Category: Dakota Times

Fargo, North Dakota – once named Centralia, former divorce capital of the Midwest, it is a city of snowballs, spring floods, odd crimes, the focal point for movies and television series. They call it The City of Parks, for no worthwhile reason, and yet if ever Santa immigrated to the United States, Fargo would be his home. Bring a warm coat, and step inside, careful of the oil slicks. Read these true stories. In this ever changing world Fargo and North Dakota are hurrying to catch up.

North Dakota’s Marijuana Gets The Puff-Puff Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey you, have you seen K.C.?” 

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

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

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

Shovels – photo by C.S. Hagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bakken – photo by C.S. Hagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Terry Henrikson “the boss”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man camp – photo by C.S. Hagen

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue bird – photo by C.S. Hagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To support Yellow Bird-Chase and the Sahnish Scouts of North Dakota donations can be made to: 

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

Opium Wars: Fargo’s Cold Blanket of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She never got caught; her former boyfriend did. 

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

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

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

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

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

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


The opium wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A user’s response is shocking, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fargo Police Departemtn Lt. Shannon Ruziska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The China connection

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

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

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

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

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

A Chinese chemical reagent laboratory – photo provided by online sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Angel in disguise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critics: Legislators Attempt To Rewrite Measure 5 is “Abomination”

 Measure 5 postponed with Senate Bill 2154, then altered with Senate Bill 2344

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Days after North Dakota Legislation declared an emergency measure postponing Measure 5, or the North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative, a new bill was proposed.

Measure 5 is gutted, the bill’s initiator Rilie Ray Morgan said. More than 80 percent of the bill has been changed. Testimonies will go before the Senate Human Services Committee on Wednesday.

“It’s an abomination,” Morgan said. “Like I said it’s a punch in the gut to the patients of North Dakota, and a slap in the face to the voters of North Dakota. The state legislature has an agenda where they are totally opposed to cannabis in any form. They’re not going to let people have it unless they are willing to pay for it.”

Morgan initiated the measure, also known as the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, to offer those suffering from seizures, chronic pain from cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C, Crohn’s Disease and other illnesses an alternative to big pharmaceutical prescription painkillers.

The former Senate Bill 2154, now known as Senate Bill 2344, was a bipartisan bill introduced by Senator Rich Wardner, R-N.D., and Senate Dem-NPL Leader Joan Heckaman, and approved by the Delayed Bills Committee.

“I think it was in the making, they were contemplating, they were working on this bill for a while,” Representative Pamela Anderson, D-N.D., said. “The people have spoken. And we are not stupid or ill-informed voters in North Dakota.”

Since the day after the measure was voted in, telephones inside the North Dakota Department of Health have been ringing off the hook, Wardner said. The bill he co-introduced was to ease the pressure off the health department.

“People need to back off,” Wardner said of the people calling the health department. “They’re upset they can’t grow it. They’re upset because they can’t smoke it. But the health department has to have some money to go out and regulate it.”

Regulation is needed, Anderson said, but the differences between state and federal laws shouldn’t be an obstacle the Peace Garden State, which has a long history of suing the federal government, can’t get over.

“We have smart people in the health department, smart people who can help implement this. If we have to spend some money, then I guess we do. At some point it will be self sustaining.”

Thirty states across the Union have passed medical marijuana laws. Critics point to how closely  SB 2344 resembles Minnesota’s laws pertaining to medical marijuana, and that Minnesota is already undergoing and discussing changes and expansion after only two years of implementation.

“There isn’t a state who has passed medical marijuana who has undone it. What are we afraid of?”

Wardner is against putting the financial burden on the taxpayers, he said. His bill would create four manufacturing compassionate care centers, eight dispensaries with a possibility for more, but take the ability for designated people to grow up to five plants at home away. Users would also be limited to marijuana oil and pills; no cannabis leaf would be available under SB 2344.

“Manageable regulation and enforcement,” Wardner said is the reasoning for the new bill.

“If that’s the case, why are they eliminating pediatrics?” Anderson said.

“Are we listening to the people? We do have a legislative process down here, and we will have a hearing tomorrow and they can make their case for it.”

Much of the first few pages of the original bill are crossed out. Some of the changes the Senate Bill 2344 include:

  • Limit the types of usable marijuana to medical marijuana oil and pills, whereas the original bill voted in by every voting district in the state chose dried leaves, flowers of the marijuana plant, any mixture or preparation of those dried leaves and flowers, tinctures, and ointments.
  • Raise the non-refundable application fee from $125 for the first year and $25 for subsequent years as stated in original bill to an amount not to exceed $300 in Senate Bill 2344.
  • Raise the Compassionate Care Centers’ renewal fee from $25,000 a year to an amount not to exceed $100,000.
  • The new bill was intended to assist people with low incomes; the new wording would keep money in state hands.
  • State would limit the number of dispensaries instead of allowing the free market to decide how many dispensaries are needed.
  • New bill would deplete the original nine-member advisory board to four members.
  • New regulations, if passed, would reduce the amount of medicine a patient can receive by half.
  • The new bill would limit the options parents have for their children down to one type: pediatric medical marijuana oil, and would also limit the number of physicians who would be authorized to prescribe marijuana.
  • SB 2344 would disqualify anyone with a misdemeanor offense on record in past five years from being a caregiver; the original bill stated those convicted of a felony offense are prohibited from serving as a designated caregiver.

“The lawmaker’s decision to disregard the will and words of their constituents is both arrogant and troubling,” Jason Spiess, a longtime researcher and writer on the cannabis issue, said. “Voters should be very concerned at the rewriting and the handling of this measure, especially when nearly 64 percent of the public voted for it. Whether or not one supports marijuana law reform, the legislators’ attitudes and actions are an affront to the democratic process.”

Anderson has been busy studying the new senate bill, and has been talking to legislators about the bill’s ramifications. Under the new bill, only seven doctors in the state, five in Fargo, and two in Bismarck, would be authorized to certify prescriptions for marijuana to patients, Anderson said.

Under the new bill, children in need of marijuana would be restricted to the the types of doctors they could see; young 20-year-old veterans from foreign wars suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome would still have to seek parental permission to use marijuana.  

“State laws shouldn’t state how much it is,” Anderson said. “It makes no sense when they can prescribe mind-altering pharmaceutical drugs with no issue. “I think people voted for medical marijuana and with this Senate bill they’re not going to get it.

“Basically I’m saying it’s not medical marijuana for our kids at this point.”

Spiess has been alerting legislators as well, he said, and has heard that at least ten people from Fargo will give testimony in Bismarck before the Senate Human Services Committee on Wednesday.

Morgan’s wife is taking a carload of people to the testimony, he said.

“I firmly believe that the legislature put this out there to find out how bad the pushback is going to be,” Morgan said. “They’re going to see how much they can get away with. I wonder if they did any surveys to determine if the voters really knew what they were voting for? Did they talk to voters? I’ve never seen that.”


Civil disobedience

While on his way to tee time in Bismarck in 2011, Mark Krein, 42, a Fargo resident, was pulled over for making a “California stop” at a stop sign, he said. The arresting officer suspected marijuana, and discovered less than the ounce in Krein’s pocket.

He spent three days in jail, because he refused to talk, he said. The story of Andrew Sadek, a college student in Wahpeton, who was arrested for pot possession, turned informant, and later found with a gunshot wound in his head in the Red River came to mind.

“Bite your tongue,” Krein said. “Take your pain. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.”

Police records show that he was initially arrested on a felony, which was plea-bargained down to a Class A misdemeanor.

“They were so pissed off at me because I wouldn’t talk to them,” Krein said. “They were threatening me, and threw me in jail for three days, and made up how much weed I had.”

He refused to answer questions from police on where he obtained the marijuana, and pled guilty to possessing less than one ounce.

State prosecutors eventually offered him a plea bargain. In the meantime, Krein said his lawyers took issue with police procedure weighing the marijuana in two batches, sending half to the crime lab.

“How come they didn’t send it all there?” Krein said. “They didn’t have an ounce so they tried fudging it. So they threw me in jail over the Fourth of July weekend, when I should have been released on my own cognizance.”

Krein ended up paying more than $9,000 in court fees, fines, and drug tests. He wonders how much the state had to pay for his initial arrest and confinement, a police raid of his home by seven officers who discovered less than a gram of recreational marijuana, a 100-watt light bulb, and a High Times Magazine.

He waited nearly a year before being charged again, but this time with manufacturing marijuana and possession, he said.

“After they came to my house, they waited 363 days to come charge me,” Krein said. “Can you believe that? A few days before the statute of limitations took effect and they could no longer charge me. Imagine being at work and waiting for the cops to come and arrest you. I knew it was coming.”

The state’s plea bargain initially included 15 days in jail, a $500 dollar fine, and years of supervision. He said no. He wanted trial by jury.

On the day of the trial, the prosecuting attorneys did not show in court. The judge levied a $200 fine, and told him to go home.

Although he did not sign the recreational marijuana bill last year, he did sign the medical marijuana measure.

“They could be using it as a revenue stream,” Krein said. “SB 2344 needs to just get killed.”

Last year, Krein also battled oral cancer. “Now I have even more invested interest in this than before.” Reasons why the legislature wants to ban smoking or vaping is because marijuana in the leaf form is instant medicine, he said. Oils, however, take approximately an hour to take affect.

The people have voted on what they want, Krein said, anything less won’t be acceptable. The way the bill is written now will become a further burden to taxpayers by increasing police and court workloads, and exacerbating already full jails.

“People are going to do civil disobedience,” Krein said. “That’s what I’m gonna do. If they say you can’t grow your own plants, well, you wanna bet? If they come and bust me, arrest me for growing my own medicine, then I’m going to go for a jury nullification because you guys didn’t keep up your part of the bargain and apparently 64 percent of the people in this state say so, so I’m going to take a jury trial and they’re going to let me go.”

Potential civil disobedience against SB 2344 didn’t faze Wardner.

“They will have to take that up with the judge,” Wardner said. “I’m not a lawyer or a judge.”

He didn’t sound optimistic about Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Human Services Committee.

“I probably won’t have a rear end after tomorrow,” Wardner said. “I think it’s going to go through the Senate, but I don’t know what is going to happen in the House.”

Heckaman, also listed as an introducer of the SB 2344, didn’t answer telephone calls or reply to emails by press time.


“Kicking the Cannabis Can”

State legislators ignore the will of the people by postponing medical marijuana, critics say 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – State politicians are playing an exclusive game of ‘kick the can’ with Measure 5, or the North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative, which was approved overwhelmingly in every voting district in the state last November.

The people of North Dakota apparently are not invited to play, critics say.  

Nearly 80 days after the measure’s passing, the Peace Garden State suspended parts and postponed the entire bill, according to Senate Bill 2154. The bill sat on Governor Doug Burgum’s desk on Monday, January 23, awaiting his signature.

Those hoping for the state to implement the law are angered, saying the state is dragging its feet. Others say state bureaucrats think they know better than their constituencies. The state says it’s mostly a matter of semantics. Either way, Measure 5 was supposed to be state law 30 days after the November election.

“They’re going to kick the can down the road, and if it doesn’t get done by July 31, then it will go to Biennium, the next legislative session, so essentially they’ve kicked the can down the road for two years,” the measure’s co-author, Riley Ray Morgan, said. He initiated the measure, also known as the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, to offer those suffering from seizures, chronic pain from cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, and other illnesses an alternative to big pharmaceutical prescription painkillers.

“It’s ridiculous. They’re trying to dumb this down and gut it.”

“There are a lot of things on the bill that were conflicting,” North Dakota Department of Health Public Information Officer Jennifer L. Skojd said of Measure 5. The North Dakota Department of Health cited 13 issues with the measure’s wording that gave state legislation pause, including possible decriminalization for possession of marijuana to current federal regulations.

Skojd understands how many can think the state is dragging its feet, but she stressed that the bill’s language and the lack of appropriations made it impossible for her department to take further steps. “So we were just patiently waiting until they said here is your funding for it.”

Some of the issues the North Dakota Department of Health raised included proper packaging, issues, and in what forms medical marijuana should be offered. Some of the issues are valid, Morgan said, but most can easily be rectified, such as setting legal age limits for purchasing marijuana.

Senator Rich Wardner, R-N.D., is one of the introducers of the bill and the bill’s main sponsor. He said there are no conspiracies within the North Dakota Legislature pertaining to Measure 5.

“Nobody is dragging their feet,” Wardner said. “We’re trying to get it done as quickly as possible. The bottom line is to give the health department time to get their people and rules in line to regulate medical marijuana.”

Some states that have legalized medical marijuana have taken up to two years to finalize regulations, Wardner said. Since the measure’s passing, the North Dakota Health Department and the State’s Attorney General’s office have worked hard at drafting the bill, he said.

“They’re just not ready yet. We have a bill written and we’re going over it, double checking it, and they just need until July 31 to get it all in place. You’re going to get medical marijuana, and you’re going to get nothing more and nothing less. We are going to make sure people get medical marijuana because that’s what this is all about.”

Jason Spiess, a longtime researcher and writer on the cannabis issue, isn’t convinced of the senator’s claims.

“In my opinion, there’s a culture there that does not want this particular vein of industry to make its way into North Dakota,” Spiess said.  

Prior to Measure 5’s passing, Spiess assisted several national media outlets with cannabis election features – including Marijuana Venture magazine and The Cannabis Caucus 2016.  He interviewed more than 60 people working in law enforcement, marijuana dispensaries, government, and finance from around the country, and found that not one person believed medical marijuana was causing more harm than good.

“It really appears like the public officials really don’t care what the people want, and they are dragging their feet,” Spiess said. “In my opinion, they do not want this industry in the state. They will deny it, but I tend to go with actions over words.”

As an owner of The Crude Life Media Network, Spiess also writes a weekly energy column for the Bismarck Tribune, and frequently writes for national magazines on oil and gas issues. Cannabis caught this writer’s mind last year, not specifically as a medical treatment, but perhaps as an alternative and lucrative industry for the state.

Tinctures at Choice Organics, Fort Collins, Colorado – photo provided by Jason Spiess

“It’s sad that there are people in severe pain and entrepreneurs waiting to start new businesses, yet the the state’s political mindset is that they know better than the majority of North Dakotans,” Spiess said. “Measure 5 received so many votes it actually became a mandate, yet the public officials are playing politics with it.  I feel sorry for the voters that there is no oversight or accountability with North Dakota’s elected officials.”

Spiess continued with his displeasure towards the handling of the mandated measure.

“This is not about smoking pot, it’s about how elected officials are bumbling this too. It’s about them not listening to the people, being secretive and playing petty politics,” Spiess said. “To me, that’s the big story with Measure 5. It is a mandate, and now the politicians are trying to double speak their way out of it.”

Although marijuana in any form is still considered illegal by the federal government, North Dakota’s reputation for listening to big brother’s wishes should not be considered a reason for the state’s hesitancy on Measure 5, according to Spiess. A state dominated by industry, especially agriculture and energy, North Dakota and the federal government often butt heads in court. North Dakota sues the federal government so much that in June 2015, the state passed House Bill 1432, effectively creating a slush fund of $1.5 million for suing the federal government.

Marty Riske, who ran on the Libertarian ticket for governor in 2016, said he waited inside the capitol building in Bismarck and wanted to participate in the Senate hearing for the measure’s institution. He arrived at 8:30 a.m., but the proposal to postpone came and went before he was alerted.

“Nobody knew this thing was happening, that I knew,” Riske said. “I was there, I could have been there and testified. 

Riske added that he believes North Dakota legislators want tight control, funneling profits to where they want.

“For some reason the bureaucracy feels they have to invent everything,” Riske said. “They have to do everything from ground zero. This is a measure of the control they want to have over it. They’re trying to figure out who gets the money from what’s going on. It’s a money game.”

Morgan and Riske are both concerned that politicians will kick the cannabis can until loopholes can be found to circumnavigate the will of the people, or that funding for the measure will be buried inside a massive bill and then go unfunded. Morgan expressed further concern by saying legislators do not relish the idea that a medical cannabis user or a surrogate grower would be allowed to grow the plant for medicinal uses under the current bill. The state wants total control over the trade, Morgan said.

“You’re going to have medical cannabis for the rich, and nobody else,” Morgan said. “If you can grow it at home, or a surrogate grower can grow it for you, it won’t cost you $800 a month.”

Skojd understands local anger pertaining to the postponement.

“From a high level view I can see why people would think that,” Skojd said. “There is a lot of suspicion of government these days, and I can see why somebody might think that.”

For now, the implementation of medical marijuana is out of the North Dakota Department of Health’s hands, Skojd said. No monies have been allocated, or will be allotted for at least the next six months.

“It needs to be a working measure that is strong and well worded, and easy to understand for everybody. I definitely personally feel for those people who are in pain, or suffering and hoping this will alleviate that for them, none of us in our department want to see people suffer. At the same time we are looking forward to something that is really solid, and something we can work with.”

Senator Erin Oban D-N.D., said the bill was supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.

“It is rare I put trust in the motives of certain legislative leaders in this place, but not only was this bill supported by the Dem-NPL legislative leaders, it has unanimous support of the Senate Human Services Committee.”

Oban further reported the Health Department is working on a bill that would set limitations on the number of growers, dispensers, and potency of medical marijuana.

“I will be the first to stand with my district and every other of the 47 legislative districts in this state that passed Measure 5 if there are political motives to undermine the voters,” Oban said.

Morgan, a stockbroker who suffers from debilitating pain including drop foot, said the state’s response to the measure has left him with two choices.

“We can obviously take them to court,” Morgan said. “However, there is another option, which is to start another initiated measure to get things squared away for the legislature.”  

The governor’s office was not prepared to make a statement on the issue as Burgum has three days to sign the bill, Mike Nowatzki, communications director for the governor’s office, said, despite the fact Burgum said on multiple occasions during his gubernatorial campaign that if Measure 5 passed, he would sign it into law immediately.

Representatives Al Carlson, Corey Mock, Wardner, and Senator Joan Heckaman introduced the bill to postpone any immediate decisions on the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act. Carlson and Heckaman did not respond to interview requests nor returned telephone calls.

Earlier in January, the state legislature introduced other bills including House Bill 1203 hoping to legalize the unintentional running down and killing of individuals obstructing vehicular traffic on public roads, House Bill 1151 which would exempt oil companies from reporting spills less than 420 gallons, House Bill 1304, which attempted to make illegal the wearing of ski masks on public roads in North Dakota, and Senate Bill 2315 was also introduced recently, an act that proposes the legalization of killing a violent intruder even if escape was possible or when trying to escape arrest after committing a violent felony.  

In addition, Carlson, also the Republican House Majority Leader, praised Confederate soldiers on Martin Luther King Day during a speech, and Senator John Hoeven R-N.D. asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to clear the protesters camped against the Dakota Access Pipeline outside of Cannon Ball.

“Project Wake Up Call:” Fargo’s Fight Against Racism Begins

Fargo residents rally against House Bill 1427 

By C.S. Hagen
– Fargoans, in the hundreds, from every race, religion, and creed, met Thursday afternoon to resist a North Dakota bill that plans to stop refugee resettlement in the state. 

Those claiming Viking ancestry, Somalis, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants met at the Civic Center before marching down Broadway in defiance of House Bill 1427. At least 300 people attended the rally, first listening to speakers challenging Fargoans to “wake up.” 

Activists placed pins onto countires where their ancestors came from – photo by C.S. Hagen

Fowzia Adde, executive director of the Immigrant Development Center, said when she first started public speaking, she was shy.

Fowzia Adde speaking at the rally – photo by C.S. Hagen

“I’m not shy anymore,” Adde said to hundreds gathered inside the Civic Center. “I’m proud to be a Muslim. I’m proud to be a refugee. It’s time we change the political landscape in Fargo. When people are divided the wolf will come by one at a time. 

“This is my town. I belong here. Let’s come together. This is Project Wake Up Call.”  

If House Bill 1427 is passed, local governments could impose temporary moratoriums on refugee resettlement and Governor Doug Burgum would have the authority to impose moratorium across the state through executive order. It is a bill that gives communities the ability to evaluate and determine how many refugees it can take in, and stipulates strict requirements for refugee resettlement organizations. 

House Bill 1427 is fuel for the national fire Trump’s Administration recently lit with banning immigration from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. 

Hukun Abdullahi speaking at the rally – photo by C.S. Hagen

Hukun Abdullahi, co-founder of United African Youths, and founder and executive director at Afro American Development Association, said before speaking at the rally he was planning to return to the country of his birth, Somalia, to bring relatives back to the Fargo-Moorhead area. 

“Where we came from there was no freedom,” Abdullahi said. “Now there is no freedom here. The legislation that introduced this bill didn’t do any research. They didn’t think of the negative impact of this bill.”  

In his speech, Abdullahi said banning immigrants is immoral and bad economics. Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians make up 2.7 percent of North Dakota’s population in 2013, according to the American Immigration Council. Latinos and Asians wield $984 million in consumer purchasing power in the state, employ more than 2,100 people, and had sales and receipts of $171.8 million. 

John Strand speaking at the rally – photo by C.S. Hagen

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand also spoke at the rally, stressing the importance for all races to ask questions of each other, to get to know one another, and to show kindness, as “kindness doesn’t take much time.” 

Fargo’s response to refugees and new Americans should resemble a family’s welcome, and they should not be shunned, Strand said. Understanding would naturally follow if everyone makes the effort to get to know each other. 

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney gave a statement to Barry Nelson of the North Dakota Fargo Human Relations Commission to read. “The City of Fargo is a welcoming and friendly community that embraces its diversity and encourages acceptance and respect. While war and conflict may have displaced these individuals from their homes, I am proud that our community has offered warmth, safety, and a welcome relief from strife. A peaceful home where all are welcome.

“Together with the Fargo Human Relations Commission, I am concerned about the consequences of North Dakota House Bill 1427 and what this legislation may mean for our residents who have come from very difficult circumstances and challenging conditions as a refugee. It is important that we stand together to promote acceptance and respect, and strongly discourage discrimination. 

“To this end, I encourage the legislature to study all aspects of the refugee resettlement process in North Dakota in the future” 

People held up signs defying President Trump, and naming some of the politicians who introduced of the bill including Fargo City Councilman Dave Piepkorn, representatives Christopher Olson, Ben Koppelman, Kim Koppelman, and Senator Judy Lee. Others held up signs saying “Jesus was a refugee,” and “We’re all Muslims now.” 

“Xenophobia and racism have no place in our community,” another sign read. 

Fargo’s rally against House Bill 1427 – photo by C.S. Hagen

“We’re all family,” Strand said. “It’s just not right that across the country we’re all having to stand up for what we basically, fundamentally deserve, and are guaranteed under our Constitution and our laws. But you know what? This is our time to do that.” 

Abdullahi led the crowd in a chant: “When refugees prosper, Fargo prospers.” 

Strand pointed out that nearly everyone gathered at some point was a refugee. 

Bruce Holmberg traveled from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota to join the rally. He has friends at home who are refugees and wanted to take a stand with them. He carried a sign saying “Ban me: my ancestors were Viking terrorists.” 

“There is a saying that came out of World War II,” Holmberg said. “They came for the communists and no one spoke out. They came for the Jews and no one spoke out. Then they came for me and no one was left.” 

“Someday, we should just all have a picnic,” Strand said. “And we know life is not a picnic, especially these days when we are challenged to rise up and evolve and affect change. Invite all our relatives, every single one of us, and then our relatives invite their relatives and their relatives invite their relatives and so on and so forth. Pretty soon everybody is included. 

“That’s what we need in this world is everybody included, everybody honored, everybody respected, everybody having hope, everybody having a future, everybody having a neighbor, everybody being safe.” 

Call or email these numbers to voice your opinions

‘Stormfronts’ of North Dakota’s Streets 

White supremacists not finished with the Peace Garden State, form hit list of small towns

Alt-White: The Siege of North Dakota. Part Two in the series 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. Not everyone is on board, however, sympathizers to white supremacist agendas could be a next door neighbor, or in city, state government. 

By C.S. Hagen
Since the town of Leith’s victory against white supremacists, eleven towns across North Dakota made their hit list. The towns range from populations of 16 to nearly 7,000.  

Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota banner

Listed by names, pictures, and real estate advertisements by Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota, a white supremacist operation welcoming Nazis, the Creativity Movement, Ku Klux Klan, militants, white nationalists, and racialists, the North Dakota towns are the group’s next targets to become Aryan enclaves.

Known targets: Underwood, Carson, Kenmare, Washburn, Tioga, Newburg, Valley City, Antler, Sherwood, Landa, and Leith.

Operative concept: Pioneer Little Europes are identified as the “vanguard model for the next form of a white community, a vessel for its cultural revival,” according to white supremacist Hamilton Michael Barrett, a prominent figure and author of the operation.

Operative goal: create “arks of survival” for the white race, and prepare for RaHoWa, or racial holy war.

Codename: “Stormfronts of the Street” which operated under the radar in North Dakota until wild-haired Craig Cobb’s “100-day Reich” in Leith, in 2013, and his second attempt in Antler, in 2015.

Supporters of the operation, who come from all the corners of the white supremacist world, are threatening to begin again, and have been since 2015. The most recent threat came on November 9, 2016: “A return to Leith and Antler, ND, is in our future, comrades. This time there are more of us.”

Leith and Antler are permanently marked for takeover under the self-titled Honey Badger Principle. “The Honey Badger Principle states that once an area is marked as PLE-friendly, we will pursue it until we get it no matter what,” page organizers for Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota said on the group’s Facebook page. “In other words: Once we bite, we will never let go.”

The operation has expanded, however, and now includes near-ghost towns, townships, and two larger cities in the Peace Garden State.

“We are not putting all our eggs in one basket this time.”

Craig Cobb and Kynon Dutton marching through Leith with weapons – photo by Gregory Bruce

Pioneer Little Europe’s Facebook pages are deceptively innocent. Profile pictures feature attractive white women, but the threats and rhetoric inside are tiresome to some town leaders, worrisome to others. The Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota page has garnered 1,086 likes, six more than last week. South Dakota’s page has 802 likes. Page organizers frequently post about state and county population growth,

“We have a right to create a community for our people,” a page organizer said. “We have a right to purchase property. We will make it as expensive and inconvenient as possible until we get our PLE. We are never going to give up. To give up now would be to disrespect our ancestors who built this world.”

Danish Mill in Kenmare built in 1902 – photo provided by Kenmare, ND website

Leith, Grant County: population 16, 70 miles southwest of Bismarck

The tiny town of Leith made international headlines with its struggle against white supremacist Craig Cobb’s first hostile takeover. After Cobb’s arrest, Mayor Ryan Schock said his town razed abandoned buildings and tidied the village up. Outwardly, the town has had a makeover, but inwardly, the controversy tore the town apart. To this day he said Leith has not healed. The town was dubbed “Village of the Damned” by Cobb.

Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” is Schock’s mobile phone ring.

“It’s definitely changed, that’s for sure,” Schock said. “It’s 75 percent back to the way it used to be. It drove a wedge into the community.”

One reason Leith has not healed completely is that sympathizers live in town, Schock said. “Still a couple people living here that may agree with them. There are also a few of them straggling around here.

“It’s not the way it used to be.”

The townspeople are now leery of strangers. Hate groups, including the American Nazi Party, or the Nationalist Socialist Movement, still own three barren plots Cobb originally purchased, and there is little the town can do about it, Schock said.

“I am definitely keeping my eyes peeled. I’ve heard the rumors saying that they’re always watching you. I’m watching out for them too, but I’m not going to worry about it either.”

Leith is listed as a “somewhat livable” town, according to AreaVibes, an online real estate research engine. With a cost of living 22 percent lower than the state average, home values and incomes are also lower. Few amenities are in the area, and according to Mayor Schock, the town no longer has any abandoned buildings.

Cobb, now clean-shaven and quiet, was released from jail on probation in April 2014. He deeded the remainder of his Leith properties as gifts to prominent white supremacists, including Tom Metzgar, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and founder of White Aryan Resistance, Jeff Schoeb, National Socialist Movement Commander, and Alex Linder, owner of the Vanguard News Network, an online hate website.

Old Leith church now demolished – photo by Gregory Bruce

Underwood, McLean County: population 778; 50 miles north of Bismarck and  60 miles south of Minot

In rural Underwood, City Auditor Diane Schell was unaware of Pioneer Little Europe intentions, and news her town was targeted came as a surprise.

“I think we will have to deal with it as it comes,” Schell said. Her town instituted proactive policies in the 1990s for the city to purchase all abandoned buildings, leaving opportunities for cheap real estate difficult to find.

Underwood is a “very livable” town, according to AreaVibes, and while the crime rate is higher than the state average, the cost of living and property values are low. Its median household income is three percent lower than the state average.

Leith Creamery now demolished, plot owned by Nationalist Socialist Movement – photo by Gregory Bruce

Antler, Bottineau County: population 33; 50 miles north of Minot

Antler’s Mayor Bruce Hanson dealt with Craig Cobb’s second attempt at creating an all-white enclave by rallying the town’s people, purchasing the property Cobb intended to buy, demolishing it, and cleaning up the street.

“We went through this a couple years ago, and I don’t want to go through it again,” Hanson said. “Nobody wanted these people in town.”

After the town won the struggle and Cobb left town and moved to Sherwood, Hanson said he went inside the property. The wood floor was rotted, ceilings were caving in. He didn’t dare walk more than 15 feet inside.

“Whoever wanted to move into that thing had to be half nuts and ready to move into the state hospital in Jamestown.”

Antler is “barely livable” according to AreaVibes. Its crime rate is higher than the state average. Its median home value and household income are much lower than the state average, and its cost of living is 19 percent lower, making it an ideal target for a Pioneer Little Europe.

“Everyone in this town gets along,” Mayor Hanson said. “We don’t want any trouble, we don’t want problems. It’s a nice, quiet, small town and we want to keep it that way.”

Leith protest – attorney and activist Chase Iron Eyes – photo by Gregory Bruce

Sherwood, Renville County: population 256, 62 miles north of Minot

The town of Sherwood is situated two miles from the Canadian border, and relies heavily on the oil and agricultural industries for its survival. It has a golf course, three churches, and an active American Legion Post, according to the city’s website. The town also has Craig Cobb, who is on probation and not allowed to leave the state.

Sherwood Police Chief Ross Carter said Cobb is living with a girlfriend.

“He’s still here,” Carter said. “No problems. I’m kinda expecting it, but I haven’t seen anything. Everybody is keeping an eye on him. Everyone leaves him alone. He just wants attention.”

The town’s crime rate is 67 percent lower than the state average; its median home value and income are also lower, but it is listed as “very livable” by AreaVibes.

Leith Jail – photo by Gregory Bruce

Washburn, McLean County: population 1,324, 40 miles north of Bismarck  

Washburn and North Dakota’s 13th largest city, Valley City, population 6,699, present challenges for Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota, and may be targeted for their proximity to surrounding smaller towns. The Pioneer Little Europe movement targets small, dying towns, which can easily be “taken over.” The Flickertail State has approximately 114 towns with less than a thousand people and many more townships, according to City-Data.

“I guess we will need to keep our eyes and ears open and see what happens,” Washburn Mayor Larry Thomas said.


Craig Cobb’s residence in Sherwood – photo by Gregory Bruce


The Oxford Living Dictionary’s meaning of the word terraform is to transform (a planet) so as to resemble the earth, especially so that it can support human life. It is a word not included online in Webster’s Dictionary, and its usage by white supremacists is puzzling as it connotes planets other than earth.

“We are here to terraform the old white community, not to conform to it,” Barrett wrote in his 2001 book “Pioneer Little Europe Prospectus, a.k.a. ‘Stormfronts of the Street.’”

“The uncontrolled white nationalist culture will displace and destroy all the local values that have never really served whites…For it’s in these places, in Pioneer Little Europes, where the old nationalities can align and evolve into a cultural revival for all white Americans, that a new faith and ethical resistance can take root.”

Barrett doesn’t preach violence, but little pity will be shown to those who resist. The optimal way to exterminating a race, or taking over an area is to take away the living spaces the people within need to maintain economic and cultural integrity, Barrett said.

“Some of the old community whites will not want to live within an area where our numbers are concentrated. They will voluntarily flee this target area. In fact, all who oppose white nationalism will voluntarily quit the area. Many others, however, will welcome their liberators.”

One of Pioneer Little Europe’s tactics used in Leith is called “renter’s blitzkrieg.”

“The large numbers of white nationalists involved will swamp all the existing institutions in the local target area, and will gain enormous respect everywhere else. They will also occasionally connect with militants, those who have long lacked a community to defend.

“Now all will defend their community.”

Barrett adopted the methods behind Pioneer Little Europe from watching what he calls competition and adversaries, mainly Jews, the Chinese in Chinatowns, the Japanese, even homosexuals and hippies during the 1970s, he said. Like-minded individuals would target an area, and then “take it over” en masse before opposition had time to respond.

He proposed tactics not unlike General Patton during World War II where the decorated war hero bypassed entrenched troops to take control of nerve centers and supply lines.

“The faster we build large, powerful communities, the faster our opponent will be inclined to peacefully negotiate beyond their present stingy and condescending definition of what’s fair.”

Barrett condemns what he sees as a white genocide, and called on janitors, bartenders, police, lawyers, teachers, artists, security guards, book shopkeepers, theater owners, drivers, and blood bank operators, to prepare.

Two more principles for taking over towns are revealed within the Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota Facebook page: the “Tightening Rope Principle” and the “Trojan Horse Principle.”

“Those who are hostile at all toward us will be looked upon as tainted,” page organizers wrote. “We will not save them from a heart attack if they have one. We will be like a rope that tightens harder the more you struggle. The only way to escape the rope is to relax.”

The Trojan Horse principle suggests that operations are already in place in small towns across North Dakota.

“We know certain high profile anti-whites live there. Anti-whites who are with UnityND and attacked the original Leith, ND effort. We tracked them down, and we found out they lived in PLE friendly areas, despite preaching ‘diversity’ to everyone else. So we decided to mark those very favorite areas which the prominent anti-whites live in for PLE creation. This will discourage Anti-Whites from attacking an existing PLE effort, because if they do, chances are they will find one in their own backyard.”


Leith protest – photo by Gregory Bruce

Why North Dakota?

White supremacist groups prefer low-population areas. Guidelines suggest small towns, a meeting place, and a few shops are enough to begin an all-white enclave. Operatives search for isolated areas, towns on the brink of extinction, of which North Dakota has more than a handful.

“There is a belief by some supremacists that places like North Dakota are easy targets for starting supremacist movements, like Cobb’s attempt to takeover Leith,” Kade Ferris, the social media director for Unity-USA, said. Unity-USA is a nonprofit organization, an educator, and a direct action organizer against hate group activity.

“They think, correctly in some cases, that some people share their racist views,” Ferris said. “They also believe that it would be more difficult for an anti-racist organization to oppose them in such a rural place as North Dakota.

“They were wrong on both points as they were opposed by the town of Leith and Unity-USA organized one of the best anti-racist rallies in recent memory.”

Gregory Bruce, a Navy veteran, and one of the documentarians behind the Leith controversy, is now the media relations director for the city of Leith, and was an associate producer for the “Welcome to Leith” documentary. He has taken and collected thousands of photographs and videos, and hundreds of documents detailing the ordeal, and keeps some on his website.

He said he was one of three people, including the mayor and one other, who actively fought the Pioneer Little Europe operation in Leith, and believes they were surrounded by sympathizers. He was threatened with arrest by the county’s former state attorney, Todd Schwarz, who reportedly told him to stop documenting and bringing attention to the situation as the county was running out of overtime pay, Bruce said.

Two years after Leith’s victory, he took down his website, but he’s bringing it back online. The fight isn’t over, he said.

”There’s more trouble brewing in Leith once again, not from the Nazis, but from the Nazi sympathizers,” Bruce said.

One way to prevent a takeover is to keep towns clean and tidy, destroy old abandoned buildings or invest monies to spruce them up, both Bruce and Leith Mayor Schock said.

The fight against Pioneer Little Europe is also a digital one, Bruce said.

“Instead of shooting him [Cobb] that day with a gun, I decided to fight him using his own weapon, the Internet. And I beat the hell out of him.”

Leith will one day become whole again, the mayor said, but the town no longer feels like the home residents once knew. Schock is distrustful of newcomers, keeps tabs on hate group message boards. Anyone unknown who wants to buy property in Leith will undergo intensive scrutiny.

“I know what they’re looking for, a rundown town, a ghost town, yet still has a governing law,” Schock said.

“I tried my best to educate the people in North Dakota, but they just don’t give a damn,” Bruce said. “They want to believe this will go away, but it’s not going to go away.”

Village of the Damned – photo provided by Gregory Bruce


Shaun King Delivers Message to North Dakota 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – In grade school, Shaun King was the class clown, outgoing and funny. The light skinned 37-year-old writer and civil rights activist was more concerned with clothes, music, and girls than racism. 

In high school his world fell apart. At first, the attacks came in the form of sticks and stones – racial slurs, a Gatorade bottle filled with chewing tobacco spit thrown in his face. Fistfights became common, he was chased by white boys in pickup trucks, he said, In March 1995 the tension broke, changing his life forever. 

King was attacked by at least a dozen classmates, he said. He suffered severe spinal injuries that took 18 months to heal. His sophomore year in the rural Kentucky school was spent mostly in a hospital bed. 

“They were never held accountable,” King said. “It was the culmination of two years of harassment, and those guys never bothered me again. They did what they wanted to do, and I never had another incident.” 

Eventually King returned to the same school, but as a changed young man. 

“It changed my heart,” King said. “It changed how I saw the world. I became deeply sensitive about people in pain, people in need of justice that I wasn’t aware of until it happened.”  

Half black, half white, King went on years later to become a motivational speaker for Atlanta’s juvenile justice system, an ordained pastor, a writer followed online by more than 1.2 million people. Hundreds attended a speech he gave at Concordia College in Moorhead Monday evening. 
Before the speech, King looked the college up in Google Maps. “I thought, wow this is really remote. I had never been to North Dakota or so far west in Minnesota before, and it was a good opportunity for me to challenge people’s thinking. 

“I try hard not to just preach to the choir.”  

King is also involved and has written extensively with the Black Lives Matter movement, covering discrimination, police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and social justice issues. He is a senior justice writer for the New York Daily News, and has won numerous awards including the Epoch Humanitarian Award, the Hometown Hero Award from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, was also included in MSNBC’s The Grio Top 100 History Makers. 

The Internet is a tool King wished he had as a child. “There weren’t a lot of models and examples for me to look at and identify with,” King said. As a biracial child belonging neither to white or black, he often felt ostracized.

“Kids today, even those who live in the most rural areas of the country, now have the Internet, which gives them a lifeline outside their small world. I would have died for that.” 

No longer a pastor, King draws from the 15 years he spent behind the pulpit to deliver his messages. He still believes in organized religion, but is more critical than he was as a pastor. 

“I speak about it as someone who is a Christian, from a place of love, not from a place of hate or anger. People regularly confuse Christianity with white supremacy, or nationalism, I see it as a valid critique, but those who practice it know there is a difference.” 

The recent hate group and hate speech resurgence across the nation was sparked by President-elect Donal Trump, he said. 

“It is a backlash to Obama,” King said. “He developed a white supremacist following off of that idea. He developed a really bigoted racist foundation across the country, off his repeated insistence that President Obama wasn’t even an American, an imposter. That had a lot to do with Trump’s rise, the rise of hate groups, which have risen straight for the last eight years.”

Trump appealed to pre-existing prejudices and hatred, fingering a scapegoat for the nation’s problems, he said. 

“Trump was also able to convince people that he listened to their personal grievances, when he has consistently outsourced his labor force his entire life. Particularly in the midwest, jobs lost, companies closed, he convinced them he cared, when he has no history for caring.”

Although King’s speech is across the Red River in Moorhead, he hopes North Dakotans will listen to his message. 

“I knew very little about North Dakota until the Dakota Access Pipeline,” King said. He has also researched and written about the DAPL controversy since the protests became international news. “It’s hard for me now to view the state outside of that context. I know that’s not fair to all North Dakotans, but it has impacted how I view the state. I’m deeply disturbed by not just the pipeline, but also to our nation’s willingness to railroad anyone in the name of profit.” 

The Peace Garden State had ample opportunities to prove it cared for its people and natural resources, King said. “First and foremost, the state should have opposed the pipeline altogether, and particularly the path its on now.”

“They’re masking their concern for the people, choosing profits over people and by downplaying the pipeline’s effects on the environment. It could have been a glorious opportunity for the state to not approve, but what they really want is for the protesters to get out of there.

“It’s a scary time for a lot of people. I really believe in the power of fighting for change at a local level.  A lot of times we get so discouraged, fighting for change in your family, with coworkers, but challenge them to see the world in a better way. We’re not winning these huge battles, but sometimes you need to make the battle a little smaller. Ask yourself: how have I impacted the people I love or the people I work with? 

“Change the world one person at a time, and that’s noble.” 

If King’s message Monday night impacted a handful of people at Concordia, he said that is enough. “I will feel like that is a victory.” 

“Cannot Hate Without Love”

Nazis, racialists, and “alt-right:” Peace Garden State a perfect place for white supremacists 

Alt-White: The Siege of North Dakota. Part One in the series of racism in North Dakota, how Nazis plan to infiltrate the state and are being bolstered by Trump’s Administration policies. Hate crimes are not on the rise, but the state ranks high for intolerance to multiculturalism. Today, white supremacists are rarely dressed in white robes or swastikas, but are “Guccified.” 

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Nick Chappell no longer resembles the American Nazi he was 10 years ago during a recruitment drive to Fargo. He’s forgotten where he last put his braunhemden, or brown shirt, his black tie, and Nazi pin. The imperious swastika armband once wrapped around his left arm has also been packed away. 

“Not the best way to convert people, I believe,” Chappell said. “The purpose was to grab attention, which it did.” 

Once a rising star in the American Nazi party, he 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. Eleven months after his visit to the Peace Garden State, Chappell was ranked high on a confidential Nazi blacklist. American Nazi Party Commander Jeff Schoep labelled Chappell an “oath breaker” and “race-traitor.” 

Now, Chappell, 28, of Irish and English descent, makes occasional trips to Fargo from his home in South Dakota to help organize and educate groups of people involved with 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 Creativity Movement rose from the ashes of the Church of the Creator founded in 1973. The organization’s colors evoke the swastika: red, white, and black; its logo is a large “W” representing the white race topped by a crown and a halo. 

2007 Nazi party presidential candidate (center) John Bowles, (left) Nick Chappell and Kevin Swift – photo by NSM International

Chappell prepares for RaHoWa, the acronym for an inevitable racial holy war, he said, which is coming soon. 

“I do believe that eventually this will boil down to a race war as we have already seen with the riots in cities like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore,” Chappell said. His family doesn’t share his views. 

“They are in denial over what I see as an inevitable war brewing.”

A reverend, also known now as a “creator” for the Creativity Movement, Chappell has been targeted before while he was a Nazi. In 2007, he was attacked by non-racists in Columbia, Missouri; suffered a busted lip.

Hate and love are both parts to his nature, he said. He didn’t learn racism from his parents, but from attending a primarily black school in Edenton, North Carolina. “There were fights on a weekly basis. I tried to avoid them but I got suspended about once a year for a fight. 

“If you were white you had to travel in a group or you would be attacked and picked on for being white.”

When he left the Nazis – a time analysts describe as the most recent resurgence of white-power – smaller groups splintered from larger organizations. After the American Nazi party’s troubles of 2007, Chappell formed a new group called the Nationalist Socialist Order of America, and based it out of “The Redneck Shop,” a memorabilia store in Laurens, South Carolina. It was known as the “site of many NSM gatherings,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate group watchdog and nonprofit civil rights organization. 

Marriage to a woman who shares his beliefs brought Chappell from North Carolina to his current home in a small town in South Dakota. He leads a normal life; has a full time factory job and fathered four children. He purchased a house, invested in four other houses for like-minded people in need, he said. As a reverend in the Creativity Movement, he holds regular weekly meetings for study and discussions, all open to the public. 

The Creativity Movement is a four-dimensional religion, Chappell said, focusing on a “sound mind, sound body, in a sound society, and sound environment.”

Nick Chappell (right) before a vending table in Illinois – photo provided by Nick Chappell

“Our organization is not afraid of confrontation, so if anti-racists wish for a confrontation our meetings are always open to give them that,” Chappell said. “We want a white-only society so it has to begin locally with white racial loyalists congregating together, helping each other. Where I live I purchased a few homes for those facing hard times…brings in people where we can get them jobs, and provide a roof over their heads.” 

He and others fight to protect white culture. They’re persecuted, rejected by many; small town governments fight against their plans at creating white enclaves.  

The current problems in the USA began in the 1960s with the civil rights movement, he said. 

“When we desegregated schools people were forced to intermingle, circles of friends began to blend, and with that black culture injected into ours.” If ethnic minorities can cling to their cultures with pride, whites can do the same, Chappell said. 

Hatred towards ethnic minorities in the USA is not blanketed, but pointed. 

“Do I hate all non-whites? No, but I would hate every single one that is a threat to my race,” Chappell said. “Yes, I hate black and Mexican gang bangers, and I hate drug dealers, and I also hate degenerate whites who do drugs and have been completely obsessed with non-white culture.

“But you cannot hate without love.” 


Another white power resurgence

Chappell doesn’t believe Donald Trump’s successful run for presidency is going to help his cause. “I am still waiting to see what he does, instead of what he says.” 

Others disagree. 

White supremacy, in its many forms, sects, and organizations, has been given new life with Trump’s presidential campaign and election, according to The New York Times, the Huffington Post, and AlJazeera. Additionally, nationalist groups like France’s National Front led by Marine Le Pen, and Golden Dawn in Greece led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, are growing in numbers, threatening power balances, effectively tipping international scales.

Tensions between races are escalating on all sides. Violent crime and hate crime numbers are up, and not specifically white targeting black, but blacks also targeting whites, including the recent kidnapping and torture of a mentally-challenged white person by four young black people in Chicago. 

Or when the Tinsley Park 5 ambushed white supremacists in 2012, injuring ten in Chicago, or more recently the racist and anti-racist stabbings during a Ku Klux Klan rally in California in June 2016, the Neo-Nazi rally in Washington DC in November 2016… or the post-election celebratory “alt-right” Hitler salute hailing President-elect Trump during Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute meeting. 

Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail our victory,” Spencer said during the meeting. “For us it is conquer, or die… To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer, and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward.”

Criticism against Spencer’s speech in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, has caused his family financial suffering, The Daily Stormer reported, forcing his mother to sell property. Neo-Nazis have struck back, announcing plans for an anti semitic “Troll Storm,” in the ski resort town on Sunday, January 15, according to The New York Times, Huffington Post, and The Daily Stormer

Across the racial aisle in June 2015 Dylan Roof, a white supremacist, admittedly fired 70 rounds, killing 9 black people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Somebody had to do it,” Roof said in a video released in December 2016. “Black people are killing white people everyday… What I did is so minuscule compared to what they do to white people every day.”

Closer to home since 2004, hate crimes in the Peace Garden State range from threats to explosives, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  • 2004, feces was spread across a mosque’s doors in Fargo 
  • 2005, at least five swastikas were drawn in the University of North Dakota’s campus in Grand Forks
  • 2008, a Jewish student at the same college was harassed 
  • 2011, a monkey-like figure attached to a large inflatable rat was hung from a noose outside an American Crystal Sugar plant in Grand Forks during a labor dispute in an attempt to intimidate minorities working at the plant
  • 2011, racist quotes, swastikas, and anarchy symbols were written on the city hall, residences, cars, street signs in Harwood, North Dakota
  • 2012, a threatening anti-gay epithet was written on the back window of a car that had rainbow bumper stickers – a symbol of gay pride – in Grand Forks
  • 2013: a man impersonating a Hamas agent threatened a Jewish synagogue in Fargo
  • 2013-2014, Craig Cobb and other white supremacists tried to take over the near-ghost town of Leith, North Dakota, and turn the hamlet of 16 people into a white-only enclave, Cobb plead guilty to terrorizing inhabitants with guns
  • September 2016, Matthew Gust plead guilty to firebombing Fargo’s Somali restaurant Juba Coffee & Restaurant with a Molotov cocktail 

Fargo Police Department reported 48 hate crimes in the city since 2012, which involved 13 assaults, eight threats, and three harassment cases that occurred in 2016. 

Fargo Police Deputy Chief Joe Anderson said his department is aware of Nazis in Fargo. 

“We are aware there are people in our community who have those biased beliefs,” Anderson said. “As far as I am aware, we don’t have any active criminal cases involving their participation or rhetoric.  When a suspected hate/biased crime occurs we investigate the incident as thoroughly as possible, just like any other crime against a person or property.”


The Nazi vogue

Not unlike Adolf Hitler’s hiring of Hugo Boss, American Nazis are attempting a makeover, according to the NSM Magazine. Nazis focus much of their resources on external image, rallies, and direct action, while the Creativity Movement attempts to nurture their members. 

Nationally, supremacist leaders are now “Gucci-fied,” dressed in name brand suits and ties, as even the Ku Klux Klan, America’s most infamous and oldest hate group, has recently realized old ways of cross burnings, lynchings, and violence are “out of style.” They now speak from behind platforms; make runs at national office.

Lingo is changing. 

  • Racialist – is the most correct term “with regard to accuracy of implied meanings,” an article in the magazine reported. A racialist is pro-white, and does not hate people or other races. 
  • Neo-Nazis – a term “used by Jewish people as a way of demonizing white people who are decidedly pro-white.”
  • Antifa – a semi-organized group of anti-racists who consider using anti-white actions. 

Uniforms and formal dress for the Ku Klux Klan and for Nazis remain stubbornly unchanged. Nazi patches, “No Mercy” sweatshirts, “100% Politically Incorrect” t-shirts, Skinhead music, and a video game named Zog 2, a first-person racialist shooter game, were for sale on

Nazi uniforms were made a requirement at all public functions in July 2008, Shoep wrote to party membership, adding all items must be purchased through Nationalist Socialist Movement website. The style closely resembles those made by Hugo Boss during the 1930s. 

  • Shirt – black BDU (battle dress uniform)
  • Pants – black BDU style or Dickies black slacks (pants should be bloused into boots) 
  • Boots – black military style (black laces only) 
  • Belt – black belt with silver buckle or Stormtrooper buckle 
  • Cap – (optional) black SWAT style cap 
  • Rank insignia – to be worn mid chest along the button line in keeping with current US military standards, sewn on with the upper edge even with the upper pockets, directly on the fabric covering the buttons on the BDU.
  • NSM patch – on left shoulder one inch below shoulder seam 
  • State patch – (optional) only official approved State patch, on right shoulder 1 inch below shoulder seam. 
  • Party pin – one party pin may be worn over the left pocket. 

Most supremacists seek what they call equality, as the white race is in danger of being eliminated while African Americans are being “radicalized and emboldened by the Obama Administration,” according to Shoep. 

Activists argue if Black Pride, Black Power, and Black Lives Matter movements are considered acceptable, so too should White Power and White Pride. American Nazis are fighting to raise awareness of the “plight of whites,” according to the NSM Magazine. 

Chappell offered an example. “A few years ago in Kansas City there was a kid chased home from school by blacks, lit on fire on his front porch,” Chappell said. He referred to the February 2012 incident when a 13-year-old white child was doused in gasoline and lit on fire on mother Melissa Coon’s front porch. 

“The blacks were never charged with a hate crime. If a group of whites did that do you think they would be as fortunate? It is actions like this that influence people to joining organizations like mine. We are a reaction to society’s inaction.” 

The incident has been called a hoax citing the “black boogeyman” by some media outlets and activists, and a hate crime by others. To this day, no one has been reportedly arrested for the crime.


“Arks of survival”

Some in the Peace Garden State believe the movement in North Dakota took root in 1983 with Gordon Wendell Kahl, aka Sam Louden, a leader of the militant group Posse Comitatus, an early anti-Semitic, white supremacist organization. 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. 

Gordon Kahl’s Wanted poster – provided by U.S. Marshals

Militant and racist groups have hibernated quietly in North Dakota, but are growing, according to analysts. White-supremacist and now Creativity Movement member Cobb’s attempted takeovers of Leith in 2012, and Antler in 2015, are only a handful of recent endeavors. 

White supremacy’s bite is easily found online; its presence in the real world comes in black, a light shade of brown, in jackboots with white laces, and swastikas. In letters, chats, or emails – 88 – stands for HH, or “Heil Hitler.” Wolfsangles and Odin’s hammers have been taken from Nordic culture to stand as Nazi signs. Another slogan, “14” signifies Adolf Hitler’s 14-word phrase: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” 

A newer campaign known as Pioneer Little Europe has recently spread throughout Facebook. Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota has received 1,080 likes, compared to Georgia’s page with 447 likes. During a recent blizzard, page organizers wished its followers Happy Yule, and “may the leftist terrorists freeze.”

Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota page organizers promise that a return to Leith and Antler is in the future, because “there are more of us.” Instead of targeting one specific city, page organizers plan to expand across the state pinpointing cities of Leith, Underwood, Washburn, and Antler. Advertisements for available homes in Sherwood, ND, where Cobb is currently reported to be residing, are listed.

Craig Cobb – photo provided by Southern Poverty Law Center

Cobb, 65, is listed as a sustaining member of “Friend of Stormfront,” and is active in the website. According to his posts on White Pride Worldwide chat in Stormfront, he attempted a second takeover in Antler, North Dakota, buying a 111-year-old bank, a septic, and two residential lots in July 2015. He made payments from the Creativity Movement of USD 10,000 to Skywalker Enterprises LLC. 

“Creativity Movement owns the bank, lock, stock and barrel,” Cobb wrote. “Why, I even have the key to the bank.” 

After taking control, Cobb wanted to rename the town of 28 to “Trump Creativity,” or “Creativity Trump” in honor of Trump, whom he admires deeply, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

City pressure on the real estate company’s president left the man in “sheer terror,” Cobb said, and the company promised him a full refund. The building was torn down in February 2016, its debris buried in a hole.

On January 9, Cobb told WDAZ News that he planned to file a racial discrimination lawsuit after verbally agreeing to purchase a home for himself and his girlfriend in Bottineau County city of Landa, population 40.

Because of a DNA Diagnostics test in 2013, which proved Cobb was 14 percent Sub-Saharan African, Cobb claimed the homeowner must have thought he was a mulatto-Nazi, and refused to sell him the house on the grounds that he was part black, WDAZ reported. 

“We the European-American people, and the European people in general have had enough, and if a little civil disobedience and direct action are needed – we are willing to do it,” Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota page organizers wrote. “We will not give in to the genocidal demands of the Antifa terrorists, the corrupt anti-white government bureaucrats, and their diminutive sycophantic yokels, their boot-licking thugs.”

Those that oppose supremacists are brainwashed. They cry out to bankrupt anti-white cities. Anyone opposing them, no matter their skin color, is listed as an “anti-white.” Page organizers also report that Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is trying to fill the Peace Garden State “with invaders.” They make fun of Standing Rock; call DAPL supporters “Marxist savages.” On October 10, 2015, they also take credit for forcing the city of Antler to spend USD 35,000 in thwarting Cobb’s second attempt for an all-white enclave.

Page organizers also exulted in the fact that Congressman Kevin Cramer R-N.D., beat long-time attorney, activist, and Standing Rock resident Chase Iron Eyes for the position earlier this year.

Pioneer Little Europe, or PLE, is an idea developed primarily in the 1990s by Hamilton Michael Barrett and Mark Cotterill, two white supremacists from British and American connections, according to Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Jewish human rights group Anti-Defamation League. 

In South Dakota, Chappell has met with more success than Cobb. The Creativity Movement there steers away from political rallies. “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. You get far more accomplished one-on-one and in smaller meetings.” 

During meetings, some members come in from elsewhere and stay in local hotels, fill tanks with gas from stations down the road. 

“Thanks to us, we have created business in the area to improve the local economy in this town,” Chappell said. His organization owns a restaurant, a gym, and a banquet hall, to which they frequent for meetings or for socialization. 

“Less risk of getting booted out last minute or having our food spit in at restaurants,” Chappell said. “Can’t prove people spit in the food at restaurants, but it’s a safe bet.” 

Persecution has made Chappell stronger, he said. “It’s made us more independent, and inspired many to own their own businesses so you’re not fired for your beliefs. 

“We live in a society so concerned about the equality of non-whites, it has been completely unequal to whites. The Constitution doesn’t apply to us anymore.” 

Americans have a long history of “fringe groups trying to form communities of like-minded people,” Pitcavage said. “One can think of Puritans coming to America to escape hostility in Great Britain, or Mormons trekking to Utah to escape aggression from non-Mormons.” 

Two events after World War II heralded white supremacist cloistering: the Cold War and fear of nuclear holocaust, and the success of the civil rights movement in the 1970s. Since desegregation, die-hard separatists and supremacists have called upon followers to travel to states like Oregon and Utah under the auspices of the Northwest Territorial Imperative, also known as the White American Bastion, Pitcavage said. 

Although Cobb’s Leith and Antler projects failed, Cobb and his followers have not given up on the Peace Garden State, according to Pioneer Little Europe North Dakota Facebook page. Cobb could not be reached for comment. 

Historically, most cloistering attempts met little success due to infighting, crime, or lack of followers who were willing to give up their lives, Pitcavage said. The PLE campaign recognizes that such massive dreams are doomed, and believe that whites should form communities within communities as “arks of survival,” in order for racially conscious whites to survive. Their presence would “theoretically force non-whites to depart, leaving white supremacist enclaves whose members would aid and assist each other.”

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. In 1976 he ran for Missouri’s House of Representatives as an independent, running a platform to abolish income tax, end Social Security, terminate government control of education, and pull the United States toward withdrawing from the United Nations. 

Kelso is a bullhorn for white supremacy ideals. 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. Under Kelso’s supervision, Stormfront grew from 5,000 members in 2002 to 203,000 members in 2010. 

From 2007 until 2010, Kelso became active helping to promote Republican Presidential candidate Rand Paul. On his radio show on the Voice of Reason Kelso said North Dakota is “an optimal place to live as a pro-white activist,” and further claimed the Peace Garden State is full of opportunities for like-minded people. The American Freedom Party is considered “the most serious nationalist organization in the U.S.” by Southern Poverty Law Center.

Kelso refused to comment when contacted by telephone. 

“I am not interested in your questions at all,” Kelso said.


A double-edged sword

Fargo’s countermeasure against racism, classism, sexism, and hate, is Unity-USA. As a nonprofit organization, its directors are educators and watchdogs. One of the organization’s jobs is to stop Nazis and other hate groups from unifying in North Dakota and elsewhere through direct action and strong opposition, according to Kade Ferris, Unity-USA’s social media director. 

“There is a Nazi movement totally under the radar in eastern North Dakota,” Ferris said. “These Nazi groups, they flourish when they’re the only horrid voice in this sea of discourse. The discourse has changed in the last year so that more and more people feel free to spout hate and racism. Your neighbor down the street could be saying more horrifying things than any Nazi would ever think to say. In that sense, this nativist movement that Trump has created is not a movement because the average guy down the street who said something horrible and racist is the same guy who would deny that he would ever join a hate group because he thinks hate groups are for horrible people.” 

Trump’s election is a double-edged sword, Ferris said, as hatred’s wave sweeps the nation it is also drowning out the Nazi’s voices.

“More people will be horrified who would have normally been silent,” Ferris said. “People are standing up and opposing racism as well too. In a way, this discourse had to happen because when racism hides, when it’s quiet, when it’s under the surface, it grows and flows around, but the second it comes out into the open people become horrified by seeing that. I think that is a positive. The more people say horrible things, the more people are taken aback by it.

“When people are silent about racism, racism festers.” 

Racial issues do not rest solely with people like Cobb, or Kelso, but is deeply-rooted within the Peace Garden State. 

“Many people in North Dakota share many of the same views as Cobb and the Nazis, but they don’t see themselves that way and would be offended if you pointed that out. They hate Nazis, but are so similar in so many ways.”

Three years ago, few people were vocal about their own prejudices, Ferris said. Supremacists like Cobb shocked North Dakota, sent international hate group watch dogs and activists into a frenzy of activity. More than 400 anti-racists traveled to Leith in 2012 to face down a few dozen Nazis and supremacists. 

“Now, everyone is a Craig Cobb. They all say what they want to say, they are free with their hate, and they’re proud of it. That right there makes people like Cobb irrelevant. There’s more hate being spread on the local news Facebook page than there is on Stormfront. And that in a way is both a bad thing, and a good thing, as it opens people’s eyes and they see themselves, and they see racism is growing.

“But racism was already there.”  

Founder of Unity-USA, Scott Garman, said he’s been fighting racism and fascism nearly all his life. He and his family have been targeted by Nazis with threatening emails, telephone calls, online “doxing,” when a person’s personal information is released to the public.

Trump’s rise to power has fed hate groups courage, Garman said. 

“For the last five or six years there’s been an increase in Internet chatter,” Garman said. “White nationalists are breaking through the surface now, showing themselves. They’re doing much more, they’re much braver with the election of Trump. Now we’re seeing they’re no longer below the radar, and they’re feeling much more comfortable speaking out, which is frightening.” 

Nazis, skinheads, clansmen, creators, separatists, all come from the same mold, Garman said, the differences are minimal, almost interchangeable. 

“They are all of the same pot. You can’t separate them out. They’re all so full of right wing and nuts that it doesn’t do any good to keep them apart. They are all the same people just in different clothing, or different haircuts, or one is wearing boots and one isn’t. They will constantly change clothes, names, just when they’re being discovered for who they are. They will all of the sudden surface somewhere else under a different name, or under a different group’s name.” 

Most hate groups target the elderly, because they have money, or young people with malleable minds, Garman said. Shared religious beliefs is another tactic hate groups use to entice people to their ranks. 

“It’s just like drugs, once you get a taste, once you show up at a rally with a bunch of shave-headed dudes preaching this tough guy stuff, there’s a feeling of camaraderie, a feeling of belonging,” Garman said. “That’s a huge deal, it’s really powerful, but once you have that taste, maybe later on you do some research, but you’re already hooked.” 

Another reason hate groups are stepping into the light is because people are sipping their “Cool-Aid” for finding scapegoats for their own problems, Ferris said. 

“If you’re down in the dumps how do you push yourself back up? You either work really hard, or you push someone below you. They’ve created these scapegoats, first it was the Mexicans, then it was immigrants, now everybody. I think the people are going to start to see that there is an inherent problem with that. They’re not going to become instant millionaires, and they’re not going to become famous politicians. They’re going to wake up January 22 as refrigerator repairmen, or whatever. They will wake up and their lives won’t be better, but they will be filled with hate.”

Scapegoats are primarily fingered by the elected few, or by organizations such as the American Freedom Party or the benign-sounding National Policy Institute, an “alt-right” think tank, as ways to pass the buck or trigger anger.  

“They play to identity politics,” Ferris said. “They play to the ‘us-and-them’ binary, and in a way it has come down to that, and it’s a bad thing for America. They’re job in their mind is to elect people into power who are of the same mind. They are a dangerous hate group because of that.”

Instead of striving toward a better life, scapegoating onto immigrants or Muslims is the same tactic used by Hitler against Jews before World War II. 

“The poorest of the poor white person has more in common with the poorest of the poor black person, or native, or Latino, than they do with these wealthy, rich businessmen and oligarchs who are running the world. But they’ve been told differently by these very people who don’t have their best interests at heart.” 

Those involved in the Creativity Movement are Nazis who believe white man is God’s number one achievement, Ferris said. He is constantly harassed by Nazis and racialists. On January 7, Pioneer Little Europe Florida issued Ferris a death wish: “This is 2017 and Fidel Castro is dead. The best thing you can do is join him.” 

“My address, workplace, and my family’s pictures were shared all over Stormfront,” Ferris said.  He paused long enough to answer a young Nazi from Florida who believes he has a chance for state office since Trump won the US Presidency. 

“That’s not too nice I guess, but you can’t live in fear of these deplorables.”


Preparing for racial holy war

The Nazi party was established in Fargo in 2007, according to the Nationalist Socialist Movement’s NSM International blog. 

“The NSM Hotline was also packed almost to capacity with calls from around the nation asking about joining or supporting the NSM, so you, the members, activists, and supporters of the Party are doing your part in getting the word out about our cause,” Shoep said after Fargo’s Nazi party was officially formed.  

In 2009, secret Nazi emails were leaked onto the Internet by Wikileaks. The Nazi correspondence provides a small glimpse into the shadow world of Nationalist Socialism. More than 600 messages between July 2007 and August 2009 depict Nazis spending as much time pointing fingers, complaining of hard times, and threatening to expose internal fiscal problems as they do at talking about protecting the white race. 

Shoep frequently admonishes members, ordering them to stop squabbling, and in one letter he took a threatening tone.

“The NSM does not operate as a democracy, your Pledge of Loyalty is to the party and its leadership. Honor your oath, and your Pledge of Loyalty to the party, or get out of our ranks now while you still can.” 

William Herring, a staff member and Fargo’s Nazi contact who handled correspondence for the group in 2008. Herring reports his handle in other online chats is odinn88 in the Vanguard News Network, and describes himself as a Nazi skinhead with a satanic temper who has spent eight years in prison. These days, however, he “likes to stay on the right side of the law.

“Law and order are essential or we have chaos,” Herring said in October 2007 on the Vanguard News Network. “I live a clean, honest life now and I obey the law… Make no mistake, I am one crazy, violent mother f*cker. But I choose to stay free and outside of a cell by using reason and logic and following the law – until such time when there is no longer law or order. Then I will cheerfully and enthusiastically pick up a chainsaw or axe and seriously go to town on the n*ggers and Zionist swine. When that horrible day comes, you will see me on the front lines laughing my ass off and taking off heads. Until then, I just want a quiet little life with no mayhem or bullsh*t.”

According to the emails released by Wikileaks, Herring was in contact with Shoep in 2009, apologizing for not paying annual party dues, and saying he values his position with the Nationalist Socialist Movement and with the SS. 

While in Fargo, he described personal struggles to the Nazi commander, writing about a cheating girlfriend, a battle with pneumonia, being free from alcohol for 75 days. When he hit bottom, he began using toilet paper as coffee filters, and was forced to live in a homeless shelter. To friends outside the Nationalist Socialist Movement he wrote his name as Bill; to Shoep and other party members, he was SS Mann Herring. 

The Nazi party’s goals in Fargo are to engage in public speaking events, participate in local and state elections, and to distribute information and literature, according to Herring. 

“Our plan is to convince others that this system is broken beyond repair and that the principles of National Socialism are superior to this ‘democracy’ we find ourselves in.”

Toward the end of 2008, Herring wrote that his office was overwhelmed by the influx of new membership applications. In July the same year, Herring wrote he moved from Fargo to Springfield, Missouri. “I really didn’t have much left for me in North Dakota and I missed the hell out of my girl, so I moved to where she lives.”

By October 2008, Herring’s tone became calmer, telling applicants that the Nazi party doesn’t hate Jews, but is adamantly against Zionism and the dangers of multiculturalism. In 2009, Herring stated he was preparing to move to Oregon. 

“At the same time, we must admit to and report on the terrible crimes that many whites commit in order to show that our race is falling into decadence and that this behavior is further destroying us.

“We are not so one-sided as many think.”

The Nazi party has divisions applicants can apply to, including the Skinhead Division. For those who aren’t keen on wearing the uniforms, support divisions are available. Stormtroopers are the Nazi party’s “fighting force.” 

In addition to Fargo’s Nazi party, nearby Grand Forks has the American Freedom Party spearheaded there by Kelso, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization’s mission statement is mellow, citing concerns over the economy, well-armed borders, freedom from foreign ideologies, and fiscal mismanagement. The organization’s leaders, however, include a wide range of white supremacists, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

White nationalist corporate lawyer William D. Johnson practices out of Los Angeles, and is the chairman of the American Freedom Party. In 1985, Johnson proposed a constitutional amendment that would revoke the American citizenship of every non-white inhabitant of the United States, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

An excerpt from the “Pace Amendment” to the Constitution proposed by Johnson in 1985: “No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race. … Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.” 

In 1985, under the pseudonym James O. Pace, Johnson wrote the book Amendment to the Constitution: Averting the Decline and Fall of America, where he advocates for the deportation of anybody with any “ascertainable trace of Negro blood” or more than one-eighth “Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood.” 

Johnson was also selected as a California delegate by Trump. 

Both Johnson and national radio host James Edwards, one of six directors for the American Freedom Party, have also been in contact with one of Trump’s sons. Edwards, a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, reported on his show “The Political Cesspool” that America is on the verge of becoming a third-world nation because of its immigration policies. Edwards’ three-hour weekly show can be heard on its flagship station, the Christian station WLRM-AM in Millington, Tennessee, just outside of Memphis, on stations affiliated with the Liberty News Radio Network, and on the Internet.

“The Political Cesspool” says in its mission statement that it “stands for the Dispossessed Majority” and is “pro-white.” It says the show rejects “homosexuality, vulgarity, loveless sex, and masochism” and believes “secession is a right of all people and individuals.”

“The show has become the nexus for radio-based hate in America,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reports. 

Kevin MacDonald, a former professor of California State University Long Beach, is also a director of the American Freedom Party and has been accused of being an anti Semite by the Southern Poverty Law Center. His Twitter account tweets have been retweeted by by the Trump family, and he was quoted in 2010 by the Long Beach Press-Telegram saying white people have the right to organize to advance their interests, like everyone else. His writings on Jews have also been called anti Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League, and have been quoted approvingly by Duke.

Kelso, also a director for the American Freedom Party, was awarded “nationalist comeback player of the year” in 2014 by Jack Ryan, a writer for Occidental Dissent, an “alt-right” online publication. 

In South Dakota and across the world, the Creativity Movement is preparing for a racial holy war. 

“I am an ordained reverend within the church and it is my duty to educate those in my area on our teachings,” Chappell said. “We prepare for RaHoWa by stockpiling food, water, and protective gear in case riots happen in our areas.”

Creativity Movement gathering in South Dakota – photo provided by Nick Chappell

Leader of the Creativity Movement, Reverend James Logsdon, said in a 2013 interview with Vice, no matter his personal struggles or society’s ostracism, his racist choices are worth his cause. 

“Believe me, things are going to get very, very ugly,” Logsdon said. “You just look at the common decline of society; you’d have to be blind to say that doesn’t exist.” 

The Creativity Movement is gaining ground in Fargo, and across North Dakota, Chappell said. “We have had ups and downs like any organization, but we are making progress.”

The Creativity Movement’s enemies are the fear mongers, Chappell said, and for 14 years – as long as he has been a racial loyalist – only federal informants have tried to incite violence. Most groups are focused on growth, recruitment, adhere to strict legal means and ideals such as creating white enclaves. 

“Should people fear us? No, they shouldn’t, but the should definitely fear for their children’s safety, not from us, but from the society they have created.” 

Only non-whites, or non-racists, should fear them. “You can only push a man so much until he begins to swing back. Even the atrocities of Adolf Hitler were petty in comparison to America’s allies at the time of Stalin and Mao Zedong of China.  Stalin killed 40 million Ukrainians and and Mao killed 90 million Chinese. As far as people using the actions of Hitler and the KKK to justify antifascist actions, I would say unless they want to see atrocities on a greater scale than Stalin and Mao Zedong, they might want to find a better way to take action. Eventually people are going to snap, and it won’t be pretty.” 

In the meantime, white supremacist projects like Pioneer Little Europe and other white enclave endeavors are expanding in North Dakota. 

“I prefer a quieter approach,” Chappell said, referring to Cobb’s two attempts in North Dakota. Nazis also helped hurt the cause at that time as well, he said. “There is no need for so much attention. The economy is good and can attract people with lots of small towns and relatively cheap land. Jews believe in racial loyalty and help each other succeed, so they rise in society easier. That’s something whites should do as well. 

“It’s a successful business model. Why not?” 

Days after the Nazi salute to Trump, which was performed in public, in the nation’s capital, Dan Rather, former reporter for CBS 60 Minutes and the current president of News and Guts, issued a statement

“Now is a time when none of us can afford to remain seated or silent. We must all stand up to be counted. History will demand to know which side were you on. This is not a question of politics or party or even policy. This is a question about the very fundamentals of our beautiful experiment in a pluralistic democracy ruled by law.

“We are a great nation. We have survived deep challenges in our past. We can and will do so again. But we cannot be afraid to speak and act to ensure the future we want for our children and grandchildren.”

Fighting back tears, First Lady Michelle Obama gave her final address to young people from inside the White House on January 5. “It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and the life of this country. Lead by example with hope, never fear.” 

“Death by Oil” Remembering the Dakota 38 for Christmas

Looking back 154 years, little has changed in the Peace Garden State

By C.S. Hagen
– The same prejudices that sent 38 Dakota Native Americans to the gallows in Minnesota 154 years ago still exist in the Peace Garden State today. Parallels between the broken treaties that sparked the six-week US-Dakota War of 1862 and the current fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline contain undeniable similarities, red man and white man say.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II has repeatedly stated the Sioux tribe is not only fighting water and land rights, but also defying hundreds of years of broken treaties and oppression.

Little has changed since the day after Christmas 1862, the day of the U.S. largest mass execution in Mankato, Minnesota.

“Death by Oil” – wet plate by Shane Balkowitsch

“The overt racism that exists here in North Dakota is something that shocked me,” retired rancher and former candidate for the North Dakota House of Representative Tom Asbridge said. His family has lived in or near Morton County since the late 19th century. “It is North Dakota nice. During holiday times we pride ourselves for handing out turkeys to poor kids, but the rest of the year we ignore what is going on. There’s a lot of self-delusion here about who we are, and people who are smart prey upon that. We shouldn’t blame them, but blame the people who are too dumb to know the difference.”

Bismarck native and wet plate artist Shane Balkowitsch decided to commemorate the 154th anniversary of the Dakota 38’s mass execution with a wet plate featuring renowned flute player and writer Darren Thompson.

“I made this wet plate in the historic wet plate collodion process to remember and pay respect to the 38 Native Americans that we executed a day after Christmas in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln,” Balkowitsch said. “The oil dripping down the rope symbolizes the current protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Have we learned nothing from past historical tragedies?”

Thompson, the subject in the wet plate, is an award-winning flute player and a journalist who lives in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Growing up on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Reservation in Northern Wisconsin, he didn’t hear about the Dakota 38 until later in life. The story upset him, and he recently stepped from behind his role as a journalist to help Balkowitsch with his wet plate “Death by Oil.”

“It was difficult because originally I was planning on covering it as a journalist, and not being in the photo,” Thompson said. “It was difficult especially in terms of how can I explain this story.

“But he said ‘you have a voice that I don’t have, you can make this image reach to larger masses of people than I could.’ It would be a modern look of a Native American man.”


The Dakota 38: “It is a good day to die.”

Little by little, through trick and by trade, the federal government ate away at Dakota lands in southern Minnesota. Starting in 1805, the nomadic Dakota people were forced into smaller and smaller areas surrounding the Minnesota River, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

In 1819, the US Army began building forts, settlers soon followed. Animals the Dakota depended upon for survival vanished from the forests. Missionaries promised education and farming assistance. Politicians threatened reprisals if treaties weren’t signed. Eventually, 35 million acres were exchanged for a promised USD 3 million, which the Dakota never received in full. Despite disagreements within the Dakota tribe, treaties were signed, but the translations were false.

Battle of Wood Lake sketch

The Dakota were tricked, lost half their land, and now owed fur traders in excess of USD 400,000. Those that refused to change their ways were threatened with more reprisals, and were not allowed to return to their homes. Annuity payments were late.

In 1862, the Dakota had enough. War began.

Settlers in Renville County lived opposite the Dakota, three days after the attacks began the county was abandoned, as most had been killed, wounded, captured, or had fled, the Minnesota Historical Society reported. The attacks took settlers by surprise. Those that escaped fled to Fort Ridgely.

General Henry Sibley led the U.S. Army against the Dakota. Sibley was no Indian hater; he spoke the Dakota language, and was well acquainted with the four tribes, according to historian William Folwell.

He was frequently opposed by General John Pope, who subscribed to a Three-Alls policy: kill all, burn all, loot all. Sibley resisted.

“It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year,” Pope wrote to Sibley in 1862. “Destroy everything belonging to them and force them out to the plains, unless, as I suggest, you can capture them. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.”

Prairie on Fire

The campaign against the Native Americans ended at the Battle of Wood Lake on September 23, 1862. Dakota warriors lay in ambush against Sibley’s forces near Lone Tree Lake, while soldiers broke camp. They attacked as Sibley’s forces marched. Sibley won the battle, but not without casualties to both sides: seven white soldiers were killed, 33 wounded, 15 Dakota, including chiefs Makato and Mazamani, were killed.

A total of 152 civilians were killed, 48 soldiers or militia killed, 113 settlers and soldiers were captured, and 201 people escaped, according to some estimates. Other historians report more than 600 people were killed in total. Only 24 percent of the survivors returned to Renville County after the war.

The numbers of Dakota killed during the war estimate from 75 to 100, and by some reports much higher, but more than a fourth of the Dakota people who surrendered in 1862 died the following year. More than 1,000 Dakota were captured, and were forced into concentration camps on reservations, pressured to assimilate, and their lands were taken by white settlers, according to the Minnesota Historical Society. Eventually, all Dakota were forced from Minnesota; all treaties were destroyed. Many fled to North Dakota and Nebraska.

The U.S. Military Commission convened at Camp Release to try 392 Dakota prisoners. Proof of crimes was difficult to obtain as President Abraham Lincoln’s criteria for capital punishment was to sort out those who had committed rape and murder from those who participated in battles.

The trials were known as a mockery, both blind and ignorant, according to the Family and Friends of Dakota Uprising Victims. Language barriers, lack of proper translations, and local hatred against the Dakota spurred judges to quick determinations. A total of 303 people were originally sentenced to death, and 16 were given prison terms. President Lincoln shortened the list to be executed to 39, and one elderly man was spared minutes before the execution by Sibley.

Under orders from President Lincoln, the U.S. Army carried out the largest mass execution in U.S. history in Mankato, the word for Blue Earth in the Dakota language.

Abraham Lincoln letter and signature regarding the Dakota 38

The day before the mass execution, Reverend Stephen Riggs said some of the condemned “availed themselves of the opportunity to receive the Christian rite” of baptism. The prisoners were chained in pairs and to the floor.

“It was a sad, a sickening sight, to see that group of miserable dirty savages, chained to the floor, and awaiting the apparent unconcern the terrible fate toward which they were then so rapidly approaching,” Riggs wrote for newspapers in 1862.

A man identified as Father Augustine Ravoux, a noted Catholic patriarch of the Minnesota church, addressed the condemned, but was interrupted when an elderly Dakota “broke out in a most lamentable and unearthly wail; one by one took up the lay, and ere long the walls resounded with the mournful ‘death song.’”

When a second missionary began his address, the Dakota once again began singing.

Soon after, the condemned were bound, hands behind their backs. Many dressed in traditional blankets, white muslin hoods were slipped over their heads.

At precisely 10 a.m., the condemned were then marched to the gallows, a square structure on Main Street, between the jail and the Minnesota River. “The mechanism of the whole thing consisted in raking the platform by means of the pulley, and then making the rope fast, when by a blow from an ax by a man standing in the centre of the square, the platform falls; the large opening in its centre protects the executioner from being crushed by the fall.”

They wore war paint, and hopped on one foot to the gallows. Some of the condemned who had been “Christianized” sang “I’m on the Iron Road to the Spirit Land,” while others sang a native war song. One person among the condemned yelled out, “Hear me my people, today is not a day of defeat, it is a day of victory. For we have made our peace with our creator, and now go to be with him forever… Do not mourn for us, rejoice with us, for it is a good day to die.”

The spectacle drew people by the thousands. “Every convenient place from which to view the tragic scene was soon appropriated. The street was full, the house tops were literally crowded, and every available space was occupied.”

More than 1,500 soldiers also were present to keep the peace.

“Instead of shrinking or resistance, all were ready, and even seemed eager to meet their fate. Rudely they jostled against each other, as they rushed from the doorway, ran the gauntlet of the troops, and clambered up the steps to the treacherous drop. As they came up and reached the platform, they filed right and left, and each one took his position as though they had rehearsed the programme.”

Three taps of the drum signaled the executioner.

Upon the first tap, the condemned reached for each others’ hands, and shouted out their names to watching relatives.

The second tap followed. Stillness descended upon the scene.

“Again the doleful tap breaks on the stillness of the scene. Click! Goes the sharp ax, and the descending platform leaves the bodies of thirty-eight human beings dangling in the air.”

Most died instantly; some struggled. One rope broke, and a new length was quickly tied and the condemned hung until he was dead.

“Thirty-eight human beings suspended in the air, on the bank of the beautiful Minnesota; above, the smiling, clear, blue sky; beneath and around, the silent thousands, hushed to a deathly silence by the chilling scene before them, while the bayonets bristling in the sunlight added to the importance of the occasion.”

Their bodies were buried in a large hole in a sandbar in the Minnesota River.

President Lincoln later explained the mass execution to the U.S. Senate.

“Anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I ordered a careful examination of the records of the trials to be made, in view of first ordering the execution of such as had been proved guilty of violating females.”

Many local politicians and military personnel sent telegrams to the President to execute all 303 prisoners.

Sibley sent a telegram to President Lincoln the day after the executions. “The 38 Indians and half-breeds ordered by you for execution were hung yesterday at 10 a.m. Everything went off quietly.”

Hanging of the 38 Sioux at Mankato – sketch by W.H. Childs

Racism today

Thompson began teaching himself the flute while in college and now tells native stories with his songs, frequently in the Black Hills at the Crazy Horse Memorial, the world’s largest stone carving, which is not yet finished. Many of his tribe’s old songs and traditions are gone, but he’s discovered a few songs Jesuit priests recorded years ago, and he creates his own music.

Darren J. Thompson “Pipigew” or flue player – wet plat by Shand Balkowitsch

He plays prayer songs, songs for nature, songs to honor corn grinding, which he described as experiences for people to be baby fed native trauma and culture. Before Europeans “discovered” America, estimates put 50 million natives north of the Mexican border. By 1900, less than 100,000 remained, he said.

“With that comes an immeasurable loss of a people, languages, knowledge, their history, and their culture, and one of the ways I try to emphasize that particular fact is explaining this music is a part of who we are and it’s a very pleasant thing to listen to.”

Thompson has seen racism up close and it has been personal. As an Ojibwe, his tribe had issues over hunting and spear fishing rights, a fundamental part of their original treaties with the U.S. government. One of the ideologies he faced as a child was the “Save a walleye, kill an Indian” slogan. He has brown skin, and was called a “timber n*gger.” He received death threats in college, and close friends were also threatened.

The dangers Native Americans face today are just as real as they were in 1862, he said, although this time perhaps not at gunpoint, but with the burning of fossil fuels. Communication and mutual understanding could ease the months-long standoff.

“If somebody is wanting to understand, they need to specifically go in to speak with the people of Standing Rock,” he said. “It’s going to become too late if we don’t stop being so reliant on fossil fuels.

“What’s really challenging for an entire community is to have to swallow the inability of this company to consult, to invite the community to the table to have significant contributions. In the lack of doing that 86 burial sites were desecrated or harmed because of their inability to consult or to invite the community to the table.

“The people there are not anti-white, they’re anti-greed. They want a clean environment for everybody. It’s not that they want to harm the police or harm the pipeline workers. The people that want the pipeline want it built only because native people don’t want it built.”

Asbridge said racism is deep-rooted in the Peace Garden State, frequently reminding him of the days in the deep south when white people believed they had a moral right to go so far as to have white-only drinking fountains.

In coffee parlors and coffee shops around Bismarck he’s heard people say “we ought to go kill those damn Indians that are protesting.’

“Makes you wonder. When you hear it, it’s just really startling, do you really know what is coming out of your mouth? We’re being guided here without us thinking very clearly.”

Racism dates back to 1862 and beyond, Asbridge said.

“It’s kinda cultural, it goes back to the Scandinavian and the German roots – we got that built into us, instead of questioning government, we defer to it. An example is the response of police to the pipeline, they’ve been the aggressors in my mind, no question about it. I think they were sent there to antagonize the Natives.”

Early on, someone should have went down, rolled up their sleeves, and over pots of strong coffee discussed plans, man to man. “That to me is a crime, it’s a criminal activity to do that. The dogs, the rubber bullets, the water hoses, what the hell is the purpose of that?

“It’s an indicator of the culture here. Fighting the culture is a tough job.”

As Jack Dalrymple prepared to step down from the governorship, he received a standing ovation after he praised law enforcement and National Guard efforts during the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy. “Many of our people have gone months without a day off, ably managing the onslaught of out-of-state agitators in a situation that could never have been anticipated.

“The people of North Dakota can take satisfaction in knowing that the financial strength of their state is among the best in the nation,” Dalrymple said. He left a financially stable state to the newly elected 33rd governor, Doug Burgum.

The state may be financially secure, at least for the time being, but many agree the Peace Garden State’s spirit is sick. The symptoms are evident; the disease is contagious. From state politicians accepting big oil bribes during election races, to ignoring its first citizens, to not consulting appropriately with sovereign nations, to repressing the collective voices of North Dakota’s original peoples, racism is still alive and well, and living in the Peace Garden State.

Downtown Gentrification, the Good, the Bad, and the Unaffordable

Artists face difficulties as Fargo’s Downtown grows 

By C.S. Hagen 
FARGO – The art trade in Fargo is a cutthroat business. Photographers, painters, potters struggling for local sales are now also fighting for spaces in the downtown area.

Recognized by many as the cultural avant-garde of downtown’s awakening and current revitalization programs, some artists are being forced out, others are fearful of what future gentrification programs will bring.

Change doesn’t come without casualties, artists recognize, they’re simply asking not to be forgotten. The city has answered, but artists aren’t sure it’s enough. They describe a Cartesian Circle of artists bringing life back into rundown blocks, which spark investments, which then raises rents effectively kicking them out to start over again in a space they can afford.

Fargo’s downtown, once filled with brownstones and brick and mortar, grocery stores, taverns, and a sprinkling of brothels, fell prey to fires over the centuries and received a near-lethal blow during urban renewal programs of the 1950s. City policy makers offered incentives to landlords to tear down old buildings to pave parking lots, Kilbourne Group General Manager Mike Allmendinger said. And the mass exodus to the suburbs began.

It was a time many in Fargo wish never happened.

Now, as city investors and entrepreneurs turn their eyes once more to city center, rents are increasing.

“It happens in the Renaissance Zone, we’ve had buildings downtown go from a total of USD 150 million to over USD 600 million right now,” Mayor Tim Mahoney said. “It’s almost by association that we have that going on. The problem that we have is buildings in the center core that have not had a lot of changes or any money put into them, and they want to take a higher rent, and yet they haven’t improved the building in any way.”

He’s in the process of figuring out spaces where lower income rental spaces can be made available. One suggestion was to move across the Red River into Moorhead, but it doesn’t have the space, Mahoney said.

“We’re one of the top ten cities in the United States, and the arts is a very critical part of that,” Mahoney said. “You have to have things that interest people. It’s not the big chain stores. More often than not it’s the smaller shops and stores for people to look at. That’s what keeps us viable. We’re going to try and do that.”

The Downtown Study, an evaluation Fargo paid USD 400,000 to conduct and will be finished early 2017, will help redefine what the downtown area should be in the future, including issues of retail, parking, and housing for peoples of all incomes, Mahoney said.

Mahoney spoke of one instance where a Microsoft employee was on the verge of leaving Fargo, until the individual moved downtown. The healthy interaction with different people and the downtown improvements helped make him stay, Mahoney said.

“He hated Fargo before, now he loves it,” Mahoney said.

Fargo’s City Deputy Assessor Rob Harshberger said the practice of landlords increasing rents because adjacent buildings have increased in value is inescapable and normal, and there’s little his department can do about the situation.


Meg Spielman-Peldo

In recent years downtown areas across the country have demonstrated renewed interest as social and cultural centers vital to a city’s healthy growth. Meg Spielman-Peldo, a Fargo artist, potter, and photographer who focuses on newborns, children, and weddings, shares the space along with other artists next door to the Red Raven espresso bar on Main Street, and although she has just signed a new lease, she worries gentrification will catch up to her.

“For one thing, the city is assessing buildings to standards of newly remodeled buildings when they’re not,” Spielman-Peldo said. “They’re basing their assessments on costs per square feet, when my building is not anywhere near the level of a Kilbourne building. If the rent goes up, I will have to give it up. We would have to get rid of one studio, and that would probably mean we would lose one of our photographers, at least.”

For her current lease, her landlord didn’t raise her rent. “I’m really fortunate, but it’s not going to stay that way.”

The building where her 3,300 square foot studios are located have character, but also have issues. In some places the floor is uneven. “It’s a nice, old building, but the bathroom is in the furnace room. It’s very beneficial to have other people to talk with. It’s really great to walk down the hall and have a conversation. It’s nice.”

To prepare for the future, she has looked at other downtown locations, but the rents are ridiculous, she said. Gentrification has sent rents into orbit, even if a building has not undergone renovations.

“I value what Kilbourne has done downtown, and they’ve heard us talking about this, and are doing what they can,” Spielman-Peldo said. “It’s unfortunate, and I know it happens in cities and everywhere, but just because gentrification is happening everywhere else doesn’t mean that it has to happen here.”


Kevin Taylor

Art runs in Kevin Taylor’s family. He’s a photographer who has recently stopped renting in downtown Fargo and purchased an old grocery store built in the 1920s a few blocks north. His son is a ceramic artist, who digs his clay from the Red River banks.

Photographer Kevin Taylor in his studio displaying an old Polaroid camera – photo by C.S. Hagen

Before his purchase Taylor weighed the pros and cons. Rent had just gone up at his photography studio Taylor Made Photography near NP Avenue, and because he works full time, his chosen career demanded he make a tough decision: leave or stay.

“It is important to have an office and storefront so you can walk in and really see the work and the place,” Taylor said. Old cameras hung from the walls. His studio is well lit with natural light streaming from two large windows at the front.

Taylor Made Photography on 10th Street North was originally built as a grocery store in the 1930s. He tore up three layers of old linoleum to rediscover the floor is made from maple; ripped out a drop ceiling and found extra space.

Taylor and the photography business have both changed since the invention of iPhones and digital cameras, he said, and the price for photography services has gone up. Before digital photography, Taylor was a self-described “gigantic nerd” sporting a ponytail and wearing a photographer’s vest filled with rolls of film, light meters, and filters. Twenty years ago he charged between USD 800 and 1,000 to shoot a wedding, now, he can’t charge less than USD 2,000. He once used television and radio advertisements to find customers, today, he relies on word of mouth and referrals for business.

The rise of digital photography in all its forms has heralded a rapid rise of “hobbyists,” or people with little training and others who do not need to work full time, Taylor said.

“To tell the story you have to have experience,” Taylor said. “Anyone can put pictures up on a website and say ‘Hey, look at me.’ When I started in town there was probably a dozen studios, now you can’t tell the difference between a hobbyist and a professional.” The difference though, is enormous, and most people can see the hobbyist’s facade. He finds light in all his frames, focuses on time efficiency and learned documentation for weddings, which make up a large portion of his business.

“I have to make a living, and I have to price accordingly,” Taylor said. His studio is grandfathered into North Fargo’s residential district as a commercial building, he said, which is an idea he hopes city leaders plan for in the future. The downtown area should expand, mixing residences and commercial areas.

“We looked at places on Broadway, and it was really apparent really quickly that it wasn’t going to work,” Taylor said. “All over downtown there are empty buildings.”

His old studio wasn’t the perfect working place for him, it was narrow, and was once a simple storage area. “It was literally the only place that worked for me downtown because it was all we could afford.”

Now that his studio is only half a block from Broadway, he still considers the area as a part of downtown. “I love walking downtown, I love living near downtown, it’s really my favorite part of Fargo, so I wanted to be here, and I didn’t want to be in a strip mall. I would rather operate out of my home than in a strip mall.”


Steve Revland

Former owners of the Uptown Gallery, Steve Revland and Maren Day Woods, left their South Broadway studio due to burdening overhead costs in April 2016. They chose the old Goodyear Tire building further north on Broadway to open the Revland Gallery, a “pop-up” studio and in September initiated the START Project, an arts program designed to help students find confidence in their art.

The name START is a play on the words, combining student and art, Woods said. The gallery won’t last long. The Kilbourne Group, the biggest revitalization company involved in downtown gentrification work, plans to tear the building down this upcoming spring, making room for tiered “Dakota skyscrapers.”

Steve Revland talks about the START Project at his studio on Broadway called – photo by C.S. Hagen

“We wanted this to be the first place where they sold their work,” Woods, the gallery’s executive director, said. The idea isn’t lucrative, but it isn’t about the money. “We want them to feel the galleries are approachable, and they’re good enough. We’re trying to build confidence.”

New artists entering the Fargo art scene can feel intimidated, Woods said. Students chosen to participate in the START program currently have their pieces displayed outside the building, and their works will be auctioned off at a later date.

Revland’s formative years as an artist were bittersweet; he survived on microwaved Prego and pasta, drank beer by the case, had a penchant for marijuana. He traded his first handcrafted chair for a root canal.

Revland’s favorite medium is wood – curly sequoia – from which he designs tables, vases, and at one time chairs. Surprisingly, Revland flunked woodworking class twice in high school. He began work as a musician, singing and strumming 30 songs a night, but as a soloist his performances demanded perfection, and he grew weary of the stress. He bought a book on building birdhouses, which piqued his interest into woodworking.

Like Fargo’s young artists today, Revland, now 64, said his early years were not without challenges.

“If I had a nickel for every time I heard of a complaint, I’d have about five dollars,” Revland said. He’s not an engineer, but a businessman who happens to be an artist, and knew from a young age that he would have to blaze his own trail.

Fargo’s downtown renewal projects have already forced him to move once, and although he walked eyes wide open into the Goodyear Tire building site, if he cannot find a third gallery next year in the downtown area his storefront may go digital, or he’ll work from his home in North Fargo.

Currently, art sales are down, Revland said. Although his rent has gone down from more than USD 7,000 to less than USD 2,000 per month, business is tough.

Lack of adequate support for local artists drive many by necessity into commercial trinkets, or daytime jobs.


James Wolberg

Roberts Street Studio on North Broadway is an artist’s dream, smells of fresh paints and wet clay. The 2,000-square-foot studio’s floor is cracked cement. Paintings, ceramic hands, years of artwork are piled high to the studio’s lofty ceiling. It’s warmed by a wood fire stove, is unfettered by creature comforts. A peacock decorates the front entrance.

“It’ s not guaranteed, it’s a lot of stress,” James Wolberg, one of the owners, said. “Everybody is like ‘if only I could make art all day and make my living off of that, it would be so relaxing. Life would be great.’ Even if you go to school for whatever it is, it’s a creative craft or art, and you’re not required to take any marketing classes, and then they kick you out into the real world. Then you go get an application for Starbucks.”

James Wolberg, long time ceramic artist in Downtown Roberts Street Studio – photo by C.S. Hagen

Wolberg’s day job is as a studio manager for the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Center at Plains Art Museum. He enjoys the work, considers himself fortunate, but to pay costs at his studio he makes sinks for companies, coffee cups for Christmas presents. A lone concrete sculpture stands behind him – a work in progress he sculpts when he has the time. Fargo is not a city that can fulfill an accomplished artist’s dreams, but it’s not entirely impossible either, he said.

Ten years ago, Wolberg used to run the Upfront Gallery, where the gold exchange currently is. It was an experimental gallery where artists displayed everything from erotica to pottery.

“We made quite a bit of noise, but it’s expensive. Everybody also needed to be doing their own jobs as well as making their art.”

After five years, he shut the gallery down.

He pays approximately USD 1,300 for rent and utilities he said, which is fair, and split between the artists working inside. He’s safe, for now, nobody is looking to purchase the building as he says most investors want historical buildings.

“A lot of them that have been taken over were fairly dilapidated and not taken care of by their previous owners.”

Some buildings downtown used to be considered nightmares, he said, like the Black Building.

“I think it’s necessary if we want to maintain the historical presence of the structures, which I think it brings enormous character to the place. But once you put a lot of money into a building, they’re not just out for to fix buildings and make things nicer, they’re also out to make money. Obviously, it’s a business. Can’t throw a bunch of money into fixing a building and not expect rents to jump.

“It’s jumping to a place where a lot of people cannot afford the place they’ve always inhabited.”

At a projected price of USD 25 per square foot per year, Wolberg says the price is insanity.

The downtown area is the cultural and musical scene of the city. With the exception of missing a grocery store, most amenities can be found in the downtown area. Aesthetically, the area is pleasing; making new friends is easy.

In the suburbs, most people stay in their “boxes” and shop at chain stores, he said, but not downtown residents. Since his studio’s inception 10 years ago, Wolberg has seen huge changes to the area.

As a ceramic artist, Wolberg’s needs aren’t cheap. He needs 220v electricity to run his ovens, vacuum chambers, and space to store his supplies.

Fargo’s market depends on the medium, Wolberg said. Usually, the arts are the first to go when a city is experiencing difficulties, especially during election years. The price point for doing business is directly related to size and price.

“We’re doing okay. The smaller items are doing well, but larger paintings and such are really difficult to place.”

Most galleries in Fargo don’t charge for an exhibit. Artists receive a portion of the sales and a commission or show fee goes toward the studio. He doesn’t depend on social media for advertising, and his website is “lame,” he said.

“It’s good to see this in a way, because it is driving in people who can afford luxurious items, if you can afford a USD 250,000 condo in the sky, you can probably afford to furnish it, and spread the money around a little bit. It’s good to see the money coming in, but it also it raises everybody’s rent. I think what has happened in a lot of different communities is that it ends up pushing the artists in different directions. Maybe it’s got to be the industrial district next.

“That’s the whole reason a lot of these downtowns get their flavor back, because it’s been rundown for years and years and years, the rents are cheap, they don’t care about the buildings, you can do anything to them you want.”

If his rent increases beyond his price range, he will have to “roll with the punches.” He would look into an industrial building, he said.  


Dawn Morgan

Never judge a book by its cover or a storefront by its original red wood door, or so the ancient sages say. The Spirit Room in the middle of downtown on Broadway is a labyrinth for yoga, meditation, line-dancing, ballroom dancing, and cozy, individual studios rented by local artists.

Dawn Morgan, the owner, said the building was vacant for 30 years before she moved into it; a city rule would not allow upper floors to be rented if the company did not have proper access to the first floor, she said.

The Spirit Room owner Dawn Morgan talks about the arts in downtown Fargo – photo by C.S. Hagen

Built in 1904 as a general merchandise store by the Hancock Brothers, it was also home to photography studios and architects, and was “too far gone” by the time Morgan rented it approximately 20 years ago. She’s fixed the place up, expanded, and renovated the additions, and has kept a close eye on Fargo’s growth over the years.

“Everybody knew each other in those days,” Morgan said. “The city was big enough where you didn’t know everybody, but you knew families. When you come to downtown Fargo talking about that [gentrification], there’s a lot of interaction of people who know a lot about downtown Fargo. There’s a long history of almost like a large family, extended family, in downtown Fargo,” she said.

Locals want the family traditions to continue, which can differ from the corporate blueprints, she said.

“The gentrification can be one part, but it cannot be the whole. The whole belongs to the people.”

She has been involved in focus groups for years offering suggestions to the city for what the Fargo’s downtown should be like. Places like the Plains Art Museum, the Fargo Theater, Theater B, and the Spirit Room are now household names, and have been vital to downtown’s growth, she said. Downtown should be a place for rich and poor, for artists and businesses, for singles and for families.

“How can we weave this all together?” Morgan said. “It’s like an intricate fabric.”

Although downtown has improved in the last 10 years, there still isn’t enough change yet. Why would someone want to build a million-dollar condo for a view of the sugar beat plant? Morgan said. “There is a misconception about what downtown Fargo is, and what it wants to be. With the developers that are coming in, we want to make sure they’re included in the view with the people who are here and have been here and what they want for their downtown.

“It isn’t right that one group of people should have an overwhelming say in what happens. I like to think the downtown as being a hologram of all these luminesce being interacting with each other, and that one individual isn’t better than another.”

Morgan is a self-described project oriented person, and guides her non-profit company through creativity and determination. Times have not always been easy, but entrepreneurs find a way, she said. For the first eight years of business she didn’t pay herself. She works on projects ranging from Sanford’s cancer patients to nationally organized “Listening Room” performances. Art bedecks her walls as well, but her company’s survival doesn’t depend on the sales.

“Don’t be dependent on one single thing – diversify,” Morgan said. “It’s challenging to figure out how to make it all work, and really important to the long-term vibrancy of downtown Fargo.”


The Kilbourne Group and the Arts Foundation

The Kilbourne Group, founded by Governor-elect Doug Burgum, cut its chops on the Renaissance Hall, a building was once slated for demolition, Allmendinger said. The company’s dream is “vibrant downtowns create smart, healthy cities,” and so far, it is only investing in downtown Fargo.

Urban renewal programs were still in effect in the 21st century, Allmendinger said. “Believe it or not as late as 13 years ago there were still buildings being torn down,” he said. “The attitude was for these downtowns to remain viable was that they needed surface parking lots to sustain them.”

Art Partnership Executive Director Dayna Del Val in the APT building – photo by C.S. Hagen

Old saloons and buildings along both sides of the Red River, brick houses surrounding city hall, and even where the Frying Pan family restaurant currently is were bulldozed to make room for development, Allmendinger said.

“Today that would never happen. Ten years ago when the Kilbourne Group was starting out nobody else was involved because it was considered too risky. Now we get excited when Broadway, our seven blocks of it, tells a story along the way.”

During the company’s research into downtown’s history, they’ve discovered interesting stories behind the sites. The building where Halberstadt’s Men’s Clothiers now stands, was destroyed by fire in the late 1960s when a devious previous owner burned the building down to escape an inventory check.

“We certainly feel that the best impact we can have in this region is to focus on projects in downtown Fargo.” Such as the Renaissance Hall, the old Woodrow Wilson School, the Roberts Street site, the area surrounding the Goodyear Tire building, the old MEPS building, and more. The company’s project on Roberts Street is built on land that was once the Columbine Hotel, then turned into Carnegie Library, which was torn down in the 1970s due to urban renewal programs. During excavation, the company discovered six fuel tanks buried in the ground, and other treasures, such as soap dishes, teacups, and cigarettes wrapped in a cigar box.

“We start off from a spot that we value and recognize that having a diversity of people living and working in downtown Fargo is really important to long-term vibrancy,” Allmendinger said. Community planning began more than 20 years ago, he said, when the downtown area was falling apart, both physically and financially. The average price for commercial areas per square foot will rise from an average of USD 10 to approximately USD 20 per year, he said.

The building, when finished, will be more than a parking ramp; it will offer affordable apartments and commercial storefronts as well.

“Broadway is the downtown for Fargo, and there are many different groups of people that want to have experiences down here. Those experiences may be living, working, retail, food and beverage, parades, community gatherings… when we think about projects and renovation of them, we must think about who wants to be down here.

“Artists are a group that are experiencing changes down here, we do recognize that. We’re looking for ways to partner with other organizations to find solutions to have spaces down here and be an active part of downtown Fargo.”

The Arts Partnership, a non-profit organization and an advocate for arts and culture, is one company the Kilbourne Group has partnered with to help local artists.

“The Arts Partnership is collaborating on a demonstration art incubation space with the Kilbourne Group for two years to just see what happens when we create a collective of makers and creators in one space,” Art Partnership Executive Director Dayna Del Val said.

The Kilbourne Group recently purchased the old MEPS building for the experiment. No longer a site for military enlistment tests or urine samples, the building will be known as APT, which is short for “the idea of being able, and coming together, and having an aptitude for something,” Del Val said.

Prices vary from $137.50 to $350 per space per month, which will range from approximately 200 square feet to 500 square feet spaces, Del Val said. Larger rooms will be available for galleries or small-scale performances, she said.

“Artists create the culture that make us want to live where we live. They’re just a really important part of the economic and cultural piece that makes a community valuable. Mostly people can choose where they want to live today, and the arts are often what make anybody decide to either stay in a community or move to a community.”

In two years the building will be torn down, but depending on the success of the experiment, Del Val and Allmendinger may have an idea for the future.

“Our hope is that this is so successful that we’ll have a permanent home two years from now,” Del Val said.

Wolberg said the experiment is needed, but might not be enough for local artists.

“It’s kind of an experiment to see what you can do with a multi-use building,” Wolberg said. “It’s a cool large maze of areas, which can be split up into nice-sized studio spaces.”

“Their idea was you can come in and rent this space and we’ll give you two years, you can do whatever you want with this space. It’s not bad if you think about it from certain perspectives, but if you think about it from a perspective where a lot of people practicing artwork, it could be out of range for a lot of people. Unless you have a really good professional job, or you’re working a normal labor job, that’s like a 150 bucks for a tiny little room. If you have to invest in infrastructure, it gets complicated.

“There is a lot of excitement about that development, but what they ended up doing was bringing their price down.”

If the downtown revitalization programs stumble, Taylor’s worried that chain stores will walk in offering twice the price for commercial spaces. “That was one of the choices we had to make. We could be in this prestigious building so you could charge more or you don’t have to charge more. Wedding photography is expensive, it costs a lot of money to be in this business. I’m not a wealthy guy by any stretch of the imagination, and if you double my rent, I will have to double my prices. And I don’t want to do that.”

Taylor also hopes downtown planners will cater to local entrepreneurs and small businessmen, and not chain stores like Walmart or Starbucks. Allmendinger agrees.

“The more projects there are in downtown Fargo, the less the rents will increase,” Allmendinger said.

Taylor believes in supporting local artists, no matter the cost. A coffee mug might be more expensive than a cup made in China and sold at Targets, but the extra spent is valuable, not only to the artists, but to the spirit.

“It’s an important part of my life and makes my life more whole and more complete. At a certain point in time – we’re fortunate people and we all live in a beautiful city with beautiful things – and after you get to the point where you’re feeding yourself, you find your soul. That’s what art does for me: it fills in a gap where you can put things of beauty in your life.”

Revland Gallery, slated for demolotion in 2017 – photo by C.S. Hagen



Former Cass County Sergeant Accuses Sheriff of “Double Standards”

Retired employee of Cass County Sheriff’s Office goes before County Commissioners to accuse the sheriff of favoritism and sexism

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – A recently retired employee of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office criticized Sheriff Paul Laney before the Cass County Commissioners meeting Monday, threatening lawsuits on the horizon due to the sheriff’s favoritism, sexism, and double standards.

Gail Wischmann, a 34-year-employee of Cass County Sheriff’s Office, left the career she loved early and retired due to Laney, she said, after presenting a list of allegations attacking the Sheriff’s Department.

Retired Cass County Sgt. Gail Wischmann speaks before Cass County Commissioners Board - photo by C.S. Hagen

Retired Cass County Sgt. Gail Wischmann speaks before Cass County Commissioners Board – photo by C.S. Hagen

“I could not continue to work under the leadership of Sheriff Laney,” Wischmann said. “To do so would compromise my values of fairness and honesty. What I find amazing is that no one before has done this, I can’t walk around with this on my shoulders.”

She said Laney’s management style is dictatorial, micromanaging irrelevant issues while ignoring more important problems.

Wischmann knew she made the correct choice to retire after her final meeting with Laney. “I was blindsided by a verbal assault, it was just him and I, in which he threatened me with reprisals if I dared say anything negative about him or the department. He informed me, ‘people don’t like me, they actually even hate me.’

“It makes me angry that someone like him threatens me or any other employee should I come and speak. With his finger pounding on the table, he wanted me to know he had documentation on me.

“I view that as a threat.”

Wischmann didn’t know what documentation the sheriff was referring to, she said. She used to have a sign hanging in her office that read, “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” Wischmann’s voice shook as she strongly criticized the Cass County Sheriff’s Office before the Cass County Commissioners.

She accused the office of not performing an internal investigation after a jail officer addressed male and female staff as “penises and vaginas.” The sheriff’s office acknowledged the incident, saying they took action and used it as a learning experience of inappropriate behavior, Cass County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Sgt. Kim Briggeman said.

“It is inappropriate, but we dealt with it as a learning experience,” Briggeman said. “Not every incident needs to be turned over to OPS, but there was action and it was dealt with swiftly. And to my knowledge it has not happened with that officer again.”

Wischmann also stated that Office of Professional Standards, or OPS reports, are frequently not performed. When a deputy once came to work smelling of alcohol, the sheriff did not perform a breath test, she said. Instead, Laney denied the captain had been drinking, she said.

Briggeman heard about the drinking incident for the first time yesterday, but said that any officer under the influence of a controlled substance would be dealt with accordingly. “It would be something that we would absolutely review and look at it immediately.”

Current proper procedures for in-house management are in the process of changing over from general orders to a program called Lexipol, he said. Lexipol is a provider of risk management policies and training for public safety organizations, according to Lexipol’s website.

“The liability of a law enforcement officer being under the influence at work is completely unacceptable and it would be an intolerable act to allow them to continue to work,” Briggeman said. “There would 100 percent absolutely be an intervention.”

Laney has created an office where sexism abounds, Wischmann said.

“There are double standards within our department, favoritism, sexism, within the sheriff’s office, such as females not allowed to be a roller derby girl, yet allowing a male employee to practice amateur boxing.” Female deputies are also overlooked for assignments because male supervisors believe that males perform better, she said.

Briggeman said the incident was true, but that the sport was hindering the female officer’s work performance.

“As far as that roller derby stuff goes, he’ll absolutely acknowledge the fact the female deputy did hold a conversation with him, and the reason why that conversation took place was because that female deputy was getting hurt and she was missing work, it was obviously having an effect on her professional life. The male deputy was cautioned just the same about the dangers of boxing.”

The male-to-female ratio in the department’s command office is approximately fifty-fifty, Briggeman said.

“If you’re not the right fit you’re not it, if you’re the right fit, you’re it,” Briggeman said. “At one point four out of seven of his command officers were females. There isn’t any merit behind it.”

Wischmann admits she was a challenging employee. “I speak my mind, and sometimes, most times, it’s not well filtered. I don’t ever sugar coat anything, good or bad, I believe honesty is my strongest value.”

Wischmann also stated she was appalled that the meritorious award was given out to everyone in the department, approximately 160 employees, even if the deputies were on sick leave or on vacation the night Office Jason Moszer was killed by Marcus Schumacher. “As long as you were employed by a certain date you received this award. And to me this is a disservice to those people who were actually on the line being fired at that night. Those are the deputies that should have been recognized. You don’t give me a meritorious award because I worked the night shift that week.”

The awards were given because during that time nearly everyone in the sheriff’s department, no matter their roles, was called upon for extra duties, Briggeman said.

“He took it upon himself, when Chief Todd reached out to us that it would be an absolute honor to ensure that Fargo police department would be able to honor and pay respects to an officer who fell in the line of duty,” Briggeman said. Administrative assistants during that time answered more phone calls, patrol staff worked longer hours to assist the Fargo Police Department.

“To be honest, I, on the other hand, am upset that a former sergeant would have felt appalled to the fact that a majority if not all the sheriff’s office personnel stepped up to ensure the police department had that opportunity. It was an undertaking, it was absolutely an undertaking, it was something I hope I never have to do again, but I would do again tomorrow if called upon.

“I wear that meritorious award on my shirt.”

Staffing inside the county jail is an ongoing problem, Wischmann said, but the department does not need more patrol officers. “I know he has given you some numbers and I don’t… let me just say they are not truly what they are,” she said to the county commissioners. “They’ve come up with a system to inflate a documentation to look, to inflate the numbers larger than what they are for service of calls.

“I don’t appreciate his comments to administrative and a command staff that a request for another school officer is a good way to back door another patrol officer into the budget.”

Briggeman stated it is no secret that there is necessity for more patrol officers in the sheriff’s department. He has gone alone on assignments numerous times when a second car should have been involved. Doctoring paperwork, however, is impossible, he said.

“Everything is documented, every call for service, every run, whatever it may be it is clearly documented,” Briggeman said. “How you would doctor those reports? I don’t know.”

Wischmann said she has no other agenda other than to alert the public and the Cass County Commissioners on “what he [Laney] truly is,” she said. “They don’t see behind the scenes.”

Laney’s treatment of private citizens was also recorded on November 21, when Laney and Mandan Police Chief Jason Ziegler called Dakota Access Pipeline activists Liz George and Kana Newell over to their table while eating at the Rice Bowl. Within minutes during the conversation, both chiefs told the women to leave the restaurant, threatening arrest.

The sheriff’s department had no response to the video, according to Briggeman.

Wischmann also accused the sheriff’s department for paying two commanders to attend Laney’s graduation ceremony from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy in Virginia.

The department said the accusation was true, but that the two commanders were former FBI academy graduates, and the bureau encourages co-workers to attend graduation ceremonies.

Laney is a Cass County hero, according to his police biography. Originally from rural Cass County, near Horace, he served four years in the Marine Corps before becoming a Fargo police officer. He served as a lieutenant and commander of the Red River Valley SWAT Team, and was sworn in as Cass County Sheriff in 2007. He is president of the North Dakota Sheriff’s and Deputies Association, serves on the board of directors for the North Dakota Association of Counties. Laney is decorated, heavily, including the 2011 winner of the “Government Leader of the Year” award and in 2012 the “National Sheriff of the Year” award.

Laney has also been serving as Morton County Sheriff’s Department operations chief since mid August.

Wischmann served 34 years in the sheriff’s department starting in 1982 in the jail. She then moved into the warrants division, and became a sergeant working the streets, she said. When Laney took office, she created an office of internal affairs where she worked for seven years. Two years before retiring she became an administrative assistant, and continued working with the sex offenders’ office.

“I’d like to suggest that Cass County Commission, that you consider more vigilance on monitoring the sheriff’s office,” Wischmann said. “There are serious problems going on in the Cass County Sheriff’s office.

“I have no reason to make this up. One of these days Cass County is going to get hit hard with a lawsuit, and more than one lawsuit, not only from employees but from the public as well.”

White Cloud: More Than A Tourist Attraction

Old albino buffalo dies in its sleep of old age, but her legacy signifies the world is at a crossroads

 By C.S. Hagen 
JAMESTOWN – The day White Cloud was born on July 10, 1996, ranchers thought she was a trash bag.

“They thought it was a grocery bag lying out there,” Ken Shirek said. Shirek is the owner of Shirek Buffalo Farm in Michigan, North Dakota, and also a director of the North Dakota Buffalo Association. “And they were going to go pick it up and then it took off. It looked way weird.”

White Cloud lived 20 years, passing away quietly in her sleep Monday, November 14, 2016, the morning of the supermoon, or in native terminology, the full beaver moon. This year’s supermoon was rare, and the largest since 1948, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. She was a rare albino bison drawing many visitors to Jamestown, where she spent most of her grazing days. Her birth was also a herald of troubled times for the Great Sioux Nation.

Albino buffalo have poor eyesight. Their pale coats offer little protection from extreme heat and cold. When she was returned to her birthplace at Shirek Buffalo Farm last spring, her health was failing, Shirek said. He fed her corn, allowed her to stay indoors with fly protection, but her age had caught up with her. Bison typically live 20 to 25 years.

Growing up, White Cloud was standoffish, basically an outcast, Shirek said. “All the white ones stay away from the herd, especially the females. The bulls fare a bit better, but they do get picked on. They’re different.”

In the wild, White Cloud would have been a tasty meal for a wolf pack or bears, because her fur coat “sticks out like a sore thumb,” Shirek said, and the herd instinctively knew the risks of keeping close to such a target.

Although White Cloud no longer roams the Dakota prairies, her body is being sent to a taxidermist and she will soon become a permanent full body mount display at the National Buffalo Museum, Shirek said.

“White Cloud and her calves had been a big attraction for the museum not only because of the rarity of an albino buffalo but also because of the sacredness that some Native Americans place on a white buffalo,” the National Buffalo Museum stated in a press release.

White Cloud sired 11 calves, one white buffalo which later died, and currently has one son at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown named Dakota Miracle, who is a white buffalo, technically different from an albino. Dakota Miracle does not have the same poor eyesight or sensitivity to extreme weather as his mother.

Ilana Xinos, executive director at the National Buffalo Museum said White Cloud will be missed. She recalled days when she accompanied White Cloud’s longtime caretaker, Arnie Becker, into the field with a bucket of treats, such as corn on the cob.

“He would call her name and she would just come straight over,” Xinos said. “She was special. Most people who have seen her and many in our community would say yes, she was special. Buffalo are majestic creatures, and even more with White Cloud. Maybe she was not the most beautiful of the buffalo. She had crooked horns and was always off by herself, but I thought of her as having some kind of sensitivity to things.”

“To me, White Cloud was more than a tourist attraction,” President of the National Buffalo Museum’s Board Don Williams said. “She drew many, many people to the community, but more than that, she brought the community together with White Cloud days, parades, and special Native American events. She will be missed by the museum, our city, and by all the travelers that could visit the north and view her as they drove along the I-94 interstate pasture.”

Arvol Looking Horse, chief of the Great Sioux Nation, 19th generation holder of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, April 9, 2017 – wet plate taken by Shane Balkowitsch

The white buffalo’s significance to Native Americans, especially to the Great Sioux Nation, cannot be overstated, Chief Orval Looking Horse said in a 2014 interview archived in the World Peace Library. Looking Horse, 62 years old, is the 19th generation holder of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, and is considered a chief and king by the Sioux tribes.

He predicted White Cloud’s birth four years before she was born. People frequently came to Looking Horse telling him of visions of the white buffalo. Soon after, White Cloud was born, and he knew the prophecies were coming true.

“I knew a beginning had come when the white buffalo was born,” Looking Horse said. “Then it [Earth] will be at the crossroads, and this started with the prophecy from the White Buffalo Calf Woman.”

The belief in the White Buffalo Calf Woman started in South Dakota at what is now known as the Devil’s Tower in the 15th century. A beautiful young woman wearing a fine white buckskin dress approached two Lakota men out on a hunt. She came at a time of great turmoil, when the sun shone constantly, but no game could be found. One of the men, a man with an evil mind, desired her, and he said so. The other man said they should not say such things. She was wakan, or holy.

When the first man attempted to embrace the White Buffalo Calf Woman, they both were enveloped in a cloud. When it lifted, she stood alone. A pile of ash and bones slithering with snakes lay at her feet. She then told the man with the good mind to return to his people, and tell them she was coming.

When she arrived, she carried a bundle wrapped in sage. She taught the Sioux the Seven Sacred Rites, and brought them the sacred buffalo pipe.

From her, the Sioux learned to respect the Earth, for she taught them the Earth was their grandmother and mother. Every step they took upon the Earth should be prayerful, and with a good heart.

On the day she left the Sioux, she first reminded them to cherish the sacred pipe, and then issued a warning. In the end, she would return at a time of great peril. Her arrival would be preceded by the birth of a white buffalo. As she rose to leave, she transformed into a white buffalo, walked a few steps, rolled over, and her fur turned black. She then walked a few more steps, rolled once again and became a red buffalo, then disappeared over a hill.

“We are at the crossroads, at a time of great chaos,” Looking Horse said. “All nations, all faiths, one prayer, that must happen to create an energy shift. When the white animals are being born, people will be spiritually disconnected, man has gone too far… so we talk about the prophecy.”

White Cloud’s birth was the White Buffalo Calf Woman’s signal to the Sioux that great change was coming.

“Someday when nothing is good, she will return.” Every year since White Cloud’s birth, a white buffalo or white animal has been born, Looking Horse said. “It’s coming soon, these changes are coming quick. Today we are faced with a lot of global challenges. The spirit of the buffalo is really showing itself in a lot of different ways.”

Arvol Looking Horse – wet plate taken by Shane Balkowitsch

Looking Horse received the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe when he was 12 years old, and is known as the youngest Sioux ever to receive the honor. He is considered a spiritual leader among all the Sioux, has received numerous international awards for his work with the Society of Peace of Prayer.

The only way to heal the earth is to pray for peace and harmony, Looking Horse said, and to return to native roots. “And we speak about that at the United Nations in the early 90s, that the Grandmother Earth is sick, she has a fever. As soon as we made that statement in the early 90s, the scientists then came up with a statement called global warming.”

Another crucial aspect of healing comes from tribal leaders, he said.

“You take care of your grandmother… never have bad feelings toward your mother or your father. In this world today, they bottle feed their children, and that’s where they start in the wrong way. Today the man and woman, they work, there’s no love. People without spirit are very dangerous, and someday they could be leaders in the wrong way.

“Among our buffalo teachings, only the strongest will lead our people. The leaders cannot use drugs, alcohol; they have to be raised in honor and respect, and to live in that tradition. The leader represents the health and well being, and has to think about life, good life. Today, we are trying to bring back those sacred teachings of the buffalo.”

Today, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their supporters are striving for prayerful change against the Dakota Access Pipeline. White Cloud, the white buffalo, can at times be a rallying cry for elders to call upon the youth to return to the White Buffalo Calf Woman’s teaching. Looking Horse predicted the pipeline’s arrival in 2014.

“Seems like today, those are things that we are lacking because… it’s all about money. We’re faced with this pipeline coming down, and the elders spoke about that. There’s a prophecy about the black snake, when that black snake is really going to affect the people in the worst way, and sickness would come to this land we hold sacred. It’s going to cross sacred sites that have been there for generations, and then it’s not going to respect our sacred sites.

Looking Horse is also involved in negotiations with Morton County officials during the DAPL controversy. When he speaks, everyone is silent.

“They’re not going to back down, and we’re not going to back down either,” he said to a large crowd on Highway 1806 in late October.  “We know that the spirit is here with us, that the buffalo tatanka oyate is here with us. We have lots of people, not only here, but all over the world praying with us right now, because water is life.”

“Pray for peace and harmony and take care of Grandmother Earth. Then the buffalo come back, the horses come back, the animals come back, there will be peace and harmony, for they are the ones that bring the Sacred Beings back to Turtle Island [the U.S.].”

Among other awards, Looking Horse was honored by the city of New Orleans in 1996 when the city proclaimed August 27 as “White Buffalo Day.” On May 9, 2016, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law, making the bison the national mammal of the United States. National Bison Day is celebrated the first Saturday of every November.

“On the Backs of Our Children”

Children’s Care in North Dakota Cut for Oil Interests

By C.S. Hagen 

FARGO, ND – Oil, not the state’s children or the elderly, is North Dakota’s primary concern, according to North Dakota legislature and mental health advocates.

Anger against recent budget cuts, despite fierce resistance during the state’s 15th special session of the legislature in August, prompted The Consensus Council, Inc. to arrange a meeting with therapy workers, advocates, mental health professionals, state politicians, and parents. They’re preparing to fight, once again, sweeping budget cuts passed by North Dakota’s legislature, which have taken millions of dollars in government support from the state’s most vulnerable.

“In the last week what the majority party shoved through circumventing the normal processes was a 23 percent oil extraction tax cut, 80 percent of which goes out of state to businesses who are not connected to North Dakota in any way other than a profit way,” Representative Mary Schneider, D-N.D., said.

“It’s millions and millions of dollars that we gave away that we could have been using to help our own people,” Schneider said. As of August, North Dakota has lost USD 13 million per month and an additional USD 51 million in federal matching monies because of the oil extraction tax cut, which could have been directed toward health issues, Schneider said. The oil extraction tax incentive is in addition to the 4.05 percent budget cut allotment passed in February 2016, after projected general fund revenues fell USD 1.074 billion short of forecasts, affecting children and nursing homes across the state.

“And oil companies were not even pushing for this.”

North Dakota Department of Human Services’ budget, the state’s largest agency, had its budget reduced by USD 54 million in general funds, and a matching USD 61 million in federal funds, Executive Director Maggie Anderson said.

“No autism services have been affected through the second round of budget cuts,” Jeff Zent, the communications director and policy advisor at the State of North Dakota Governor’s Office, said. “And I believe that we’re getting a million dollars a month more now because of these legislature changes. They’re paying more today than before.”

The oil extraction tax break was part of a plan under House Bill 1476 to find savings for the state. “They aren’t reductions to existing services, they are eliminations to appropriated expansions,” Zent said. “The governor has always considered this as short term adjustments meant to get us through the current budget cycle. During the next legislative session and two-year budget, there are going to be challenges, no doubt about it.”

In what Schneider described as a “sneak attack,” Governor Jack Dalrymple, R-N.D., and the dominating Republican Party circumvented the normal processes and balanced the oil-company tax incentives “on the backs of our children,” without changing “one word or one comma with the bill they walked into the session with,” Schneider said.

North Dakota’s children – the autistic, the mentally ill, and the mentally challenged – their parents, their doctors, and therapists, are being hit – hard – by budget cuts and the tax-cut incentive, Executive Director of Mental Health American and the North Dakota Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health Carlotta McCleary said.

“We were in a crises and now it is worse than a crime,” McCleary said. “Typical situation is that for those with chronic illnesses are now not going to hospitals but to jails, in handcuffs.”

A woman in northwestern North Dakota committed suicide because she could no longer pay the fees to help her troubled child. Teenagers with mental health issues are being dragged to jail in handcuffs instead of being treated properly at hospitals. Hospitals are refusing to take troubled children. Insurance companies, as North Dakota is one of five states in the nation that doesn’t require insurance companies to cover those with special needs, are refusing coverage. Waiting lines for mental assistance have grown longer, making acceptance nearly impossible. Skilled therapists are living paycheck to paycheck, therapist Stephen Olson for Pediatric Therapy Partners said, and some are beginning to look for work elsewhere.

The North Dakota Department of Human Services was excluded from the second round of allotments assigned during August’s special session of the legislature, Anderson said. Although the original 4.05 percent budget cut is in place, an additional 2.5 percent cut was not enforced, she said.

The North Dakota Department of Human Services is funded primarily through the federal government, and although their budget shrank, no one will be losing their jobs, Anderson said.

“We’re listening to what people are saying, but funding and appropriation decisions are with the legislature and what they’re able to do,” Anderson said.

Automatic oil triggers, set by law for decades, would have further reduced funding to human services and other state agencies if Dalrymple had not called the special session, Ryan Rauschenberger, the state tax commissioner said. According to law, when oil prices drop below USD 55 a barrel, the oil extraction tax would have dropped to one percent.

“Had the law not passed we would have collected USD 300 million less,” Rauschenberger said. “Only for the last 12 years did we have the top rate. What we saw is that the triggers were going to come on again, and we said we got to do something.”

Most oil extraction taxes are dedicated solely to constitutional funds, such as the general funds for human services, for school, for legacy funds, which are voted in by the people of North Dakota, Rauschenberger said. State legislature meets again in January, and will be reviewing – once again – the impacts of recent budget cuts.

Mental health services in North Dakota were not perfect before, but with one in five families in North Dakota who have children with special needs – enough to fill the Fargodome – the situation is now dire, Director of Family Voices of North Dakota Donene Feist said.

“There’s nobody this will not affect,” Feist said.

“The long term impact on our state will be tremendous,” Tricia Page, a parent said. Her oldest son has autism, and she isn’t sure how her family will continue. “This will affect families and eventually the taxpayers.” Children in need of special services have the capability to learn to read, to speak, and to practice social behavior, basic functions of life taken for granted by most, and these services, difficult to obtain before budget cuts, now border the impossible.

Nicole Watkins, a mother of a child with mental health issues, broke down in tears during the September 28 meeting while describing how her son took a golf club to her house, and how hospital personnel actively tried to push her to press charges and send her son to jail, instead of being admitted.

“There was nowhere for him,” Watkins said. “And that can’t happen, not in our state.”

The lack of services for children with special needs will one day increase the risk for long term hospitalization and assumedly without insurance, jail times for soon-to-be unavoidable crimes. Lack of funds now will force skilled therapists and doctors to leave the state, all of which will burden the taxpayer in the long term, McCleary said. In Minot, a hospital lost its permission for a 10-bed increase. Mobile Crisis lost USD 250,000 in support, recovery centers are losing slots for patients, and some are contemplating closing down.

Senator Tim Mathern, D-N.D., and Schneider attended the meeting sponsored by the North Dakota Autism Spectrum Disorders Advocacy Coalition and held at St. Genevieve’s in Fargo. The Consensus Council, Inc., a non-profit, private disagreement facilitator, organized the meeting. As an advocate herself, Executive Director Rose Stoller said funding could come from any number of the state’s 200 special interest accounts – or perhaps even funds from the governor’s new USD 5 million mansion – to help ease with the situation.

“They really need to choose wisely,” Stoller said. “There should be more work done in earnest to meet these very basic needs. People in North Dakota really care about these issues.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure that everyone has the best interests in mind for protecting vulnerable citizens,” Schnieder said. “We had a lot of resources, and we still do have resources, rather than cutting child care, behavioral health autism, and other people projects. The reason we’re not doing it is because of an imbalance of power and the wrong values controlling the government of this state.”

Commodity prices are lower than previous years, oil prices also are lower, but Schnieder believes the move to be an intentional shrinking of government agenda.

“It makes me sad, and it makes me angry,” Schneider said.

Surviving the Nazis

By C.S. Hagen

JAMESTOWN – A local news broadcast finished with a clip of US presidential nominee Donald Trump standing before a giant NRA poster. The 2016 Republican candidate gripped a podium’s sides tightly, raised a bushy eyebrow before promising to bring back the American dream.

Lore Hornung recounting her days in Nazi Germany

Lore Hornung recounting her days in Nazi Germany – photo by C.S. Hagen

Lore Hornung set her liverwurst on rye down, and pointed excitedly at the television set.

“The names we had for Hitler are like what we have for Trump,” Hornung said. “Names that I won’t repeat.”

Born in Bad Rappenau, Nazi’s Germany, the 84-year-old woman recalled the day Adolf Hitler declared war on Czechoslovakia in 1939. Huddled around the “people’s receiver” radio with her four siblings and parents, Hitler’s rhetoric then reminds her of Trump’s promises today to make a country great again.

“The hateful rhetoric is what is frightening,” she said. “At first we thought Hitler was a clown, and then he became real.”

Using words like fear, self-protection, power, national pride interchangeably with broken dreams, Hitler stirred a nation to hatred. At only 10-years-old when World War II began, Hornung had no choice but to don the navy blue dress, white shirt and necktie, and the brown Hitler jacket emblazoned with the Nazi badge. The only gifts she says she ever saw from the Nazi regime.

Lore Hornung (left) at the beginning of World War II in Nazi Germany

Lore Hornung (left) at the beginning of World War II in Nazi Germany

“We had a good life before the war and could even afford a maid and a cleaning lady,” Hornung said. The day after Hitler’s declaration of war against Czechoslovakia, her father, a railway freight manager, fanned local stores hunting salamis and storable foodstuffs. “I was 10-years-old when the war began, and for the first six months everything was quiet.”

And then the changes began.

Shoes became a luxury item, one new pair every two years. “You would be lucky if you got one pair of shoes a year.” Additionally, new clothes disappeared from store racks. Many goods, including coffee and chocolates, required ration tickets, which were issued by the government. At her young age, she received a small box of chocolates, also government issued, at Christmas. Older children received real coffee, a welcome break from the muckefuk kaffee, roasted corn and chicory sweetened with beet sugar. “To this day I put no milk in my coffee, and no sugar in it,” Hornung said.

Stylish new clothes were impossible to find. International radio broadcasts were replaced by propaganda and speeches by Hitler and party propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, as the Nazi juggernaut conquered one sovereign nation after another.

Lore Hornung as a child wearing Nazi jacket

Lore Hornung as a child wearing Nazi jacket.

The paramilitary wing of the Nazi party marched into town.

“First, they came in uniforms, brown shirts, and riding boots,” Hornung said. “My dad even had one. They came marching into town singing. It was so stupid.”

Young teachers were drafted to the frontlines. Older, stricter teachers wielding bamboo sticks for punishment replaced them. The school’s new headmaster was a fanatic, but mostly avoidable. He walked into school in the mornings with a Nazi salute. Living in a town of 2,500 people, a tourist spot for its brine hot springs, Hornung wasn’t subdued to the brainwashing techniques many other students her age in larger cities endured. Her years in the Hitler Youth, known as Jung Mädel for children up to 14, and later in the League of German Girls or the BDM, were spent primarily crafting wooden elves as Christmas presents, marching in formation on Sundays, listening to speeches, helping workers in the field, and singing nationalistic songs such as the Horst Wessel. Once a month her entire school of 18 students – four girls – watched a motion picture featuring German victories and the ever-present propaganda.

French prisoners, bedraggled and under guard, began appearing in town. Many were assigned day duties in the fields before returning to a nearby prisoner of war camp, she said.

Lore Hornung and her father pre World War II

Lore Hornung and her father pre World War II

One night, a nearby commotion piqued her interest. Her father rushed to discover what was happening. He returned with frightening news.

“I had never seen my dad so mad,” Hornung said. “And dad almost got into trouble. He said three Jewish families in town were attacked. Windows were smashed in, and rocks were thrown at them.”

In 1933, ten Jewish families lived in Bad Rappenau, according to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust. In 1938, four Jews were killed and a Jewish shop was destroyed in Bad Rappenau, according to the Jewish Cemetery Project. By October 22, 1940, no Jews remained; all were deported to the Gurs Concentration Camp in southwestern France, according to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust.

At a time when anything but mass conformity was persecuted, she wore a bikini to practice diving. “I was a tomboy,” she said. Chuckling at the memories, she said she used to climb cherry trees for a snack, stole away from Hitler Youth duties to swim. To Hornung, the Hitler fanaticism passed her by.

“Once I had made plans to swim,” she said. “Diving was my favorite sport. I could do flips even, but this night, my classmates tried to pressure me into going to help pick peas. I had already made my plans to go swimming, and I told them no.”

She was worried what her father would say, but his response surprised her.

“Never lie,” Hornung said her father told her. “Hitler says don’t lie, so you do not lie. If you made plans to go swimming, then you need to stick to those plans.”

Her father was a member of the national socialist party for the first year after war broke out, Hornung said. “For the first year or so my father supported them, and then he left the party and refused to wear his Nazi pin.”

When the Allies began bombing campaigns in Germany, Hornung and her sisters refused to leave the upstairs open window. They knew their small town of 2,500 would be of little interest to the invaders.

“We would open the window up and start counting how many airplanes. When they left we also counted, and sometimes as many as 60 or 70 were missing.” Her father would encourage them to go downstairs into the basement for safety, but usually end up watching the spectacle with them, Hornung said.

Her town was hit once by Allied bombs, forcing her and her family to spend the night in their basement. Little damage was caused however, but she worried, as everyone knew an armaments factory was nearby. The nearby city of Heilbronn, however; was devastated by bombing raids. On September 10, 1944 Allies dropped 1,168 bombs on the city, killing 281 residents, according to the World War 2 Database. Within one half hour on December 4, 1944, more than 6,500 residents died during a second bombing raid, most of whom were buried in mass graves, according to the World War 2 Database.

The Americans invaded Hornung’s town first, she said. From her kitchen window she watched as a tank parked into her front yard. A large man asked for English speakers, of which she was one.

Neiboring city of Heilbronn after Allied bombing and during invasion of US troops

Neighboring city of Heilbronn after Allied bombing and during invasion of US troops

“He asked me if there were any German soldiers, and I said no,” Hornung said. “Then he filled his steel helmet with potatoes, and that just didn’t go well with me. I said ‘you potatoes, me meat.’ And then he spoke a lot of English I didn’t understand and took me toward another tank. I thought, ‘Oh no, they are going to take me away,’ but he gave me a large tin of ham.

Once, while riding her bike she came across chickens, and in her hurry to stop her chain broke. She crashed in front of a group of US soldiers.

“I was so afraid they were going to hit me for running over a chicken,” she said. “I was afraid the Americans would kill me, but instead they helped bandage my scuffed arm. They were good to us.”

The tomboy in Hornung refused to let the US soldiers have free reign with local swimming pools, which, according to Hornung, became property of the US Army and local residents were not permitted to swim. She defied the rule, however, and went swimming anyway.

Heilbronn destruction

Heilbronn destruction after World War II

“I said come and get me, and he did not. Maybe he couldn’t swim, I don’t know.”

German surrender on May 7, 1945 brought inflation, a scarcity of food, and horrid revelations to Hornung. She and her family had no idea of how Jews had been treated across Europe. “We did not know about it, not until the newspapers began reporting on it and then we saw the people coming in. Some of them walked for two weeks surviving on what farmers fed them.”

“We were so glad when it was over, we hardly kept anything to remember those days,” Hornung said. “I did not live in a big city, just in my hometown with two thousand or so people.” The majority of Germans in her area shared her relief, Hornung said. “But there were some then who were like those today crazy about some politicians,” she said. Small gangs formed. Some took advantage of the lack of a functioning government, looting and robbing. Devastation in nearby Heilbronn, was difficult to imagine, she said.

Hornung and her mother, a Swiss national, escaped some of the post war hardships by traveling to Switzerland, and did not return until they heard father was seriously ill. He died soon after they returned home. Nearly seven years after the war ended, Heilbronn still resembled a war zone.

Private Glen W. Hornung, now a staff sergeant, in Germany after World War II

Private Glen W. Hornung, now a staff sergeant, in Germany after World War II

She met her future husband, Jamestown native Staff Sergeant Glen W. Hornung, at Café Mayer, in 1952. “A most beautiful café,” Hornung said. At the time Glen was sent to West Germany as a Jeep mechanic.

“It was all rubble,” Glen, who was a private when he set foot in Germany, said. “The houses were bombed out, streets were full of rubble ten-feet high. People had nothing to work with.” He too was a self-admitted ‘outlaw,’ and spent his first years in the military drinking, and chased Hornung for nearly two-and-a-half years before she agreed to marry him.

“I lost more stripes then than most people ever make,” Glen said. After a night with bad Thai whiskey however, he decided the drinking must end, and has never taken another sip of alcohol since. The gangs, or “local yokels,” as Glen described them, frequently created mischief. Fistfights with them were common, he remembered.

The Hornungs boarded the USS Upshaw from Bremen to New York City in 1956. From there, they moved their family around the world until eventually resettling into Glen’s hometown, Jamestown, not far from where his German ancestors, immigrants of more than a century ago, homesteaded.

Lore Hornung, German born survivor of Nazi Germany, and her husband Staff Sergeant Glen W. Hornung, in their Jamestown home

Lore Hornung, German born survivor of Nazi Germany, and her husband Staff Sergeant Glen W. Hornung, in their Jamestown home. – photo by C.S. Hagen


Nothing to fear, but fear itself

By C.S. Hagen 

FARGO – Under the shadow of KVLY’s towering signboard approximately 200 protestors rallied Sunday demanding a change of what they call the Fargo television station’s recent fear-mongering agenda.

It was the fourteenth of such broadcasts in as many months.

“These guys are spreading lies and creating animosity between the mainstream and ethnic communities,” Hukun Abdullahi, organizer of the rally said.

Hukun Abdullahi welcoming the protestors

Hukun Abdullahi welcoming the protestors. Photo by C.S. Hagen

Abdullahi, originally from Kenya, arrived in Fargo in 2014. He referred to a Valley News Live May 16, 2016 report entitled Could Kindness be Bad for Your Health, a controversial broadcast stating 22 percent of Fargo refugees are health risks and carry latent tuberculosis.

“What Valley News did is not acceptable,” Abdullahi said in his welcome speech. “They violated their basic journalism principles and any journalistic integrity – if they had any left – to go one step beyond to classify us as a vector for disease.

“We are not mosquitos. We are survivors with families and children, who fled violence, persecutions, wars, and death.”

The broadcast wasn’t the first time the local television station turned to fear-mongering tactics to boost its ratings, said Hamida Dakane, a co-organizer of the protest. In December 2015 the television station reported the story of an assault case in Mapleton when a Somali man named Abdulrahman Ali allegedly attempted to rape a gas station attendant in the bathroom while repeating the words “Allah Akbar,” or God is great. The television station later changed the story reporting that officers heard Ali say “Allah Akbar” before his arrest, according to a column written by Mike McFeely on Inforum.

“We condemn the Valley News attempt to target us, and their attempt of fear-mongering by framing us,” Abdullahi said. “We are no Trojan horses bringing disease or are a ticking bomb.

“We are here… to stand against a bully, and clarify that we are not the threat. News outlets like Valley News are the ones that are a threat to any community like ours, who would take advantage of their user base to spread false rumor, accusations, and promote xenophobia.

“We are better than this.”

The protest, which was peaceful, lasted from noon until 2 p.m., and brought nationalities from around the world. A verifiable melting pot of African-Americans, Caucasians, Asians, Middle Easterners, and Latin, joined together to demand fairness and change from the television station.

“This is about discrimination,” Harka Subba, an immigrant from Bhutan, said. “People have been here for two centuries before, but in the end we are all immigrants.” As president of the Bhutanese Community in Fargo, Subba said that until the television station’s broadcast he felt accepted by the Fargo community. Work has not been typically difficult to find. Many in the Bhutanese community have become entrepreneurs, and have created jobs, paid their taxes. Life in Fargo was good when compared to the Nepalese refugee camp in which he stayed in for eight years.

“I’m here to stand up for the rights of immigrants and for the truth,” Grace Mbuthia said. She is originally from Kenya. “What they’re doing separates people.”

All Fear wordsA protestor pointed to a Marine Corps billboard next to the television station. “For our Nation For Us All,” the billboard read.

“The way the news is working, we need to be sure that they try to get it right,” Fargo Deputy Mayor Mike Williams said. Amidst much cheering, Williams disputed the television station’s report calling it slanted. “This sensationalistic report that tuberculosis is out of the normal for our area just isn’t so.

“North Dakota has one of the lowest rates of tuberculosis in the country, just over 1 percent of 100,000 population actually has active tuberculosis… but our health officials in Fargo, in Grand Forks, and in the state say it’s not an item that is not treatable.”

“Our community has become more diverse since 1997,” Williams said. “And it’s made our city better. Our food is better, our culture, our art. We were losing our population until 2000, but now we are a stronger city and state because of our immigration policies.”

Morehead Mayor Del Rae Williams denounced Valley City News reporting tactics.

“This is something we do not want happening in our community,” Williams said. “For a mayor it is not the easiest thing to stand up against a media group. Let me tell you that when it needs to be said, it needs to be said. Our community cannot be at risk by journalism that is false.

“We wont stand for this kind of abuse in our community. We will stand for things that are true.”

Barry Nelson of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition also stepped up to the bullhorn. Surrounded by minorities from around the world, he said the television station’s agenda was sparking fear in the community.

“I am disturbed by the fact that some in our community seem to have an agenda,” Nelson said. “I am very disturbed and angry that some members in my community are being targeted, targeted with misrepresentation, fear, and hate.”

In addition to elected leaders, two former employees of the station joined the protest. John Rodenbiker, who is running for the Fargo School Board said he was embarrassed of his former employer.

“I’m out here standing in solidarity with all of our residents of Fargo and standing against ignorance and hatred,” Rodenbiker said. “I’m ashamed that news media in our community would do the kind of reporting that we’ve seen over the past weeks and months.”

Another former employee, Paul Leintz, expressed frustration with the station.

“I used to walk the halls of Valley News Live,” Leintz said. “I was an employee here and the change I’ve seen over the years is the reason why I’m not working here anymore. Look at our numbers. And look at the numbers against us.” He pointed to a lone counter protester across the street.

“You guys make me proud to be an American with all of you.”

Another former employee of KVLY, who wished to remain anonymous expressed some fear at being spotted at the protest, but admitted they “had to be there.”
Protestors cheered after the speeches were given, and then they prepared to march. Across the street under the shade of a young maple tree, the lone supporter of the television station’s broadcast sat. He wore a blue “Trump, Make America Great Again” t-shirt.

“I believe Valley News was correct with the exception of active and passive tuberculosis,” Deven Styczunski, Fargo resident and a grain inspector said. “Their data is solid. These people should be protesting the Center for Disease Control and the North Dakota Department of Health.”

He said many others in Fargo were debating the issue in online platforms, but were too busy to join his side of the street during the protest. “I have no problem with people coming to the USA, but they’re claiming xenophobia, and I don’t think this is what it was about,” Styczunski said.

A protestor handed Styczunski bottled water. He refused. “I’ll just stay on this side of the street by myself,” he said.

In a Valley News Live Facebook post pertaining to Sunday’s rally in the comment section, Adam Hewson, a self-declared white nationalist said, “We in Fargo never got asked to be a resettlement community. We don’t want them, the diseases, drugs, and crime they bring into our town. If they don’t like it Somalia is only a plane ticket away.”

His initial post received 206 replies within 24 hours, but no “like” buttons were pushed.

“Okay, looking at everything, I love how the race card gets thrown so easily,” another comment on Facebook from Fargo resident Dan Gunderson said. “Some refugees come here and actually take advantage of what we give them. Those types of refugees are a small, small percentage. Then you have the rest that sit on their asses and collect the government’s money and walk around like everyone else owes them something.”

When asked for a comment on Valley News Live recent coverage of immigration issues, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota CEO and President Jessica Thomasson said their focus is on assisting the families they serve. A total of 85,000 immigrants will be relocated in the USA in 2015, Thomasson said, of which approximately 506 will arrive in North Dakota. From that number 70 to 80 percent, mostly from Bhutan, Iraq, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, will find new homes through Lutheran Social Services in the Fargo-Morehead area.

All immigrants, Thomasson said, are carefully screened before they board the airplane to the United States.

“All refugees who come to the USA are screened prior to leaving, and it is overseen by the Center for Disease Control and the State Department working with a panel of physicians. If they identify anything that needs to be treated, they deal with that overseas. They don’t have the right to come to the US until it is taken care of.”

Active tuberculosis is a red flag for health officials, but more than one third of the world’s population has latent tuberculosis, Thomasson said, a disease that is not transmittable.

Deven Styczynski, Fargo resident, lone opposition to the protestors

Deven Styczynski, Fargo resident, lone opposition to the protestors, rests beneath a maple tree. Photo by C.S. Hagen

Fauzia Haider, a doctor of medicine and surgery from Khyber Medical College in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1987, said even those who were immunized against tuberculosis as a child can test positive for latent tuberculosis.

“And it is fully treatable,” Haider said. “Even latent tuberculosis is treated by health officials. This disease does not discriminate or limit itself to one group of people. It’s not only refugees that carry it. To contract it, however, you must have prolonged exposure to it. It’s not like influenza where someone sneezes and you catch it.”

Bad hygiene, lowered immunity, and overcrowding – the conditions in a refugee camp – are ideal breeding places for the disease to manifest itself, not in cities like Fargo, Morehead, Grand Forks, or Bismarck.

Valley Community Health Center Dr. Marsha Lange wrote to the Grand Forks Herald on May 20, 2016, urging readers not to worry about catching tuberculosis from recent immigrants and refugees. Being in charge of ordering tuberculosis tests at the Valley Community Health Center in Grand Forks, Lange wrote that no refugees so far have tested positive, and that local residents should be more worried about the ever-growing problem of obesity from delicious food newly-arrived immigrants are cooking across North Dakota, rather than tuberculosis.

Health Officer at Fargo Cass Public Health Dr. John Baird said cases of tuberculosis have arisen in Fargo during the past few years, both from refugees and long time residents alike, but that there is no reason for worry.

“From every standpoint I look I do not see that refugees are a risk to our community,” Baird said. “The individuals that come here as refugees come from difficult situations. They’re screened when they leave, and checked when they arrive.”

Latent tuberculosis has a ten percent chance during a person’s lifetime of ever becoming active, Baird said. “And there are antibiotics that can treat it,” Baird said.

Long time Fargo resident and owner of the Discount Market, Sharif Mohamed, spent 12 years in a refugee camp in Kenya before he was able to bring his family to Fargo. “I was thinking to myself last night about the name United States,” he said. “United States. Dividing people is not the right way.

“We are scared now because they deliver the wrong message,” Mohamed said.

The protestors, many wearing surgical masks, marched one block south on University Drive waiving banners that read “Stop labeling,” “My wife was killed by terrorism,” “I was a refugee,” and “Tell the truth.”

As director of the Afro-American Development Association, Abdullahi led the marchers speaking into a megaphone.

“Valley News,” Abdullahi said.

“We are one,” the protestors answered.

“Valley News,” Abdullahi said.

“Stop the hate.”

Protestors along University Drive 2

Protestors along University Drive – photo by C.S. Hagen

A taxi driver halted in a nearby parking lot to give the protestors two thumbs up. More than a few passersby honked while the protestors marched. One unknown driver of a SUV pulled out of the television station’s parking lot, rolled down the window, and gave the protestors the middle finger symbol, according to onlookers.

Haider said her family has felt welcomed by the Fargo-Morehead community since her arrival 20 years ago. Her goal as a leader and frequent speaker for the Center for Interfaith Project is to bridge the gap between immigrants, new and old.

“We deal with misconceptions,” Haider said. “And try to educate people, create harmony and learn to live together. It doesn’t help that the media is fanning the flames that separate us.”

In a letter delivered to KVLY Fargo, the Afro-American Development Association, the Somali Community Development of North Dakota, the Bhutanese Community of Fargo, and the Buddhist Community of North Dakota demanded an official apology and the immediate resignations of Valley News Live Reporter Bradford Arick, News Director Ike Walker, and Jim Wareham, the television station’s general manager.

“We will need additional encouragement, a sense of acceptance, and motivation so that we and our families can actually feel that we belong here,” the letter stated. “After all, we believe this is the only nation and the only home known to us, where we can be safe, be heard, and be a productive member of the society.”

The Fargo Human Relations Commission also sent a letter addressed to KVLY and to Ike Walker, Jim Wareham, Gretchen Hjelmstad, Bradford Arick, and all other KVLY anchors, reporters, and staff.

The letter challenges KVLY and its staff to “heighten its awareness, sensitivity, and standards for fact based reporting,” The letter further admonishes that “the damage from false and irresponsible journalism, compounded with intolerance of people based on religion, race, and ethnicity, damages lives and affects real people,” which the Human Relations Commission opposes.

The Fargo Human Relations Commission also made references to the values espoused by NBC Universal, the parent company of KVLY, saying that the local affiliate station should strive to adhere to those stated values of celebrating “diverse cultures and backgrounds by presenting positive role models, telling diverse success stories, commemorating heritage and fostering dialogue on a variety of platforms.”

The protestors’ fight, according to the Afro American Development Association, has only just begun.

On Monday, the Afro American Development Association began contacting local KVLY advertisers and sponsors, including Sanford Health, Corwin Auto, North Dakota State University, among others, to pull their advertising spots. They’ve also started a #DropKVLY campaign on the association’s Facebook page urging sponsors to join the fight against Valley News Live apparent anti-immigration agenda. The group is also asking community members to check back on their Facebook page for updates and opportunities to circulate letters, sign petitions, and join future actions against KVLY.

Harka Subba, 28, holds sign with friend Madan Rana. Photo by C.S. Hagen

Harka Subba, 28, holds sign with friend Madan Rana. Photo by C.S. Hagen

“We value you, we support you, you are one of us,” Nelson said when he ended his speech to the protestors. “Fargo has become a place for people to begin new lives. Together, Fargo has become a world-class city.”

“Some of you didn’t choose Fargo,” Mike Williams said. Protestors chuckled. Many of the recent immigrants come from south of the equator, where snow appears only in the movies or in dreams. “But we want you to stay here.”

Grace Mbuthia, right, with Jonix Owin

Grace Mbuthia (right) with Jonix Owin, protesting. Photo by C.S. Hagen

Requests for a response from Valley News Live management were ignored. Emails and telephone messages sent to KVLY News Director Ike Walker were not returned. Nate Bakke, who works in the station’s production department, said employees were not allowed to speak to the press on the issue.

Bonanzaville – Fargo’s Haunted Mansion

By C.S. Hagen

FARGO – Late at night, the north wind whistles through the Houston House cracks. Raindrops – tiny footsteps to the imagination – flick against the 135-year-old frame, now fitted with aluminum siding.

Darkness retreats reluctantly under a lantern’s light revealing Victorian opulence: fine lace curtains, a dusty gilt leather bound Bible, thick as a set of encyclopedias, an Art Deco mahogany bookshelf towering above parlor chairs, a pump organ sitting silently and opposite a medieval hunting tapestry. A once plush couch hugs a polar bear rug, its death grin sparkles before slipping back into the shadows.

Above the ornate walnut staircase from a second floor bedroom, a floorboard creaks. Rumors the Houston House, built by David Henderson Houston Sr., is haunted become momentary fact as breath mists before the eyes.

The Houston House - photo by C.S. Hagen

The Houston House – photo by C.S. Hagen

Some of the legends emanating from the Houston House are undeniably strange, although proof the old homestead is haunted has yet to be found. Workers and visitors to Bonanzaville Village, a sprawling museum dedicated to North Dakota history, have reported instances of hearing children laughing inside the Houston House, in the middle of winter, when no children were anywhere near. Ghost hunters visited the house three years ago and found evidence the homestead and a nearby tavern and one-time brothel named the Brass Rail Saloon, possessed paranormal activity, according to Brenda Warren, Bonanzaville’s executive director.

“In the upstairs southeast bedroom of the Houston House there is always an indentation in the pillow,” Brenda said. She has worked at Bonanzaville for three years. “And I always fluff it back up. When I come back to check on things there is always the same indentation in that pillow.

“I’ve never really believed in the paranormal, however, this keeps happening over and over again,” Brenda said. “So it makes me wonder if maybe there might be something there.”

The room where Houston, a former inventor, farmer, and poet, and hailed as one of Cass County’s most remarkable citizens, died from a brain hemorrhage after becoming lost in a blizzard in 1906, museum records report. Mental torment, which stemmed not only from the blizzard, but also from watching his life’s work ripped away from him by corporate giants, attributed to his death, according to museum records.

Reoccurring pillow indentation inside Houston's bedroom where he died - photo by C.S. Hagen

Pillow indentation inside Houston’s bedroom where he died – photo by C.S. Hagen

Missy Warren, Brenda’s daughter and the special events and wedding coordinator at the museum is fascinated with the Houston House. “It’s my favorite structure on the premises, hands down, because of all the beautiful pieces in it. It adds a lot to the ambiance to the house to know that people have heard of and seen things in that house. I really do believe that if there is a spirit, there is a very kind and patient spirit.”

Missy once heard a loud noise inside the Brass Rail Saloon, which to this day gives her the shivers. “There is something in the saloon, and everything that has been heard has come from the upstairs, where it was most likely once a brothel.”

If ghosts exist, and return to the land of the living because of unfinished business, then the Houston House is at the very least a viable setting, both Brenda and Missy agreed.


Houston, the Man

Houston was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1841, and immigrated with his family via New York City to Wisconsin in 1841 when he was three years old, according to a 1900 edition of the Compendium of History and Biography. Houston moved to the Cass County area, outside of Hunter, North Dakota, alone when he was 38 years old and fell in love with the windswept Dakota Territory plains. A time when buffalos and Native Americans still roamed freely, according to his niece-in-law Mina Fisher Hammer in her 1940 book The History of Kodak and its Continuations.

A diminutive figure, bespectacled and bearded, a reader of the classics, studious and borderline recluse, he never attended church, but took pleasure in long walks at dawn, and working not only with the earth and his skills at farming, but beneath it, in a cyclone shelter, to further his photographic inventions.

Houston’s first patent was filed in 1867 for a camera invention. Throughout his life a total of 21 patents including the roll-film mechanism, which was to become the heart of the Kodak camera, were also invented and patented by Houston, according to patent records available at Bonanzaville. He sold the roll-film mechanism patent to George Eastman, the controversial owner of the name Kodak, for $5,700, according to patent records.

Neighbors thought Houston a “little funny,” according to a 1987 edition of The Highlander, but he was soon to become the envy of the land. Preferring quiet to satisfy his curious mind, he didn’t marry until he was 47, after his growing fortunes allowed him to build the Houston House, half of which was moved to Bonanzaville in 1971. He married 23-year-old Annie Laurie Prentiss, a longhaired beauty with flashing black eyes, perfect features, vivacious and daring, according to museum records. Annie was his exact opposite in every way. She was a music teacher, loved the most modern fashions, the piano, and was seen frequently racing trains with her buggy and pair of Hambletonian horses, according to museum records.

pictures houston2

David and Annie Houston – photo by C.S. Hagen

Life for the newlyweds was merry the first years, and became even merrier after Annie gave birth to a son, according to Hammer. The house was filled with parrots, sparkling kerosene lanterns, servants and maids, and was heated with the area’s only known furnace heater. Houston’s inventions, however, including farm plows and high-yielding grain seed, but most importantly his camera equipment, were never far from his mind.

“Hours, even a day and a night, would pass when one saw nothing of him,” Hunter wrote. “He was a dreamer, a seer.”

Houston House main living room - photo by C.S. Hagen

Houston House main living room – photo by C.S. Hagen

“All of the Houstons were spiritualists,” the article featuring the Houston family in The Highlander reported. “One room was used for séances. Mrs. Houston devised a type of short hand to record words for the “other side,” which she claimed came too rapidly for shorthand.” Many of the slats used to record such messages were reportedly from Houston’s favorite poet Robert Burns.

Annie began taking frequent trips into Fargo, where she was always bejeweled with diamonds and wore the most recent fashions, according to museum records. She wintered with their son, David Houston Jr. in Miami, Florida, leaving her husband alone, as was his wish, to continue his studies and inventions.

“She was lonely,” a neighbor was quoted saying about Annie in museum records. “Her days were awfully dull.”


Houston, the Forgotten Inventor

As photographers, called Kodakers after Houston’s inventions helped spur the Eastman Kodak Company to international fame and fortune, became a portable device available for $25, Houston continued improving on his inventions.

Much like the dragon and its soft underbelly, genius always has an Achilles heel. Houston could invent revolutionary equipment, but he could not control the entrepreneurs who sought to entrap him, and had no desire to manufacture for himself, according to Hammer.

During the following two decades, Houston became Eastman’s gadfly.

A patent document in museum files

A patent document in museum files

By 1886, Houston had sold all his patents to Eastman, for a collective total of $48,000, according to museum records. Eastman, on the other hand, created a monopoly, eventually wiping out all major competition through shrewd business deals and strong-armed lawsuits, according to Hammer.

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb among other equipment, tried to take credit for Houston’s inventions, according to Hammer. Edison and Eastman worked closely together, and to this day Edison is still accredited with the invention of the moving camera, the forerunner of modern movie equipment and a giant leap from what was then known as the magic lantern. Without Houston’s roll film apparatus, however, there would never have been any portable or moving camera invented, at least, for some time.

“The roll film mechanism solved the magic lantern quest for animated photograph, but contained the basis for the moving picture as well,” Hammer wrote in her book. Houston’s soon-to-be controversial invention was designed to utilize a strip of film wound on a roll, which was then fed into an opposing spool as exposures were taken.

“He had the most uncanny genius for camera inventions that I have ever known,” Eastman said about Houston, according to museum records. And yet, despite owning Houston’s patents, Eastman refused to give Houston even partial credit for the invention that transformed the bulky cameras into handheld devices. According to a March 15, 1932 Minneapolis Tribune article on Eastman, Houston’s roll-film apparatus was considered “one of the company’s most valued assets.”

Houston’s loss of recognition for his inventions was also due in part to imperfect patent legislation, which protected the patent owner and not the inventor, according to Hammer.

Additionally, the origination of the name Kodak has been under debate since it was trademarked in 1888. Eastman refused to admit the word Kodak was Houston’s brainchild. Instead, Eastman said the word meant nothing, and that he had “pulled it out of thin air,” according to museum records including official press releases from the Eastman Kodak Company. The name was patented under Eastman’s name before Houston sold his patents, according to museum records.

“Houston named the invention [his first camera] Kodak, after the state of North Dakota in 1880, then patented the device,” Hammer wrote. Hammer was witness to Houston’s mental anguish toward the end of his life, according to U.S. Patent Office records. “But because it is not permissible to patent the name of an invention, it was agreed that Eastman, after he took over Houston’s patent output, should register Kodak as a trademark – making him heir to the name.

“Mr. Houston, of course, during the 1880s, realized that he was engulfed by forces beyond his control,” Hammer wrote. “He was not a fighter in such a sense. It was apparent to him that two course lay open. He must fall in line, appease, or cease inventing.”

Invention was his life. He could not choose the latter, and eventually his patents were swallowed by Eastman’s ambitions to combine the portable camera and the flexible film concepts.

By the winter of 1906, Houston had already decided to end his camera inventions.

“Houston was so disillusioned over his treatment by Eastman that he ordered all his photographic inventions and cameras destroyed,” museum records report.

Houston died in his bed in the room open to tourists inside the Houston House at Bonanzaville. He left behind a modest estate, which was quickly divided up according to his wishes. The Houston House was split in two, passing through different owners until it eventually arrived in West Fargo’s Bonanzaville Village.

Eastman went on to create a company worth $200 million, according to the Minneapolis Tribune. He committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart on March 14, 1932.


Houston, the Ghost

As of April 26, 2016, a pillow inside the southeast room had a perfect human head’s indentation, as if someone taken a nap on it. Could it be Houston, the inventor, or his son’s spirit who died young while at sea? Or could it have been Annie Houston, the beautiful woman who unlike her talking parrots proved difficult to cage?

“If I had to choose anyone it would be Mr. Houston,” Missy said. “I feel he was ripped off to a certain extent. All the accusations came out and said he didn’t invent these things, but there is no solid proof that he didn’t’ invent.” Some newspaper and magazine articles attribute Houston’s inventions to a brother in Wisconsin, claiming that David Houston was only the patent lawyer.

“But I feel he was ripped off,” Missy said. “His inventions should be attributed to him. He should be recognized.”

The Eastman Kodak Company did not respond to requests for a response, but according to recent press releases the company’s official position had not changed. Houston was not recognized officially for his inventions or for creating the name Kodak. Patent paperwork dated from the 19th century disagrees with the Eastman Kodak Company’s position.

“They were kind and giving people,” Missy said of the Houston family. Once, when a fire broke out in Hunter, North Dakota, Houston rushed to help, and being a landowner assisted anyone whose assets were harmed during the conflagration, museum records report.

“If David and Annie are still there,” Missy said. “So be it.”

Bird cage

A bird cage inside the Houston House – photo by C.S. Hagen

Twin Sisters Recall 1990 Armenian Pogrom

101 years after the Armenian Genocide began, the world still refuses to recognize the atrocities

By C.S. Hagen

BAKU, SOVIET UNION  – An angry humming noise kept Karine Eloyse Pirumova from her windows. Curtains drawn, she knew the cacophony was heading her way. Despite the fact her husband had begun sleeping with a knife under his pillow, she refused to believe the rumors, until her telephone rang one afternoon mid January 1990.

“We need to flee the city.” Karine’s twin sister’s voice was panicky. “I’ve just been let go. It’s not safe for Armenians in Baku any longer.” They hurriedly agreed to meet at Karine’s apartment.

The line fell silent. Her sister, Marine, was let go? She had a good job working as a communications specialist with the Caspian Shipping Company. She glanced around her government-supplied apartment. Where to go? What to take?

Pirumova sisters looking over a recently-published Russian book about their family history - photo by C.S. Hagen

Pirumova sisters looking over a recently-published Russian book about their family history – photo by C.S. Hagen

Andrey and Genna, her young sons, played contentedly with their toys. Supper simmered on the stove. Pictures of the Pirumova family, once Armenian generals and nobles, hung from her walls. Karine had heard the news of lootings and beatings, not through heavily censored Soviet news broadcasts, but through her Russian husband, who spoke the local Azerbaijani language. She never dreamed the violence could reach their doorstep.

Hands trembling, Karine packed a small suitcase. Her father’s nearly forgotten stories sent chills down her spine. As a child, her father, Abesalom Pirumov, had seen his mother gunned down in the streets. Her dying words to him were, “Run, my children,” Karine said.

“It was the first thing I thought of. And after 70 years it was happening to our family again.”

“Life was getting hard in 1988,” Marine, Karine’s sister, said. Her hometown, a seaside port in the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, was relatively peaceful until the unrest began. Muslims and Christians lived as neighbors with few incidents. “But we kept living our lives. Baku was an international city. We could not believe that in modern Baku this kind of thing could happen again. Just like in 1915. Killing people. Robbing. Raping. It was the same story.”

Karine could almost decipher a chant coming from the rioters in the streets below her apartment. What was to become known in history as “Black January,” Baku city’s Muslim-led pogrom to eradicate Armenians due to ethnic tensions over land claims, had begun.

Bones from the Armenian Genocide, circa 1920s, from The Commentator.

Bones from the Armenian Genocide, circa 1920s, from The Commentator.

No time to pack pictures or jewelry. Food was important. They would need water, and money. In those days, and in the Soviet Union, no one had bank accounts. Cash was the only recognized tender, something of which she had precious little.

Karine stiffened. The chant became clear. “Out! Armenian Christians. Out!” Karine, pronounced Ka-ree-na, told her boys to start calling her Katia, a Russian name, instead of her given and easily recognizable Armenian one.

Marine traveled fast as she could to her sister’s apartment complex. The roads teemed with people. She kept her face lowered to hide her white complexion.  She said there was no time for her to return to her apartment to pack a suitcase.

“I heard screaming,” Marine said. “It was a woman’s voice. And this time I was scared. I asked myself why hadn’t I left already?”

Twin sisters, Marine and Karine Pirumova, with father and brother

Twin sisters, Marine and Karine Pirumova, with father and brother

X Marks an Armenian

The systematic destruction of anything Armenian left approximately 300 dead, and forced 250,000 Armenians into exile in January 1990, according to a 2010 conference made public by the Armenian National Academy of Sciences. From the South Fargo home of Jim and Eloyce Kenward, Karine’s sponsors, the sisters spoke of a secret list marked with X’s for every Armenian in Baku.

News was heavily censored. Information was blocked. The pogrom was a direct response from Soviet Azerbaijan to the Armenian demonstrators urging the Kremlin to allow Karabakh back into Armenia. Both Armenian and Azerbaijani held claims to the area, which had long before belonged to Christian Armenians.

“In 1923, Stalin gave this land to Azerbaijan, and under Gorbachev, Armenians decided to take this land back,” Marine said.

The protests sparked Azerbaijani hatred, long simmered to coals during Soviet occupation. In an attempt to quash the Armenian movement, special forces called Azeri Omon initiated the pogrom in Sumgait in 1988, and later in similar assaults in Kirovabad, Baku, and in Karabakh, according to the Armenian National Academy of Sciences.

Exact numbers of Armenians killed in 1990 are still a mystery. In 2010, the director of the Center for Caucasus Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Vladimir Zakharov, said xenophobia was always a problem, even under Soviet rule.

“Hatred against Armenians passed on from generation to generation and today the image of Armenians as an enemy to Azerbaijan is propagated at the national level,” Zakharov said.

Abesalom Pirumov

Abesalom Pirumov

Hatred, Karine said, that her father knew well. Despite the fact that he watched his mother gunned down, that the family mansion and surrounding city was burned to the ground in 1920, and that he was forced to flee to Baku, her father did not reciprocate the hatred.

Once nobility, and at the tender age of 13, he fled the family’s grand ancestral home in Shusha, Nagorno-Karabakh, with nothing but the clothes on his back. He survived, and later married a tailor’s daughter, Evgenia Pirumova, and raised twin daughters and one son. He rarely spoke of the troubles of 1920, except to weep openly when he spoke of his mother. He never uttered a harsh word against the Soviet Union, even after his brother was imprisoned for 17 years under Stalin’s regime for crimes against the communist state. Like the Pirumova sisters, his family in 1920 never expected the violence to reach such a crescendo. A recent book published in Russian entitled Pirumov and Pirumova by Yuri Pirumov, shows pictures of extended family, once generals, intellectuals, and revolutionaries, and the family mansion, now in ruins.

Destitute and orphaned, Abesalom survived the 170-mile journey from Shusha to Baku.   Other family members, including the Pirumova’s maternal grandfather, was forced into the death caravans and into the Syrian Desert. He too survived, but rarely spoke of the ordeal while Karine and Marine were young.

A bookkeeper by trade, Abesalom’s aspirations in life were to sleep peacefully at night, and never overstep his bounds. He was an honest, hardworking man, who sipped a little vodka to calm his nerves at night.

Pirumov family mansion ruins1920s

Pirumov family mansion ruins 1920s

During the first pogrom against Armenians by the dying Ottoman Empire, which began on April 24, 1915, more than 1.5 million Armenians were massacred in what most historians now call the Armenian Genocide, according to the New York Times and the Armenian Genocide Museum. Some scholars claim the “Great Crime” was the first genocide of the 20th Century, even though the word genocide was not coined until after World War II.

During the first phase of the organized extermination, young men were conscripted into the Ottoman army, then forced to give up their weapons, dig their own graves, and face firing squads, according to the Armenian Genocide Museum. The second phase began with the arrest of several hundred Armenian intellectuals and elite, who were summarily beheaded. Mass exile began the third phase. Thousands died from organized attacks along the way, epidemic disease, and starvation, according to the Armenian Genocide Museum. The forced marches, nicknamed “Caravans of Despair” sent thousands of Armenians into the Syrian Desert, only to be attacked by Sultan-backed bandits, according to the Armenian National Institute.

Pirumova sisters' grandparents - seated (pre 1915)

Pirumova sisters’ grandparents – seated (pre 1915)

American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire before and during World War I, Henry Morgenthau, reported on the widespread slaughter vigilantly, and later wrote a book called Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story.

“Cold-blooded, calculated state policy,” Morgenthau wrote. “I am confident the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this.”

Escape to Moscow

Under cover of night, the Pirumov family piled into a Lada taxi. The driver was a friend. Streets teemed with rioters. Men with clubs banged on the taxi’s hood, peering inside, asking if Armenians were inside.

The twin sisters crouched low, covering their dark hair and faces as best they could. Andrey and Genna clung to their mother’s waist.

“No.” The taxi driver waved the rioters away. “There are no Armenians in here.”

The drive to a Russian friend’s home was tense, Karine said. “I don’t know if she hadn’t heard the news, or if she was a hero, but she rescued us.”

Despite the growing violence, family friend Marina Korchazhkina endangered herself by giving food and shelter to the Pirumov family for two days, Karine said, until she received word a ship from her trading company could ferry them across the Caspian Sea to Krasnovodsk. During the wait, the sisters learned both their houses had been burgled.

“The very next day men in leather jackets robbed my house,” Marine said. She was single when the troubles began. “If I had been there, I would have been killed.”

While in hiding, the sisters’ also discovered their cousin, Melik, was attacked and nearly beaten to death inside a public bus. If the driver had not taken pity, he might have died, Karine said.

At the shipyard along the Caspian Sea, however, the Pirumovs and thousands of Armenians found some semblance of safety. The growing crowd pushed and shoved. The winter cold was bitter during the hours long wait. Azerbaijani ship crew teased the crowd, lowering the narrow gangplank to arms reach before hoisting it back up, Marine said.

“And we still weren’t sure if we would have been thrown off the ship,” Karine said. But the Pirumovs had no other place to go.

Soviet troops made their presence known throughout Baku, Marine said. “But it seemed they were waiting around for orders. Eventually, some soldiers started to help, like when we were at the shipyard they surrounded us. They were controlling so it was good.” Their encirclement kept rioters at bay, Marine said.

At midnight, the gangplank hit the dock. The crowd jostled forward. Marine screamed at the crowd to board slowly, for the walkway was narrow, and the icy seawaters below would surely swallow anyone who fell. Once on board, Marine found the captain, a former co-worker, who gave them a cabin.

“There were hundreds of people sleeping in the hallways,” Marine said. “We were very fortunate.”

From Krasnovodsk the Pirumov family traveled by plane to Moscow, at one time sneaking Karine’s two sons on board while Marine asked the captain for assistance, which was given. “The Russians were sympathetic,” Marine said. “But the Soviet government did very little to help, many times troops who were supposed to be protecting us turned their backs on us or stood there and watched.”

In Moscow, they stayed with their brother until kindly villagers accepted them in. Karine remembers being treated as an outsider because of her black hair. When her family was given an apartment with two rooms, neighbors bickered. She responded by telling them hard work, and no vodka, was her secret.

Refuge in Fargo

Marine was the first to see the Statue of Liberty from an airplane. Months of waiting in lines, bribing Soviet clerks, procuring the proper documents as a refugee took its toll, but when she landed with twenty dollars in her pocket, she felt happiness, and peace.

Marine's Soviet passport - photo by C.S. Hagen

Marine’s Soviet passport – photo by C.S. Hagen

Her sponsor, Lutheran Social Services, had arranged for her to travel to Fargo, North Dakota. She had never heard of the city or the state before, saw on a map it was close to Canada and wondered if Fargo was cold.

“But I was so happy I was going to the United States, I didn’t care where I was going.” Marine laughed. “I wondered if I could go to South Dakota because it sounded warmer.”

Lutheran Social Services offered Marine a job as a butcher, but she refused, saying she needed to learn English. Her first job was at Kmart, and although she wanted to work in the back, away from people, Kmart managers placed her at a cash register.

“I was afraid I wouldn’t understand,” Marine said. Both sisters no longer have English problems. Their Slavic accents are a delight to the ear. “And I learned quickly when I was on my break to take off my work vest, or customers would ask me questions I could not answer.”

She met the Kenward family through Olivet Lutheran Church, who agreed to become her sister’s sponsor.

“We met 24 years ago,” Jim Kenward said. “And since then we haven’t broken ties. Their family is our family.”

“I am so thankful to them and to the United States,” Marine said. “Our father lost everything, and we lost everything.”

Karine and her two sons arrived in Fargo years later and because they no longer held the status of refugees they arrived as “Privileged Immigration Parolees,” Karine said. She held up the documents proudly to prove it.

In Fargo today, the Pirumovs can find some of the comforts from their former lives. Karine cooks traditional dishes at home. Marine and her husband opened their own business, Anytime Transportation, and employed Karine as their bookkeeper.

“I am so glad I came here,” Karine said. One of her sons graduated from North Dakota State University, the other from Concordia College. She found Marina Korchazhkina, their savior in Baku, on Facebook, and is in frequent contact.

When asked about President Obama’s recent failure to publically recognize the Armenian troubles of 1915 as genocide, Karine sighed. “If genocide had been recognized by the world when this happened, maybe today would be better. Maybe, it wouldn’t have happened to the Jews.”

With the recent rise of ISIS near their home country, the Pirumova sisters are disturbed. There is little difference with the terrorist group’s systematic slaughter to the Ottoman savagery, or the 1990 Azerbaijani pogroms, they said. Armenia, ancient land of the Hittites, once the most powerful kingdom east of the Roman Empire, now a fledgling republic established in 1991, is the only Christian bastion in Central Asia.

“I am always thinking about the refugees, because I was one of them,” Marine said. “America takes immigrants, and this is what I appreciate about the United States. We are a country of immigrants.”

Pirumova sisters enjoying cake with the Keywords - photo by C.S. Hagen

Safe in Fargo, North Dakota, the Pirumova sisters enjoying cake with the Kenwards – photo by C.S. Hagen


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