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Police, FBI visit home of Fufeng opponent over social media activity ‘we weren’t sure how to take’

The authorities ultimately found no cause for concern, a police report states.

Fufeng meeting.jpg
In this file photo from early 2022, a pickup truck parked across from City Hall ahead of a City Council meeting displays one view of the proposed Fufeng corn wet milling plant.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks police and the FBI on Thursday visited the home of Jodi Carlson, a leading opponent of a new corn mill to be owned by the China-based Fufeng Group, following up on a social media post quoting the Declaration of Independence that mentioned the overthrow of the government.

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The authorities ultimately found no cause for concern, a police report states.

The incident has provoked an angry response from opponents of the corn mill project, many of whom are part of the “Concerned Citizens of Fufeng Project in Grand Forks” group where the activity took place.

“This is a group that is fighting against government overreach, and promoting the voices of the people who live in the community,” Carlson later wrote in a post to the group. “We are not here to be censored, nor harassed by the local police department.”

But law enforcement concern about Carlson’s Facebook activity is also an indication of how intense the debate about Fufeng Group has become in Grand Forks. The agribusiness’ interest in a North Dakota facility was announced in November, and its arrival has been marked by extreme skepticism over Fufeng’s roots in China — which has sparked strong resistance from critics of the project.

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The City Council changed its security measures after City Council member Ken Vein was followed to his car after a March 14 meeting. At an early June meeting, a speaker railing against the council on the Fufeng project threatened to “come across this table” at city leaders. On June 20, a local resident told City Council members that they shouldn’t “jeopardize your families with what you’re doing here.”

“I’m not threatening you. But if this thing continues, we’re going to go and hold you people personally responsible for the money you’re using of the city’s,” he said.

Grand Forks Police Lt. Jeremy Moe said those episodes haven’t escaped the notice of local law enforcement.

“There have been several city council meetings where concerning comments/threat(s) have been made to city council members and/or their families,” he wrote in an email. “Based on these comments, the FBI was consulted. During the visit to Carlson, (Grand Forks Police) Sgt. (Mike) Jennings was joined by Agent Chris Potts of the FBI.”

In fact, it’s that June 20 comment at a council meeting — about council members’ families — that sparked a Grand Forks Police Department review of the “Concerned Citizens” Facebook page, the police report on the matter says. On June 23, it notes that Sgt. Jennings found a post in which Carlson was critical of Mayor Brandon Bochenski, paraphrasing at length a portion of the Declaration of Independence — part of which noted that it is citizens’ right and duty to “throw off” a despotic government unresponsive to its citizens.

“When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism (oppressive absolute power), it is our right, OUR DUTY, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for our future,” a portion of the post read.

“This post was somewhat concerning to me because it was unclear what Carlson meant by posting an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, especially because the Revolutionary War followed the Declaration of Independence,” Sgt. Jennings wrote in his report.

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Though Carlson’s post has been edited, a version of it without the Declaration quote is still viewable on the “Concerned Citizens” page. Underneath, a commenter had quickly responded to an earlier version asking what Carlson meant.

“I’m sorry, but what exactly are you advocating for here? War? Insurrection? The violent overthrow of an existing government? Because that's what came after the Declaration of Independence,” the commenter said. “The rhetoric on this page is getting a little out of hand. …”

Carlson responded: “Violence is never the answer. I am advocating for a city government that does their job in representing the voices of the people who voted them into office. Right now we have absolute tyranny within most aspects of our city government.”

Carlson also said that, after reading that commenter’s response — which she believes intentionally seized on the worst interpretation of her post — she removed the quote.

She also said she was asked about a post from June 9 headlined “taking back our community” that went on to discuss political and legal strategies to oppose Fufeng Group’s arrival.

“After speaking with Carlson at her residence I do not believe she intended any sort of violent action against any government or government official,” Sgt. Jennings later added in his police report, which he wrote was compiled at Carlson’s request. “She claims she is seeking to peacefully seek change in the form of a recall vote and I have no evidence to dispute that.”

Related Topics: FUFENG
Sam Easter is a freelance reporter who has been a regular contributor to the Herald since 2019. He covers a variety of topics, including government and politics.

In 2015, he joined the Herald’s staff as City Hall reporter, covering North Dakota politics at all levels and conducting Herald investigations through early 2018, when he began his freelancing career.

Easter can be reached at samkweaster@gmail.com or via Twitter via @samkweaster.
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