Fear is a strong motivator and prevarication is its biggest ally.
When the County Commissioners recently voted in Beltrami County (Bemidji) Minnesota to refuse to accept refugees, it was nationwide news. Our little hamlet (in the grand scheme of things) had made a name for itself and it was not pretty.
What has followed has been a revelation of multiple facets of the community. From the horrific Matt Grossell (MN-R District: 02A)
To this excellent piece about what is happening, not only in Bemidji, but around the country. It gives the local business woman’s perspective and that of a child of refugees. She gave me hope for our community.
“We Bemidji business owners have a unique perspective into the pulse of our community. When there’s buzz around town, we absorb it. Rumors evolve. This one started with the “claim” that “liberals” were “scheming” to “profit” by bringing 200 refugees to town. Soon it was 2,000 Syrians. If true, Beltrami residents would be justifiably concerned. But we have not had a refugee resettlement here in 20 years. We should be so lucky to have a few young, energetic families choosing to rebuild their futures in our tundra-adjacent paradise. Frankly, this headline is the result of a nasty disinformation campaign. The provocative posts have vanished. Anyone who I hoped might want to vet those posts is no longer able. Russian President Vladimir Putin would be proud.”Bemidji Pioneer January 14th Opinion ~ Monika Schneider
However, even she misses the mark a bit. A friend of mine in town, Dang, posted in FB about this in a bit more detail.
The MPR article that names some Beltrami County Islamophobes like Bill Batchelder(owner of Bemidji Woolen Mills) and Bemidji area “Pastor” Timothy Pomp is good but can give the impression that the anti-refugee crowd had fallen victim to a game of telephone gone awry.1-15-20 FB Post
In reality there is a coordinated campaign by local far-right organizers like Tammy Godwin of Bagley/Clearwater County. Godwin repeatedly brought hate preacher Usama Dakdok to northern Minnesota. Dakdok, who claims that American Muslims “will kill your children” and that “we are in war with Islam” , encouraged white residents of Bagley to physically remove a Muslim woman from his presentation. Also in attendance at Dakdok’s talk was a man with a swastika tatooed on his neck. Tammy Godwin was spotted last Tuesday at the Beltrami County Board vote on refugee re-settlement moving amongst the crowd. The politics of white supremacy are alive and well in this movement.
Another player in this movement that has flown under the radar is the regional x-tian radio station YourQFM. They have given ample time to promoting Dakdoks visits over the years and their General Manager Phil Ehlke was also spotted in attendance at the Beltrami County vote. There was a notably large far right x-tian presence at the county meeting and they did not just show up haphazardly as random individuals. Many many people in attendance at last Tuesday’s vote knew each other and were comfortably chatting. . . this was not a crowd of individuals roused by misleading social media posts. They had been organized to come by people and organizations right under our noses.
The concern over economics was obviously a strawman argument designed to hide their openly racist ideals. Commissioners Gaasvig and Lucachick played themselves via their FB posts(Gaasvig) and emails to City Council member Meehlhause(Lucachick). Lucachick’s email of “invasive” hoards and those people not following our rules is racist plain and simple.None of these people are out volunteering at homeless shelters or battered womens shelters. No. Gaasvig and Lucachick’s co-worker Commissioner Reed Olson DOES actually significant work with the homeless in Bemidji. They cynically used their positions of power as County Commissioners to bring out a crowd of angry white people who were more than willing to flex their hostility to anyone not x-tian or white. Many attendees were heard saying “Do we want to be like St. Cloud ?” . . . St. Cloud being a bastion of white supremacy in Minnesota for decades whose white citizens have acted with hostility towards the Somali community who have relocated there.
Last Tuesday’s vote and anti-refugee presence was every bit about Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia. They were not only empowered by Trump but also locally organized by far right activists in our community.
Let’s not be naive any longer Signed the grandson of an Irish immigrant who fled British colonial violence and war. #RefugeesWelcome
Propagandists without a basis in fact use fear to manipulate and control people to do things that, in the end, create a divided citizenry, one that is filled with hate instead of compassion. When people are afraid, they lose their ability to think clearly. Anger is a usual result, and the angry will follow a leader who gives them a feeling of being heard and a promise of protection.
Monika Schneider is right. It IS about asking the right questions… to allow people to connect the dots to truly held beliefs. A very successful campaign was waged by those seeking equal rights around sexuality and I believe we can learn much from this work.
Do I think these anti-refugee people are truly hateful? I don’t. I think they are scared by lies told to intimidate and control. Monika’s letter aptly describes what happened here in Bemidji and what pitfalls other counties should anticipate. We heard similar stories years ago about “thousands of Somalis” pouring into Alexandria. Rumors that still have yet to materialize. Shocker.
Douglas County itself was seeking to answer this same question about refugees. Now that the court has ruled to block Trump’s order, perhaps the residents of Douglas County will be saved the embarrassment of deciding to refuse refugees, and thus perhaps save their summer of tourism.
My family moved to Bemidji when I was 9. I graduated from Bemidji High School and from Bemidji State College. My husband and I were married at my mother’s nursing home on Bemidji Avenue, and we have spent time in town almost every summer since. But no more. The recent vote against allowing the resettlement of refugees has convinced us that the area is not the warm, generous place we had thought it to be. We will go elsewhere for our summer vacations. ~ Lynn Eggers, MinneapolisBemidji Pioneer LETTER TO THE EDITOR: We’ll go elsewhere
I think the hardest part for me is that many of those saying no are themselves immigrants and, most likely, refugees. How many of the immigrants that came to this land did so because there was a land or food scarcity in their own places? Most people don’t sail across a vast ocean simply because it might be an adventure, though some do. So what it looks like to me is a mob of people that got theirs but don’t want to allow that same opportunity for others.
I am hopeful that as this debate continues, we will all find a way toward compassion.