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.

A forgotten veteran

Native man’s twisted trail into a court system that doesn’t seem to care

By C.S. Hagen
MOORHEAD – With fingers twisted by acute arthritis, Kevin “NeSe” Shores pushed the lever to propel his wheelchair into the Clay County Courthouse. His free hand clutched a large white banker box filled with documents. Folded in worn leather rested an iPhone, his digital eyes.

A driver and assistant followed, told him when to steer right, when to stop. At times, he had to push him through a doorway.  

“I’m literally going into court blind,” Shores, an Anishinaabe, enrolled in White Earth Reservation, said. “In the eyes of the court, I’m considered a vulnerable adult, and to cause me any harm is against the law.”

Since the day he received a compulsory cocktail of shots and vaccinations during Navy boot camp, a rheumatoid variant disease he claims is Gulf War illness has broken and bent his body until he can no longer walk and can no longer see. He served aboard the USS Fox, a guided missile cruiser and one of the first ships to arrive during the Gulf War.

Hands gnarled by an acute arthritic condition, an illness Kevin “NeSe” Shores says is Gulf War Syndrome, he relies on Apps and programs to be able to read – photograph by C.S. Hagen

“As a veteran who is in my wheelchair because I swore to uphold the Constitution, it’s sad that this system that I am allegedly dying for, this slow death, is failing me,” Shores said. “We are in a wrong place as a society. It’s disheartening. I know I’m not the only veteran that is going through this ridiculousness.”

He lost his first marriage due to his symptoms, and a second relationship, a binding ceremony with a Native woman, was recently annulled. Now, he’s defending himself in court for the rights to see his children, and for financial reasons. He says that Clay County Court has failed in notifying him properly, and has ignored his rights under the Americans with Disability Act.

“There is a lot of stress on relationships dealing with this condition,” Shores said. “I’m trying to rectify the situation with the sheriff’s department, and in the meantime I missed a preliminary hearing that I wasn’t aware of.”

Dressed in moccasins, a well-worn black cowboy hat, hair long and cleanly braided, Shores told Seventh Judicial District Judge Steven J. Cahill last week that he was not in court out of his own free will, and because of the court officials’ ineptitude, he missed a court date and lost his parental rights because of it. His computer is six years slow, and he was initially denied using the devices he requires to record.

Kevin “NeSe” Shores and his box of paperwork, none of which he can read due to what he says is Gulf War Syndrome – photograph by C.S. Hagen

“My challenge is I can only go by what I hear,” Shores said. “Since I couldn’t have any of my devices, I had to go back and go through the transcripts, which I had to pay for. I don’t know if you know what it’s like for a blind person to try and search the web. For some reason, I kept missing this one little click spot for the ADA request.”  

He can’t afford an attorney, he said, so he prepares everything himself.

“I’m just scrambling just trying to stay afloat.”

During one court visit, he claims a bailiff elbowed him in the face during courtroom drama after he attempted to describe his marriage was a Native binding ceremony, and not a sanctioned marriage.  

“How am I to take notes, how am I to prepare for this?” Shores said. “It’s like a domino effect, you have to absolutely stay on top of all of the stuff. Before, I was paying people out of my own pocket for scanning things, but the court is supposed to provide. I am trying to calculate now how much money I spent going back to the original separation.”

All paperwork takes Shores time to scan and listen to.

“As a blind person you cannot serve a blind person papers,” Shores told Judge Cahill in court. This court has trampled on my ADA rights. You have not given me due process of law. My biggest question is why am I here? Why were my children used as leverage when you suspended my rights?”

“Because you were ignoring us, sir,” Cahill said. Cahill was reprimanded in 2006 by the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards for at least 18 violations of the rules governing the conduct of judges.

“I have not been ignoring you,” Shores said. “I’ve been trying to be compliant.”

After a lengthy tit-for-tat, including Shores asking the judge to recuse himself from the case, Judge Cahill refused the request and ordered the case continued to give Shores more time to prepare. Cahill agreed to order the court to deliver documents to Shores in a manner in which he can scan, but treatments for his illness, and the case, which is against his second “wife,” has left him broke, he said.

“The judge stated that I am more likely going to try to use my disability to get out of court,” Shores said. “And nothing could be further from the truth. The last time I went to court, not only did I get whirly screwed, I had to pay somebody to gather papers, out of my own pocket I had to pay thousands of dollars just to assist me.

“The judge was lying from the get-go that he was well aware of the challenges that I have,” Shores said.

During the years that he did not fall under 100 percent disability, he paid more than $300,000 for care and services, he said. Settlement money for an accident he had in 2000 has been depleted, he said.  

Kevin “NeSe” Shores as he exits Clay County Courthouse, is completely blind due to what he says is Gulf War Syndrome – photograph by C.S. Hagen

Gulf War illness
Before Boot Camp, Shores weighed in more than 200 pounds, stood five-feet-eleven-inches, and was the former captain of a local swimming team. The first signs not all was right came shortly after receiving a cocktail of vaccinations. Days later, he was diagnosed with drop foot, a nerve disorder.

“That’s where, I am absolutely sure, I got it,” Shores said.

The military ran the gamut of excuses, Shores said. One explanation was that Middle Eastern sand was too fine for American lungs. They next rational was to blame conditions on mites, then that Saddam Hussein was using biological and chemical weapons, and finally, that they were given experimental inoculations before the war.

A 2008 study by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses reports that Gulf War illness is a multisystem condition resulting from service during the 1990-1992 Gulf War, and is the most prominent health issues affecting veterans. The illness affects one fourth of 697,000 U.S. veterans who served. Symptoms include persistent memory and concentration problems, chronic headaches, widespread pain, gastrointestinal problems, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and other abnormalities not explained by well-established diagnoses.

Few veterans have recovered, and until now, there are no effective treatments, the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, reported. Two possible causes include the use of pills given to help effects of nerve agents, and the widespread use of pesticides during deployment.

In 1996, Shores accepted his first wheelchair.

In 1998, the same year Congress mandated the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses to study and advise the federal government, Shores lost sight in his left eye. At the time he was listed as 20 percent disabled, but received little assistance.

Two years later, while riding along Highway 10 at 3.4 miles per hour in his wheelchair from Moorhead to St. Paul to raise awareness about Gulf War illnesses, he was run over by a garbage truck, breaking his femur and elbow and guaranteeing him a hip replacement.

Kevin Shores posing for a picture while aboard the USS Fox in the late 1980s – provided by Kevin Shores

Not until 2005, however, nearly 15 years after Operation Desert Storm, did the Veterans Administration list Shores as 100 percent disabled. Since then, his symptoms have slowly broken his body down. His medications, including addictive synthetic opioids, serve to maintain, not to heal. His spirit , however, remains strong. He has run for the elected position of mayor three times, and has become known as the “megaphone man,” he said. He also does comedy and runs a conspiracy-based Internet radio news show.

“The ‘megaphone man’ because I voice my opinion for the underdogs,” Shores said.

Much like his Indigenous name, “NeSe,” pronounced nay-say, which means someone who speaks truth to power, or is a “maker of great noise, like the thunder,” Shores has never sat still for long, despite his handicaps. He uses an iPhone app as his mobile eyes, and has special scanning equipment at home to help him read.

“I consider myself a traditionalist as much as modern society will allow me,” Shores said. “Your name is your power, you don’t ever share your entire name, except with your mother or father. You only use a syllable of it.”

Because of the secretive and mysterious nature of the Gulf War illness, Shores’ efforts at raising awareness and at conducting research has led him to be labeled as a conspiracy theorist, he said.

“I never really wanted to be a conspiracy theorist, but because of the Gulf War illness, I was thrown into it.”

His online videos are lumped into Bigfoot, aliens, and secret society categories, he said. “Gulf War illness wasn’t talked about, and if you did you were considered crazy. But it’s basically the Agent Orange of 2000.”  

The shock from returning to America after three years of service, the inability to find meaningful work, and his slowly deteriorating illness, has left Shores wondering why the country he fought for doesn’t do a little more to help the hundreds of thousands of veterans.  

“How do you settle in?” Shores said. “There’s no transition from watching your buddy die one week, to coming to America and listening to a woman complain about choice.”

Shores was supposed to hear back from the Clay County Court’s IT department on Monday, but he didn’t receive a call. He has tried to submit necessary documents online, but keeps receiving errors.

“I have no clue why it wasn’t reading properly, finally I had to ask a person to look over my shoulder and see if I was doing something wrong, and they couldn’t see what I was doing wrong,” Shores said.

“It is absolutely a validation of where we stand in today’s society,” Shores said. “When the entities or individuals that swear an oath and some make the ultimate sacrifice in defending the American way of life in their service to the Armed Forces or other positions of great sacrifice, veterans should not have to continue fighting, not only for their dignity and respect, but for fairness of treatment due to those sacrifices such as disabilities that are a direct result of their service.

“When I joined the military and I said I would die for my country, I didn’t know they would take it literally. For a time I thought I would hate my country for what I am going through, but I love my country. It’s easier to love than to hate, hate just eats you up inside. I just need to survive, to survive, and to go on in this world being the best person I can be.”

Kevin Shores, middle, in the Navy circa 1988 – Facebook


High costs of addiction

The legal underworld of addiction, incarceration, and wasted resources

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Justin Lee Dietrich was an addict. A long rap sheet haunted him, barring him from joining a society that rejected him at every turn. Court documents show he had issues with sobriety, was ordered by Cass County District Court to attend sobriety programs, chemical dependency evaluations, and given two years supervised probation, after he pled guilty to terrorizing charges in 2016.

Before four Fargo Police SWAT shooters took the 32-year-old man’s life on March 12 for posing an “imminent deadly threat,” in West Fargo, he asked to live in F5 Project housing, but the nonprofit organization that coordinates services and living spaces for released felons had no beds available, a Facebook post by the organization’s founder, Adam Martin, stated.

His family tried to get Dietrich committed but he was turned down every time, as he didn’t meet the “danger to himself or others” standard.

“I think about all the times police were called, how the officers with Fargo PD were patient with him when it would have been far easier to do otherwise, but also how hiring the right defense attorney can repeatedly help a person avoid any real consequences,” Matthew Bring, Dietrich’s brother-in-law, wrote in a Facebook post.

Justin Dietrich and his dog, Harley Bell – Facebook

“I think about how he’s been on probation with little or no actual supervision or oversight, and about the arrest warrant that was issued more than three months ago but never served. It’s frustrating, thinking about this broken system in which his family try so hard to get help from the very institutions set up to do so, and are repeatedly told there’s nothing more that can be done.”

Dietrich’s sister, Alyson Jean Bring, emphasized that she and her family tried repeatedly to seek help for her brother.

“My family filed numerous civil commitments in an effort to get Justin help and every time we were told by Southeast Human Services that he didn’t meet the legal standard of being a danger to himself or others,” Bring said in an email. “At one point I was literally told that we wouldn’t be able to commit him unless he was found with a gun in his hand and threatening to take his own life.”

Southeast Human Services personnel took 15 minutes to interview her brother, but would not consider her family’s extensive knowledge of his usage history, she said.

Bring, a former attorney with the Cass County State’s Attorney’s Office, said her brother was supposed to be supervised, but found little oversight. When the courts ordered Dietrich to go through treatment, the stays were too short. Counselors continuously had to justify treatment procedures to insurance companies, Bring said.

“In sum, the very institutions that are set up to help people are not working.”

Dietrich loved motorcycles and his pet, a Rottweiler named Harley. He had a beautiful singing voice, once sang at the North Dakota Adult and Teen Challenge approximately a decade ago. Friends and family said he was humorous, had an infectious smile, someone who went out of his way to make people feel important.

Once, he saved a neighbor from hanging himself. He cut down the rope, took the person to get food and groceries, and saved the person from suicide.

“It’s no secret that Justin was an addict and struggled with this disease for many years,” Bring wrote in her brother’s eulogy. “But I think it’s important to stress that each one of us has issues and our issues don’t define us. Addiction was merely part of his life.”

Bring also works as an attorney handling DUI cases, never before realizing how widespread addiction and alcoholism in the area are, affecting people from all walks of life.

“I don’t think the public at large realizes how big of an issue this is and that most of the people who enter the criminal justice system are either chemically dependent, mentally ill, or both,” Bring said.

Her brother was someone who helped whenever and however he could, Bring said, and she hopes to honor his memory by testifying at the next legislative session to try and implement positive changes for those struggling with addiction.

“I think the frustrating part for me is that, while everyone has issues, for some reason addiction is so incredibly stigmatized, and I think a big part of that is because, while it’s easy for people to hide most issues, typically addiction eventually can’t be hidden and becomes public,” Bring said in an email. “I think our society has made some strides in viewing addiction as a disease just like other mental health or physical problems, but I think we still have a long ways to go.”

Justin Dietrich’s dog, Harley Bell, and a Harley – Facebook

Adam Martin
The name, F5 Project, is a double entendre. It stands for the reset function key, but also because Adam Martin has five felonies on his record.

“I’m not a mental health professional, I’m just a guy who has a bunch of felonies who is an addict, that found a solution that works,” Martin, founder of the F5 Project, said from his office. Feet propped up on his desk, he’s the picture of calm in a turbulent world. His office is behind the only white frame among a dozen hard oak antique doors on the eighth floor of the Black Building.

Although the F5 Project is barely two years young, he’s grown the organization from nothing to seven houses that help put roofs over felons’ heads. His organization’s goal is to lower recidivism and homelessness rates through education. Martin calls his organization the “anti-disenfranchised movement” because he breaks all the social rules: answers the cell phone at 2am, is active with those under his care on social media, and goes to inmates before they’re released to find out what they want.

Adam Martin, founder of the F5 Project, describing the difficulties of the current justice system – photograph by C.S. Hagen

Martin knew Dietrich, called him a “super awesome dude.” Dietrich was someone that Martin enjoyed, and not the person the media has painted. Current Fargo city codes was one of the reasons why Dietrich was turned away shortly before he was gunned down after failing to comply with police demands.

In Fargo, a house or unit is allowed to hold three non-related people, no matter how many rooms are in the house.

“It’s an archaic code that robs many of opportunity,” Martin said. Because of a previous infraction of the city codes, city leaders and others have called him a slumlord. He’s facing potential fines. Some ask him why college students are able to get away with breaking the same city code, while he, housing felons, cannot.

“My argument for that or my belief on that is I’m not mad that the college students are getting away with it, I think they should,” Martin said. “I think there is a big problem with housing in this community and it affects people with backgrounds and it affects college students. What does that tell me? It affects people below the poverty line.”

A legislative incentive passed in 2017 offering landlords the chance to collect double security deposits for felons looking for a place to live, is about the only help the state has given. The law, introduced as House Bill 1220 by the House Political Subdivision Committee, overlooks a crucial factor.

“They totally missed the boat on what the real problem is,” Martin said. “It’s not just the felony background, the majority of people coming out of jails or prisons don’t have money. Again, we’re creating opportunity for people with money.”

Money is the largest contributing factor in attracting the help people really need, Martin said. Proper funding is also the dividing factor between nonprofits such as the F5 Project and others as they’re all chasing the same donations and grants.

Money – billions, if not trillions of taxpayer dollars – is also being wasted every year keeping felons in a rut from which they cannot climb out.

Frank Hunkler
Dressed in corduroys, armed with a Pilot G-2 fine-point pen and a thick notebook of data, Frank Hunkler paused before speaking about the day he decided to commit suicide.

He’s a decorated Vietnam War veteran, a felon, an addict, has had PTSD since childhood, suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, and has been a full-time volunteer peer mentor in the Fargo-Moorhead area for 37 years. He includes himself as one of the 256,934 reported civilian non-institutional people in America who were told they cannot work if they wanted access to health care including mental health. At a minimum of $10 an hour, that’s more than $5 billion in lost wages, and approximately $900 million in lost federal taxes every year.

He knows about addiction, started using drugs in high school and went to prison in 1979, back in the day when felons paid their dues, but were welcomed back to society after finishing their sentences.  

“It’s harder to get clean and stay clean today than it was in 1980 or 1990, much more difficult,” Hunkler said.


“Access and prejudice,” Hunkler said. “In 1980 we did our crimes we did our time, we did our crimes and did our time. In 1980, very few people went to jail for drugs, almost unheard of.”

Frank Hunkler describing his path as a veteran, an addict, a felon, to recovery – photograph by C.S. Hagen

The war on drugs and the war on terror are pieces to the puzzle behind mass incarceration, Hunkler believes. America has five percent of the world’s population with 25 percent of the world’s prison population, and the hours of lost work, lost taxpayer dollars, and lost productivity, add up.

Nationally, the number of people enrolled in drug treatment programs has halved in recent years, although the demand for mental health treatment continues to rise, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Budget cuts to support the war on drugs and the war on terror, coupled with widespread disregard and an automation of human services have left addicts, felons, and the needy, forgotten.

Among comparable countries, America has the highest rate of death from mental health and substance abuse disorders. The number is almost off the charts, according to the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker, with America double the rest of the world in death rates per 100,0000 people in 2015.

America’s death rates due to accidental poisonings or drug overdoses per 100,000 people is also twice as high as the worldwide average, numbering 12 people per 100,000 in 2013, compared to 4.9 per 100,000 in comparable countries.

Stress is the common denominator linking addiction, the current criminal justice system, recidivism, or the habitual relapse into crime or antisocial behavior patterns, Hunkler said.

“The process of seeking help, in preventive ways, is not in vogue,” Hunkler said. “The inhumane and failure-inducing requirements of seeking help in an emergency take a simple medical emergency to a personal catastrophe in which stress levels are exponentially raised.”

Although Hunkler has been clean for 37 years, his PTSD could bring him to suicide. Returning to drug use is not an option, he said. Suicide would be the only choice.

“With PTSD it could happen easily, not today, but over a period of months,” Hunkler said. “Right at that edge where life-or-death decisions are made every day by persons with use, abuse, mental health, addiction issues. I believe anyone who has even short-term struggles with mental health, use, abuse, and addiction issues has symptoms of PTSD. Often less from the struggles than from the lack of 24/7 access to emergency facilities and safety from themselves and others, forcing them to return to the situations that are killing them. Each refusal of care is another traumatizing event.”

His PTSD stems from childhood abuse, he said. He remembers little of his war experience, but has the medals to prove he fought with valor. As a gay man who lost 52 of his friends during the AIDS epidemic, his battle has been even more difficult than others, but he draws and writes almost every day to remind himself that people are basically good, and he must help them.

On social media, he begins all his posts with three simple words: “I love you.”

I am forgiven – by Frank Hunkler

Remembering the day in 2003 when he decided to commit suicide didn’t come easily. While walking home, and passing in front of the offices of Minnesota Legal Services, after the Fargo VA refused help one last time, the director came running toward him. Hunkler said the director must have noticed that all was not well with him at the time. He was trying to get help, but insurance premiums and deductibles were out of reach. Medical bills, lawyer bills, were eating up his income.

“I was not depressed, I was freaked out by the world,” Hunkler said. “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is progressive and fatal. I had been clean from drug use since 1980. Using was not an option.  Suicide held the only dignity I knew.”

The director of Minnesota Legal Services pulled him into the entry of the building and asked him why he was not on disability, Hunkler said.

“No one had ever asked me that. I said because I could not afford the expensive tests needed to find out if I had any real problems. I could not afford insurance and the VA had just told me they would not serve me under any circumstances. I had too many confrontations with staff over being refused help. I was a security risk to myself and the facility.

“She told me they would help me get help. I had to promise to quit work and promise to not work again ever, get completely destitute by a certain date to qualify for services, and 300 hours of their help later I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, PTSD, learning disabilities, and was given Social Security disability and a permanent VA disability pension.

Past has passed away – by Frank Hunkler

$1.015 trillion: a drop in the judicial bucket
“Since I got on disability I have 29,000 and some hours that are lost,” Hunkler said. “Taxpayers have paid me over $500,000 in 14 years in monthly checks. I get a check every month, but that doesn’t mean I got medical health. I was under this crazy notion that if you’re on social security disability you get medical help. I was given a disability pension and then told to go away. I assumed that meant I got psychiatric help, but there is no such connection.

“How do you describe this to people that not only are they paying me to leave the work force, just to get medical help, I don’t know if you know this but when veterans get a disability check – it was not created to give us medical help. It’s basically a lawsuit, where each veteran is expected to get a million bucks. Congress did not mean this to be like Social Security disability to keep us alive, it was meant to replace the money we would likely lose in our lifetime.”

Hunkler is a part of the aggregate economic burden of incarceration to taxpayers, which exceeds $1 trillion every year, according to Advancing Justice, a Los Angeles based nonprofit and civil rights organization, and the Institute for Advancing Justice Research and Innovation, at Washington University in St. Louis.

Costs to corrections are approximately $91 billion, and lost wages – calculated at minimum wage – add up to more than $70 billion every year.

Reduced life earnings of those behind bars total more than $230 billion, while costs of non-fatal injuries to the incarcerated total $28 billion.

The aggregate cost to society swells from there, which including other aspects already adds up to more than $490 billion. Felons have adverse health effects from incarceration and poor health care. Infant mortality rates increase. There are divorce complications. Children’s educational level decreases, thereby lowering wages when they become adults. Child welfare costs go up; homelessness increases. There are increased criminality issues with children of incarcerated parents. Property values in troublesome areas decrease. Divorce rates rise, and the interest on judicial debt inflates.

In total, the cost per year for the current criminal justice system backing the war on drugs, the war on terror, and the current judicial system is $1,015,000,000,000, most of which is taxpayer dollars, according to statistics released by Advancing Justice.

“Expenditures are not adding value to the economy and are not, for the most part, improving the productivity of the incarcerated person and their families or adding value to the quality of life in the community for generations to come,” Hunkler said.

The costs do not end there. In 2018, the federal and state budgets for incarceration, probation, and parole is $80.7 billion. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, declared more than $50 billion. The Department of Health and Human Services, or HSS, announced $80.03 billion, and the Department of Education needs $59 billion.

Although numbers have decreased slightly in recent years, an average of 2.2 million people are behind bars on any given day, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. If 2.2 million people had minimum wage jobs at 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, at an hourly rate of $10, the federal government loses more than $4.2 billion in taxes every year.

Wages earned by America’s total population of approximately 138 million taxpayers every year to pay for incarcerating 2.2 million people totals at $9.03 trillion, of which a total of $1.2 trillion is used to pay for the current incarceration system, according to Advancing Justice.

Additional unintended costs extend to more than half a million prison guards, who suffer from PTSD at more than double the rate of soldiers, and with suicide rates twice as high as the general public, according to analysts.

Simple numbers show the fiscal burden of incarceration is far more expensive than offering help to the millions of addicts sent into jails across America. The national average for treating one person in detox is $1,500, with an inpatient cost of $20,000 a month, according to the Center for Disease Control. For a fraction of the annual price to taxpayers, more than 11 million addicts – which is also the approximate number of people who enter jails in the United States every year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation – could be treated for $375 billion.

Few jails offer addiction treatment services. At Cass County Jail, Captain Andrew Frobig is working toward alternatives to incarceration for low-bail offenders, but doesn’t have treatment services, yet, he said. Most help comes from the outside, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, the Sex Offender Program, the F5 Project, the group Hunkler works with, Narcotics Anonymous, or other nonprofit groups.   

“It is very difficult to find anyone who claims, in 2018, that prisons and jails are for rehabilitation,” Hunkler said. “The inmates are not getting mental health help, are not being financially productive, are not learning skills, and the prison guards are losing out too.”  

[Editor’s note: For more information pertaining to the criminal justice system in Fargo and North Dakota, a February 21 story pertaining to the “High costs of low bail” can be found here: link.]

I am in shape politically – by Frank Hunkler

Center for heroes and excellence
Frank Hunkler has a dream. His dream is to create a brick and mortar building, a one-stop 24/7 emergency center where anyone with a use, abuse, addiction, or mental health issue can go, keep safe from themselves and others, have all their emergency needs met, food to eat, a place to rest if needed, and given an advocate to get them connected to all the services they need.

“The community would guarantee to leave no one behind, get them the services they need, and find a way to pay for them,” Hunkler said. “Just like with heart disease, lung disease, type II Diabetes and other mostly preventable diseases. The commitment of the metropolitan area community would be to leave no one behind and provide the seamless services needed to return the person to maximum productivity as quickly as possible, no questions asked. To walk through the door and ask for help would make each person a community hero.

“By diverting funds, diverting facilities, ending the war on drugs, there is money enough, and the idea of this center in this town, number one, we need to have a campaign that encourages people to ask for help,” Hunkler said. “That’s the first problem, that’s probably 80 percent of the problem. Asking for help when they need it. That’s the heroism part.

“There’s no reason that anyone should have to use in this town, if we had access. There are enough treatment centers, homeless shelters, mutual aid agencies, if they had a central place where anyone could come to 24/7, I actually believe, right now as I know this community, there are days of the year where if we have that one center, existing facilities could serve every person who walks through that door without adding a bed.”

Fargo’s metropolitan area is smart enough and wealthy enough, Hunkler said, to become the first city in the world to help all our kids, felons, and addicts, and turn no one away.

Such a center would bring together all the agencies and services, voluntary and professional, Hunkler said.

“As each person is served, seamlessly and as a whole person, all agencies and services will benefit and maximize their potential,” Hunkler said. “At one time or another in our lives, we will likely all need those services unless we are wealthy enough or connected enough to get services we need when and where we want them. For now, only members of Congress and the very wealthiest have such access. A Medal of Honor winner cannot walk into a VA facility and demand services. A member of Congress can and does not have to demand them or stand in line for services.”  

Adam Martin, of the F5 Project, compares the judicial system to the educational system, and finds that many of today’s issues start in schools.

“We have a whole social structure built on helping those who are convenient, and I think about that all the time,” Martin said. “We have this idea of what is not normal, and when something is not normal, we involve the police. Police have become more about arresting to create a culture than arresting to create public safety.”

Martin said he was in learning disability classes when he was in school in Fargo. The system is based on automation, and doing what is convenient.

“Let’s be open and honest about it,” Martin said. “Are you doing the same thing the educational system has done, and you’re sending people to learning disability classes because they’re inconvenient, they’re not normal, they’re not like other kids? Are you identifying them with learning disabilities because you suck as a teacher and you’re not actual teachers you’re reading out of a book? Or are you actually trying to create an environment to learn for all people. I think that kind of mentality has gone into the justice system, it’s gotten into even the technology world.

“All the systems in America are based on low hanging fruit. Nobody really wants to work.”

Rules on top of laws is not the answer to solving the current criminal justice system, Martin said.

“We’ve turned into a very legalistic nation,” Martin said. “If you’re familiar with the Bible and Pharisees and legalism, they were putting rules on top of laws and then holding people accountable as if it were a law, so that they wouldn’t actually break the law.”

Joyful performance – by Frank Hunkler

Criminal justice reform is not ‘hug a thug’
While preparing for her nomination at the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Convention, Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who is up for reelection this year, said she would support criminal justice reform.

“On one condition,” Heitkamp said. “That we have re-entry services. And I will tell you why. I think that if you take someone out and you say ‘Okay, you’re serving time for a drug offense that didn’t jeopardize anyone’s life, you weren’t caught with guns,’ whatever the line is, I would say that’s fine, but you need to make sure they stay in treatment and that they have opportunities that help them transition their life back.

“If we don’t do it with that, we will have re-offenses, in fact I know that’s already happening in North Dakota, and that will frustrate law enforcement, it will frustrate the public, and it’s the wrong way to do it.”

Heitkamp stated she wants to know what reentry plans would include.

“When they come out of prison, how do they come back? They come back to the exact same conditions, and friends and associates that basically led to their incarceration. We need a reentry program for federal prisoners. This is one of the things that I’ve been pushing and doing a lot of work on.”

Former North Dakota Attorney General Tim Purdon said the criminal justice system is a three-legged stool: one leg is enforcement – some people are dangerous and need to be kept from society – a definition both Martin and Hunkler also agree with.

The second leg is crime prevention, and the third is reentry, Purdon said.

“Criminal justice reform is an issue that over the last three or four years – setting aside the current Attorney General – is something that has had large bipartisan support,” Purdon said. “There’s been a recognition in this country that we cannot afford to continue our criminal justice system on the road we’re on because the cost of running prisons, federal and locally, is exceeding our ability as a society to pay for it.”

He is a part of the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, and currently a partner with Robins Kaplan LLP, and said money can be redirected toward crime prevention and better delivery of mental health and addiction services.

“If you take the dollars that are being spent to warehouse people who have addiction and mental health problems, you take those dollars and redirect them at crime prevention programs that those people can get the chemical dependency treatment they need, they can get the mental health services they need,” Purdon said. “We are woefully behind a minimal constitutional standard for mental health care in the state of North Dakota.

“Look at the people coming out of prison and look at their recidivism rate. If you reduce that recidivism rate, give them a chance and integrate them back into society, you’ve reduced your crime rate.

“Reducing the recidivism rate isn’t hug a thug, this is making the community safer by making sure the folks coming back don’t reoffend.”

Concentrate on all three legs and incarceration rates will drop, he said.

Mandatory minimum sentences are one aspect of the current criminal justice system that needs change, Purdon said.

“Mandatory minimum sentences are a sledgehammer for every case, whether the case is an elephant or a gnat. We’ve got to get away from mandatory minimum sentences, particularly for people with addiction problems.”

The issue has become a hot topic today because the opioid crisis affects all levels of society, he said.

“The opioid crisis, unlike past drug crisis, hits populations in this country that have political power,” Purdon said. “Why are we talking about the opioid addiction as a national crisis as opposed to the crack epidemic? Why are we looking at it as a public safety issue instead of purely a criminal justice issue? It’s because its impacting communities that have some political power.

“It’s sad that that’s the case, but that is the case. There is a possibility that when you start to look at opioid addiction as a medical issue — and all addiction should be viewed as a medical issue, in my opinion — not necessarily a criminal justice issue but a health care medical issue, those folks need treatment, and hopefully that can support some of this recent bipartisan support for comprehensive criminal justice reform.”

Other states have begun taking dollars away from locking people up and putting funds toward treatment, and have reduced crime rates while reducing prison populations, Purdon said.

While mental health issues continue to be put on the political back burners, organizations like the F5 Project and volunteers like Frank Hunkler plan to continue struggling to find beds for the addicted, jobs for felons, words for the hurting.

“All that is lacking is people of goodwill putting partisan opinions and feelings aside and sitting as equals around a round table, with all stakeholders, and win this war on stigma and fear,” Hunkler said. “This fear of addiction and mental illness is based only in itself – fear.”

“It’s going to have to be a lot of awareness of the similarities between felons and non-felons, the similarities between the education system and the justice system, and how they’re treated, and the similarities between mom and dad approaches when it comes to people with felony backgrounds,” Adam Martin said. “When people see that and break the matrix in their minds, that’s when the help is really going to come.”

Andrew Gregerson, a drug addict, showing his scars and tattoos while in Cass County Jail – photograph by Logan Macrae


The high costs of low bail

Overcrowded jails and millions in costs to the taxpayer

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – To hundreds of Fargo’s inmates, a C-Note-sized bail might as well be a million dollars. Unaffordable.

On any given day the city’s law enforcement brings those who break the law to jail. It’s their job. Some offenders are violent. All are entitled to a phone call and an orange wardrobe. Some are drug abusers, addicted. Others are repeat offenders, and then there are those who don’t see jail as any kind of deterrent.

A February 8 snapshot of the Cass County Jail’s roster showed that 238 people were behind bars, 212 males, 36 females. A total of 68 people were in custody without bail, meaning they were deemed flight risks by the court, due to serious felony charges, prior criminal convictions.

HPR Magazine cover by Raul Gomez

Twenty-four people were locked up on less than $1,000 bail, according to Captain Andrew Frobig of Cass County Jail. Their bail amounts ranged from $100 to $750, with the majority hovering around $500, and they were arrested on drug charges, assault charges, parole violations, or disorderly conduct. A second snapshot, taken on February 15, showed 245 people were incarcerated, with 38 people under $1,000 bail.

With an approximate cost to taxpayers of $95 per day to keep a person in the local jail, those that could not afford bail – or did not pay bail – ran Cass County approximately $2,280 on February 8. On February 15, the costs increased to $3,610. While in jail, inmates’ health costs are covered; they have a bed and three squares. For those without homes – a desperate few – such ill-fated security may be a tempting offer.

“The reasons for not posting are also subject to individual circumstances,” Frobig said.

“I know there are cases where lack of access to funds is the issue. I know there are circumstances where the person would rather sit and accrue credit in hopes of an eventual plea bargain for time served. I know there are cases where they have burned bridges with all those they know who might help them, and I have spoken to parents in the past who have left them in jail because they felt it was the only remaining option to keep them alive – due to extreme drug or alcohol addictions.”

The “jail churn” is difficult to predict, because of the numbers, that change daily, even hourly, and the sheer volume of those cycled through the system on their way to trial. If the jail’s snapshot list is used as an average, however, the taxpayers’ costs add up quickly. Every month more than $680,000 is used in taking care of inmates who cannot or won’t make low bail amounts. Annually, the financial costs could rocket to more than $800,000, about an eighth of Cass County Jail’s total inmate expenditures.

One inmate, jailed on heroin charges, has been incarcerated for more than a month on $150 bail. Another person has spent approximately 44 days in jail on terrorizing charges with a $500 bail. A third inmate arrested on December 4 for disorderly conduct and contact with bodily fluids has been under a $750 bail, while another arrested on December 16 for assaulting a peace officer is on $560 bail.

Total bail amounts: $1,960.

Costs to taxpayers for all four inmates: $23,160, and growing.

Excluding the first six months of 2017, when inmate intakes were higher, the daily average headcount at Cass County Jail is 241, with nearly $23,000 spent every day. Monthly, the costs run approximately $686,850, making an annual total of up to $8.3 million.

With less than a month left until the jail’s annual budget year ends, Cass County Jail has spent $9,602,901 for inmate care in 2017, which includes federal funds of $2,005,439 — also taxpayer money.

“Our budget doesn’t include things like light, and heat, and water. Those are county facilities,” Frobig said. “I take into account our itemized budget on what we can spend on things. You are absolutely correct from a fiscal standpoint that we spend far more than the actual bails cost, which is exacerbated when you add in medical expenses on a case by case basis.”

Jails have fixed costs which cannot be reduced, and incremental costs when the jail is full and more people are in need of individual care, Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said. At capacity, Cass County Jail has 348 beds.

“A lot of those costs are fixed costs, so it takes a certain amount to run that jail whether you’ve got 200 people in it, or 250, or 230, it’s all going to be the same amount,” Burdick said. “We still have to keep the heat on, we still have to keep the power on, and we still have to keep the jail staffed, so it’s a difficult number, I would think, to try to get a handle on, although I have not tried.”

Although a precise cost for low-bail detainees is difficult to calculate, the sheer number of cases has recently raised eyebrows, from the legislature to government-appointed committees, to study the issue.

“As far as what to do about it, the state is actually starting to take a look at this very issue,” Frobig said. Captain Frobig has been asked to join a subcommittee of the Justice Reinvestment Committee, Burdick said, that is charged with reexamining the current bail process and find alternatives to incarceration.

Andrew Gregerson showing the scar on his neck left after a suicide attempt – photograph by Logan Macrae

King pain
Since he turned 11, Andrew Gregerson, 31, has spent five years and two months a free man. He grew up as a ward of the state, inside juvenile centers, jails, and prisons.

“I’ve been in almost every single juvenile facility in North Dakota,” Gregerson said. “I didn’t have a solid guidance into adulthood, and unfortunately right after I turned 18, I went to prison.”

He’s well spoken, a registered member of the Crow Agency in Montana’s Little Big Horn Reservation. Prison tattoos and scars across his body tell a tale no 31-year-old should have to experience. His rap sheet fills a letter-sized page, filled with assault, terrorizing, shoplifting, burglary, and criminal mischief charges. Today, he’s in Cass County Jail on $750 cash bond on his first drug charges: attempting to manufacture methamphetamines, a felony, and other misdemeanor charges, some drug-related.

“I knew what right and wrong was, but I was ignorant,” Gregerson said. “I was rebellious. Over the years, I had a drug problem, and I really didn’t care where my actions led for quite a few years.”

While sitting in Cass County Jail during a year-long stint, he slit both wrists and his throat on his 20th birthday. Less than inch below the scar on his wrist is a tattoo he gave himself – a dotted line and the words “Cut here.” Another tattoo on his forearm, with a single needle, reads “Pure Evil.” Crude and faded ink across his left knuckles says: “King.” Across his right: “Pain.” King Pain.

With a repetitive history of getting clean, then  turning back to drugs, then getting clean again, every time tragedy struck he turned to drugs, he said. Before his last arrest he was smoking meth to the point where he lost 35 pounds in 17 days.

He was arrested more than a month ago, but has only a cellphone to offer up for bail.

“I would bail out if I could,” Gregerson said. After his last stint in prison, he found a fulltime job in Bismarck making $17 an hour, but lost the job when he was arrested in a Fargo hotel room. Life wasn’t going the way he wanted, he said, and like other times when tragedy struck he turned back to his old friends: cocaine, heroin, meth, marijuana, acid, crack, magic mushrooms. He’s tried them all, but preferred acid. Rarely drinks, doesn’t like cigarettes.

He lifts up his prison-orange shirt to show a scar where someone stabbed him in 2007 in West Fargo. The wound went through his liver and into his kidney, and he nearly died from the assault after he chased the attacker with the 13-inch knife still protruding from his chest.

Andrew Gregerson, a drug addict, showing his scars and tattoos – photograph by Logan Macrae

In 2012, he also tried to commit suicide, but failed.

“I tried hanging myself in my garage, and when I jumped off my toolbox the rope broke,” Gregerson said. “I’m lucky to be alive for several different reasons.”

Since his last arrest, his cash bail has been reduced from 10 percent of $10,000 to $750, but he still can’t afford the payment. He can sell his cellphone for $300, but it’s still not enough. He said his life changed when his daughter, usually stoic, broke down in tears before him.

“My daughter needs me. As sad as it is, it took me many years…the day she came and saw me and she started crying and told me how much of a disappointment I was and that I had broke her trust, it’s like I woke up after years of being asleep.

“I couldn’t believe what I did to her. That’s my fault. Her tears, her in counseling, it’s all on me. Never up to this point did I realize that, so no, I don’t want to be in here.”

Gregerson realizes his story may fall on deaf ears. “I’m sure a lot of people say ‘Oh, I’m done with drugs,’ and I hate to sing the same tune, but to see my daughter cry like that and to realize it’s all my fault, I’ve never seen that before. As soon as I get out, I’m going to go, I want to get treatment. I want to change. Never again will I put tears on my daughter’s face. Never. I will not be responsible for that.”

He holds up two cards from the North Dakota Department of Human Services and presses them against the prison glass.

“I had to face not only losing her, I had to sit there in my cell and think about all the things I lost, like my personal possessions, and also sit there, burned in my brain now, my daughter’s face, crying on the phone behind the glass sitting there telling me those things.

“I need drug treatment. Sitting here is wasting my time.”

Andrew Gregerson lifts his shirt to show where he was stabbed and nearly killed – photograph by Logan Macrae

‘Huge paradigm shift’
Captain Andrew Frobig didn’t grow up wanting to be a peace officer. He became licensed out of necessity. With a degree in political science, he tried law school, but decided on social work and criminal justice. He started “on the line” at the Cass County Jail around 2004, and climbed the ladder to his current position.

He understands jail, the judicial system, and the partisan politics behind criminal laws. When new inmates come in, he jokes with them. Frobig also understands the current system isn’t working, and the laws are keeping some behind bars that shouldn’t be there.

“If you think about jail, that’s all we’re doing: food, clothing, shelter,” Frobig said. “We’re trying to do more than that here, but that’s basically what jail is. We’ve solved that problem, so now we can start working at these other things over here.”

In 2017, Frobig received funding to experiment on alternatives, and he has begun forming a small group of social watchdogs called the Community Supervision Unit. After the county flirted with work release programs and failed due to an uptick in drug smuggling, Frobig believes he has now found a possible way to lower costs, help ensure court appearances, and keep the area safe.

“I think I’ve got something better,” Frobig said. “The idea is we are going to take the people that would otherwise have qualified for work release, and use the new GPS technology, state-of-the-art tracking systems, so those that are sentenced to our custody, which are the people that would have been on work release before.”

Qualifying arrestees will live at home and wear GPS monitors, so personnel can track them. Such tactics have already been experimented with and were successful, Frobig said.

“For the money they spend per day here, I know we can have things in the community attacking those problems, and far cheaper.”

Two of the most frequent charges Frobig notices are: failure to appear, and failure to pay fines or fees. Currently, Cass County has more than 2,000 bench warrants for people who failed to appear in court.

“Whatever alternatives we discover, we have to address that failure-to-appear rate, at least not make it any worse,” Frobig said. “My point is that we identified that this was an issue that a lot of folks were languishing in jail over the course of any given time, the bail amounts suggested judges expected them to get out, but for one reason or another they didn’t.

“I operate with that assumption: the judges don’t have an issue with them getting out so why is there a need for any bail at all?”

The Community Supervision Unit will be comprised of four police officers acting as social workers with arresting powers, Frobig said. He’s looking for officers who may have had problems in the past, those who understand addictions; community providers who will perform case by case care. They will track inmates, drive them to court appearances if needed, help with rehabilitation — including drug treatment — and with assistance after release.

Jobs and apartments for former convicts are difficult to find, and if not for organizations like the F-M Dorothy Day House, Cooper House Apartments, and Adam Martin’s F5 Project, many ex-convicts may take to the streets, Frobig said. Despite the limited options they do have, some still end up back in jail.

“Their job now is to find solutions,” Frobig said. “Creative cops are something that sometimes we’re wary of creating, but I want them to have a wide discretion to be able solve the immediate problems at hand, and not keep score.

“It’s a huge paradigm shift. Let’s make progress in solving these problems of people assigned to them to make them less likely to reoffend. Paying for services based on results rather than services delivered, which is a remarkable shift.”

Instead of working general algorithms or massive analysis techniques, Frobig wants evidence-based programs for individualized assessment and care.

“If three out of four are making progress, then what we’re doing is working, and let’s continue to pay for it,” Frobig said. “We have a tendency to keep score by arrests and convictions. This is going to flip that on its head. We will try to do whatever it takes to help them succeed.”

Federal and state monies could be better spent on community-based drug treatment and job training, according to analysis. Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick agreed, saying new technologies could be of assistance while the state reassess its incarceration regulations.

“In addition to studies and analysis tools, new and better technologies may help us get there as well,” Burdick said. “Being able to track and monitor people on pretrial release, so we know they are doing the right thing, or can do something about it if they’re doing the wrong thing, may be helpful here.

“There are ways out there I think, I am not sure of the prices yet or how best to utilize them, but to keep track of people in a meaningful way that may help reduce the need to have as many people in jail, and how you blend those new technologies with the algorithms or analysis techniques, I don’t know yet, but hopefully that is where our inquiries will take us.”  

Jerry Yonkedeh talking about his bail issues – photograph by Logan Macrae

Me, myself, and God
Jerry Yonkedeh, 25, has spent nearly 50 days in Cass County Jail since his arrest on January 1. He’s charged with terrorizing with a dangerous weapon; he said the claims are lies. His wallet containing his last $200 was stolen during a New Years Eve hotel party, and he can’t make cash bail of $500.

Before incarceration, he was making enough for a single man to live, about $800 a month working for a local flaxseed company. He shared a North Fargo efficiency apartment, split the rent with a roommate, and has a car, a 2003 Hyundai Sonata, which he can’t drive because his license was revoked for a DUI in 2015.

“Now, I’m stuck,” Yonkedeh said. “Me sitting here is not benefiting me. I have no family here, no contact, it’s just me, myself, and God, that’s about it. I’m willing to appear in court, because I know I am innocent. I’m willing to sell my car, right now, for $500, or $600, just sell my car and bond me out.”

Yonkedeh was born in Liberia, and moved to Minnesota with family when he was 10 years old.

He doesn’t want to be in jail, but doesn’t know who to call. Can’t remember his father’s telephone number. Doesn’t know if he’s lost his job of nearly three years. After his DUI sometimes he walked miles to work or rode a bicycle; sometimes his boss would arrange to pick him up.

One lesson he has learned is “trust nobody,” Yonkedeh said. Jail food is bland, and he trades it for noodles when he can’t stand the taste. He grew up poor, and is still poor, too poor to pay bail, and so he is waiting in Cass County Jail for his April trial date.

“I want to get out and get back on my feet,” Yonkedeh said. Daily, he watches an hour of television, does pushups, and reads the Bible. “I’ve got to learn from this, I have no excuses not to go to work and not to go to school. That was my New Year’s resolution: work and go to school. But the devil, you know. God has a plan.”

The social costs
Two of the most frequent charges Captain Andrew Frobig notices are failure to appear, and failure to pay fines or fees. Currently, Cass County has more than 2,000 bench warrants for people who failed to appear in court.

“Cash bail is typically intended, in part, to provide incentive to appear and also to go towards satisfying imposed fees and fines, so any alternatives that are considered will need to take those issues into account,” Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said.

The legal process begins with an arraignment, where a public defender may be assigned to a defendant, and based on information including criminal record, place of residence, and job sustainability, bail is set. Defense attorneys can petition a judge for lower bail at any time, Burdick said.

“What that bail amount should be is discretionary with the court,” Burdick said. “We are as a judicial system interested in trying to focus on what is sometimes referred to as evidence-based practices. If you look around the country, you’ll find that there are different communities or states that have different approaches to setting up bail, and different approaches to try and get more information on what somebody is, so they can make a knowledgeable decision with regard to pretrial release.”

In the past, algorithms, or statistical counting, are used to predict if a defendant will return to court or is a risk to the public.

“It’s not my intent, I don’t think it’s anyone’s intent, to try and just keep people in jail because we feel like it,” Burdick said. “That’s what convictions are for and sentences are the result of convictions, but we do want people to return.”

But even Burdick, with his years of experience, realizes the current bail system may need an adjustment. “If I was to say that I think we doing things perfectly, and we have no room to improve, I would be an idiot,” Burdick said.

“Here’s my general take on life. My job as a prosecutor is to hold people accountable for doing wrong things, but to do it in a fair way. Having said that, I recognize that people when in pretrial custody, the pretrial custody may have a negative impact on their lives, by causing them to lose their jobs and by causing additional strain to their family relationships and the like, and while it is true that that should have been a consideration in their own mind before committing an act, I still want to try and do things in the right way. We are using the best tools that we have right now, I think those tools could certainly be sharpened.”

Frobig couldn’t comment on the social costs of an inmate failing to make bail, such as losing a job, property, a car towed from a public street, even rejection by family, friends, or loss of status, but said that historically, jail administrations have tended to approach crime problems by determining trends or averages.

“The approach we are just now beginning to transition to, in partnerships between government and private providers, is to recognize that each individual situation is unique, as are the priorities or primary needs of each individual, and it is more cost-effective to identify and target those primary needs with specific and targeted services.”

Sometimes, people want to go back to jail because life on the outside is simply too difficult.

“I’ve seen it in the past where someone who was avoiding an old warrant ended up turning themselves in – out of the blue – which happened to coincide with a serious medical condition that was previously untreated,” Frobig said.

Other reasons could include homelessness. Some people have shoplifted in order to get arrested to quit smoking, or committed a crime to accompany a friend in jail.

Bench warrants for not paying court-mandated fines and fees can quickly escalate and land a struggling ex-convict back in jail. Typically, such cases are reduced to civil orders, or they choose to pay off their debt $20 a day while sitting in jail.

Such a strategy makes no sense to Frobig.

“Wait, you’re going to pay me $75 a day to hold this person so they work off the $20?” Frobig said. “It’s silly for me to keep them in jail. Whatever the barriers to helping people find jobs, or perform community service, those obstacles should be overcome. This unit is going to be tasked with trying to come up with ideas. I’m not going to spoon feed them. If we show we’re not willing to try these things, then people will spoon feed us, or force feed us.”

No matter the reason, intentional or not, the costs of taking care of inmates are a heavy burden on the taxpayer.

“On the one hand you think about, ‘Shouldn’t we be letting people out so that they can continue to keep their job and maintain their family contacts?’” Burdick said. “And I would agree that’s an important criterium. On the other hand, ‘Are they going to return to future proceedings, are they representing safety concerns to the public?’ These are balancing issues.”

The jail churn
The purpose of bail is to ensure a defendant will appear for his or her day in court. A closer look shows that the money bail system is set up to fail. Too many people in America today cannot make their bail bonds, perpetuating an endless cycle of poverty.

America, the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, can also claim the statistic that one in five people are detained for drug offenses, according to statistics released by the Prison Policy Initiative.

If every U.S. state were compared to countries, North Dakota, population 757,952, would rank number 41 in the world with 521 people jailed per 100,000 in 2015, which is eight ranks higher than Russia, population 144 million, and 105 spots worse than China, population 1.3 billion, according to information published by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research.

North Dakota is listed as one of two non-reporting states in 2016 for the National Prisoner Statistics program managed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  The numbers provided do reflect that the state’s jailed decreased slightly, but nationally, the numbers of those who found themselves behind bars increased by three percent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Taking the top spots for incarceration per 100,000 people across the world are: District of Columbia, with 1,196 people incarcerated, Louisiana, with 1,143, and the state of Georgia with 1,004.

The state’s southern neighbor, South Dakota, ranked number six across the world in 2016, with 904 people jailed per 100,000.

Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, said the current bail system is inefficient, and taxpayer money is being spent in inefficient ways.

“Cash bail has little to do with showing up for court, it has to do with how much money you have,” Wagner said.  “And it can change the future of their lives. Some people plead guilty because they can’t make bail. The numbers that you are seeing because they can’t make low bail, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Those are people being detained today because they don’t have a couple hundred bucks.”

The damage done not only to taxpayers, or to an arrestee’s pocketbook, is nearly impossible to come back from, Wagner said.

“When you unnecessarily detain people you unnecessarily make them lose their lives, lose their jobs, lose their apartment. You make them these ‘things’ in their kids’ lives. This is pretty darn disruptive to their success. People are pretty resilient; the bad news is that there are a whole lot of things our society does to people with criminal records to make them not succeed.

“Don’t kick them when they’re down if you want them to stand up.”

The main reason why unnecessary detention is on the rise is because “it’s easy,” Wagner said. “It doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theory. I got a bug bite, so I scratch it.”

There are three types of bonds in North Dakota: a cash bond, which facilitates a fairly quick release from jail, a surety bond, where a bail bondsman or qualified individual pays 10 percent and guarantees the remaining bail money, or a property bond.

When someone accused of a crime places bail, a magistrate or judge also has the right to tack on stipulations, such as maintaining employment, beginning an educational program, imposing travel restrictions or curfews, requiring the person not to contact an alleged victim and refraining from possessing a firearm, according to the North Dakota Century Code. Sometimes, a judge may also require a person to refrain from alcohol or drugs, or undergo medical treatment in conjunction with a bond.

Every year, more than 11 million people are processed through the jail churn in the United States, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported nearly 11 million arrested in 2015, that’s 3,363 arrests per 100,000 inhabitants. Approximately 1.6 million of those arrested were incarcerated in 2016, according to the Department of Justice Statistics.

During the last 17 years, 99 percent of total jail growth came from incarcerating people who are legally innocent, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics series Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear and Correctional Population in the United States.

A 2016 article published by Prison Policy Initiative, reported in addition to the 1.6 million people incarcerated in federal and state prisons, 646,000 people are behind bars in 3,283 jails across the United States. Of that number, 70 percent are being held pretrial, or on bond.

“While the jail population in the U.S. has grown substantially since the 1980s, the number of convicted people in jails has been flat for the last 15 years,” the article stated. “Detention of the legally innocent has been consistently driving jail growth, and the criminal justice reform discussion must included a discussion of local jails and the need for pretrial detention reform.”

Researchers discovered that those who are unable to meet bail fall into society’s poorest category, and recent trends show that nearly 44 percent of American adults could not afford bail under $1,000, according to the Federal Reserve System’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2016.

An emergency expense costing $400 would even be too much, the report stated. Most of the people questioned said they would have to sell something or borrow money to pay the debt. Nearly 25 percent of all adults in the U.S. also cannot afford to pay current month’s bills in full, and 24 million Americans are carrying debt from medical expenses.

Nearly 65 percent of incarcerated black men making $11,275 per year, 37 percent of Hispanic men making $17,449 a year, and 58 percent of white men making $18,283 per year, are unable to post bond, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

The jail churn draws in black and Latino Americans. Despite the fact that 64 percent of America is populated by white people, and 13 percent by blacks, 40 percent of the total jail population is white, while 39 percent of the population is black, according to 2010 statistics. Native Americans represent 0.9 percent of the national population, and one percent of the total prison population, while Latinos represent 16 percent of America, and 19 percent of the prison population.

“Although, on paper, it is illegal to detain people for their poverty, such detention is the reality in too many of our local jails,” the Prison Policy Initiative reported.

“To truly make our local communities safer and ensure that bail decisions are based on more than how much money one has, states, local governments, and sheriffs should: eliminate the use of money bail, stop locking people up for failure to pay fines and fees, reduce the number of arrests that lead to jail bookings through increased use of citations and diversion programs, increase funding of indigent criminal defense, eliminate all pay-to-stay programs, reduce the high costs of phone calls home from prisons and jails and stop replacing in-person jail visits with expensive video visitation.”

Captain Andrew Frobig looks forward to the day when jail staff can help people get on the road to drug treatment.

“I do believe that we are holding people in jail longer than intended when bail is set ‘low,’” Frobig said. “I think there is a disconnect in that judges set bail low with the expectation that people will be able to get out, but for various reasons they do not. There has been, to this point, a lack of viable alternatives and I am eager to explore new options.”

The nefarious side of the drug trade is always going to be one step ahead of law enforcement, Frobig said, which makes many low-bail inmates a community issue, not a law enforcement problem.

“If someday, and this is never going to happen, but if someday the jail is not necessary, that would be an ideal to reach toward,” Frobig said. “Realistically, we’re always going to have some sort of criminal element out there.”

[Editors note: since writing this story, Andrew Gregerson was released and sentenced to 30 months probation.]


‘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.” 

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