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Port: Keep writing, she said

It's a terrible thing that there are people in the world who want to silence us by making us afraid, but we can't let them win, and the only way they win is if we oblige them.

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Rob Port and family, pictured here in 2017.
Sam Easter / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — In my nearly 20-year career of writing and talking about politics, I've never been afraid.

Exhausted, yes. Exasperated. Disgusted. Anxious. Angry. But never, ever afraid.

Not until Monday morning.

It's been an uneasy couple of years for me. I've devoted a lot of time to covering the rise of virulent, Donald Trump-aligned populism in the Republican party, and that has earned me no small amount of enmity. Most of it manifests itself in the typical sort of social media crudities that have become rote in politics. But a few times it has crossed into something more troubling.

Late last year Jay Lundeen, an NDGOP district chair here in Minot and an organizer of the "We the People" rally in Bismarck, went on a hate-filled tirade against me , shouting invective into the phone of a woman livestreaming the diatribe while a room full of Trumpy activists cheered him on. (I had embedded the video in my column, but the video has since been taken offline.)

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This spring, at the NDGOP's state convention in Bismarck, a man wearing campaign button for state Rep. Rick Becker's failed campaign, threatened me outside the convention hall as I was putting away my podcasting equipment.

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"I'll do any f------ thing I want," he growled at me after I had asked him to step away from me. "You'd better watch what you write or I'll come find you," he shouted, before skedaddling back into the crowd before security could intervene.

I celebrated my birthday over the weekend, and my daughter's Facebook post commemorating it was taken over by a troll who has threatened to sue me in the past for writing critical things about Trump, and in this instance was insisting, to my child, that I'm going to hell for my political views.

It was ugly and unnecessary. Say what you want about me, but please leave my children out of it.

These sorts of things happen, when you do what I do for a living, and you learn to take them in stride. There's no excuse for this sort of behavior, but it comes with the territory.

What happened yesterday was different.

Over the weekend I began receiving some very ugly, very racist emails accusing me of being a race traitor, and an inauthentic conservative. They used numerous slurs for race and sexual orientation and dabbled extensively in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Finally, I received one that contained some very personal information about myself and one of my children. There wasn't an explicit threat made in the email, but one was certainly implied.

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I immediately contacted my employers at Forum Communications Co., and then law enforcement. The former was supportive, as they always are, while the latter is looking into the matter, though the emailers took steps to make their missives anonymous, and I'm not hopeful they'll make a lot of progress.

Meanwhile, for the first time in my career, I've been left wondering if my work is good for my family. It's how I support them. It's how I pay for food and shelter and dentist appointments.

Is it also putting them in danger?

It's a gut-wrenching question.

I write prolifically, as anyone who follows my work knows, but yesterday, and into this morning, I found myself vapor locked. I conducted a scheduled podcast interview with secretary of state candidate Michael Howe , but I was off my game. Completely distracted.

I still am. It's been hard, over the last 24 hours, to find the will to push the keys on my keyboard. This morning, it was a struggle to get out of bed, which, again, is not typical for me.

I love my job. I love going to work. But not this morning.

Feeling lost, I turned to my wife and asked for her advice. How do I handle this?

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Keep writing, she told me. It's a terrible thing that there are people in the world who want to silence us by making us afraid, but we can't let them win, and the only way they win is if we oblige them. Besides, she added, writing is how I make sense of the world. Getting back to my keyboard will help.

So here I am. Writing still. And it's helping.

I'm choosing not to go silent because the last thing I want is to give the bullies and extremists of the world what they want.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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