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North Dakota Democratic leader says Republicans should face consequences over messages

The NDGOP said it condemned the anti-gay, antisemitic messages used in a private messaging group, but a Democratic leader said the Republican Party enables the messaging. NDSU said the rhetoric is protected by free speech.

A red silhouette of a bison with the letters Y and R superimposed on it.
The logo for the North Dakota Young Republicans.
Contributed / North Dakota Young Republicans
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FARGO — A North Dakota Democratic leader says Republicans involved in a private messaging group where some shared anti-gay and antisemitic messages should face consequences.

The messages, which Forum columnist and SayAnthing Blog founder Rob Port first reported Friday, Aug. 19, were shared on the messaging app Telegram in a group named after the North Dakota Young Republicans. Port identified several members of the group as candidates and elected officials for the North Dakota Legislature.

One of those members is North Dakota State University College Republican President Ben Schirrick, who repeatedly said “fag festival,” even after approached by Port about the messages.

"Do you think it's inappropriate to infiltrate a chat?" Shirrick asked Port when confronted about whether the slur was appropriate. "It was a private chat. Hate speech is free speech."

Another person identified as Matt Evans called state Rep. Joshua Boschee, a Fargo Democrat who is gay, a degenerate clown. Evans also said Boschee and Fargo City Commissioner John Strand are “alphabet soup creatures.”

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A user identified as Critter1776 posted a video of a man stealing a plane from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport back in 2018. The man famously asked if he could get a job if he successfully landed the plane.

When air traffic control responded, the man said: "Nah, I'm a white a guy."

The man who stole the plane ultimately crashed, resulting in his death.

Critter1776 said they would post the video every year on the same day “as long as the Jews don’t ban me from the internet.”

Some of the members have left the group , according to Port’s reporting. Others in the group said people are free to say what they want in the chats.

The Forum set up an interview with Shirrick for early Wednesday morning, but the NDSU student said shortly before the meeting that he was unable to make it.

In response to a request for an interview, the North Dakota Young Republicans sent a statement that says they reject "racial, sexual and religious supremacy of any form," as well as the use of slurs. The comments made in the group came from "non-dues paying participants" and do not represent the Young Republicans, the organization said.

The organization said it is "committed to fostering civil discourse," adding "virtues are cultivated, not canceled." It also said it stands for "traditional family values."

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"We refute the libel cancel culture that has been attached to the Young Republicans," the statement said. "We support free speech that's guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Free speech means you can say what is on your mind without fear of legal action, but freedom requires responsibility."

The North Dakota GOP condemned the statements in the group as offensive.

“We have always encouraged diversity of thought and respectful discourse, along with respect for our political opponents,” the NDGOP said. “What we saw this week does not stand in any way with the views of the NDGOP or the Republican Party.”

NDGOP Chairman Perrie Schafer was unavailable for comment this week, state party Executive Director Corby Kemmer said. He did not respond to questions about whether candidates or elected officials in the messaging group would face consequences.

Tyler Hogan, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic Party, said the comments in the messaging group reflect a lack of accountability by the North Dakota GOP.

Hogan said there should be consequences for hateful rhetoric.

“You can’t just say that you condemn it and allow it to move forward,” he said. “You can’t embolden it.”

The GOP has enabled the rhetoric and has let it “fester and grow” over the years, Hogan said. The language leads to discrimination and violence against marginalized groups, he added.

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“When their defense is, ‘Hate speech is free speech,’ you’re telling us how you feel,” Hogan said. “The fact that they are proud of this paints a really grim picture of what the future of North Dakota is going to look like if the NDGOP remains in power.”

Republicans who use that type of rhetoric shouldn’t have positions in their party, Hogan said. Discrimination is not a part of North Dakota values, he added, saying he hopes the NDGOP and voters hold people who use hateful language accountable.

“If the NDGOP truly condemns this and condemns this rhetoric, they would not want to be associated with these individuals,” he said. “North Dakota is built on strong communities, not on hate and division.”

NDSU President David Cook, in a video to the campus, said the comments are protected under free speech but do not reflect the school’s values.

“I encourage everyone to continue to work toward a community of respect as we start our semester. This is critically important,” Cook said in the video. “I urge you to support one another, listen, learn from one another and make the NDSU community a better place for everyone.”

The NDSU Student Government also noted hate speech is protected under the First Amendment, but the governing body doesn’t condone the messages in the group.

“We are an organization built on inclusivity and respect, representing a diverse student body,” the statement said. “We are actively working to make NDSU a welcoming environment for every student who walks through its gates.”

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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