,” Nelson said. “Dave Piepkorn has never reached out to any one of us who did this at his request. He’s never wanted to talk about it, and again he didn’t show up for the report.”

While not trimming lawns, Piepkorn also serves as the deputy mayor of Fargo, and formerly served as a member of the FargoDome Authority.

“There are people watching what we are doing around the country,” Piepkorn said. “And actually the world too, without a doubt. This is going to be one of the key issues around the 2018 election cycle, and it’s a huge deal.”

Piepkorn also said there is no shortage of laborers in Fargo, but there is a shortage of people willing to work for $10 an hour.

Specific expenditures on how much refugees cost the city have so far been difficult to discover, according to testimonies before the Fargo City Commissioners.

Piepkorn thinks differently.

“These numbers aren’t difficult to find at all, they’re difficult to reveal to the public, because you know, obviously a lot of people don’t want to go through what I’ve gone through,” Piepkorn said. “The numbers aren’t hard to find at all, they’re all there. The challenge is to find the courage to disclose them to the public because of political correctness.”

Fargo Police Chief Todd said his department has provided all the financial figures possible, including the cost of employing a cultural liaison officer.

“We did supply financial costs as what we put into it as a department,” Todd said. “Another separate question we have gotten that I have not been able to answer is arrest statistics for New Americans and refugees.”

Police departments do not collect data on whether someone is a refugee, but they do collect data on race.

“But just because you are African American doesn’t mean you are a refugee or a New American, you might be from Chicago, and been there your whole life, or you might be from Somalia. I can’t differentiate within that race statistic as to who is New American and who is a refugee.”

Todd said he had no issues with an investigation into the costs of refugee resettlement.

“People have asked me whether I think it’s appropriate to ask questions about what things cost,” Todd said.  “We should do our best to answer those questions. I also think it’s an opportunity for the refugee community and new American community that yes, these are the costs the government may have, but here’s the benefit of the result of that investment.”

Targeting approximately three percent of Fargo’s population is a political issue, as well as a humanitarian one, Nelson said in April.

“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 impacts far outweigh any initial costs of investment.”

“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 handed to the city commissioners stated.

“Immediate effects would include further exacerbating the workforce shortage, requiring more businesses to leave and/or outsource their operations. Long-term effects include economic slowdown 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.”

Despite the testimonies, Piepkorn remains unmoved.

“It goes along with the High Plains Reader, they’re trying to discredit what we’re trying to do,” Piepkorn said during the radio show. “And it’s not surprising. Liberals have their agenda, and they’re the opposition.”

Surviving Hate in the Peace Garden State

A former North Dakotan speaks about life as a racial target

By C.S. Hagen
VALLEY CITY
– The hate Matthew Kinslow experienced while growing up in North Dakota reads like someone’s long and horrid to-do list.

The Kinslow family – photo provided by Matthew Kinslow

Half Korean, half German, Kinslow was smaller than other children his age. He was quiet. Dark haired, brown eyed. An easy target. Poor. Sometimes people thought he was gay because he dressed differently.

“Since I travelled and saw the world I couldn’t really understand the people I grew up around,” Kinslow said. “And of course, they couldn’t understand me. I had a world-is-tiny view, and they lived in a bubble.”

A bubble of racial stereotypes, he said, that left him on the receiving end of scorn and fists at Valley City High School.

“I remember in school when we were learning about the Vietnam War, all the kids in the school started to hunt me like I was an enemy,” Kinslow said.

“They’d ask me stupid questions about rice paddies and eating dog. Had guns pulled on me. My friends and I got put in the hospital because we were listening to rap music. I’ve been held down and spat on, called all kinds of names. I was always called racial slurs growing up, literally almost every day. I used to hang around Native Americans a lot because I could blend in a lot more.”

In the early 2000s, when the Nationalist Socialist Party of North Dakota was attempting to gain a foothold in the state, Kinslow had a cousin with a white supremacist message – “14 Words” – tattooed to his forearm. The racist group met secretly in a barn outside of the city. The reference “14 Words,” is a white supremacist slogan originally 88 words in length and straight from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

“I’ve been told if ‘you ain’t white, so you ain’t right,’ a few times.”

His biggest ‘mistake’ in his adolescent years was to hug a white girl that was dating a friend.

“Her cousin called her a race traitor,” Kinslow, now 38, said. “I started talking sh*t to him and he got a shotgun out.”

Thinking quickly, Kinslow wrestled the shotgun away, and threw it into a ditch, he said. Later that month, police charged him with theft of a firearm, and Kinslow spent two weeks sitting in Barnes County Correctional Facility to ponder how the charge was possible.

He couldn’t afford the $1,000  fine. LaMoure County Sheriff’s Department incident reports state that two weapons were taken from Casey Kuska’s vehicle, parked at a Cenex in Dickey, North Dakota. One of the weapons was a bolt action .270-caliber Remington and the second was a 12-gauge pump action shotgun. Both weapons had a total value of $743, police reports indicated. A second suspect was also included in the police investigation.

At the time, no one could, or would vouch for Kinslow’s version of events, which included that he did not take any weapons from the vehicle, Kinslow said.

14 Words tattoo – photo provided by Matthew Kinslow

Admittedly, that year wasn’t the best time for Kinslow. “My mom had cancer, and my dad and I were fighting as I was living with a friend’s parents,” Kinslow said. “There wasn’t anyone to tell them they pulled on me, it was a crazy situation.”

As far as he knows, the person who pulled a shotgun on him walked. “When you’re growing up, you think it’s normal.” After staying in North Dakota to serve out his probationary period, Kinslow moved to Colorado.

“It really does come from the culture though,” he said. “You can see the older people instill these tendencies, and they make light of things they say and how they perceive people. It trickles down.”

The racial slurs, the beat-downs, the racially motivated hate Kinslow experienced as a child brewed anger in him at a young age, he said. “Took me a lot of counseling and anger management to shed it, but I think it made me a stronger person. It made me an activist. Takes a lot of words to rile me up now.”

Now, Kinslow, with two daughters whose DNA results showed they have the blood of nearly every race on earth, won’t tolerate intolerance. “Everyone has prejudices and hates certain people, you’re conditioned to it, but still have to leave people alone.”

He tried rehab three times, took anger management classes. Doctors prescribed muscle relaxers, Tramadol, Ritalin, and Zoloft, to help with pain, physical and emotional, but nothing worked until his third attempt, Kinslow said. Through his trials, however, Kinslow has learned empathy, which in hindsight, he didn’t think possible.

“My wife thinks it’s strange I can always tell when someone’s having a bad day or is sad, even strangers. I’ll walk up and give strangers hugs. I’m not scared to help.”

Hate crime legislation in North Dakota is needed, Kinslow said, but laws won’t solve prejudice.

“It’s a double-edged sword. Having the law doesn’t make people hate less, it’s a crappy culture that does. It’s socially acceptable to be racist. Laws don’t stop people from doing things, laws just make it easier to point fingers and tell them that they’re bad people. “

Dialogue is what is needed, Kinslow said. “I’ve known it existed my whole life and I’m fine with it. I know it won’t go away, and I’m okay with that. It’s harder for me to hear people say it doesn’t exist than to see it happen.

“When you denounce its existence you make the incident okay.”

A few years ago, former Valley City Attorney Russell Myhre would not have agreed that the state needed hate crime legislation.

“In light of events in North Dakota in the past few years, I have changed my mind,” Myhre, who now runs a private practice in Valley City, said. “Leith, NoDAPL, the Grand Forks incident, and some other less notorious criminal acts,” are examples of why the state needs hate crime legislation, he said.

“Motive, while a notable explanation for criminal assault or homicide, is not a legal element of the crime,” Myhre said. “Hate crime legislation would make motive an element, which would highlight an aggravating circumstance in terms of sentencing.”

In other words, those convicted of hate crimes would face tougher sentences.

“This gets to the fundamental question of whether society believes it is necessary to penalize bias and prejudice when it is a factor in the commission of a crime,” Myhre said.

North Dakota already ranks second in the nation for hate crimes, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. So far in 2017, the state is doing little to change that statistic, and the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition has documented four incidents of hate crimes this year in Fargo.  

“North Dakota already has similar statutes in place for dangerous sexual offenders, habitual criminals, crimes involving firearms, etc.,” Myhre said. “There are also statutes which give judges discretion for aggravating (and mitigating) factors. The question is whether society believes prejudice-based crimes, overtly committed, are worthy of a focused attention by enacting them into law.”

Some say the state already has its bases covered with current laws. The recent Walmart incident that went viral online when a white woman, Amber Hensley, threatened three Muslim women with death brought a range of ideas to the forefront.

“Anyone but a white Christian woman would be in jail,” Jana Stone, of Colorado, said in a Facebook post. “Without all the posting and hell raising, it would have received zero attention by anyone.”

“If their races and religions were reversed, ICE and the FBI would have gotten involved,” Rissa Williams, of Bismarck, said in a Facebook post.

“The whole idea of ‘hate’ crime as a legal definition is rather absurd,” Fargoan Adam Carico said. “If someone murders someone, is it any less heinous if they did not do it because of the victim’s skin color or religious beliefs or gender?”

“Diversity is code for ‘anti-white,’” Nick Bata, a Fargoan who campaigned unsuccessfully for North Dakota Insurance Commissioner as a Libertarian last year, said on Facebook. Bata is the candidate who used the phrase, “Make America Rape Again,” in a public Facebook thread in 2016. Bata said at the time he wouldn’t apologize for making the statement, saying the phrase was a sarcastic response to an inaccurate allegation, according to media reports.

“Left-wing proponents of hate crime legislation suggest that the stiffer penalties for crimes motivated by things like the race or sexual orientation of the victim serve as a deterrent to those crimes, but does that pass the smell test?” Rob Port, an editorialist with the Forum Communication Company said on his “Say Anything Blog.”

“There is no conclusive evidence that the increasing number of hate crime laws on the books in states across the nation have reduced hate crime at all,” Port said. “Most states have hate crime legislation today, and yet nationally the FBI’s measure of the incidence of hate crimes has remained relatively static.”

“Thought policing is wrong, and that is what hate crime legislation essentially is,” Fargoan Pete Tefft, a self-declared pro-white activist, said. Tefft plans to attend the AltRight’s Unite the Right rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Afterward, Tefft said, he plans to hold a rally in Fargo to bring attention to the idea that suppressing hate speech is the same as denying freedom of speech.

“Hate crime legislation is one piece of a larger puzzle in fighting hate crime,” Barry Nelson of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said. “It is a recognition by the state that crimes committed against individuals based on their identification with a group has unique impact on that individual and community. We are looking at both city ordinances as well as state legislation which we recognize will require much education and advocacy.”

For proponents of hate crime legislation in North Dakota, an assault conviction is not enough if racial hate is involved. Advocacy groups’ goals are to bring hate crime laws to the legislature in 2019, and in the meantime raise awareness and support, and establish a rapid response team, Nelson said.

The rapid response team – expected to be established within a month – will include professionals, law enforcement personnel, training staff, and a publicity committee to assist with hate crime responses, Nelson said.

“It does not take into account the fact that hate crimes can affect a whole group of people,” Nelson said. “I also think for the record it should be noted if the crime was based on hate. Having a conviction for assault alone does not adequately address the seriousness of a hate crime.”

Kinslow is still hoping that the governor will one day pardon him, clearing his record. His cousin involved with white supremacy groups committed suicide, he said, but he’s overcome the angry demons that once haunted him.

Kinslow remembers the day when he stopped being ashamed of his ancestry. It was on a homecoming date in junior high. His friend didn’t want to dance with his date, so she asked Kinslow for a dance. She didn’t care that he looked different than the uniformly white classmates, and they spent the rest of the evening discussing why he shouldn’t care what other people thought.

“If they’re going to pick on you when you’re trying not to get picked on, so why not give them a reason? That way it’s not for nothing,” Kinslow said the girl told him.

“I kinda lost my fear after that.”

When Kinslow was 14, he saw a classmate’s father scream at his sons, and beat one of them with a belt – the same boy that picked on him at school.

“I felt so bad for them,” Kinslow said. “It’s like I saw the hate they had, but it was taught. They learned it. I can’t hate back at people like that, it’s not their fault.

“I was never really ashamed of my culture, just was ignorant of the fact that it should be the opposite,” Kinslow said. “I should have been ashamed of American culture for making me feel that way, even though I was American. It’s why I can’t have pride in my country.

“How can a country be proud when it shames its own citizens for being different?”

Is It Time For Hate Crime Legislation?

Activists and a handful of counter protesters gather in the rain to discuss hate crime legislation and support for victims

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Afternoon rain didn’t stop nearly 200 people from supporting an anti-hate rally Wednesday outside current City Hall. The event also attracted counter protesters, although they predominantly remained quiet.

Hukun Abdullahi and David Myers at the rally – photo by C.S. Hagen

Christians, Jews, Muslims, and activists spoke at the North Dakota United Against Hate rally in an attempt to garner support for hate crime victims and to begin the campaign of making hate-crime laws, which North Dakota does not currently have.

Groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America and Trans Lives Matter also showed up in support of the cause.

David Myers, a Jew, and founder of the Center for Interfaith Projects, a nonprofit organization, said much if not all hostility toward refugees is actually hostility targeting Muslims.

“I feel religiously called to welcome refugees and immigrants, including Muslims, indeed all the New Americans,” Myers said. “I am aware of the long history of prejudice against Jews. Jews have been and still are in many places of the world the ‘hated other.’ This enables me to put myself in the place of New Americans, who are Muslims.”

“The question is: how can we reduce hate directed at Muslims?”

Religious prejudice can be overcome through knowledge and personal relationships, Myers said.

“We cannot forget that a number of decades ago, the most hated religious groups in this country were Jews and Catholics,” Myers said. “This has dramatically changed.”

The two groups that people in the United States feel most positive about today are Jews and Catholics, he said.

“Do not hate the stranger in your heart, it will poison you, and make your life miserable,” Myers said.

The rally was interrupted halfway through one of the speeches, when Kevin Benko, of Fargo, shouted from a nearby parking lot.

“Hate speech is just a difference of opinion, you assholes,” Benko said.

Police officers approached him, while Pete Tefft, identified as a Nazi by Fargoan Luke Safely in February, came over to offer support.

“Muslims who are not assimilated are a problem,” Benko said. “They are under Sharia law, and if that conflicts with the Constitution, the Constitution gets thrown out.”

When asked if he disagreed with the state accepting more refugees, Benko said as long as they assimilated, he didn’t have a problem.

Kevin Benko talking to police – photo by C.S. Hagen

Tefft, who wore a red “Make America Great Again” Trump hat, said he had friends with him, but they were there primarily to watch his back. He didn’t admit to being a Nazi, or a Nazi sympathizer, but worries that by 2050 white people in America will be the minority.

“My contention is that most of what constitutes hate speech affects pro-white speech,” Tefft said. “Anti hate speech is synonymous with anti-white and anti-America.”

Since being identified as a Nazi, he has received death threats, and has been followed out of bars for his white supremacy beliefs.

Pete Tefft – photo by C.S. Hagen

“I’m a pro-white activist,” Tefft said. “Nazi is a racial pejorative, kinda like our N-word. If you want to be real, myself, a pro-white activist, maybe some National Socialists and other pro-white organizations, typically have been the only ones willing to stand forward to protect the freedoms of everyone on the right.”

So far, his beliefs and followers have had little more than an online presence. Two days before the rally, an advertisement appeared on Facebook entitled “Anti-white Speech Discussion,” organized by Hal Resnick, which was scheduled for the same time. 

Resnick is listed as the new unit leader for the Nazi party, or Nationalist Socialist Movement of North Dakota, according to the Nationalist Socialist Magazine, or NSM88. The numerals stand for the letter H, short for “Heil Hitler.”

Tefft was hoping for more people to attend the rally, he said. The North Dakota United Against Hate Facebook page had more than 700 people interested in going, and nearly 350 going to the event. Due to the rain, approximately 200 people showed, Fargo Police Cultural Liaison Officer Vince Kempf said.

Tefft plans to hold his own rally soon, he said. “I want to bring awareness to a lot of these issues and the only way to do it is out in the public square.”

One of his upcoming rally’s intentions is to show that mass immigration into North Dakota is an anti-white policy, he said.

“We’re expected to foot the bill and not ask any questions,” Tefft said.

Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn’s controversial proposal last fall into investigating the costs behind refugees in Fargo is not enough, Tefft said. He called Piepkorn an “economic fetishist,” concerned primarily with financial statistics and not with white civil rights and anti-white policies.

James Bergman and Pete Tefft at the North Dakota United Against Hate rally – photo by C.S. Hagen

The investigation has sparked numerous protests, including an attempt to force Pipekorn to step down.

An organizer of Wednesday’s event, Michelle Ridz, of the High Plains Fair Housing Center, told those gathered to join the fight against hate crime on Facebook, where future incidents can be reported, and a task force would soon be formed to deal with such acts.

More than 30 percent of hate crimes occur near the home, Ridz said.

“What is more unsettling is being targeted in your own home?” Ridz said.

Most hate crimes are not reported, but victims can find recourse through the Federal Fair Housing Act, she said.

Reverend Michelle Webber, pastor of the First Congregational UCC Church in Moorhead, said once she saw the rains coming, she thought about staying home.

Musa B Bajaber speaking at the North Dakota United Against Hate rally – photo by C.S. Hagen

“It sure would be nice to stay in my living room, but then I thought, people who experience hate speech and hate violence don’t get to choose when it’s convenient for them,” Webber said.

“Speaking against hate, wet from the rain, is a privilege.”

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand said growing up in the North Dakota countryside offered him a perspective Fargoan can practice to begin understanding each other.

“My suggestion to all of us in our community is that we wave at each other, we greet each other, we genuinely ask how are you doing today when we see other people,” Strand said. “We mean it, we just don’t do it for the sake of, but you act, and engage and you learn from each other.”

Many of the speakers referred to the Walmart parking lot incident where a white woman, Amber Hensley, yelled at three Muslim women, “we are going to kill you all.”

“A simple story of anger and hate that turned into forgiveness,” Musa B Bajaber said of the incident. “I am sure that Amber did get emails and messages from idiots who said they got her back, and I am sure that Sarah and Layela were asked to push further and never to budge. But all three disappointed those who wanted to see an escalation, and we should salute them for that.

“People of Fargo and Moorhead through the experience we have been through and the happy ending to it, we put a dent on the hateful rhetoric that is sweeping the United States,” Bajaber said.

“Hate crime is not just emotional and instilling fear in the community,” Barry Nelson of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition said. “It also has dramatic economic impacts on the people who have been affected.” Two people in recent years who were the victims of hate crimes can no longer work, Nelson said, and need help.

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

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, whose message was read by Strand, said the city and the state have no choice but to grow.

“The Fargo I know is a city that celebrates and promotes diversity, all while preserving and respecting our citizens’ safety and dignity,” Mahoney said. “We must commit ourselves to resist hate and violence in all forms. We need to agree that fellow citizens sometimes may need a hand up, and not a hand down. We also need to realize that someday, due to circumstances beyond our control, we could become refugees. It could happen to any one of us, and how would we want to be treated.”

“We need to support victims of hate crimes and send a strong message that this behavior has zero tolerance here.”

“Those of us who have been here so long we never talked about it [hate crimes],” Fowzia Adde, executive director of the Immigrant Development Center, said. “It’s better for us to talk about it now, or our community will not grow. We want to hold hands. We want our children to have a future, here.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hate Crime Law Discussion Sparks Fierce Debate

Call for disguised Nazis to counter anti-hate rally, verbal punches thrown in mainstream editorials  

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Moments before Makruun Hagar lost his nose, he tried to settle a domestic fight between a married couple, which began in the back of his taxi cab.

But when he intervened, he said he was called racial slurs, and then Dominque Martinez attacked — punching his head then biting off his nose, permanently disfiguring him.

A struggle with police later ensued, but not before Martinez’s wife was struck and bit as well, the West Fargo Police Department’s incident report stated.

Police reports indicate Hagar might have saved the woman’s life.

“She was pretty sure that if she had not had help that Dominque would have more than likely have killed her that night,” West Fargo Police Detective Greg Warren stated in the police report.

Makruun Hagar – photo by C.S. Hagen

The incident was labelled as an assault case, and Martinez was later found not criminally responsible in August 2015 by a Cass County judge, because he suffered from PTSD after duty with Marines in Afghanistan. He was remanded to the custody of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center for five years, according to court documents.

Nearly three years later, Hagar’s nose has healed, but a dark brown patch stands as a stark testimony to the assault. He keeps the bloodstained t-shirt he wore that day in November 2014 close, as a constant reminder of hate, and as a warning to his five young children.

“He brought a lot of problems for me and my family,” Hagar said. “Nobody can help, doctors can’t do anything anymore.”

In the winter months, he has difficulty breathing. He’s still on medication, but the long term effects aren’t just physical.

“Everyday, when I pick up people, sometimes people ask me about my religion, and then they ask if I’m a terrorist,” Hagar, who escaped the wars and famine in Somalia in 2005, said. “If someone bit my nose, and if I was white, the community would help.”

Days after a local white woman, Amber Elizabeth Hensley, threatened to kill all Muslims in a Walmart parking lot while being filmed, the incident was swept under the rug after apologies were made. But rising local civil rights leader, Hukun Abdullahi, founder of the Afro American Development Association, spoke before the Fargo City Commissioners meeting this week saying that city leaders were partly responsible for the recent uptick in hate-related crimes: five incidents so far in 2017.

(left to right) Rowda Soyan, Sarah and Laleyla Hassan prepare to speak about their encounter with racism at the local Walmart – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Time has come to address the elephant in the room,” Abdullahi said. “As much as me and my organization have tried to bolster confidence among refugees and immigrants and have focused on integration efforts and unity over the months, we have started realizing it has just been a one-way process. The state and the city asking for how much it cost to have refugees in the communities, while is a sensible question from the financial standpoint, it has negatively impacted our image in the community, and might also have increased the number of hostile incidents geared towards refugees.”

Hagar, like many new Americans who have settled in the Fargo area in recent years, is black skinned, and speaks with an accent. He is different from the predominantly white community North Dakota has fostered since its inception in 1889.

Some in Fargo, don’t like the change, and think inquiries into costs behind refugees, initiated by Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, are warranted. A battle of words ensued.

“Abdullahi has branded perfectly legitimate inquiry into public policy as tantamount to inciting racially-motivated incidents,” Rob Port, The Forum editorialist of Say Anything Blog said. “That’s not something a person interested in comity and sound public policy does.”

When confronted about the editorial as race baiting by Kade Ferris, social media director for Unity-USA, Port denied the claim on  Facebook.

“No. Just not willing to let a rank opportunist sideline an important debate,” Port said.

“So you do this by being a rank opportunist yourself?” Ferris said.

“No more anti-white speech,” Fargoan Pete Tefft, wrote on his Facebook page. Tefft was identified by Fargo resident Luke Safely as a Nazi sympathizer in February after an incident with a lone pickup truck waving a Confederate flag cruised Broadway.

“We should fight rhetoric with rhetoric,” Tefft said in a Facebook post. “The ‘refugee’ resettlement program is anti-white policy. Multiculturalism to this degree will never work unless draconian laws are passed. Policies that hinder birth rate[s] of one group (the major ethnic group), and strengthen another is the definitely [definition] of genocide.”

On the Daily Stormer website, Tefft, who also goes by the name Chad Radkersburg, said Hensley did nothing wrong, and that he is planning on speaking out.

“Rally to support her is planned. Working on meeting organizer. She is no Chad, so she cucked and apologized.”

Mike McFeely, a radio personality and editorialist for The Forum, took the first shot on July 27 saying North Dakota Nice is more like North Dakota Nasty.

“The Band-Aid started to be peeled back a few years ago when some in the media began to target refugees and immigrants as a problem and, with Facebook and talk radio at our disposal, we began to hear some of the ugliness that previously hadn’t crawled out from under the rocks,” McFeely wrote. “More recently, a city commissioner and a county commissioner began to question the cost of refugees to the almighty taxpayer—hey, they were just innocently asking questions and most certainly not playing to a base of racists and xenophobes—and the warts were exposed some more.”

Nazis called to Fargo
For a few minutes early Monday morning, an advertisement appeared on Facebook entitled “Anti-white Speech Discussion,” organized by Hal Resnick, scheduled for August 2, at 5:29 p.m., at the Fargo Civic Center, which coincides with the North Dakota United Against Hate rally.

Resnick is listed as the new unit leader for the Nazi party, or Nationalist Socialist Movement of North Dakota, according to the Nationalist Socialist Magazine, or NSM88. The numerals stand for the letter H, short for “Heil Hitler.”

The advertisement was quickly taken down, but during the few minutes it was online, it attracted at least 12 people who identified with “white identity,” and “civil rights.”

A description for the event sponsored by the Flyovers, FEHU, and the National Socialist Movement of North Dakota, condemned anti-white speech, calling civil rights workers today as guilty participants in white genocide.

The Flyovers short-lived logo while advertising to counter rally August 2 rally against hate crime

“All attendees are encouraged to come incognito,” the description reported. “In the last few months it has become increasingly clear that any and all pro-diversity, pro-refugee, pro-hate speech laws is [are] implicitly anti white. Pro-diversity speech to many people means less white people.”

Pro-hate speech was linked to thought policing, for which there are laws called conspiracy laws, the description continued. “Passing policies that lower birth rates and negatively affect the majority ethnic group for the interests of another group is classified as genocide. Pro-white speech is not hate speech. Censoring pro-white speech is a civil and human rights violation.”

The organizations involved pinpointed the need to show support for recent victims, to ensure no one is singled out because of race, religion, but also called attention to the need to bring awareness for “white rights.” Organizers also called on state and federal agencies to investigate recent incidents of anti-white policies and crimes of conspiracy and for those found offending to be brought up on crimes against humanity and conspiracy to commit ethnic genocide.

“Attempts to silence us will be seen as admittance of guilt to our charges,” the description reported. “We call upon Fargo leaders to vow to uphold free speech laws to further discuss these issues and to denounce ‘hate speech law advocates’ as anti-American.”

In February, posters were stapled to telephone poles around the downtown area promoting white power, and were reportedly sponsored by “The Flyovers,” which 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 symbol reminiscent of a swastika. Other posters were reportedly 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.

The Flyovers is a reference to the areas usually looked over by national politics, or the flyover states, and their support for Trump and predominantly white heritage, according to Unity-USA, a nonprofit hate watch organization.

City challenged on hate
“This has been a very trying week for the Fargo-Moorhead community, following the incident of Islamophobia which took place at the Fargo Walmart,” Ferris said. “The fact that there could be an amicable resolution to this sad event gives us hope. However, we cannot overlook the fact that this event is just a real-world manifestation of racist and prejudicial feelings that are bubbling beneath the surface here in this community.”

Ferris defended Abdullahi’s speech before the Fargo City Commissioners, saying current laws or lack thereof, the mainstream media, and certain city leaders have guided the tension to a boiling point.

“When local politicians publicly vilify entire groups, such as the growing immigrant population, to score cheap points in their upcoming election, or when local media personalities post leading and biased news stories to drum up ratings, it can only end in a case such as this,” Ferris said. “Just look at any story about immigrants on some of our local news outlets. Go to the comment section to get a sense of the real feelings of some of the people out there. The words of Amber Hensley are pretty much par for the course for many who haunt these stories for a chance to spew their own nativist and prejudiced bile.”

“In the past year, North Dakota has become the laughing stock of the global community, Andrea Denault, legislative coordinator with North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said. “Our cartoonish militarized response to unarmed water protectors at Standing Rock, recent FBI statistics revealing we are second in the nation for hate crimes, and now viral videos recording xenophobic hate speech from a Fargo parking lot, there is no hiding. We have earned a reputation for ourselves.”

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand asked Abdullahi to speak before the city commissioners’ meeting, saying that it’s no secret that the diversity issue has been an important one for the city for the past year. Days before the Walmart incident occurred, the Human Relations Commission was discussing how the city would move forward when confronted with hate crimes and hate speech, Strand said.

“Who would have thought the next day that the community would be challenged with something of that nature that really put Fargo on the map in a way that is not very much what we would like to see,” Strand said.

“We’ve had an interesting week,” Mayor Tim Mahoney said. “We really need to look at hate crime legislation in our state.”

Barry Nelson, of the Human Relations Commission and of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, asked the question is there more hate crime in Fargo now, or are people reporting more? North Dakota ranks second in the nation for hate crime incidents, he said.

“Are we a community in a position to respond appropriately?” Nelson said before the city commissioners meeting. “Is the crime being charged out appropriately? Is our judicial system in a position to make sure that justice is being served? I do have some serious questions about all of these aspects. Is any level of hate crime and hate speech acceptable in our community?”

To combat hate crime, laws must be in place, Nelson said. North Dakota does not recognize hate crimes, citing that state legislation already protects victims of assault.

Nelson cited an example of hate crime, an assault on a refugee while moving into an apartment, in which one of the perpetrators was released from jail and fined $250.

Education and hate crime laws are the answers to combat hate crime, Nelson said.

Chair of the Human Relations Commission, Rachel Hoffman, and Nelson said the rally on Wednesday was meant to raise awareness about hate crime, help raise financial support for victims, such as Hagar, and to once again put hate crime legislation on the state’s agenda.

“The Walmart incident is an example of what is wrong with our community,” Abdullahi said. “Ethnic communities like ours are losing our battles to integrate communities and no help appears on the horizon. Fear, anger, superiority, religion, differences, hostile media- all these negatives have consumed people, and sadly, it is a shame that the city has basically stayed quiet.”

“If we are to move forward as a community we need to make sure to stand up whenever we hear or see discrimination of any sort,” Ferris said. “For a long time, North Dakota nice has been putting on a smile for the public and pretend to be welcoming, while holding tight-lipped deep feelings of passive-aggressiveness and prejudice for fear of insulting our neighbors and publicly humiliating ourselves.  However, since the last election cycle, such niceness has gone out the window. We need to reclaim nice. We need to make it mean something. It cannot just be words. It must be action, and it is the responsibility of everyone.”

Denault said that the year-long investigation into the costs of refugees is inappropriate.

“I don’t often like to talk about ‘just the numbers’ though because these are people who are more than just a unit of labor,” Denault said. “They are human beings fighting for their lives.”

“We live in an agricultural state,” Denault said. “Think of how many farmers are receiving farm subsidies. You don’t see anyone accosting them at Walmart and threatening to kill them. It would be preposterous. The same goes for these random acts of racism towards Natives and New Americans. The xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, it all comes from fundamentally misguided notions about other groups of people, particularly the misinformation about how much these groups ‘cost’ us.”

“When you get to know a lot of the members of the New American community you’ll realize that they are not just refugees. Many of them are second and third generation North Dakotans, people whose parents, after obtaining legal U.S. citizenship, still decided to stay in North Dakota because they love it here. They’ve opened businesses, bought homes, they are paying taxes. They are literally contributing to the economy in the exact same way everyone else is. None of them deserve this type of treatment.”

The North Dakota United Against Hate rally is scheduled for Wednesday, August 2, at 5:30 p.m. by the Fargo Civic Center.

 

Forgive, but let’s not forget

Women in death threat dispute meet and reconcile

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– Two of the three Somali-American women threatened with murder two days ago by a white woman outside a local Walmart, met their attacker Thursday afternoon at the Fargo Police Department, and left in friendship.

“We hugged her, we cried,” Sarah Hassan, one of the victims, said. “I love her.”

On Tuesday evening Amber Elizabeth Hensley was filmed through 15-second WeChat video clips threatening the Hassan sisters and Rowda Soyan around 5:30pm.

The Hassan sisters accompany police officers to a scheduled meeting with their attacker – photo by C.S. Hagen

Leyla admittedly parked too close to Hensley’s blue Honda, and the incident led to Hensley threatening all three Muslim women, wearing hijabs, with death.

On Thursday, however, tempers had cooled after a firestorm of commentary on social media.

“We brought people together and they met each other,” Fargo Police Cultural Liaison Officer Vince Kempf said after the 90-minute meeting. “Relationship building, there was forgiveness and quite possible friendship at the end of the meeting.”

Both Sarah and her sister Leyla have been in Fargo nearly three years, and speak near-perfect English. They wear hijabs, and are Somalis from India originally. Both said Hensley’s apology was genuine, and that they have been invited to her house for Christmas.

“It feels good, to be honest,” Leyla said after the meeting.

“She’s a nice person,” Sarah said. “She had the idea that all Muslims are bad. We just talked about peace.”

“I think things went too far,” Leyla said. After the meeting, both Fargo women wanted to go immediately to Horab & Wentz, CPA, Hensley’s former place of work, to ask the owners to give Hensley’s job back. Hensley was fired Wednesday, one day after the hate crime was committed.

Horab & Wentz owner and CPA, Scott Wentz, said his accounting firm received hundreds of emails and calls from around the world.

Charges could have been filed against Hensley, Kempf said. With the city dealing with five hate crimes halfway through 2017, mediation and forgiveness was the better route.

“Unfortunately, incidents like what happened this week and the social media commentary following it can cause further division and set us back from progress we are trying to make as a community,” Fargo Police Chief David Todd said.

“I want to put before you an example of what can be accomplished even though mistakes were made and unfortunate words were said. Amber Hensley, Sarah Hassan and Leyla Hassan have all expressed regret regarding their interaction and language with each other.”

The women met, talked through the incident, and regrets were voiced from all sides. Forgiveness followed, Todd said.

Hukun Abdullahi, founder of Afro American Development Association, spent much of the afternoon assisting the peace process. He spoke with Hensley’s former bosses and asked for her job back as well. So far, the owners have declined, Abdullahi said.

The Hassan sister leave meeting – photo by C.S. Hagen

“Everybody can make a mistake,” Abdullahi said. “I am very happy she came out and apologized for what she did to the victims. As a community, anything can happen, but we can get together to bring a better solution.”

While Abdullahi was busy helping the Hassan sisters, he received two hateful messages.

“Come to this country, follow our values,” a man named Adam White said in a message to Abdhullahi. “Or you can go back to where you come from.”

Another message written by a man named Lamar Avery, who used a picture of Adolf Hitler as his avatar, told Abdullahi a similar message. “Maybe you should go back to the country where you came from bitch, Americans don’t cater to Muslim terrorist scum.”

“We have some ugliness in our community that needs to be addressed and worked on,” Todd said. “Social media shows us that, however, perhaps we can all take a lesson from what was an ugly unfortunate interaction and how even despite words being said that cannot be taken back, forgiveness and understanding can still be achieved.”

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand, who has put the issue of hate crimes on the next city council agenda, was elated by the news both sides had reconciled.

“If everybody on all fronts can strive to get as much as possible to the higher ground and to see things in the bigger picture and go forward in a way where we undoubtedly become a better community because of it, that’s what we’re aiming for,” Strand said.

“These little steps really add up, and it’s up to all of us which steps we take and I hope we make the best choices possible.”

“We’re Going To Kill All Of You” 

White woman threatens Somali-Americans outside of Walmart, fifth hate crime incident in 2017

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– Three Fargoans, originally from Somalia, were stopped Tuesday evening outside of Walmart by a white woman from Mapleton and threatened while dozens of onlookers did nothing to intervene. 

The women who were verbally attacked, Rowda Soyan, Sarah and Laleyla Hassan, were enjoying a day off from work when a blonde woman approached. Before they could enter the store around 5:30 p.m., the incident began, and video footage started halfway through the exchange.  

Screenshot of white woman threatening Somali-Americans

“You’re a racist person, and I’m not going back to my country,” Soyan said in near-perfect English in the video. 

“I’m an American,” the white woman, who later commented on Facebook about the Youtube video, said. According to the post her name is Amber Elizabeth Hensley, and she worked for  Horab & Wentz, CPA.

“What are you going to do?” Soyan said. 

“We’re going to kill all of you, we’re going to kill every one of you fucking Muslims.”

“I am making a video and I am going to show it to the police,” Soyan said.

“Do you think the police care? Why are you in our country anyway?”

The incident marks the fifth such case this year, Hukun Abdullahi, co-founder of United African Youths, and founder of Afro American Development Association, said. 

“It is happening, and I think this must be stopped,” Abdullahi said. “I don’t see any leaders condemning this issue. This will keep continuing.”

During the incident, people entering and exiting the Walmart on 13th Avenue stopped to watch, but no one tried to help. 

“No one stood up for us, nobody even said a word, it was a scary moment for all of us,” Soyan said. “She went on and on, and it was really really scary. Out of nowhere, she just came and said those hateful words. It was an ‘Are you out of your mind’ moment?” 

Soyan called police, and a report was made under case number 17-61490. Fargo Police were contacted for comment, but were not available. 

License plate and car of the unidentified white woman – photo provided by Rowda Soyan

“Her car had a Trump sign, and she said he’s the one who is going to send us back to our country,” Soyan said. 

Hensley apologized for the “horrible things that I said to the two ladies at Walmart,” according to her Facebook post. “It was not a Christian-like thing to do at all, and wish I could take it back, but I lost my cool, and I can’t.” 

In the apology, Hensley said that the women parked too close to her car, and refused to move. 

“I asked her again and she swore at me, calling me a fat bitch, to that I informed her that I was a Christian and asked if she knew who Jesus was.” 

Tuesday’s incident wasn’t the first time Soyan has been attacked by racists. Her car was spray painted earlier in the year, and police did nothing to help, she said. Insurance wouldn’t cover the damages, so she had to pay out of pocket. 

Such attacks aren’t labelled as hate crimes in Fargo, as officially, hate crimes don’t exist, Barry Nelson, of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said. 

“I guess as far as North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, this is not what should be representing Fargo to other Fargoans,” Nelson said. “This is Fargo on Fargo crime, and it is unconscionable. We must keep exposing this so that we as a community work actively to eliminate this.

Amber Elizabeth Hensley’s apology on Facebook page

“This should not be happening to any of us.”

An assault on a Somali-American on July 2 in Fargo that is being investigated as a possible hate crime by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was virtually swept under the rug, Nelson said. 

James Patrick Billiot, 32, Fargo, and Justin William Rifanburg, 28, West Fargo, assaulted Shuib Ali, who was moving into an apartment when the attack occurred after racial epithets were said, according to police reports. Nelson said the two men were charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor, and were fined $250 for their crime, and the victim was not alerted to the court case. 

“He found out a week later what happened,” Nelson said. “This happened at his home. I think police did what they could do, but I’m really questioning our judicial system. I don’t know if it’s a lack of awareness, of course, we don’t have any hate crime laws, and it doesn’t rise to a level of definition.” 

On August 2, North Dakota United Against Hate Crime is planning to hold a rally to generate support for victims of hate crime, and to start generating momentum behind getting a hate crime law passed — once again. Nelson made attempts ten years ago with the state legislature for a legal recognition of hate crimes, but his efforts went nowhere, he said.

“The response in the legislature was that we have laws that cover these things, but they don’t understand the layers of hate crime,” Nelson said. 

 

‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Shakespeare play performers and organizers targeted

By C.S. Hagen
DETROIT LAKES – The Detroit Lakes Shakespeare in the Park volunteer group was targeted this week with hateful criticism shortly after New York City began performing its contemporary version of “Julius Caesar.”

In a week filled with partisan violence, which left five injured and the shooter killed during a Republican baseball practice at Simpson Field, Alexandria, Virginia, the online targeting left organizers of the 2017 Shakespearean comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing,” at Detroit Lakes City Park, shocked.

A post on the Detroit Lakes Shakespeare in the Park Facebook page

“The messages started Sunday morning,” Nikki Caulfield, the director of the play said. “I woke up and thought, ‘What the hell is this?’ It took a little longer to figure out that it was backlash against the Central Park production.”

“Just cancel this regressive leftist garbage already,” one commentator wrote.

“I think you guys got your nerve to put anything out like that about our president,” wrote another commentator between lines of gibberish. “You need to get your heart checked and see what’s going on with your heart that’s making it pump every day, it sure ain’t you as our heavenly father, and I’m sure he’s not happy with what you people are doing… If you can’t say something positive about this man then keep your lips closed and get your heart right and Satan is really out there raging…”

Some of the posts have since been deleted, Caulfield said.

Shakespeare in the Park Detroit Lakes has been performing for eight years in a row, making the 2017 season its ninth. The free play is set to begin June 22, and will continue until July 2.

One-star rating post on the Detroit Lakes Shakespeare in the Park Facebook page

“I’ve reached out to other theater groups in Minnesota and it sounds like no one else has experienced anything like this that I’ve heard,” Caulfield said. “The thing that surprises me is that we are clearly an amateur community group, and from the photos you can tell we are not in Central Park.”

The Detroit Lakes Shakespeare in the Park has never performed “Julius Caesar,” which is a tragedy based on true events written by playwright William Shakespeare around 1599.

New York City’s rendition of the play performed by the Public Theater depicts a blond man in a red tie being assassinated. Breitbart and Fox News were “aggrieved that the play appeared to show President Trump assassinated on stage under an American flag,” the New York Times reported.

“The Public Theater in New York City’s ‘Julius Caesar’ has garnered droves of negative attention because the contemporary rendition of William Shakespeare’s classic features a Caesar — who with his blonde hair, suit and long tie — looks like Trump,” the New York Times reported. “The play also has Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, speak in a Slavic accent very much like Melania Trump.”

Even Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., took to Twitter attempting to connect the shooting in Alexandria to the controversy surrounding the Public Theater’s rendition.

Protest pamphlets found outside Trump Tower – online sources

Caulfield said she doesn’t understand why Detroit Lakes was targeted, other than its original name was simply Shakespeare in the Park. “I don’t know if it’s because I carelessly didn’t put Detroit Lakes into Shakespeare in the Park, or what. We are clearly a community theater, and we’re obviously not a professional group.”

The group’s Facebook name has been changed to Detroit Lakes Shakespeare in the Park.

The Shakespeare in the Park (New York) Facebook page is filled with hate speech, including calling Democrats communists and hypocrites.

“You have blood on your hands,” one commentator wrote.

Pamphlets apparently found outside Trump Tower called for a protest at Central Park Theater in New York City today at 5 p.m.

Stephanie Murry, the artistic director of North Dakota Shakespeare in Grand Forks, has not heard of any similar incidents in North Dakota. She said she respects differing opinions, but does not want to make a strong political statement. “We want our shows to be as inclusive as possible.”

Shakespeare in the Park New York Facebook page post

Bill Lucas, a former Fargo educator, comedy company owner, and local director and actor, said directors have the right to select the shows they want to perform, but potential customers also have the right to protest.

“Julius Caesar is a political statement if you want to believe it was a political statement,” Lucas said. “Just like nursery rhymes we teach children, which were directed at the kings of England.”

The only time plays should be stopped, he said, is if taxpayer money is involved in places such as schools: the criticism against Detroit Lakes Shakespeare in the Park is misdirected.

“It’s a shame they’re being threatened, and that people aren’t doing more research.

There’s almost no show you can’t find something controversial in, even though it’s Shakespeare. If she was doing the same exact show as in New York City then they have the right to protest, but first find out what is going on before you start protesting.”

Since Sunday, the group’s Facebook page received a flash flood of one-star ratings and rants. Other criticisms were written into existing posts. One of the people who left a one-star rating was from Florida, another from Chicago.

“My take is that given the history of productions of this show, showing various political leaders as the Julius Caesar role, is nothing new,” Caulfield said. “To treat it as something new, is a lack of understanding of how some of this stuff works.”

YOU SHOULD KNOW

Much Ado About Nothing

June 22-July 2

Detroit Lakes Shakespeare in the Park

Detroit Lakes City Park, Park Blvd, Detroit Lakes, 218-844-4221

6 performances, weather permitting: June 22, 23,24, 30, July 1, 7pm; July 2, 2pm

Tickets: Free and open to the public

 

Fall From Grace

Local pastor claims racism and church infighting behind her sudden dismissal
UPDATE: Protesters picket church Wednesday evening, story at bottom

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – For years, Pastor Grace Murray opened the doors of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ to New Americans and the LGBT community, and then she was fired.

Despite a massive banner hanging outside the 90-year-old structure at 901 Broadway, declaring “We leave judging to God,” Murray and church members said the church council fired her suddenly, May 31, because of racism exhibited by the “old guard” at the church, effectively turning their backs on the church’s tenets of being accepting of everyone – no matter race, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or mental or physical ability.

The official reason differs.

“You have recently received notification of the upcoming meeting to be held on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 to terminate our Pastoral Call Agreement with Pastor Grace Murray,” the church letter informing its members stated. “To insure the financial future of Plymouth United Church of Christ we believe a change must be made.”

Pastor Grace Murray, formerly of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, after she was fired – photo by C.S. Hagen

“The stated reason was that the church finances could not support a full-time pastor, however, there was never a request to negotiate a possible part-time call,” Murray said. “We actually were about three-quarters of the way through a process of mediation, and instead of paying face to that process, there were some folks that called for a special meeting. I know some of the things that have been said were my sermons are too political.”

According to the church’s Constitution and bylaws, a majority vote must pass in order to fire the pastor. The church’s council voted 42 for dismissal, and 22 for keeping Murray as pastor, however; two of the people who voted were not church members, according to emails.

Church council members were contacted for comment, but few replied. Church council members approached Murray days after she was fired saying that the church will adhere to her hiring contract, which stipulates 90 days written notice before termination of employment.

“The special meeting was called to ‘terminate the Pastoral Call Agreement,’ to say ‘You are being laid off. You no longer have a position with us,’” Rosella Jangula, the financial secretary, wrote in an email. “An employer doesn’t have to give employees a 90-day notice before laying them off.”

At the pulpit delivering the sermon on Sunday stood former Nazarene Pastor Mervin Leroy Kelley, of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, who was convicted by jury of criminal sexual conduct in 2000. Kelley was convicted on two third-degree criminal sex conduct charges and sentenced to 48 months imprisonment in the Ottertail County Jail, according to the Minnesota Judicial Branch.   

When Callie DeTar arrived at church Sunday, she also noticed the Pennies For Heaven jar was empty. Pennies For Heaven is a donation jar used to buy gifts such as food or clothing for the area’s needy.

“I came in yesterday and the entire bag of money was missing,” DeTar said. “The consensus is that it was taken and deposited into the church’s funds, and it’s not the church’s money, it’s the community’s money. I don’t know if I want to call the police or what.”

Nearly every church council member has left, she said. She too is preparing to leave the church, and stated that the ‘old guard’ in the church refuse to talk further about the issues.

“Nobody wants to say anything. Everyone is tucking in their tails and running.”

Members state years of infighting stem in part due to racial ignorance and racial fear after Murray rented out space to Pastor Gabriel Barbly and the Bethel World Outreach Church – Fargo. The meeting in which decided Murray’s fate became hostile, a yelling match, church members said. Moderator Tom Thoreson threatened to call police at one point during the meeting, according to church members.

Bethel World Outreach Church – Fargo – Facebook page

“They hate gay people, they hate black people, and it’s supposed to be an all-encompassing church,” DeTar, the church’s administrative assistant, said.

“I certainly think it could have been done differently, there’s an awful lot of hurt feelings,” Helen Goodfellow, involved with pastor relations, said. “It’s a very very nasty situation.”

The church has been in turmoil since before Murray rented the church basement to Barbly, former administrative assistant Timothy Shannon said. Services are attended primarily by African Americans.

“There was friction about particularly Pastor Gabriel’s church,” Murray said. “Things stated were the noise level, the disrespect, ‘we can’t get in the bathroom.’ That has not been a happy thing for people. Even things like, finding some small things wrong with their presence.

“And I did use the word, racism.”

Other church members said at least one person in the congregation felt violated after toys were used by those in Barbly’s growing church. Another member stated that the feelings stem from a type of jealousy, as Barbly’s church is growing faster than the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ’s congregation.

“They look at them like they’re third class steerage,” DeTar said. “The way they talk about them is so disrespectful, they won’t give them a name, even. They’re just really awful, sitting around talking about how the bathrooms are dirty, that they’re too loud, that they’re sneaky. Sure they’re loud, but they’re worshipping.”

“I think it’s 85 to 90 percent racism,” Jo Ann Ripplinger, a former church secretary and member of the church, said. “They use the budget as a stepping stone that she isn’t taking the church into the direction they want it to go. It’s depressing. They say there’s no racism here, and yet there is an undercurrent here of extreme racism and fear. They don’t understand them, or want to have anything to do with them.”

“They’ve also wanted to put the altar Bible back on the altar, and that’s anti-Semitic,” DeTar said. The altar Bible is the Holman Christian Standard Bible published in the 1930s, which advocated for the deportation of German Jews back to Germany.

At a time when small-town churches are dying due to a lack of funds, Murray’s move to rent out the space was a fiscally-sound move, Shannon said. A typical Sunday service attracts approximately 50 people, he said.

Sunday morning during service time, the church’s parking lot was less than half full.

“The argument that this is actually costing money, there’s no way this makes sense,” Shannon said.

The addition of Barbly’s church, however, disrupted the congregation’s social activity of having coffee downstairs after church services, he said. In the church’s front yard, prominently displayed, a sign advertises normal services at 10:30am., Barbly’s service at 11am, and Native American services at 4pm on Sundays.

“Their routine was disrupted by the African services, which by Midwestern Lutheran standards is loud and raucous,” Shannon said. “They took exception to that, to the noise. What it is, and you’re talking about only four or five people, but they are so loud, and they’re creating so much drama, so not only do you have the people who are openly anti-gay, and who are racist, but you also have the ones who say ‘I don’t want to have all this drama.’”

Murray, who is known by friends at times as “She who shall not be crossed,” is known as a LGBT advocate, someone who does not tolerate excuses, Shannon said.

“I saw her reduced to tears, and she is a tough lady. She also cares, and she’s human, not just because of the treatment she’s receiving, but because she understands if the LGBT community loses her, they lose a lot. She made it well known that there was a place for you.”

Bethel World Outreach Church – Fargo is part of the Bethel World Outreach Ministries International, an evangelical and revival-focused organization.

Although theological differences exist between Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, a progressive, non-denominational organization, and the Bethel World Outreach Church – Fargo, Murray and Barbly said they were a good fit.

“The United Church of Christ as a denomination is openly welcoming of people regardless of any type of life,”Murray said. “I talked to Pastor Gabriel about that, and for them, at that time, two years ago, people cannot become members who are in the LGBT community, but can worship, which was big step forward.

Barbly said there were never problems over differing doctrines between the churches.

“We had an understanding,” Murray said. “And that’s a deep cultural thing for them as they’ve come from a place where LGBT people can be murdered.”

“Lily white and albinos,” Shannon said. “Now, all the sudden you bring in all these black people, and they dress by Lutheran standards, a little garishly. Growing up in Africa where they were from, they prayed at night to not be kidnapped and murdered. They’re in a situation now where they can watch their kids wish for ponies.”

Pastor Gabriel Barbly and family – Facebook page

Barbly, originally from the Bong Mine Community in Bong County, Liberia, is listed as a pastor since 2013, according to Liberty University Alumni records. He pays $600 a month for use of the Fellowship Hall in the basement, but is unsure of the future.

“Now that she is gone, we don’t know what is going to happen,” Barbly said.

Although Barbly admits not knowing the inner workings of Murray’s church, some members of his congregation have had bad experiences. “Some people have yelled, saying we should leave the church,” Barbly said.

Ripplinger joined the church because of Murray, she said, and was one of two new members in 2016. “She was very open,” Ripplinger said. “She didn’t have any prejudices.”

Murray is a champion in Fargo for LGBT, Native American, and New American rights, Ripplinger said, and the problems began before she was hired. “There was this undercurrent of people not accepting what she was trying to do. She referred to it as the ‘Old Guard,’ and it is.”

Once during a meeting, church council members were discussing how to increase membership and appeal more to the younger generation. “Not one question was directed toward the younger people at the meeting,” Ripplinger said. “Nobody came up with an idea.”

“The other thing was we had Christmas Eve services, and all three congregations were supposed to be all together, but not one person from our congregation showed up, other than the people who were required to be there.

“That’s despicable.”

Murray, who wished for one last Sunday in the church she led for five years, hinted at the confusion in her last service on May 28.

“When I began this sermon, I admitted that I am worried about our church,” Murray said during the sermon. “I know that many of you are as well. I am worried imagining the time when I no longer serve this church as pastor, whenever that may be. Some of you are worried about the day when this church will finally close its doors, whenever that may be. Others are worried because we have lost sight of the first things.”

Part of the congregation is grieving, and will be leaving with her, she said. She planned to hold her first Sunday service in South Fargo, which coincidentally landed on Day of the Pentecost, the original “birthday of the church,” she said.

“Maybe we are being pushed out to birth a church,” she said.

Murray wants to remain in the Fargo/Moorhead area, but the life of a startup pastor is difficult.

“I am a pastor at heart, so I’m seeking a call,” she said. She was ordained in 2007, and is a graduate of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She grew up in the South with segregated bathrooms, “colored wards” in hospitals, but has been known as a voice for inclusion in Fargo/Moorhead since her arrival.

“I’ve had people standing behind me before,” Murray said. “Now they’re standing beside me, and speaking out.”

The Plymouth Congregational Church arrived in Fargo with the Northern Pacific Railroad, setting up its first structure at the corner of Ninth Street and Ninth Avenue in 1882, according to church records. It was moved during the winter of 1884 where Plymouth Apartments now stand, and continued until 1890 when a windstorm destroyed the building. The current building was finished in 1927.

 

Update: Protesters Picket Local UCC Church After Pastor Fired 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– A years-long struggle for dominance inside the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ hasn’t ended with the pastor’s dismissal. On one side is Grace Murray, a progressive pastor, and her supporters; on the other side is the “old guard,” those who led the crusade to fire her. 

Murray and her supporters claim racism was involved in her May 31 dismissal. Responsible church council members refuse to comment, citing only in emails and official letters that the church could no longer afford a full-time pastor. 

One week after Murray was fired from the 135-year-old church, protesters from Fargo and Moorhead picketed the building demanding an end to racism and homophobia. They also wanted Murray to be treated fairly by the church council.

Protesters gather outside of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ – photo by C.S. Hagen

The decision to fire Murray came after a special meeting was called on May 31, and after a vote – 42 for dismissal, and 22 for keeping her as pastor – Murray was dismissed. The church’s Constitution states that a majority vote by the church council and members is needed in order for a dismissal to pass. Church members claim that two votes during the process were invalid. 

According to Murray’s contract, she is entitled to 90 days forewarning, however; she did not preach last Sunday. Former Nazarene Pastor Mervin Leroy Kelley, of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, who was convicted by jury of criminal sexual conduct in 2000, took her place. Kelley was convicted on two third-degree criminal sex conduct charges and sentenced to 48 months imprisonment in the Ottertail County Jail, according to the Minnesota Judicial Branch.

“You are being laid off. You no longer have a position with us,’” Rosella Jangula, the financial secretary, wrote to Murray in an email. “An employer doesn’t have to give employees a 90-day notice before laying them off.”

On Wednesday, Murray’s daughter, Elizabeth Dill, held a placard that read: “She was not fired over money. She was fired for doing her job.”

“She has stood by what the UCC stands for,” Dill said. “And they have not. They’re piggybacking on everything that she’s worked so hard for.” 

Protester holds up a sign – photo by C.S. Hagen

She described the years-long ordeal within the church, the controversy between what Murray described as the “old guard” and Murray’s progressive outreach, took a mental and physical toll on her mother. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever see her so upset,” Dill said. 

“I saw her reduced to tears, and she is a tough lady,” former administrative assistant Timothy Shannon said. “She also cares, and she’s human, not just because of the treatment she’s receiving, but because she understands if the LGBT community loses her, they lose a lot. She made it well known that there was a place for you.”

Once the anticipation of her future role at the church at 901 Broadway ended on May 31, a weight was lifted off her shoulders, Dill said. “Now, she’s hit the ground running.” 

Murray, church members, and Dill, who is not affiliated with the church, said racism was behind the decision. The tensions between Murray and some church council members intensified after she rented the Fellowship Hall to Pastor Gabriel Barbly and the Bethel World Outreach Church – Fargo, which is a predominantly African American congregation.

In the church’s front yard, prominently displayed, a sign advertises normal services at 10:30am., Barbly’s service at 11am, and Native American services at 4pm on Sundays. A massive banner hangs outside the 90-year-old structure declaring “We leave judging to God.”

Moorhead resident, Katrina Jo Koesterman, is a “pastor’s kid,” and a member of the First Congregational Church of Christ in Moorhead. “I’ve struggled with my spirituality my entire life,” Koesterman said. “At UCC I can be me, and seeing a church bearing the UCC name and not living up to the UCC standard is discouraging.” 

Originally from Fargo, Koesterman moved to Minnesota as North Dakota’s health care is not trans-friendly, she said. She held a Pride flag poster saying “Never Giving Up,” and waived it at passing cars. Some honked, offered a thumb’s up. One black pickup truck revved its engine, shooting black exhaust smoke across the lawn, and then drove around the block for a repeat.

Koesterman decided to attend services in Moorhead after listening to a group of children one Sunday morning talking about the proper use of pronouns for trans people. 

A man who gave his name as Maike, originally from Virginia, moved to Fargo in 2009 for financial reasons. “Racism is everywhere,” Maike said. “It doesn’t matter where you are, but up here it is coated in sugar.” 

Dawn Lexvold, a member of the First Congregational Church of Christ in Moorhead, said she once considered the Plymouth church as her sister church. Church administration handled Murray’s situation poorly, like a “Seventh grade click-y bully,” she said. 

“My prayer for the whole thing is maybe there is a Y in the road, and another door will open,” Lexvold said. 

Most of the church council members have left, church administrative assistant Callie DeTar said. Murray’s supporters are being told not to bring up the issues any longer, she said. 

Reactions to Barbly’s church being “loud” took the forms of occasional insults and eventually into heated debates after Murray rented the basement to Barbly for $600 a month, DeTar and other church members stated. Church leaders threatened to call police during the special meeting called to fire Murray, church members stated, and Barbly admitted that some in his congregation have been yelled at. 

Additionally, church leaders are considering changing the altar Bible to the old Holman Christian Standard Bible published in the 1930s, which advocated for the deportation of German Jews back to Germany.

Donated funds for the Pennies For Heaven went missing on Sunday, DeTar said. Pennies For Heaven is a donation jar used to buy gifts such as food or clothing for the area’s needy.

Dill said her mother attempted to buyout the church’s stand for Pride in the Park, coming this August. The church refused, she said. 

“And she was told that they don’t know why she thinks that they don’t share the same values as her on LGBT people,” Dill said. “I’m pretty sure that feeling must have come from the fact that they have never once been with her to Pride in the Park, nor did they help me paint all the Pride flags on rocks. Or maybe it could be the fact every time she has walked in the Pride parade representing the church she walked alone.”

 

 

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.”

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.

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.” 

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

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.”

“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.” 

Threats Directed At Native American Arrested From Sweat Lodge

Attempts to refurbish area as far back as 2010 were fruitless, area Native Americans fear retaliation 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO
– Barking dogs don’t bite, but they’re noisy and excitable. The day Zebediah Gartner, an Anishinaabe from Fargo, was released from Cass County Jail after being pulled from a sweat lodge by Fargo police, the “dogs” began to bark. He received threats and derogatory statements from Fargo-Moorhead residents. 

“A couple people talking nonsense but I didn’t give them the time of the day,” Gartner said.  “They’re just talking crap about my mom, and talking about how stupid we are.” 

Gartner, 20, is a traditional singer and drummer, performing around the Fargo-Moorhead area. The threats and derogatory statements didn’t phase him. 

Zebediah Gartner, 20, a traditional singer and drummer – photo from Facebook page

“I’m kind of a big guy, so it doesn’t matter to me too much. People are going to say what they’re going to say.”

Support from the community, however, has been overwhelming.  

“I’ve got a lot of support, and a lot of prayers from people all over the city, a lot of people standing behind me, or next to me, and trying to help get this done in a good way, and hopefully something good will come out of this.” 

The Fargo City Community Sweat Lodge – photo by C.S. Hagen

People who frequent the sweat lodge, or an Inipi in the Lakota language, say they don’t feel safe anymore, and they’re hesitant to speak out from fear of retaliation, Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase, founder at Sahnish Scouts of ND, a missing persons advocate, said. She is from Standing Rock, and enrolled in the Three Affiliated Tribes Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsa.

“Retaliation stems from what people have witnessed at the Standing Rock Camps and then now this incident at the lodge,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. “People do not trust the law.  It has trickled into our communities. We feel it.”

The sweat lodge, known as Fargo City Community Sweat Lodge, is located on city-owned property in South Fargo donated to the Native American Commission. Known as the closest native structure resembling a Christian church, it has been in use as a site of healing since before 2010. A grant that was applied for at that time to spruce the area up was denied due to zoning laws and HUD restrictions, according to Native American Commission meeting minutes on March 13, 2010. 

Another hurdle the Native American Commission faced in 2010 was that spirituality to Native Americans was a way of life, and not strictly a religion. Willard Yellow Bird, cultural planner for Fargo, also made public his intention of applying for grants in October 2010 for improvements. 

“The Native American Commission used to have a sign designating that area,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. “When they moved the road it disappeared, we brought this to the attention of the commission, nothing was ever done. This could maybe have been prevented if they had followed through.” 

Gartner was pulled from the sweat lodge Thursday night in nothing but his undershorts, he said, approximately seven hours after militarized police cleared the main camps fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Gartner alleges police grabbed him, kneed him, and walked him barefoot and still sweaty in sub-freezing temperatures to awaiting police cars. A friend brought him his shoes before he spent the night at Cass County Jail, he said. 

Ground Zebediah Gartner was forced to walk across barefoot in sub-freezing temperatures – photo by C.S. Hagen

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said the arresting officer, J. Rued, was new to the force, and that those involved responded to an unattended fire in a field. 

“It was a misunderstanding,” Mahoney said. The Fargo Police Department and area fire departments will begin cultural training courses pertaining to Native American traditions. 

The area is muddy, split wood and stones for heating are piled up awaiting use. The Inipi is covered in colored blankets. Stones and a deer antler point to the opening. Two porta-potties and a white shed stand nearby the sweat lodge; the area does not resemble a hastily-made camping site, rather a place of cultural significance. 

“Every time we have a sweat, they [police] drive by,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. Sometimes when police pass by they initiate their siren, but rarely leave their vehicles, she said. Some officers stop and ask how things are going, and non-native locals occasionally stand across the street to stare, calling it an eco village.

“Part of the protocol is that one of the commission members will call it in and let them know that we’re out there,” Yellow Bird-Chase said. Typically, 48-hour notice is given, she said. Yellow Bird-Chase encourages anyone to join in a sweat. “Most people are white who show up and that’s totally cool.” 

In the winter, sweat ceremonies are held at most once a week, while  during the warmer months sweats could occur up to several times a week. Women usually wear dresses, and the men wear swimming trunks or undershorts.

News that the city plans to shut the Inipi down for several weeks to make upgrades to the area was good news to Gartner. 

“It’s good news,” Gartner said. “It’s about time the city steps in and helps out more than what they did with the little chunk of land.”

“We have been promised change before, lots of lip service,” Yellow Bird-Chase, formerly on the Sweat Lodge Committee, said. “Hopefully something good comes of this, maybe more action and not so much lip service.”

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