MINOT, N.D. — In early January, just days before an angry mob of disgraced former President Donald Trump's supporters would execute a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, I reported in this column that some prominent North Dakota Democrats had donated to a GoFundMe page set up for a man who had attacked Sen. John Hoeven's Fargo office with an ax.
Among them were Democratic-NPL chairwoman Kylie Oversen, Ellie Shockley from the Democratic-NPL's executive committee, and Ellen Chaffee, a former Lt. Governor candidate and current activist with the (erroneously named) left-wing group North Dakota Voters First.
That man, one Thomas Alexander Starks, age 30, has since signed a plea agreement and is set to admit his guilt for the violent attack.
The donations made by some of North Dakota's most prominent Democrats were something more than just a good-faith effort to ensure someone accused of a crime had adequate legal representation. The fundraising page, which has been taken down, promoted a conspiracy theory that claimed Starks was innocent and the victim of some political conspiracy in this deeply Republican state due to his outspoken left-wing politics.
Oversen, Shockley and Chaffee essentially endorsed this conspiracy theory by donating money and promoting the fundraising page.
This is a tense moment in American history. News of violence inspired by politics, from attacks on oil pipelines to attacks on politicians, has become almost routine. Much of that violence is fueled by conspiracies and false information promoted by everyone from political organizations to foreign nations to grandmothers on Facebook.
The donations these women made to Starks may seem like a small matter, but in the larger context of what's going on in our society right now, they aren't.
There's a reason why Oversen and Chaffee, specifically, attempted to hide their donations. Chaffee told the Bismarck Tribune she "thought I was anonymous." Oversen set her donations to private after they were revealed by this column. She also refused to comment on them, at least initially.
They knew the donations were wrong.
They knew they were giving at least tacit support to a conspiracy theory about Starks' arrest and charge being somehow politically motivated.
Now that Starks is giving up his presumption of innocence, the excuses and rationalizations they've tried to paint over that support are chipping away.
Nobody was hurt when Starks attacked Hoeven's office. He did just about $4,000 worth of damage to a door, though who knows what might have happened had he run into Hoeven's staff.
We can be thankful he didn't.
Every American has a right to competent legal defense, and there's nothing wrong with donating money to a legal defense fund, even if you suspect the person you're donating to may be guilty.
There is something deeply wrong, though, with reacting to a situation as serious as Starks' attack on Hoeven's office with support for a conspiracy theory suggesting a political plot behind the arrest and criminal charges.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.