The Aberdeen American News reports that a flyer has popped up around town advertising a presentation by Ron Branstner on “The Facts Behind the Refugee Resettlement Program” Thursday, August 11, 7 p.m., at the Ramkota:
The event will be “an informational meeting pertaining to the refugee resettlement program that is currently taking place in South Dakota. Learn how it’s being funded and how it may affect the future of Aberdeen,” according to the flier.
All are welcomed to attend the program, “brought to you by Americans First, Task Force,” according to the flier [J.J. Perry, “Refugee Resettlement Meeting Thursday,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.08.07].
The Americans First, Task Force (the comma is in the original) has a Facebook page that does not identify who created it or who belongs to it. The AF,TF page does provide the Branstner flyer:
Fourteen people like the AF,TF page as of 07:00 CDT today. An event page for Branstner’s talk shows twelve people so far saying they will attend. That event page also shows this picture:
I get the feeling that the photo symbolizes the thrust of the talk: an empty shadow magnified to larger-than-life proportions, while the speaker is lost in projections of patriotism.
Branstner, a Californian and former member of the anti-immigration Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, has toured Minnesota preaching nativism and Islamophobia since 2007. In July 2014, Branstner told the West Central Tribune in Willmar that he wasn’t against legal immigration, just illegal immigration. Evidently he has added refugees as the targets of his protest, saying Donald Trump is “right on track” in calling for banning Muslims from the country. Branstner says his activism “has nothing to do with race, religion color or creed, any of that, it has to do with the rule of law and how our constitution was written,” but he also appears to say that the term “Radical Islam” misrepresents what he calls the fact that jihadis “are practicing what the Koran tells them to do, word by word, letter by letter.”
Branstner also peddles the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory. Agenda 21 is John Birch-style anti-United Nations paranoia. Branstner handed out Agenda 21 materials at a Baxter meeting in January this year and made the following remarkable claim of conspiracy:
A key premise of the presentation was that in the 1980s the Blandin Foundation entered a secret agreement with “the Hormel Foundation” to import illegal, cheap labor to bust unions, and also identified 280 additional communities in Greater Minnesota that would equally benefit from this strategy. The McKnight Foundation was also identified as a collaborator (and “there are six of the McKnights, including one in Little Falls”), all taking orders from “the Bermuda Philanthropies” which in turn is a shill for the High Council of the United Nations, which is now under control of Islamic extremists [eyewitness account, in Sally Jo Sorensen, “Unpacking Ron Branstner’s Blandin Foundation Bashing & Fact Checking His Baxter Handouts,” Bluestem Prairie, 2016.01.06].
That local eyewitness goes on to say, “I attended Blandin Leadership Training many years ago and to target Blandin and I am sure he was referring to the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls (McKnight) is simply whacko conspiracy theory.”
Let’s hear some more audience reviews from a presentation Branstner made in Little Falls last summer, in which he claimed that outfits like Lutheran Social Services collude with Big Meat to secretly bring in slave labor and collapse local public services:
…Kathy Festler, noted Brantsner said the immigrants/refugees would probably not come to this area for the jobs. “It would be more for housing than anything,” she said.
“That’s probably again more speculation — I found his talk a bit hard to follow — he would generalize and jump into another subject,” Kathy said. “Basically to me it was how entwined it was with grant groups, corporations and government. He talked also about these Blandin Foundation and the McKnight Foundation. It wasn’t real clear, they’re grant-making companies, they produce grants for cities and individuals and businesses and so forth — they evidently are involved in funneling money for groups.”
…“It was just a lot of people — that guy was a colossal bore,” [resident John] Salmon said. “I’m not outraged about what he said only because he was so simple-minded about it — I don’t think he knew what he was talking about” [Terry Lehrke, “Speaker in Little Falls: Illegal Immigrant, Refugee Resettlement Done as a Form of Slavery,” Morrison County Record, 2015.07.25].
At a July 2014 meeting in Willmar, Branstner underscored his lack of reliable knowledge of immigration:
During the meeting, a woman in the audience asked Branstner for data on border problems. Branstner said he only had his personal experience [David Little, “Immigration Forum Sparks Some Heated Discussion,” Willmar West Central Tribune, 2014.07.24].
I don’t know how much personal experience Branstner has with refugees in South Dakota and immigration in Aberdeen specifically, but let’s hope he takes some time to gather some data on our specific situation before he opens his mouth Thursday. He seems unable to do any quality research: Minnesota blog Bluestem Prairie, which has done good work documented Branstner’s campaign of misinformed hate for years, notes that Branstner’s handouts at the January 2016 Baxter appearance came from unreliable sources.
To top things off, Branstner opposes democracy:
Branstner also decried an eclectic list of other organizations, ideas and individuals, including Hillary Clinton, Democrats, socialism, the United Nations, Forum Communications, the Blandin Foundation, the American Red Cross, the popular vote and democracy as opposed to republicanism [Zach Kayser and Chelsey Perkins, “Controversial Refugee Resettlement Speaker Draws 200 to Presentation,” Brainerd Dispatch, 2016.01.06].
I’m not sure how a guy wraps himself in the flag and Constitution and opposes the people’s right to vote. But I do understand why clueless Trumpist demagogues go around stoking rural white Americans fears of immigration, Muslims, and change. Branstner’s speech Thursday seems unlikely to bring us any new factual information; it only seeks to play to and exacerbate existing prejudices and misconceptions against the new Americans we need to keep building the American dream.