Fake news is on the rampage across the nation, including inside the Peace Garden State

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – The time-honored Fourth Estate, governments’ watchdog for centuries, faces an enemy more brutal than any dictator.

Fake news.

Governments, police departments, and corporations all spread their versions of truth, propaganda, that many in the Peace Garden State accept as irrefutable truth. Their reports must be scrutinized at least as much as private reports if journalists are to live up to the title first given by British politician Edmund Burke in 1797.

A new group, recently recognized as the Fifth Estate, consisting of bloggers, non-mainstream journalists, and social media, received steroids with the Internet’s birth. Some argue the Fifth Estate was conceived in 1975 with the birth of a periodical by the same name in Detroit, Michigan.

Their information is fast, sometimes live; the reporters savvy, willing to go where few mainstream journalists dare. They’re typically biased, covering only one side of a story, and their reports are clicked on social media platforms such as Facebook.

Comet Ping Pong pizzeria – online sources

Fake news reports on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram led to the December 5 arrest of Edgar Welch after he read that Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in northwest Washington, was harboring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton.

Fact-checker Snopes.com recently unveiled what they believe is a hoax about a terminally ill child dying in Santa Claus’ lap, first printed by the Knoxville News-Sentinel and later by USA Today.

Closer to home, information disseminated by both sides of the Dakota Access Pipeline contains far less humor, but is on a par nationwide for conspiracy theories, retired rancher and former candidate for the North Dakota House of Representative Tom Asbridge said.

Misinformation is “to a very large extent at the state and county level here,” Asbridge said. “I don’t think the protesters have figured out how to do it very well. I would suggest that Morton County is well organized, and they’re getting their press releases way far away from Morton County.

“That’s right here at home,” Asbridge said. “It is so easy today apparently to do fake news. Partly because it is so easy to disseminate stuff, and it goes around the public in an eye blink, and I really don’t know what our defenses are against it when you have a population incapable of thinking.”

Asbridge is a baby boomer, and remembers grade school’s atomic bomb drills and threats of Soviet communist invasion. He believes the CIA’s claim that Russia assisted President-elect Donald Trump’s election is fake news, partly because the CIA is well known to be a campaign influencer.

The Fifth Estate’s rise heralds a paradigm shift that is altering informational sources, newly elected Governor Doug Burgum said during his first day speech to cabinet members and press.

“There’s a whole battle going on around abundance of information and that’s the world all our agencies in the state have to learn to play in,” Burgum said. “We have to become more sophisticated in how we think about communicating not only with our constituents here, but how do we communicate to the world.” He also called upon the government to “stop defending institutions, and start reinventing them.”

Burgum said the paradigm shift for information is altering the need for brick and mortar schools and universities. Information today can be obtained anywhere, which effectively questions the use behind future houses of learning. “We have to look at everything through a new lens.”

In his first-day message Burgum plans to organize the information and misinformation pertaining to DAPL, and begin meeting with tribal leaders immediately. He further called upon the White House to authorize the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. “Failing to finish it will send a chilling statement to those in any industry who wish to invest in our state and play by the rules… If the current administration will not act then I will ask the Trump administration for the same thing.”


The official version

Morton County Sheriff’s Department and the Peace Garden State claim they are following rule of law, and have stated repeatedly no one but police officers have been injured during confrontations because the injuries have not been verified by their own agencies. Activists using live video streams and posted mostly on Facebook heatedly condemn the state’s tactics and their reports on many issues.

To counter the information coming against them, former Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley stated before Fargo’s City Commissioners and Mayor Tim Mahoney that there are no verified reports of injured activists. Additionally, Morton County has begun posting video footage primarily featuring Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney describing the situation to viewers. The videos are entitled “Know the Truth,” and are reports coming from what both sides call the frontlines a short distance from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

“Protesters are using social media to get their agitator message to the public,” Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said. “‘Know the Truth’ is a series of videos to provide the public with accurate and factual information coming directly from my agency. These are short narratives that will tell you the real story of what’s occurring in our communities.”

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported on its Facebook page that false social media accounts have been claiming to be their department, and is working with Facebook and Twitter to disperse accurate information.

“Both organization have been working closely with us to shut down these sites that are promoting false rumors and hatred.”

On November 12, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerburg said his company’s goal is to give everyone a voice.

“After the election, many people are asking whether fake news contributed to the result, and what our responsibility is to prevent fake news from spreading,” Zuckerburg said. “These are very important questions and I care deeply about getting them right.

“We don’t want any hoaxes on Facebook.”

Mark Zuckerburg – Facebook profile

Facebook has begun flagging hoaxes and fake news. “Identifying truth is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted.”

On December 15, Facebook announced they’re making the process of reporting hoaxes easier, by clicking the upper right hand corner of a post. They’ve also initiated a program to work with third-party fact checking organizations that are signatories to the Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles.

Poynter, a journalistic training and strengthening organization, said it will base its assessments on five principles: commitments to nonpartisanship and fairness, transparency of sources, transparency of funding and organization, transparency of methodology, and open and honest corrections.


A wanted man

One DAPL controversy that has been the target of polarized reports is the October 27 arrest of Kyle Thompson, a Bismarck man who worked security for Thompson-Gray LLC, according to paperwork found in his truck. Brandishing a semi-automatic AR-15, he was run off the road while speeding toward Oceti Sakowin or the Seven Council Fires camp, was disarmed by activists, and arrested by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Brennon Nastacio – Facebook

Law enforcement released him soon after his arrest calling him a victim; activists said Thompson was an agitator and a terroristic threat. The man who initially disarmed Thompson has made the Morton County Sheriff’s Department’s Top Ten Most Wanted List. Brennon Nastacio, a Pueblo Native American, is the man officials want to arrest. He faces charges of felony terrorizing.

“To be on Morton County’s most wanted list sends me a message that Morton County doesn’t care about the people at the camp,” Nastacio said. “They would have rather let Kyle Thompson come in and shoot everybody at camp than for me to disarm him. I hope they realize that I saved lives that day, and drop this arrest warrant that they have out for me. You know, I approached Kyle Thompson to disarm him because I was concerned about the safety of the camp.”


An injured women

A more recent incident involved New Yorker Sohpia Wilansky, 21, who was hauling water to the front line when a concussion grenade thrown by police nearly took her arm off, Standing Rock Medic Healer Council reported.

Sophia Wilansky – Facebook page photo

Morton County and the Peace Garden State deny the accusation, saying they reported no incidents of activists harmed by law enforcement’s less-than-lethal armaments. Wilansky was injured by an explosion from the activists’ side, Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported, even after many eyewitnesses came forward saying that Wilansky was first struck with a rubber bullet, and then targeted by a compression grenade while she was on the ground. Another eyewitness said she was hit first by a rubber bullet, and then by the grenade as she crossed the guardrail south of Backwater Bridge, approximately 30 feet from the frontline.

Bismarck Police Sgt. Noah Lindlow attempted to counter the statements on Morton County Sheriff’s Department “Know the Truth” campaign.

“We’re here today to attempt to dispel some of the misinformation that’s been on social media about the less lethal munitions out at the North Dakota DAPL protest site,” Lindlow said.

He fired a rubber bullet, tear gas, which he called CS gas, threw a flash sound diversionary device, called a concussion grenade. He tossed the grenade 15 feet away, the metal canister exploded, but did not shatter.

Sophia Wilansky’s injured arm on December 13, 2016, 22 days after being hit by non-lethal weapons – Facebook page photo

Many posts on social media and legitimate news sources claimed that Wilansky lost her left arm.

Wilansky posted a picture of her arm on December 13, pointing out the bullet wound from where she was shot “right before I was hit with the grenade,” she said. She has undergone intensive surgeries, black rods are screwed into her bones to hold them in place, she was on blood thinners to halt clots, and veins and skin from across her body has been used to replace and repair tissues in her arm.


You decide

Law enforcement involved in Morton County began preparing for riot control long before many of the arrests began.

According to August 18, 2016 invoices from Streicher’s in Minneapolis, the Bismarck Police Department ordered 255 riot-control ammunition rounds including military-style canister max-smoke grenades, 40mm exact impact sponge rounds, continuous discharge CS gas for riot control – many of which the department ordered as “need a rush for protest.” Streicher’s has been providing gear and tactical products for law enforcement and public safety officials since 1953, according to its website.

Morton County has stated activists are making pipe bombs, and using horses to charge police lines.

Activists stated they were smoking sacred pipes, not making pipe bombs, and the horse show was a traditional ceremony for introducing their horses.

Morton County stated their use of water cannons were to put out fires at Backwater Bridge. Activists stated they made fires to keep warm.

Morton County stated Backwater Bridge is unsafe, and activists are dangerous.

Activists said they’re peacefully protesting and protecting water rights among other issues.

Activists are butchering buffalo; buffaloes, once an endangered species, are deemed sacred beasts by Native Americans. State politicians primarily Congressman Kevin Cramer R-N.D., made implications that activists were responsible for the butchered buffalo, but the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association reported the case is still under investigation.

Former Governor Jack Dalrymple published an editorial in the StarTribune on December 15 saying mob rule triumphed over law and common sense and a “weak-kneed Army Corps” days after praising the US Army Corps of Engineers and law enforcement agencies during an address before state legislature.

“The Dakota Access Pipeline… has been marred by a steady stream of misinformation and rumor,” Dalrymple stated. He stated that “not one person from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe attended any meetings or public hearings during the 13-month review process.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II refuted the argument after posting audio feed of a meeting the tribe attended. He has also been accused of “selling out” the movement by asking people to go home in the face of deadly Dakota blizzards, and for accepting monies from Energy Transfer Partner’s CEO Kelcy Warren, according to the Billings Gazette.

Supplies were being stored in a warehouse belonging to the tribe, but the goods were stored due to the first blizzard when UPS and FedEx delivery semis were unable to make drop offs at the former Oceti Sakowin, now known as the All Nations Camp.

Dalrymple’s office also stated they are in constant contact with the tribe, but after requests for records made by HPR Magazine the governor’s office reported they have had no contact with Archambault during the most intense weeks of the standoff.



Satirical news websites such as The Onion and the China Daily Show have had their reports circulated across the world, and in at least two cases plagiarized by credible newspapers such as China’s central government’s mouthpiece, the China Daily.

At a glance, websites like the China Daily Show appear legitimate, headlining stories such as “Japan halts porn exports to China over Diaoyu controversy” and “Tainted milk causes Chinese women to ‘grow breasts.’” The design is professional, like any other online news source. A short dig into the site reveals the content is witty satire, and that its office is located in a Ukrainian warship.

In the same light pictures can easily be mistaken for truth. Tampered pictures create rumors. Rumors spark fear. Fear spreads lies, and if enough half-truths are told, people begin to believe, attorney Chase Iron eyes said. Iron Eyes is from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, he ran for congress in 2016, and has recently immersed himself in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Ignore all the rumors and fear,” Iron Eyes said. “Someone died at camp. They’re flooding the camp. The tribe dropped its lawsuit. The tribe is closing the camp. They’re not letting anyone into camp.”

The only way to truly know what is going on inside the frontlines is to have boots on the ground – something the Peace Garden State has not attempted once since the controversy began, other than to form militarized lines to force activists back from the pipeline route.

What is factual is that to date, law enforcement has arrested 571 individuals since August 10. Only 6.8 percent of all arrested are from the Peace Garden State, 53 percent or all arrested are white and 41 percent are Native American, Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported.

Also true is that the No DAPL movement initiated by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has gathered more tribes from across the world than any other time in history. The majority of the activists gathered are peaceful, but believe that civil disobedience is necessary to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline. Disagreements between activists and tribes have arisen, mostly between the elders and the youth. Some want to take more aggressive steps against police and pipeline workers; most want peaceful resolutions.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has denied the final easement for DAPL to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, and has initiated a full environmental impact assessment along the pipeline’s entire route.

Energy Transfer Partners has invested heavily into North Dakota’s politicians electoral campaigns; many state politicians have invested personally into Bakken oil and Bakken oil projects. Failure of the pipeline would hurt future infrastructure investments, politicians say, and for some their own pocketbooks.

To combat the spread of fake news, or at the very least, control the inner rumormonger, nonprofit consumer advocate FactCheck suggested a few tips:

  • Consider the source
  • Read beyond the headlines
  • Check the author
  • Check the date
  • Check your biases
  • Consult the experts
  • Ask yourself: is this some kind of joke?

While the United States battles an addiction to fake news and defamatory information, Canada has laws that protect both sides, but adds importance to “responsible communication on matters of public interest,” a law that does not only apply to journalists, but also to bloggers, and anyone communicating with the public, Julian Porter, Q.C. a specialist in civil litigation stated.

“The best investigative reporting often takes a trenchant or adversarial position on pressing issues of the day,” the Supreme Court of Canada stated in Grant v. Torstar Corporation. “An otherwise responsible article should not be denied the protection of the defense simply because of its critical tone.”

Basically, in Canada, if a journalist reports responsibly, covering both sides to any controversy, they are protected with “qualified immunity” even if they report incorrect information, according to the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.