Category: Dakota Times (page 1 of 2)

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.

‘Hard-charging Democrat’ stands up to Cramer

Former Democrat Caucus chair talks about his campaign for Congress

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Ben Hanson is young, but politically, he’s already made a name for himself. He’s the “hard-charging Democrat opponent” running for the state’s only position in Congress.

He’s running against Kevin Cramer, bestower of the title and the congressman “too many in North Dakota know little about.” Hanson plans to represent North Dakota in Washington D.C.

Ben Hanson – phorgraph taken by Logan Macrae

“Come 2018, I was not going to let this seat go unchallenged,” Hanson said. “Congressman Cramer, I think, is derelict in his duties. One thing I hear constantly across the state is, ‘I called Congressman Cramer’s office and he never got back to me.’”

Hanson leaned back in his chair, took a sip of his coffee – black. He appears to be a bundle of energy, a lone knight in a red state eager to take on a muscly dragon. Silly legislative bills proposed while he was the ND House of Representatives Democratic Caucus chair roll quickly and easily from his tongue. Politics is his passion, there’s little he doesn’t love about the role of a public servant.

“Politics is what we do instead of war,” Hanson said. “You shouldn’t do this job without having a future vision for this country and your state,” Hanson said. “I find this is a huge problem with Kevin Cramer as well, he basically says more government is bad, and I don’t think that’s productive.”

Although the election is still a year away, Hanson, 31, is running a grassroots campaign, with more than 500 unique individual donors, 75 percent of whom are from North Dakota, and believes he has a fighting chance. Instead of filling a large campaign purse with $50,000 for a video producer, and another $40,000 to place a television ad, he’s hitting the Internet: Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and soon, his campaign website.

With modern technology and using social media programs, he can get his message to a wider, younger audience for $4,000, Hanson said.

Hanson sees the Republican Party, historically at North Dakota’s helm, as an “abject failure.” The state needs to enter the modern world, there’s streamlining to be done, websites to be made, and a statewide population of nearly 800,000 people that need a more transparent government.

“There is so much potential this state,” Hanson said. “Did you know that we have 53 counties and only 20 of them have listed their property taxes online? Seven of them don’t even have websites.”

People he’s met while traveling to eight cities in two weeks have proven to him government and the media are far from transparent. Some people hardly know when the legislature is in session; one woman asked him if he went to St. Paul for his job.

He takes aim at Cramer’s voting record, and the current congressman’s claims of calling AM radio shows “Town Halls.” The two real Town Halls Cramer hosted, called “Coffee with Cramer,” both turned into heated shouting matches, with one irate man shoving money into Cramer’s collar.

“He also doesn’t raise the flag when individual parts of a bill are problematic, there is  so much I could say about the tax reform bill,” Hanson said.  

Or a bill called Section 199, which raises taxes on co-ops, to which Cramer didn’t raise any alarm or offer an amendment to try and stop it, Hanson said.

“Wouldn’t you want to protect your own state? He doesn’t bother. He doesn’t even have the courage to stand up for his convictions. Why is he even running for office?”

Despite Hanson’s young age, he’s experienced, and while working in the state legislature from 2012 until 2016, became aware of the games being played by many elected politicians. Politicians basically follow the agendas of their main supporters, and rarely their own constituents.

“In North Dakota it’s unlimited the amount of money we can take from anybody, you could buy a vote, you could buy whatever,” Hanson said. “There are 141 people sitting in the House and Senate who want to be in the governor’s seat. There’s a saying that every one of them look in the mirror every morning and see the face of a governor.”

Hanson isn’t planning on beating Cramer’s campaign wallet, which so far has raised $650,384. Cramer’s largest contributor is Energy Transfer Partners, the oil company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, with a donation of $31,050. Hanson wants his donations to come from North Dakotans.

“I’m not bought and paid for,” Hanson said. “There is no need to do that in the modern era, but you need to fire Kevin Cramer first, before you can hire me.”

Politicians within the majority party cannot cross the aisle and support bills made by state Democrats, Hanson said.

“After I was gone the Republicans took my bill, nearly word for word, and passed it. I had seven bills that passed with someone else’s name on them. It’s a pattern.”

Raised in Fargo, Hanson comes from a farming family, with a history in politics. His grandfather, Erwin “Bud” Hanson, from Crosby, served as a state senator. His mother’s side came from Casselton and Amenia, and helped form the first sugar beet co-op in America, which later became Crystal Sugar.

After graduating from MSUM, Hanson was elected to Fargo’s District 16, where he served two sessions. He also worked finance for Tim Mathern D-N.D., in his run for governor in 2008, and worked with Senator Kent Conrad D-N.D., where he fell in love with politics after helping a suffering North Dakota resident save his eye through reexamining state policies.

When Hanson isn’t on the road, two hours every morning are used for raising funds for his campaign, and then on to his day job as a commercial real estate broker for Archer Real Estate Services.

Hanson’s platform is easy to understand. He is for net neutrality. He is against arbitrarily raising property taxes, says current strategy is more like “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” He’s for getting a farm bill renewed that works for North Dakota farmers, including crop insurance remaining intact. Finding a national solution for cyber security is high on Hanson’s political bucket list.

Health Care: For Hanson, workers need raises, and only by ensuring economic security for the middle class can that be achieved. He wants to ensure more than 300,000 North Dakotans who struggle with preexisting conditions are not neglected, and that their essential health care benefits are protected. More than 90,000 North Dakotans are also on Medicaid, and as the nation tackles the opioid epidemic, Medicaid is the most important tool at the federal government’s disposal for saving lives, Hanson said.

Additionally, more than half of Native American children in the state also depend on Medicaid for basic health needs. Medicare, according to an article written by Hanson, is a promise to the elderly that paid into the program with a lifetime of work.

“We cannot abandon those who rely on this critical program,” Hanson said. On October 5, Hanson wrote an article explaining his position on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, criticizing the Senate Finance Committee of procrastination, and putting the health of millions of low-income children at risk.

Retirement security: While reducing the national deficit, it’s also vital that Social Security and Medicare programs are not reduced, but strengthened.

Consumer protection: “At a time when consumer protections should be strengthened, Congress is instead doing everything in their power to slash those protections,” Hanson said. “Lobbyists have been getting their way writing big checks to members of Congress, so it’s time for North Dakota to have a congressman that puts people over profits.”

Recently, massive cyber attacks targeting Target, Home Depot, the SEC, and Equifax, which more than 140 million Americans, including 200,000 North Dakotans, had their person information exposed.

“This is a crisis that is not getting talked about,” Hanson said. “It should be viewed as an existential threat, it should be the easiest bipartisan win you could ever come up with. Fortune 500 America is begging for this.”

Hanson also supports overturning a law recently passed by Congress to authorize Internet Service Providers to sell personal data for profit.

Infrastructure: Rebuilding the country in ways that will compete with Asia’s light rail, and bringing America back into the modern era.

“We’re losing and there’s a simple answer to can’t, can’t, can’t do anything,” Hanson said.  “We’re losing that edge because there’s a populist way of running for government, which says government is bad, and setting up approval once you get there. I think Democrats have been jumping on that bandwagon a little bit too much. I think we need public service to take pride in their work – not to say that government is the solution to everything – it’s not. I don’t want the government building our flat-screen TVs, but to take pride in your work, and realize there is a real role for the public sector.”

‘Onkel’ Stern’s list

How a Valley City German immigrant saved more than 125 German Jews from the Holocaust

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – In 1933, “Onkel” Herman Stern received a coded letter from a relative called “The Chammer.” Postmarked Venlo, Holland, containing one word, typed in capital letters and double-spaced.


A warning followed: “Before saying one more thing – I must warn you never to refer to it in a letter… Whenever you write just say ‘I’m in receipt of your letter from Holland and glad to learn that everything is okay’”

Herman Stern 1929 – photograph provided by Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library UND

The Chammer spent his savings to travel by train from Nazi Germany to Holland, where outgoing mail was still safe from prying eyes, and described in detail the atrocities he had witnessed in his German hometown. Four Jews shot and killed, no arrests, no police interference. Six Jews in one day committed suicide. Forty-five Jewish bankers arrested. A Jewish friend in Worms was locked in a pigpen. Doctors were quitting. Lawyers no longer had access to their black legal garments.

“The Jehoodems [are] done for in Germany and this is what happens every day,” The Chammer wrote. “Never say anything that you are sorry you heard about the cruel treatments. If you do write this and the letter happened to be censured, they will be SHOT to death, SHOT, SHOT to death.”

The letter was just one, still safely guarded at the UND’s Chester Fritz Library Department of Special Collections, that alerted Stern that the Nazi threat against Jews was more than hate speech.

A radio program on WCCO in 1933 led by Rabbi Albert Yannow also put the situation into focus for Stern. One listener wrote in to the radio station saying: “I am with Hitler for trying to put Germany again in the sun, out of which France, and indirectly the Allies have forced it. The Jewish question, to me, is the outcome of a hysterical condition there. Injustice has ever been the Jew’s lot. That seems to be his fate – to suffer and endure.”

The youngest of eight children born to a poor Jewish family in Aberbrechen, Germany, Stern rekindled contacts involved with immigration and one by one, and began saving his family. Their names are scrawled in a well-worn ledger. 

Herman Stern’s ledger – photograph by C.S. Hagen

In all, Stern saved more than 125 people from near certain death at Nazi hands. Showing foresight, he started early. As president of Straus Clothing Company, he had funds, some land, but more importantly, Stern was respected, and had a friend in the United States Senate in Gerald P. Nye, who quietly helped Stern obtain immigration visas for his German relatives.

During a time when anti immigration laws turned Jews away by the shiploads, Stern also found a friend in former North Dakota Governor John Moses, a Norwegian immigrant who campaigned for office speaking Norwegian, German, and English, and later defeated Nye for his seat in the U.S. Senate.

Fifteen boxes of paperwork at Chester Fritz Library tell the complicated story of how Stern saved his family, many of whom were distantly related. Some were smuggled out of Germany under blankets by the French Resistance, and routed to Cuba, Chile, or Panama to wait for U.S. visas. Another managed to escape to Paris, and then later on to Casablanca.

“He couldn’t save his brothers, and that bothered him for the rest of his life,” Stern’s grandson, Rick Stern, said. “He tried, or they were too late.”

Herman Stern’s grandsons look over a well-worn ledger with a list of those who were saved – photograph by C.S. Hagen

Stern’s story has had little media attention, and virtually none during his lifetime (1887-1980). Recognized for many awards, perhaps the most prestigious for Stern being the posthumous Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award and the Boy Scouts of America’s Silver Buffalo award, little was said about him saving more than 125 Jews from Nazi internment. A monument was also erected for Stern at the Veterans Memorial Park in Valley City in October 2016.

Since the movie “Schindler’s List,” Stern’s story has been gaining attention, including a book written by Moorhead resident Terry Shoptaugh entitled “You Have Been Kind Enough to Assist Me.” Additionally, a documentary on Stern’s life will be released this month by Visual Arts Studios in Fargo entitled “The Mission of Herman Stern.”

While on his deathbed in Fargo, 1980, Rick read the Silver Buffalo award to his grandfather, one of the only early mentions of him being a Holocaust rescuer.

“During World War II you helped more than 100 persons who were in great danger of concentration camps or death in Europe to come to this country,” the biography on the Silver Buffalo award said of Stern.

They were the last words Stern heard, Rick said. His reply, like the way he chose to live, was simple, honest, and humble.

“Well, that’s nice,” Stern said.

“I was there when it was time,” Rick said. “Have you ever been with someone when they passed on? This was so beautiful, so magnificent. We were just talking, he coughed a few times, and then I felt his spirit rise.”

Petitions for help from German Jews 1930s to 1940s – letters provided by Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library UND

Stern remembered
Stern committed one dishonest act to fulfill his dream, Rick said. He ran from a clothier apprenticeship in 1903. In those days, an untrained apprentice’s contract had to be purchased. His family was poor. His father worked in a packaging company and had many mouths to feed, and Stern was a dreamer.

Herman Stern after arrival in North Dakota – photograph provided by family

“All Grandpa could think of was coming to America, that was the land of opportunity,” Rick said. “Grandpa was a little like Jacob, he was sent by the Almighty here so he could rescue his family. And he did.”

Stern never spoke about anti-Semitism in his youth, Rick said. “That’s why it was so disturbing for him when it came up. His only tangible brush with real hate came while he was walking with his wife in Valley City, and came upon a Ku Klux Klan rally cross burning at a local park. “It gave him the creeps,” Rick said.

In 1903, still a teenager, Stern boarded a ship to America. Morris Stern, Herman’s uncle, and a position in Straus Clothing awaited him in Casselton. By 1908, Stern moved to Valley City, married Adeline Roth in 1912, and by 1920 was owner and manager of Straus Clothing in Valley City, the place he would call home for the rest of his life.

He lived through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, two world wars, and came out on top, but never flaunted wealth. He was active with the Boy Scouts, war bond recruitment drives, later with the United Way, the Rotary Club, Masonic Lodge, the Greater North Dakota Association, which became the Greater North Dakota Chamber, and much more. A memorial was erected in his honor in Valley City in October 2016.

“Whatever was positive for Valley City. Boom. He was there,” Rick said.

In the home, German was reserved for Stern and his wife. His sons never learned the language, it was forbidden when the German Kaiser Wilhelm II waged the First World War.

Before the Second World War, Stern founded the North Dakota Winter Show, the state’s oldest agriculture and livestock show.

“On that day, I remember the dedication,” Rick said. “They pulled this thing down and a big banner dropped revealing the ‘Herman Stern Arena.’ He was so upset, he fell off the stage, and he had two questions afterward: how much did it cost, and who authorized it.”

Herman Stern – photo provided by family

Shortly after Stern’s death, snow collapsed part of the building’s roof, destroying the commemoration sign. “People said, ‘That was grandpa,’” Rick said. “He never liked that sign. He was humble.”

Stern kept himself busy until just before his death at 92 years old.

“He was righteous,” Mike Stern, Rick’s brother said. “I remember I disappointed him once, and I still feel really bad about it.” While coming home from Camp Wilderness, Mike stopped at Lake Melissa to say farewell to friends. He arrived home 30 minutes late, and found his grandfather worried he had been involved in a car accident.

“When your grandfather that you worship says, ‘I’m very disappointed in you,’ that’s something you can’t forget,” Mike said.

The “blessed grandson,” Rick, once borrowed a car and slid on ice, smashing in the rear end. He was able to drive it home, but Stern reacted differently, which ended in a family joke. Stern offered to sell Rick the vehicle, and Rick reminded him not to set the price too high as it had been involved in a bad accident.

Both brothers’ first memory is their grandfather, sitting cross-legged, bouncing them up and down on his knee while humming a German tune.

“We all compare ourselves a little to those who passed before us,” Rick said. “But I feel we all fall so incredibly short of him. We do our best, but it just can’t compare.”

Straus Clothing Store – photograph provided by Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library UND

Holocaust rescuer
America eventually opened its doors to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazis, but the help came too late in 1944. Many European Jews were forced to return to Europe after arriving in the United States. China was one of the only countries that allowed Jews to enter, accepting nearly 23,000 Jewish refugees who found relative safety in Shanghai from 1941 to 1945.

A page in Herman Stern’s ledger – provided by family

Even after World War II finished, liberated Jews emerged from concentration camps and from hiding, ill, exhausted; and discovered a world that seemed to have no place for them.

Stern’s efforts started in the 1930s, years after he brought one of his brothers over from Germany. He needed to prove himself, and show he could support every refugee he vouched for; personal affidavits of his financial worth were needed for every case.

He had a net worth of $50,000, was a shareholder of Straus Clothing Company, owned 320 acres of farmland near Valley City, another net worth of $5,000, according to affidavits filed with the American Consul General in Stuttgart, Germany.

Letters of repute were also needed – for every single case. He obtained these from Fred J. Fredrickson, mayor of Valley City. “During all this time Mr. Stern has been one of the most progressive and substantial citizens and businessmen of our city and state,” Fredrickson wrote.

At first, his petitions seemed to fall on deaf ears. He needed to change the narrative, and find influential people who could help persuade refugee legislation. Correspondence between the National Refugee Service, National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Welfare Society, Hebrew Sheltering and Immigration Aid Society of America, was frequent.

In 1938, Stern wrote to the American Consul General in Germany, hoping to relieve bureaucratic worries. Some affidavits were rejected, as in the case of Dr. Rudolf Mansbacher, a nerve specialist from Germany who had an affidavit written by an American doctor and was not recognized by the American government.

Senator Gerald Nye – mid 1930s – who quietly helped Herman Stern obtain immigration visas for German relatives – photo provided by Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library UND

“My sponsorships may seem perhaps excessive to you compared to the financial statement, but I can assure you, my dear Consul, that all the immigrants have and will be properly received who are coming in my care. Every immigrant has received a proper home, not alone through my efforts, but also through the assistance of my friends.

“You may be satisfied without any doubt whatsoever that I shall continue to carry out the pledge and that none of the immigrants sponsored by me will become a public charge, but on the contrary, will become useful citizens.”

And many of Stern’s family did. Some joined the war effort. Others found work on farms. Stern searched out hospitals, nursing homes, and area doctors willing to offer qualified refugees work.

Doctors were needed in American hospitals, a 1939 pamphlet from the American Medical Association reported. From 1934 to 1938, during the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist regime, 1,528 physicians migrated to the United States, of which 75 percent were Jews. During the same years, the United States had 170,000 physicians, which meant one doctor for every 784 people.

Despite the need for qualified doctors, the system was rigged against him. Few doctors from Europe could pass American medical standard tests, and needed further training. Stern began looking into medical schools.

“After making further canvass I am still of the same opinion that fifty doctors could be placed in our state, but at present our hands are tied,” Stern wrote to Charles Jordan of the Central Committee for Resettlement of Foreign Physicians on July 1, 1939. “All we can do is to interview our prominent doctors all over the state and see if we can in some way influence these men so they will gradually recommend modifying the rules and attitude of the National Organization.”

Stern found an empathizer in Dr. Irvine Lavine, who assisted placing refugee doctors around the state.

ND Governor John Moses

Fresh off the boat after journeys circumnavigating the globe, many stayed at the Stern family house in Valley City after they first arrived. Gustavas Straus traveled through Trinidad, Hans Wertheim through Chile.

Mike remembered stories his father told him of frequently having dinner with relatives he had never known. “Our dad was a little upset sometimes – he was young – because he couldn’t get seconds or thirds,” Mike said.

Nobody went hungry. Stern’s wife, Adeline Roth, 22 at the time, never wavered in her support for her husband’s efforts, Rick said.

In 1939, Stern had a scare. A medical report from the Dakota Clinic in Fargo reported no disease had been found on his heart after X-rays. The pain he was experiencing then was probably stemming from muscle or nerve issues, or more likely, although the medical report made no mention, from the stress of trying to save his family.

On March 27, 1941, two years after World War II started, Stern wrote to the National Council of Jewish Women in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I am endeavoring to gain admittance of four adults and two children into Cuba as a temporary quarter until it is possible to gain visas for them to come to the United States of America. The relatives in question are now living in Paris. They are not French citizens, but are refugees from Germany.

In order to obtain permission to travel to Cuba, Stern was told to deposit $2,000 per person in a Cuban bank, with $500 bond placed with the Cuban government, also for each person, plus two round trip tickets, and lawyer fees up to $250.

Records safely tucked away in box nine at UND’s Chester Fritz Library Department of Special Collections, end before 1944, and Stern had already found ways to bring more than 125 refugees to North Dakota. Most dispersed across the nation, few remained behind, Rick said.

Most of the letters to Stern are in German, written by hand in impeccable penmanship reminiscent of a medieval scribe translating holy texts. Other letters are typed, but there’s little need for a translation.

The Talmud translates best: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

“I don’t know how to thank you,” a letter written by Hans Wertheim in 1939 to Stern said. “You may be sure that we shall never forget your kindness and what you have done for us. We are glad to know that there are people who are willing to help us.”

“In later years people would say, ‘We owe you so much,’ but he would say, ‘No, you don’t owe me anything,’” Rick said.

Stern kept his efforts mostly quiet, except to his family. He never wanted the publicity or the acknowledgement, he only wanted to help steer men and women toward successful futures.

If Stern were alive today, sitting around the dinner with friends and family, Mike, his grandson said he would know how to answer questions about society’s recent polarization. He might pound the table dynamically with a fist, but his thick German accent would be impossible not to listen to.

“I think Grandpa would be welcoming immigrants and trying to get them plugged into the community, into Boy Scouts, or joining the church,” Mike said.

A short pamphlet Stern wrote and used to pass out, explains his views perfectly.  

“Without strength of character, we are a ship without a rudder, lost in the sea of no return… Respect the views, practices, and habits of others. Be more than tolerant, be understanding. In dealing with people, learn to respect and understand their position. Judge an individual not on his race, creed, or economic standing, judge him for what is in him.”


Milk War Worries

How a red state hopes to protect the dairy industry by keeping a watchful eye on incoming retail giants

By C.S. Hagen 
FARGO – Nearly half a century has passed since North Dakota’s last milk war. In those days, when dairy farmers couldn’t make enough to live, years before North Dakota’s Milk Marketing Board began setting prices, farmers dumped milk on the streets in protest. Shots were fired, fences cut, fires set. Truck tires were slashed. Windows broken.

In 1964, two National Farmers Organization members were killed in Wisconsin when a cattle-truck driver ran them over as they attempted to block access to a stockyard. In Minnesota, the governor came close to calling the National Guard for help.

Once upon a time every small town had a corner grocer, with a creamery within running distance, supplied by local cows whose mooing lulled the populace to sleep at night.

This Norman Rockwell dream ended as cities grew. Grocers began creating larger stores applying pressure on creameries to sell milk more cheaply, consequently putting many out of business. But it was the farmer who suffered most, John Weisgerber, director of the North Dakota Milk Marketing Board, said.

“If they’re going to have these milk wars, it shouldn’t come from their monies, they said in those days,” Weisgerber said. In the 1960s, North Dakota dairy farmers wanted state laws to replace federal laws, and the Milk Marketing Board was born.  

Today, the milk canvas is once again shifting; tensions, once again, are running high.

In April 2016, a Buxton farmer on the online forum New AgTalk said he was too young to remember much during the milk wars of the 1960s. The unidentified man posted a picture of his father dumping milk in 1967. Another commentator reported that bigger mega-dairies are complaining about current prices, while seeing trucks of prostitutes driving by to service illegal workers.

“Some of you guys finally got my point,” another commentator said. “I also said farmers won’t band together, but if we all would, what power we could have. Funny how one oil well in the Gulf or one country says they are going to cut oil production and the next day gas is up at the pump.”

“Especially our good neighbors to the south think our supply-managed dairy and feather is socialistic, bordering on communism, but it’s okay to band together and cut production,” another commentator said.

Milk producers and retailers are worried about giant retailers and international grocery store chains already here and poised to spread across the state. Walmart, Sam’s Clubs, and Costcos selling milk for a dollar less than local, smaller retailers. German retailer Aldi, known for slashing fluid milk prices in half or more, is preparing to open across the Red River in Dilworth, and its corporate eye looks further west, along the I-94 corridor in North Dakota.

Another German grocery retail chain, Lidl, is also entering the US market, and it opened its first store in June, according to the Associated Press.

Aldi announced in July that it plans to spend $3.4 billion and open 900 new stores across the United States, with 2,500 new stores opened by 2022, according to the Associated Press. The smaller-scale retail chain would create 25,000 new jobs, primarily in the Midwest. Aldi has more than 10,000 stores worldwide. On June 15, 2016, Aldi became licensed to operate in North Dakota, and was authorized in 2014 to operate in Minnesota, according to the North Dakota Secretary of State.

If another war over milk ensues, the repercussions could be devastating for the few dairy farmers left in North Dakota. There are approximately 80 dairy farmers in the state, with 10 in Emmons County, dairy farmer Rita Mosset said.

“All milk is North Dakota milk,” Mosset said. “But now, even Costco is giving us trouble. That’s what hurts, if they want to drive to Minneapolis and buy a bunch of milk and put it in their store, that’s the hard part.”

The idea that all milk in North Dakota comes from North Dakota, isn’t entirely accurate, Weisgerber said. “It’s a matter of semantics. Is it more economical to transport from Thief River or from Bismarck where there is another plant?” Weisgerber said. “You have to look at the economics of transporting milk. It weighs 8.6 pounds a gallon.”

Milk can be brought into the state if the plant where the milk was purchased is licensed in North Dakota, Weisgerber said. Walmarts purchase all their milk from Dean Foods, so their milk comes from Bismarck or Thief River plants. Costco purchases their milk from Kemp’s Cass-Clay organization.

When and if Aldi or Lidl come to North Dakota, they would be allowed to purchase milk from outside the state as long as the plant is licensed in state.

“I don’t know what Aldi may do, but the law in North Dakota is no one can sell below the minimum retail,” Weisgerber said. “Minnesota has a minimum markup law on the books, and they’re not enforcing it, so I guess for us, for me, and for these retail grocers that operate in Moorhead market, that’s a doggone good question: why don’t they enforce it? That’s allowing these so-called milk wars to go on.”

Typically, if a retail chain sold milk below the minimum price, a grocer in the market would file a complaint with the Milk Marketing Board, which would in turn investigate and enforce a civil penalty for violations, Weisgerber said.

The president of the North Dakota Grocers Association, John Dyste, has more than 50 years experience in the rural grocery store business. He’s seen the grocery evolution in his hometown, a decrease from three grocery stores to one. Today, there are three grocery stores in his entire county.

“There was always a new thing that came up, whether it was the Walmart coming, or the Costco coming,” Dyste said. “Through the years there’s always been the next crisis or the next concept that was going to change everything. It seems like the grocery industry has adapted and found ways to coexist with the Walmarts and Costcos in the area.

“But every time there’s a new player in town, the money gets chopped up once more.”

The North Dakota Grocers Association is a trade association under the National Grocers Association that represents retail and wholesale grocers in the food distribution industry.

Justin and Janel Mosset on the farm with a calf – RJDairy Facebook page

On the farm
Rita Mosset and her husband, Jerome, grew up around cows, bought their farm near Linton in 1982. Their livelihood depends on being able to continue selling their milk to Land O’Lakes, hundreds of pounds every two days.

Dairy farming, and some crop farming in the summer, takes up the Mossets’ time, basically 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They’re not a big dairy, can’t use hired hands like others nearby. Their four children grew up on the farm, and learned chores, good work ethics, Mosset said. When her children come home to visit, Mosset wants a day off, but they always end up back in the barn.

As long as the Mosset family’s milk quota doesn’t shrink, they can continue to live off proceeds, but they cannot produce too much; their profits shrink with any extra milk.

Rita Mosset on the farm – RJDairy Facebook page

“If we want to milk more cows, we have to alert them first, and see if there is room to grow,” Mosset said. She’s seen North Dakota milk prices increase in grocery stores in the past year, but her selling price dropped $10 to $12 per hundredweight.

“The milk price is so high, it’s very disappointing,” Mosset said. “They do make money on milk, because they have it priced up. They just don’t want to confess up to it.”

Mosset runs a Facebook page called RJDairy. She’s also a photographer and brings familial warmth to their life on the farm through her pictures and stories. Once in awhile, she attracts a troll.

“We farmers have nothing to do with retail prices,” RJDairy replied to a criticism on their Facebook page. “We take what we get which is 1970s prices yet. We are losing money while retail makes the money.”

“Then why are you still doing it? Suspicious?” Buck Bush, the critic, wrote.

“Milking cows because it’s a hard job, and I love my animals.”

“I don’t think it will hurt the little towns so much, because little towns don’t go into the big towns just to buy their milk.”

The milky way
Milk is a hypersensitive market, Grocers Association President Dyste said.

If the market turned to Costco or Aldi or Lidl for all their milk, the impacts would be felt from the Mosset family, to creameries, to grocery stores, to bottling companies, even feed stores and veterinarians, Milk Board Chairman Weisgerber said. Even rural retirement homes would have difficulty getting milk supplied.

“These big retailing giants, they can ruin the local business,” Weisgerber said. “It’s a sensitive topic. A local dairy farmer could take two days in a smaller truck, or a semi with 40,000 pounds of milk, delivering to small towns across the state. If he loses a grocery store there, he’s lost his volume, and yet he’s expected to service those accounts.”

Walmart ensures deliveries only to Walmarts. The same goes for Costcos, or even Aldis, and their volumes are the hot tickets for creameries: a steady and large demand.

If the Milk Marketing Board had not been approved by the state legislature in 1967, the state would have become a milk dumping ground for surplus milk, primarily from eastern dairy-producing states. For every cow milked in North Dakota, Minnesota has 30,  Wisconsin 90 times as many, according to 2016 statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Quite simply, the milk would flow in from the east,” Weisgerber said. “And if farmers weren’t making a fair return on their milk, they would go out of business.”

The Milk Marketing Board’s legal charge is to regulate minimum wholesale and retail prices of fluid milk within the industry and establish milk-marketing areas within the state, according to the North Dakota Century Code.

In Fargo, milk ranges from Costco’s $3.05 for a gallon of two percent milk. At Family Fare, the same gallon is priced at $3.89, and at Hornbachers $4.13 for a gallon of Cass-Clay. Aldi typically sells milk with no artificial growth hormones at $2.39 a gallon.

In Minnesota, milk is typically cheaper. At Cub Foods in Minneapolis, a gallon of generic milk is $2.79. A gallon of Kemp’s Special is $3.50.

“It may be cheaper in Minnesota versus Fargo,” Weisgerber said, “but if you go to some place like Costco, you go to the Walmarts in Fargo, their milk is right down there at the minimum. What is the great draw to the grocery store? Cheap milk.”

“I doubt that will be overall true,” Dyste said of the discrepancy between North Dakota and Minnesota milk prices. “There’s always going to be a pocket where it will be true. If you got someone that is coming in and cutting the market to make their position, then things will happen.”

Aldis takes a loss with their milk sales, but they make up for it in other goods.

Another monkey in the milk wrench is the recent rising interest in almond milk and soymilk, products the Milk Marketing Board cannot control. Prices are regulated at the fluid milk level only, which would include liquid yoghurts, cottage cheese, and sour cream. The Milk Marketing Board has no control over butters, hard cheeses, or powders.

Bob Hendrickson of the National Farmers Organization is primarily involved with cattle, but he has noticed another new trend with convenience store milk sales.

“These gas stations are moving more milk than grocery stores,” Hendrickson said. “Husband has to pick up milk on the way home from work, and this is because of the younger generation, of course.”

“I’m seeing these larger chain gas stations out in the countryside where they’ve never been before, and that could hasten the end, there’s only so much market out there,” Dyste said.

Nationally, milk consumption is dropping
All 50 states produce milk, some more than others, and the industry has seen a consistent decline in the numbers of dairy farms, with a matched rise in cow numbers per dairy. From 2004 until 2014, the United States was the world’s third largest dairy product exporter, falling behind New Zealand and the European Union, but in 2015, US dairy exports fell by almost 30 percent.

Total fluid milk sales are down from 1975, which had national sales of more than 53 million pounds, and in 2016 a total of 49.5 million pounds. Milk sales reached their peak in the 1990s, and early 2000s, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.

Products such as yoghurt and sour cream, however, have gone from a measly 425 and 350 million pounds respectively in sales in 1975, to well over four billion and 1.3 billion pounds respectively in 2016, according to the USDAERS.

Fargo public schools sell a half pint of milk for 35 cents, which doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but if you add 16 half pints to make one gallon, the cumulative selling price is $5.60.

All attempts made to contact multiple local and out-of-state grocery store managers for comment failed.

Attack on the poor
Some say – off the record – that North Dakota’s high milk prices are a secret attack on the young, the poor, and those who need nutritious milk most. People eat and drink what they can afford, sometimes being forced to make the tough choice of reducing quality for quantity, according to a 2012 United Nations report.

A difference of a dollar for a gallon of milk may not be much to most people, but for the poor it could be a deciding factor whether to buy fresh milk or something cheaper and less nutritious.

“To begin with, people start reducing the quality of the food they eat,” the United Nations report stated. “That means less fresh fruit and vegetables, less meat. They will concentrate on staples, usually grain such as wheat, maize, or rice. This impacts their intake of vitamins and protein, which can be harmful, especially when children are under two.”

When initial cuts are not enough, a family will start reducing the number of times they eat a day. Then medicine gets cut from the budget. In rural areas, especially in underdeveloped countries, a family might then sell off their chickens, or goats, or cows, which puts a few dollars in their pockets, but is disastrous for their future. They’ve lost their assets, and they’ve lost the nutrition found in eggs or milk.

When those losses are still not enough, children are pulled out of schools, and once out, they rarely go back, and the chances of pulling themselves or their families out of poverty are reduced.

You have to be rich to be poor, The Washington Post wrote in 2009. Without a car, Fargo’s poor can rarely travel to Costco and are stuck with a gas station or urban corner store, where a loaf of white bread may cost upwards of $3, with wheat bread nearly a dollar more. Two loaves of white bread at Costco cost $3.99. A gallon of milk can routinely cost over $4 at an urban store, where at Costco the price hovers a little over $3.

“One of the best ways of helping the poor avoid the worst effects of food price hikes is through so-called ‘safety nets’ – reliable systems providing food to the most vulnerable when times are hard,” the United Nations said in the report. “These include school meals programs, assistance to smallholder farmers, and nutritional support for mothers and children.”


“Old Man With A Sign” Takes Fargo By Surprise

Second tour for elderly online personality protesting President Trump brings “The Sign” to Downtown Fargo while traveling the nation

By C.S. Hagen
Fargo – On his worst day protesting Donald Trump’s Administration, Gale McCray received nine one-finger salutes. Thirty minutes on Fargo’s Main Avenue and Second Street intersection, the white-haired Texan received three.

McCray and his double-layered cardboard sign started becoming an Internet sensation during his first trip to Washington D.C. He frequently refers to “The Sign” as a proper noun, almost like his friend or mischievous traveling companion sneaking a photo opportunity beside Trump memorabilia vendors, music festival stages, or religious billboards. Written in black marker on white background, McCray, 74, and his eight-month-old slightly-battered sign, have attracted threats and fans across the nation.

“Trump. That boy don’t act right,” the sign reads. The flip side reads “Resist,” and has dozens of signatures.

The saying has Southern roots, and means something just isn’t quite right. Usually, such a phrase as “that boy don’t act right,” is followed up with “God bless him,” McCray said.

“Old man with a sign” comes to Fargo – photo by C.S. Hagen

McCray can talk a mile a minute, but when he’s on the sidewalk, he lets The Sign do his talking. As a trusted companion, The Sign occasionally needs to “stretch out and relax” while he sips a brevé latté with one Splenda. Even then, The Sign – placed carefully along a nearby fence – can’t escape the curses or one-finger salutes. Sometimes, The Sign leads him into potential trouble.

Like the time McCray stumbled onto a Westboro Baptist church compound in Kansas.

“The Sign told me to photo bomb these Westboro Baptist crazies, so I did,” McCray said in a Facebook post. His Facebook page has more than 2,400 followers.

His mission began at an intersection in Fort Worth, Texas, and he’s “been riding the wave ever since.” He grew tired of contacting his state’s representative fruitlessly.

“I’m kind of a ham,” McCray said. “I just come out here with a sign. I didn’t organize this or plan this, I just stood out on the interstate in Fort Worth and social media took over.”

While on the road, McCray eats at Cracker Barrels, Dairy Queens, Starbucks, and Burger Kings. He stays with friends, or sleeps in his car. To help fund on-the-road survival, a friend set up a GoFundMe account which raised $2,000, and he sells t-shirts. He wings most of his destinations, and is wondering after a trip west to Bismarck if he might not drive to Mississippi.

He doesn’t protest every day, and has no idea when he’s going to stop. Recently, in Des Moines, Iowa, he lost a tooth and plans to travel to Mexico to get it fixed.

On his Facebook page entitled “Old man with a sign,” he encourages followers to find their own ways to resist the current administration.

“Posting on Facebook that Trump is a ______, is not resisting,” McCray said in an August 16 Facebook post. “We must decide, do we turn away, or do we take a stand against neo-Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalism, and hate? There is a darkness rising now, a rot, a malignant, spreading poison. We must be careful, but loudly and forcefully reject this nightmare of rising domestic terrorism. We cannot let this monster continue to grow.

“Congress should censure the President, now. Today.”

When people ask him what is wrong with the Presidential administration, his answer unswervingly remains the same.

“If I have to tell you, you will never understand.”

Some people call him a hero, a description McCray doesn’t know how to mentally wrestle. Like his sign, he also has had his share of hardship. After 21 years working as a mailman McCray fell into drugs, lost his wife. He managed to quit, however, and in his 40s got a degree and ended up working as a therapist for addict rehabilitation, he said.

The best aspect about his trips around the country are the people. When passersby see his sign, “Some people just break out laughing, and that’s the greatest thing,” McCray said.

Most drivers passing by McCray while he stood in the late summer heat honked and waved. When the third person gave him the middle finger, he chuckled good-naturedly.

The worst place he visited was Springfield, Illinois, but he remembers a woman in Washington D.C., in a wheelchair, struggling to climb the stairs to the Lincoln Memorial. She took one look at The Sign, and spat venom.

“You’re despicable,” the elderly woman told him.

“It’s just sad,” McCray said. “All she knew about me is me and this sign. To have that much hate.” McCray shook his head, then leapt back into action, holding The Sign up for a couple in a pickup truck to study. They remained quiet, and McCray stood back.

“Sometimes, there’s no way to tell,” McCray said. “One time there was this big old man barreling toward me and when he reached me he just shook my hand and thanked me.”

McCray’s favorite spots are medians. He can flash The Sign to both lines of traffic. In Fargo, he stood on the southwest side of Main Avenue during rush hour, and said although he would never move to Fargo, he loves what the city has done to its downtown area.

McCray will quit protesting when Trump is out of office, he said. He’s not hoping for a miracle, though.

“I don’t get into hope,” McCray said. “We’re not going away. I’m not here to change anyone, that would be grandiose on my part. I’m here just to let people know we’re here, and we are not going away.”


Fall From Grace

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

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

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

The official reason differs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethel World Outreach Church – Fargo – Facebook page

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

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

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

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

“And I did use the word, racism.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Gabriel Barbly and family – Facebook page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s despicable.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Update: Protesters Picket Local UCC Church After Pastor Fired 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Where have all the pollinators gone?

Will proposed budget cuts to the EPA and the formation of the state’s own Department of Environmental Quality hurt or help North Dakota’s bees?  

By C.S. Hagen
JAMESTOWN – Katrina Klett grew up running in fields with bees stinging her bare feet. Her parents constantly reminded her to put on shoes, but she rarely listened. 

Today, the family company she helps run in Jamestown, Klett Beekeeping, has more than 1,200 commercial bee colonies. She lives in southwest China, but returns home to help her father during the busier months. More than 10,000 miles away and at an elevation where any Red River Valley native would demand an oxygen tank, her main calling is with Elevated Honey Co., near the Himalayan Mountains in Yunnan Province, China. 

To Klett, bees are a part of her family. She learned the trade secrets from her father, from university professors, from Chinese mentors, and despite recent government attempts to bring back the honey bees, they’re still disappearing, she said. 

“The overall decline of the honey bee is continuing,” Klett said. Her family loses approximately 30 percent of their bees every year. “And the overall losses that beekeepers take during the winter months is still not sustainable.” 

The killers are elusive. She points to pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, but also to Asian parasites brought over from Korea in 1987 and most importantly, a lack of conservation lands, rich in diversity. 

“It’s truly not a smoking gun,” Klett said. “It’s not fair to say that it’s just pesticides causing these problems, but it’s a large part of it.” 

As the nation’s top honey producer and pollination state, North Dakota was also the first to draw up a pollinator plan, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. It is a plan that will soon be adopted in 43 states. 

In North Dakota, sometimes the prairies are covered as far as the eye can see with only one crop. 

“The big problem in the United States is that we have this very large scale agricultural system and we’re finding out that bees find it very hard to live in this system,” Klett said. Herbicides and fertilizers and other chemicals are used to breed out unwanted plants, creating rows and rows of  homogenous corn, alfalfa, sugar beets. 

Nutrition in North Dakota is the biggest issue, Goehring said. “They [beekeepers] go and flood an area with pollinators where they may not be enough species, and enough pollen, and enough vegetation to support those bees.”

Colonies of bees are up across the state, Goehring said, from 480,000 colonies to 620,000 colonies. 

Colonies may have increased, but the bees are still disappearing, Klett said. “It is important to differentiate between Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall quality of health in bees that is going on.” 

Few such killers exist in China, Klett said. High up in the mountains, most farms are family owned, smaller and diverse in scale, offering bees a kaleidoscope of nectars and pollens. Most produce in China should not be eaten raw, as many farms still fertilize with “honey buckets” or human waste. Rice paddies hemmed by poppy, wildflowers, sunflowers growing next door to tiered layers of corn, are the traditional Chinese farmer’s methods. 

Additionally, restrictions for the Conservation Reserve Program were relaxed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2015. The Conservation Reserve Program offers federal money to farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Such policies are shrinking the honey bee’s menu, according to Klett. 

Bees are not only the producers of honey, they help pollinate more than 35 percent of the world’s food supply, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Pollinators, including bats and birds, are crucial to the survival of more than just honey. 

The combination of a lack of nutrition, diversity, and Asian parasites, is lethal, and weaken bees, leaving them highly susceptible to chemicals used by farmers, Klett said. 

The missing bee – photo by C.S. Hagen

As recent as March this year, General Mills joined the fight against herbicides by pulling their mascot “Buzz” the bumblebee from their boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios as a reminder that the world’s population of bees is plummeting. The company has also sent out free seed packets, a move many find to be controversial and doing little to help the crisis. 

The main herbicidal producer in America, the Monsanto Company, declares itself as a farmer-empowering agricultural company and a producer of seed brands like corn, cotton, oilseeds, fruits, and vegetables. Monsanto also manufactures Roundup-branded herbicides for farmers and lawns, according to its website. Roundup products are a known stressor of bees, according to media outlet Natural News. Glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide, eliminates bees’ instincts to feed and confuses olfactory memory. 

Certain types of bees have been placed on the endangered species list, and as of January 2017 some have been nearly wiped out with one dose of Monsanto’s Roundup products, according to media outlet GMO News.  

“Honey bee navigation is affected by ingesting traces of the most widely used herbicide worldwide [glyphosate], with potential long-term negative consequences for colony foraging success,” The Journal of Experimental Biology reported. 

Additionally, the same herbicide is known to have negative effects on vertebrates and invertebrates, including earthworms, reproduction cycles of freshwater snails, according to The Journal of Experimental Biology. A 2016 study made public by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration reported that honey samples from across the United States all contain glyphosate, a chemical that is considered a probable human cancer-causing carcinogen by the World Health Organization. 

Other chemicals known as carcinogenic to humans are: tetrachlorvinphos, used on livestock and pet flea collars; parathion, now illegal in the USA; malathion, used in agriculture, public health, and residential insect control, and diazinon, current restricted.  


Colony Collapse Disorder
Bee losses hit 42.1 percent across the nation, according to a 2015 report made public by the United States Department of Agriculture. Losses are heaviest during the spring and summer months, the time of year farmers spray pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and use artificial fertilizers on their fields.  

Bees hit with fungicide are three times more prone to infection, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2013, researchers collected pollen samples from honey bees pollinating apples, watermelons, cucumbers, blueberries, and other fruits and found most samples contained insecticides, herbicides, and that all samples contained fungicide.  

The sickness threatens Colony Collapse Disorder, which endangers “not only pollination and honey production but, much more, this crisis threatens to wipe out production of crops dependent on bees for pollination,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables.”  

The epidemic began slowly after World War II, and more recently noted as isolated incidents when beekeepers reported losses of up to 90 percent of their hives. 

“Although pesticides alone have not been implicated as the principal cause of overall pollinator declines, the EPA and the USDA have been working collaboratively to understand the potential role that pesticides may be playing, particularly in combination with other identified factors,” a 2015 report made public by the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated. 

More than 87 million acres of corn and 17 million acres of alfalfa are planted in the continental United States each year, and both crops are highly attractive to bees, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Gary Hart, director of the Center for Rural Health, said he lives in the countryside. Pesticides blown by winds are a concern for him and his family. “Heaven knows, I get the pesticides coming in and we have to shut the windows and hide when they’re blowing,” he said.  

The concern about bees is a national worry, he said, and not just for the Peace Garden State.


EPA cuts and the state taking back control
Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency for North Dakota is managed from Denver, Colorado, more than 700 miles away. North Dakota is known as Region 8, and as the EPA prepares to have its budget cut by up to 30 percent, environmental issues in the state could have “severe” implications, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. 

“North Dakota has a lot at risk,” Steve Hirsh of the Environmental Defense Fund said. “A half-million people in the state rely on headwater, rain-fed and seasonal streams for drinking water.”

The cuts are a Republican effort to deplete federal authority and push local management back on to cash-strapped states, according to Hirsh. Goehring prefers the term “cooperative federalism,” he said. 

“This budget, if enacted, will devastate the ability of our state members to clean up the air,” Executive Director of the  National Association of Clean Air Agencies S. William Becker said. “I can predict with certainty that if these budget cuts come to fruition, there will be many more people dying prematurely and getting sick.”

“President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget is a full-scale attack on America’s most fundamental health and safety protections,” Environmental Defense Fund President President Fred Krupp said. “It would gut our ability to keep our air and water clean, and would put the health of all Americans at risk.”

North Dakota’s current environmental agencies are a “convoluted complex animal,” and include three entities: the Health Department, soon to severed and become the “Department of Environmental Quality” and will be in charge of environmental issues, the Department of Mineral Resources, in charge of oil and gas development, and the Department of Agriculture, in charge of pesticides and fertilizers, all of whom have primacy, or the lead against federal interference, Goehring said. 

“We have cooperation agreements with the EPA, and we have meetings with them once or twice a year and talk about where the federal government is needed, but it ends up being a bit of a battle at times,” Goehring said. “The only thing is, we do receive federal grants to do the work, that’s the agreement we have with them, in other words they don’t have personnel out here to do it, and quite frankly we don’t want them up here anyway. 

“Don’t tell us you love our land more than we do.” 

Grants up to $46 million from the EPA cover a fourth of North Dakota’s air quality monitoring, toxic waste site management, lake and river protection, and manage 128 brownfields, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Budget cuts proposed by President Trump’s Administration to balance the national debt could reduce lead reduction efforts and exacerbate poisoned waters with runoff pollution from urban streets and energy production, if such programs continue to exist at all. 

“Are they cuts that exist within the EPA, or will they be passed on to us?” Goehring said. “We have had some assurances from D.C. that the cuts will be supposedly targeted toward the EPA and not targeted toward the states. Maybe we will experience a few cuts, but most cuts are directed toward the big monster that the EPA is in size.” 

Other programs such as fighting cyanobacteria, judicially known as “blue-green algae,” may be threatened. Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms that bloom in slow-moving water, such as ponds and lakes, and can be toxic for animals and humans, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. If such toxins are ingested, there is no cure, and very few laboratories that can test for cyanobacteria.  

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

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

In a move some call wise, state legislators passed Senate Bill 2327 shortly before the end of the 2017 legislative session. The bill was introduced by Republican senators Jessica Unruh, Kelly Armstrong, and Rich Wardner, and Republican representatives Al Carlson, Keith Kepmenich, and Todd Porter.

The bill transfers all state authority, powers, and duties related to environmental quality to the newly-formed “Department of Environmental Quality” before July 1, 2019. The new department’s duties will include oil drilling regulations and to pesticide and radioactive “byproduct material” management. Also included under the department’s purview are zoning regulations, or setback distances between livestock, residential, and agricultural operations, and the licensing, management, and custody of radioactive and hazardous wastes and underground storage or regulated substances.

The council is to consist of nine members appointed by the governor, including four people in the healthcare field and five people representing consumer interests, according to Senate Bill 2327. The director of the department will “serve at the pleasure of the governor,” must have a bachelor of science degree or higher from an accredited college, and may not engage in any other occupation or business that conflicts with statutory duties. 

The North Dakota Century Code was amended to reinforce Department of Environmental Quality as the public health authority in the state, trumping the EPA.


Communication and location are the keys
Beekeepers need to look for locations with plenty of diversity and water, Goehring said. “Bees need water just like any other animal. Look to soil health, especially for vegetables and flowering plants.” 

Phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium, as well as other minerals are needed for plant virility and diversity, and the more diverse an area is, the faster bees will thrive. Chemicals, although harmful, aren’t the main factor behind bee disappearance, Goehring said.

“A lot of pesticides that farmers use won’t even harm bees, but there are a lot of insecticides that will,” Goehring said. Beekeepers and bees are farmers’ guests, and there needs to be good communication between agriculturalists and beekeepers. 

Klett added that the federal government should assist more with communication incentives, and the tightening of regulations on Conservation Reserve Programs. “One of the biggest problems is the complete loss of bee habitat in the countryside.” Most of the time farmers care about beekeepers, although some beekeepers have reported careless farmers. “For the most part, they really want to work with us and help us out. Big fruit and vegetable producers need our services, but we’re finding out that if there isn’t a pesticide free habitat then the bees get sick and they don’t do well. 

“It’s a rock and hard place.” 

China’s farmers may possess the only true antidote for bee virility, and the answer lies with diversity. “China is one of the most diverse places for honey bees in the world,” Klett said. 

“Beekeeping is an interesting form of agriculture. You can’t make it mechanized. You have to have someone who really understands bees. There are just 1,000 or so families providing most of the pollination services and to an extent, they are largely invisible. 

“I would like to see a good Conservation Reserve Program come back. Commodity prices are down, this would be a great time to do that.” 

North Dakota Deadliest State To Work – Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fourth Estate For Sale

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

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

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

Jason Stverak – LinkedIn photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The watchdogs

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

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

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

Dustin Gawrylow – Facebook photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tides 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Loophole In Medical Marijuana Laws, Police Target Bismarck Stores

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry’s Health Products – from Facebook page

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s super disappointing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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