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Protesters gather at Center of the American Experiment gatherings in Fargo, West Fargo

A second event was held at the Avalon Events Center in Fargo.

Catrin Wigfall, of the Center of the American Experiment, preparing to speak to a crowd of about 40 people on Wednesday, May 25, 2022 at the Rustad Recreation Center.jpg
Catrin Wigfall, of the Center of the American Experiment, prepares to speak to a crowd of about 40 people Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at the Rustad Recreation Center in West Fargo.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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WEST FARGO — Police presence was heavy at the Rustad Recreation Center on Wednesday, May 25, during an hourlong event organized by the Center of the American Experiment to address critical race theory.

About 10 protesters lined the main entrance. Some held signs saying “Defund Schools meeting” and “Stop white washing history.”

“This is the only reason people are here. White people are scared of their own history,” said Margaret Mckenzie, a protester.

The Center of the American Experiment is a Minnesota-based think tank advocating for conservative and free-market principles, according to its website. Founded in 1990 by Mitch Pearlstein, a President Ronald Reagan appointee, the center supports school vouchers and has opposed affirmative action.

A woman holds a sign that reads "Scared white people meeting here."
Margaret Mckenzie protests at the Rustad Recreation Center in West Fargo on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, just before the Center of the American Experiment began a meeting on critical race theory.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

The organization launched into North Dakota from Grand Forks on Tuesday, May 24, to a crowd of about 50 people, said Catrin Wigfall, policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment.

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The increased police presence on Wednesday came after a similar event held in Moorhead last year erupted in a brief scuffle. Wigfall said she heard “rumblings on social media about protests."

Protesters said they opposed the organization’s choice of location, which was on West Fargo Park District property at 601 26th Ave. E.

“It’s just another room we rented after considering size and location,” Wigfall said. “We welcome the protesters, and they can come in for a $5 lunch from Chick-fil-A. They have a right to protest.”

A former elementary teacher, Wigfall presented her arguments to about 40 people, encouraging them to push back against critical race theory, gender theory and other ideologies that seek to “isolate students by putting a race-based lens on everything,” she said.

Protesters at the Rustad Recreation Center in West Fargo on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.jpg
Protesters at the Rustad Recreation Center in West Fargo on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

“This topic is very personal to me because I taught a room full of diverse students. I can’t imagine looking back into their eyes today and telling them they should focus on their identity and the color of their skin,” she said.

Wigfall encouraged people to begin running for area school boards, attend school board meetings and scrutinize library books as well as local and state teachers unions.

Although critical race theory is not allowed to be taught in schools in North Dakota, Wigfall said that aspects of the theory are being introduced by teachers and library books. Last year, North Dakota lawmakers banned the teaching of critical race theory in public K-12 schools.

At the end of the early afternoon speech, Ron Gaul, a local activist, asked a question related to claims that critical race theory was based in Marxism.

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“Criminalizing the teaching of civil rights is a new one. And that’s the news out of this meeting right now. What you have presented is expanding the definition of critical race theory to anything you don’t like," Gaul said.

“Slavery was very key to the development of capitalism worldwide. It’s welded into the growth of capitalism," he said. "You scare people with vague quotes and put it out of context, and you all should be ashamed of yourselves."

Those who refer to the teaching of critical race theory in schools as indoctrination have pressured schools across the nation in the hopes of eliminating or preventing its presence in classrooms.

The Fargo Public Schools is no exception to the trend, and American Experiment held a second lecture at the Avalon Events Center, 2525 Ninth Ave. S. in Fargo.

More than 55 people attended the evening event, and about 10 protesters also gathered outside the building. Many held signs while shouting challenges to organizational staff and attendees.

“We should not be preventing conversations about racism,” Wigfall said.

Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, attended the evening lecture and said that he needs support from American Experiment in the future when proposing legislative change.

“A lot of us don’t know what we don’t know. When I put the bill together I didn’t know a whole lot about critical race theory, I just knew what I heard on the radio and on TV,” said Kasper, adding that he plans to change the current law to ensure that rules do get written.

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“We have critical race theory all over our state, but it is hidden. I want to put some teeth into that bill,” Kasper said.

Through 2016, the Center of the American Experiment received $305,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a highly politicized organization that has sought to dismantle and defund unions, according to The Center for Media and Democracy.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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