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Branstner’s Outrages Un-American and Un-Christian; Immigration Makes Aberdeen and America Stronger

The Aberdeen American News gives a little more coverage of the fear-stoking anti-refugee program held in Aberdeen Thursday by itinerant Californian Ron Branstner and the as-yet anonymous “Americans First, Task Force.” Strangely, reporter Katherine Grandstrand asks Branstner for his reaction to his audience’s near-violent response to the comments he permitted me to make at the meeting, but she does not ask me for my perspective.

Here’s my perspective, just slightly edited from a press release I submitted to the Aberdeen American News and other local new outlets yesterday morning.

I attended a presentation by Ron Branstner at the Ramkota Thursday. In his presentation warning Aberdeen not to accept refugees, the California man made several outrageous statements:

  1. Branstner called for the ouster of Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen and Aberdeen economic development chief Mike Bockorny.
  2. Branstner called Bockorny’s efforts to fill Aberdeen workforce needs by targeting immigrants “racist.”
  3. Branstner claimed that “naive and very Christianlike” communities that don’t fight refugee resettlement efforts are “consumed” and completely taken over by foreigners.
  4. Branstner accused Lutheran Social Services of not caring about refugees.
  5. Branstner accused Lutheran Social Services of exploiting immigrants to make money.
  6. Branstner accused Lutheran Social Services of being part of a United Nations-run conspiracy.
  7. Branstner used the offensive term “anchor baby” to describe children born in the United States.
  8. Branstner sowed fear of disease to discourage parents from letting their children play with refugee children.
  9. Branstner implied that the Aberdeen New Americans Task Force is somehow connected with and carrying out the agenda of a White House New Americans Task Force.

I am disappointed that an outsider would come to our community and insult our leaders, our friends and neighbors who are working to help fellow human beings in dire straits and make Aberdeen a better community for all of our residents. Racist insults and conspiracy theories won’t help Aberdeen prosper. Aberdeen’s cultural and economic health depends on our continuing to welcome all people who are willing to move here, work hard, and be a part of our community.

Mayor Levsen, Mr. Bockorny, Lutheran Social Services, and the local New Americans Task Force understand that immigration makes Aberdeen and America stronger. As a nation of immigrants, we have a patriotic duty to support the American ideals of liberty, justice, and opportunity for all.

*        *        *

Grandstrand does at least get quotes from a couple of other Aberdonians who note the ugliness of Branstner’s event and the Aberdonians who rage with him:

Sheila Richards, retired pastor at North Highland United Methodist Church and a member of the New Americans Task Force, wondered if as many people would sit for as long at a presentation given by that group.

“My great sorrow — one of them, well, there’s several — but one is to see people there that I have known for 50 years that I had no idea were so consumed with anger,” Richards said [Katherine Grandstrand, “Speaker Surprised by Tensions at Immigration Meeting,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.08.12].

Presentation College Arts and Sciences chair Dr. Naomi Ludeman Smith tries to be generous to Branstner, saying he is “passionate” about his topic, but he fails the academic rigor test:

“Mr. Branstner has some conclusions that are questionable. His reasoning was circular, dichotomous and sweeping generalizations,” Ludeman Smith said [Grandstrand, 2016.08.12].

Unfortunately, we have not heard the last from Branstner. Thursday night he told the crowd he is planning to return at the end of September or beginning of October and hopes to bring Usama Dakdok to town. Attentive readers will remember Dakdok as the virulent anti-Islam shouter who spoke in Winner this spring. As I wrote on May 29, Dakdok says that Mohammed was a sex offender; that Islam is a disease; that Allah is Satan; that every true Muslim is a barbaric, savage terrorist; and that anyone who says otherwise is a politically correct, ignorant dupe of the liberal media. Unfortunately, those messages will resonate with many of the people who attended .


  1. Heidi Marttila-Losure 2016-08-13 11:13

    Here’s something I noticed: The response to the conflict at the event has not been so much about the conflict of ideas, though that’s there, too, of course. What people are responding to is that you challenged the norms of how these events are held.

    In that video, the speaker is standing at the front, and the audience is seated facing him. It’s clear who has the authority. Dr. Naomi Ludeman Smith was within the norms of that kind of event, in that she said what she had to say from her position at the back of the room–though the fact that she and the speaker interrupted one another showed that there was some challenge to authority. You could tell people didn’t really like that.

    Then you spoke up—you asked to make a comment, and permission was granted. But then you stepped out from your seat, walked toward the front of the room, spoke loudly, and very directly challenged the authority of the speaker. That in itself ticked off the crowd. I’m not sure they were listening at all at that point–once you’d stepped out of your seat, I’m sure a lot of people were already thinking you’d insulted them.

    That’s why one person commented that you didn’t “sit and listen quietly.” And why the AAN reporter started the story with the comment from the speaker who was “surprised” at the conflict. It was in the how, not the what.

    To be clear, I’m not saying you should have done something differently. There was no winning in that situation—to sit quietly in the face of something you saw as incorrect and dangerous wouldn’t have helped, either. And the passive mode that I see in many Dakota voters just accepting what is told to them goes against what democracy is supposed to be.

    We in a democracy NEED an exchange of ideas. We need to speak from the heart, and more importantly, listen from there. That’s not going to happen in that setting. We need a better “how” for discussing issues that matter.

  2. Darin Larson 2016-08-13 12:25

    Anybody who is going to sit in a meeting of a hate group and not think critically of the information presented needs a wake-up call. Cory provided that wake up call and put them on notice that their fear-mongering and outright lies will not go unchallenged in the court of public opinion. I am pleased that their inward-looking world view was challenged and that it made them uncomfortable and even angry.

    Their angry outburst revealed themselves as small minded xenophobes who are more than happy to latch onto a group of innocent people to blame for their own perceived problems. All hate groups and fear mongers need someone different than themselves to blame. The Nazis had the Jews. Early immigrants had later immigrants like the Irish to blame. Impoverished whites blamed African-Americans for their plight.

    Thank goodness that the vast majority of people are fair minded and caring and stand up for others who are less fortunate even if they are different in some way.

  3. David Newquist 2016-08-13 12:40

    Aberdeen has a long tradition of convocations in which racist diatribes are invoked and you are expected to sit quietly while having your ignorance affirmed and your hatred stoked. And never to challenge the grand wizard. He is, after all, providing you with the only gospel that counts, and it is heresy to challenge the veracity of the word.

    This meeting fits a pattern. A meeting is announced in flyers from an anonymous organization. The flyer is incoherent in its statements of what the meeting will be about, but it claims all manner of nefarious conspiracies will be exposed. Based on the Constitution. It is sponsored and coordinated by an anonymous organization, Americans First, Task Force.

    This pattern was followed when Northern Beef Packers was being built about ten years ago. “Racially motivated” flyers were circulating around town. They warned about the kind of people—Latinos and Orientals—who would come to town. The local version of a newspaper published many of the comments generated, such as “You don’t leave (sic) in Aberdeen, so don’t tell the people here to “leave it alone”. You could be safe where you live. We Aberdonians are about to know what crime is. My kids do not need to be introduced the trash that will brought to town and in our schools!!!”

    However, an attorney stepped up and led the opposition to NBP. Legal challenges were made that forced a public vote on the TIF, and other challenges based on environmental and economic grounds were made. The attorney wrote a letter to the editor warning the people not to react to the “racially motivated” flyers, but he also warned about the crime, the problems for schools, and the degenerate quality of life that “those kind of people” who came to work at the beef plant would bring with them. Because of his effort, however, we did have names to identify the sources of the racism.

    Last week an organization with which I have connections received a complaint from a person of color who works for Homeland Security because he was being impeded in carrying out his work assignment. In one instance, he was stopped and interrogated by the police while walking from a parking lot where he had parked.

    Someone had seen him and reported a “suspicious person” was lurking in the parking lot. He was referred to the mayor, although I don’t know if he bothered to file a formal complaint or left town in frustration. The point is that racial oppression is a fact of life in Aberdeen and has been a part of its tradition.

    As for the journalistic handling of your encounter with the grand wizard, it, too, reflects a tradition. Remember that L. Frank Baum wrote editorials in Aberdeen calling for the execution of Sitting Bull and the extermination of the Lakota people. But the newspaper’s response to your encounter reflects something that is a development of the electronic media. Their handling of conflicting information is to publish the opposing sound bites and let it go at that. We old print journalists worked under a different standard. Our style books stated, “News outlets are supposed to provide the “final word,” the most accurate, up-to-date information.” That meant you didn’t print anything that you knew was untrue or was questionable. We fact-checked letters to the editor. We fact-checked speeches we covered and news releases.

    This is the age of Trump, however. Never let truth and accuracy stand in the way of a good hate. In Aberdeen, it’s a tradition.

  4. James Hauck 2016-08-13 13:23

    Mr Heidelberger,
    I am a life long Aberdeen resident and I find the resettlement effort of Syrian refugees appalling. A majority of Aberdeen residents don’t want the Syrians here and they are being forced upon us. There is no assurance of safety from ISIS among those that come here. I don’t trust the US government or their screening process. I am not a racist. The difference between refugees of old with these refugees is they don’t want to assimilate to our culture and become Americans. The Quaran states that it a Muslims duty to go into the land of the infidel and claim it for Islam. This is done by producing more offspring then the infidels and gaining converts through violence and other measures. The practice of Sharia law is contrary to our law and customs and will be practiced by these immigrants. The Muslim Brotherhood has detailed plans of how they want to make the United States a Muslim country. If you really love South Dakota ,you will open your eyes to the larger picture ,that you are endangering our lives and our culture for cheap economic motives. If anyone is killed or our women raped by these refugees, the blood will be on you and Levsen for supporting this.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-13 14:28

    Mr. Hauck,

    I’m a lifelong South Dakotan. I see no evidence that a majority of Aberdonians or South Dakotans oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees. I find resistance to the notion of helping refugees appalling, unpatriotic, and un-Christian. There is no 100% assurance of safety in anything, but the United States is taking far fewer Syrian refugees than other nations, the United States has a lengthy vetting process, and no Syrian refugees have committed acts of terror in the U.S. in recent years. Some refugees want to assimilate and leave their homelands forever; some want to come to a safe place, then return to their homelands as soon as possible. The Quran says many things; so does the Bible. No one is advocating Sharia law in the U.S., but if you are afraid of Sharia law, then you should join me in fighting for the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state to protect us from any government-sanctioned imposition of laws forcing people to obey edicts from Islam, Christianity, or any other religion.

    I do really love South Dakota. Don’t question what’s in my heart.

    My eyes are open to the larger picture, rooted in facts, evidence, and American principles. Aberdeen needs workers. We are all immigrants (illegal ones at that, our Lakota brethren will remind us). Immigration and assisting refugees makes Aberdeen, South Dakota, and America stronger. Treating refugees like enemies will turn some of them into our enemies and strengthen the enemies who gain recruits by preaching that America hates everyone else.

  6. owen reitzel 2016-08-13 15:00

    “The Quaran states that it a Muslims duty to go into the land of the infidel and claim it for Islam. This is done by producing more offspring then the infidels and gaining converts through violence and other measures. The practice of Sharia law is contrary to our law and customs and will be practiced by these immigrants. The Muslim Brotherhood has detailed plans of how they want to make the United States a Muslim country. If you really love South Dakota ,you will open your eyes to the larger picture ,that you are endangering our lives and our culture for cheap economic motives. If anyone is killed or our women raped by these refugees, the blood will be on you and Levsen for supporting this.”

    But you say you’re not a racist Mr Hauck? Right. I’m guessing the majority of people in Aberdeen don’t feel the way you and your friends feel.

  7. Darin Larson 2016-08-13 15:41

    James Hauck says: “The Quaran states that it a Muslims duty to go into the land of the infidel and claim it for Islam. This is done by producing more offspring then the infidels and gaining converts through violence and other measures. The practice of Sharia law is contrary to our law and customs and will be practiced by these immigrants. The Muslim Brotherhood has detailed plans of how they want to make the United States a Muslim country.”

    You sound like quite the expert on the Islamic religion, although I suspect you have never spoken with a Muslim person. Are you an expert on the Christian religion as well? I happen to be Christian and someone with an agenda could make an argument similar to yours against Christians that would be equally wrong and distorted. For instance, the Bible talks favorably about slavery, stoning divorced women and gays, treating women extremely badly, favoring males over females, and many more detestable human rights abuses. In addition, Christians have their own imperfect histories of crusades, wars, oppression and stigmatism of non-Christians. Somehow you overlook the plank in your own eye when pointing out the sliver in the eyes of those you don’t know or understand.

    You have little or no evidence to support a blanket discriminatory statement against Muslims or Syrians or other refugees. With proper vetting and resettlement efforts and support of the community, refugees will become valuable members of our country just like the Khan family and their son who died fighting for our great country.

    To close our borders entirely and discriminate against those most effected by war and destruction is to let the terrorists change our country for the worse. This is also to give in to the forces of fear and hate. We cannot allow the terrorists, whether they be Islamic radicals or people like Timothy McVay or Ted Kazinsky, to strike unnecessary fear in our hearts so that we end up giving up our freedoms and our responsibility to care for our fellow human beings.

    Now is not the time to cower behind closed borders and closed doors and allow the terrorists to declare victory based upon how scared we are acting. Now is the time to stand up for people in desperate need and demonstrate to Muslims and the world that we are the shining light for freedom, justice and human rights in the world.

    What Would Jesus Do? Is there any question that He would say bring in the refugees so that we may help our fellow human beings with our vast wealth and capacity for empathy and caring?

  8. owen reitzel 2016-08-13 15:50

    Well said Darin Larson. Well said

  9. Roger Cornelius 2016-08-13 16:44

    Excuse me all to hell Mr. Hauck, but you are the definition of a racist.
    Your whole comment is based on fear and hatred of a particular group of people, the Syrians. When you condemn an entire group of people that is racism and prejudice.
    You say most Aberdeen residents are opposed to the Syrians, but you do not produce a poll showing that, sounds like you just made that up.
    You claim that the Muslim Brotherhood has detailed plans of how they want to make the United States a Muslim country. If that is true produce the plan so can all see it.
    From coast to coast this country is littered with refugee and immigration settlers and has been for centuries.
    I’m sorry that Syrians put the fear of God in your little white heart, you don’t own Aberdeen or this country.
    Quit listening to lunatic liars like Branstner and pick up a history book.

  10. Donald Pay 2016-08-13 17:16

    Hauck is a German patronymic. The Germans, of course, have a far more documented history of violence against Americans than Syrians. We fought two World Wars against Germany with thousands of casualties, far more than we have had fighting any wars in Syria or any of the Middle East countries. In fact, we have been allied with some Syrians who are fighting ISIS, just as we are now allied with Germany. Most of the Germans who came here weren’t properly vetted. My mother’s parents came here from Germany. They weren’t vetted.

    If we are going to limit the “bad elements” in our society (sorry for using a Chinese epithet), wouldn’t it be better to send me and Mr. Hauck back to Germany, rather than keep out people who have fought, or were the victims of the people we are fighting in Syria?patronymic

  11. Ed 2016-08-13 18:14

    Cory, some of Bransters comrades and the AAN reporter fail to mention that Branster specifically invoked your name and a couple of your past posts into his presentation as an attack on your character. You had every right to respond to set the record straight. I, too, am appalled at the bigotry and racism that was revealed at that meeting. By the way, isn’t it interesting that your senatorial opponent was in attendance and appeared to be supporting Branster and his angry mob?

  12. Jenny 2016-08-13 18:58

    Mr Hauck, I have lived amongst Muslim immigrants here in the People’s Republic of MN for fifteen years now and I can tell you that I have never heard of American women being raped by them. I have also known them to have just one wife.
    You say they don’t want to assimilate to our culture and become Americans. That’s not true at all. I’ve seen the younger generations of girls dress in American clothing and I have helped Muslims get registered to vote for the first time and remember their excitement.

  13. Darin Larson 2016-08-13 18:59

    Another point to be made here to folks who blame all of Islam for the terrorists (as if you could blame all Christians for the acts of a few). The terrorists are actually killing and maiming many, many, many more Muslims than they are people of other faiths. The wars in the Middle East right now primarily result in the deaths of Muslims. ISIS attacks other Muslims as well as those of other faiths. ISIS is no more representative of all Muslims than the KKK is representative of all white people or Jerry Falwell is representative of all Christians.

  14. mike from iowa 2016-08-13 19:06

    When did South Dakota agree to become an open pit dump for California’s dregs of society? Is someone in Pierre getting residuals from allowing these toxic wastes into your state?

  15. mike from iowa 2016-08-13 19:12

    Darin Larson- Jerry Fatwell is/was the perfect representative of all wingnut kristians, imho.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-13 20:24

    Heidi, you are absolutely correct that Ron’s Two-Hours Hate was not set up for discourse. It was set up for one undisputed authority to lay out his narrative, then open the floor to either altar call reaffirmations or maybe opportunities for the speaker to demonstrate his ability to beat down any weak-minded dissent. The latter was very clear in Ron’s swift interruption of any potentially challenging speaker at any opportunity to even minorly rebut some point or discredit the speaker.

    In such a situation where discourse is not possible and where (as I recognized when I researched Ron’s shows before the Aberdeen performance) “there was no winning”, citizens of good conscience face a challenge in determining their proper course of action.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-13 20:35

    Darin, I like your call to action. We must defy bigotry and ignorance.

    I do notice that the paper has focused more on the “tempers flare”/”conflict” issue, leading with me rather than with the “substance” of Ron’s long talk, which includes all of the outrageous statements I list above and more. I would think that Branstner’s call for ousting Mayor Levsen and Mr. Bockorny would be bigger news than my brief fact-check and would have elicited some comment from those offices and other city leaders. Perhaps that will be Monday’s lead.

    Also more newsworthy is Ron’s assault on Lutheran Social Services, a highly respected local organization and employer. “Lutheran Social Services don’t care about these people”? LSS is controlled by the UN? I would think those statements would warrant quotation and response from local LSS leaders. Maybe that’s Tuesday’s lead.

    There’s the problem with this presentation: Ron comes in and dumps so much utter crap on his audience that AAN and I could write a new article every day for the rest of the month rebutting distinct falsehoods and slimes from his speech that people would get tired of reading it. The people and groups he insulted Thursday night may take the high road, declining to dignify his hatred with a response. But when we don’t respond, he puffs himself up further at the absence of rebuttal and tells his audiences that’s another sign that he’s right. And the number of people who attended that meeting, who cheered Ron’s message, and who physically rushed me and my camera signal that too many of our neighbors believe this rot to leave it unchallenged.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-13 20:38

    Ed, my opponent was in the audience for the entire program. I will not go as far as to say that he appeared to be supporting Ron, his message, or his mob. I did not observe my opponent saying anything during the program or signaling any position, for or against, the things he was hearing. He did hang around and talk to the reporter from This American Life (see the young woman in the black dress in my video with the camera and big mic) for a good half-hour after the show.

  19. grudznick 2016-08-13 20:49

    Mr. H, if anything you are providing great entertainment to your hoped-for constituencies there in Aberdeen. I suspect even Mr. Novstrup was giggling at that whole debacle, and Mr. Novstrup does not strike me as much of a giggler.

    The entire ordeal looked like a highly entertaining event. I am sure you converted a few of those people to your way of thinking, and I might add it looks like you have lost a few pounds and are looking very good with the tight haircut.

  20. jerry 2016-08-13 21:12

    And now a Muslim holy man has been gunned down in the streets of New York, these Branstners are not religious, they are thugs.

  21. Jenny 2016-08-13 21:18

    Branster and the people in the audience are the ones that probably call themselves prolife. Only if you’re white and Christian.

  22. Mark Winegar 2016-08-14 07:24

    My friend Cory, you are a courageous leader. Thank you.

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-15 12:17

    (Grudz, the camera must slim: my weight remains stable, right around where it’s been since SDSU days and whatever it was when you last saw me in person… which would be… when, again?)

  24. Wayne B. 2016-08-23 09:34

    I doubt highly LSS is controlled by the UN. But I do know from talking with folks who used to work there (LSS, not the UN) how the organization does a disservice to refugees by only providing support until funding runs out, then brings in new refugees with new dollars (rinse, repeat).

    Is that LSS’s fault? Somewhat. But the programs they tap which provide funding have time limits which don’t allow for full integration into the community. So we wind up with cohorts of refugees partially integrated who don’t have a strong support network post LSS aid.

    A mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes. I think there’s genuine frustration within the communities that LSS seems to be following the money, and not the people.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-23 10:17

    Wayne, I fear such frustration is convenient cover for bigotry in this community. I will not take seriously any critique from an itinerant Googler who stokes anger on crazy conspiracy theories. I will welcome any honest critiquer who wants to stick around and have fact-based policy conversations with LSS and other agencies about how things work now, what problems there are, and what practical steps we can take to better serve refugees and our communities.

    Ron wasn’t speaking from that honest position. Ron wasn’t trying to help refugees or our community. He certainly wasn’t saying what you seem to be suggesting, that we need LSS to do a better job of supporting refugees, or that we need the programs that fund refugee resettlement to make more dollars available for long-term integration services. He was speaking from a position of crazy and hateful absolutes, trying to shut down discourse and refugee resettlement.

  26. Wayne B. 2016-08-23 10:34

    And that’s fair, Cory. But please also don’t cast a net so wide to assume people who have legitimate reservations about the way LSS does business are bigots, or those who express themselves less eloquently are full of hate.

    They may not know exactly ~why~ what LSS is doing feels wrong, but they know it feels wrong.

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-23 21:18

    I will cast no such broad net, Wayne. But I’ll know those conscientious objectors and reformers when I see them. They won’t need UN/Agenda 21 conspiracy theories and warnings that our kids with catch diseases from refugee children to make their point. The solution to any weaknesses in LSS refugee resettlement is not to refuse to bring refugees to America; it is to improve LSS to serve refugees better.

  28. Wayne B. 2016-08-24 08:08

    But to improve LSS and the entire system, it means fewer refugees or more net resources. I don’t see how more net resources are going to be flowing in. Therefore fewer refugees getting more comprehensive, long-term support makes the most sense to do right by the refugees and our communities.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-24 10:59

    Your rational assessment makes sense… although I don’t see why more net resources are not an option.

    Ron’s people aren’t engaging in such rational assessment. They are putting on scraps of rationale to poorly cloak their racist resistance to bringing any brown people into the community. Their line is NO refugee resettlement, not less.

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