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Port: NDSU president addresses bigoted messages from Republican students in video message to campus

"While the comments are protected free speech, I want to reaffirm that NDSU values a community that is inclusive and collegial, and those comments are not reflective of our values," NDSU President David Cook said in a released statement sent ahead of the video's publication.

North Dakota Young Republicans Telegram group
The description of a Telegram group created for members of the North Dakota Young Republicans.
Submitted photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Last week I reported on bigoted messages shared in a Telegram messaging group organized by the North Dakota Young Republicans, among them a student leader at North Dakota State University.

Today, NDSU is responding to the controversy, with President David Cook addressing the bigoted remarks in a video statement sent to the campus this afternoon.

"While the comments are protected free speech, I want to reaffirm that NDSU values a community that is inclusive and collegial, and those comments are not reflective of our values," Cook said in the video release. "I encourage everyone to continue to work toward a community of respect as we start our semester."

The North Dakota Young Republicans is affiliated with the NDGOP, though they lost their voting privileges on the party's executive committee in December.

In response to messages posted in the organization's Telegram group critical of state Rep. Josh Boschee, Ben Schirrick, the current president of the NDSU College Republicans, made reference to a "fag festival." Boschee, a Democrat from Fargo, is the first openly gay man to serve in North Dakota's Legislature.

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Another user described Boschee and Fargo City Commissioner John Strand, who is also gay, as "alphabet soup creatures," a reference to the LGBTQ+ acronym.

Yet another user posted a white supremacist trope about a man who stole an airplane in Washington, making reference to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about Jewish people controlling the news media.

A source who is a member of the group and spoke with me on condition of anonymity said there was no criticism of this hateful language from the other group members, which includes several prominent Republicans, however, including party district chairs, legislative candidates, and current lawmakers.

When I reached Schirrick by phone for comment, he made additional posts to the messaging group referencing our conversation and using the slur again. Carter Eisinger, a Republican candidate for the state House in Fargo's District 11, posted support for Schirrick's use of the slur, writing that he was proud his name was included in screenshots of its use. Per his LinkedIn profile , Eisinger is an electrical engineering student at NDSU with an internship at John Deere.

Schirrick also posted that using the slur would be the "least triggering" thing he does this year. When I spoke with him on the phone for last week's story, he told me he was going to "hit the ground and go hard" on NDSU's campus this school year.

He acknowledged that his comments were hateful, but argued they are legally protected. "Hate speech is free speech," he told me, which is true, though it should be added that criticism of hate speech is not censorship.

The NDSU student government also condemned the messages in an email sent this morning, Aug. 23.

A source at the school provided me with a screenshot.

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An email sent out on behalf of the NDSU Student Government which condemns recent racist and homophobic slurs posted by members of the North Dakota Young Republicans, among them Ben Schirrick, the current president of the NDSU College Republicans.
An email sent out on behalf of the NDSU Student Government which condemns recent racist and homophobic slurs posted by members of the North Dakota Young Republicans, among them Ben Schirrick, the current president of the NDSU College Republicans.
Submitted screenshot

"While this hate speech is protected under the First Amendment, our Student Government does not condone offensive statements as they do not match the values of NDSU," the emailed message states.

NDGOP chairman Perrie Schafer condemned the use of slurs over the weekend .

"The NDGOP flatly condemns the offensive statements made by a group of Young Republicans this week on their chat platform," the statement from the party reads. "We have always encouraged diversity of thought and respectful discourse, along with respect for our political opponents. What we saw this week does not stand in any way, with the views of the NDGOP or the Republican Party."

My source in the North Dakota Young Republicans group tells me that there have been some defections from the Telegram messaging group, though not many. The group had 102 members when I first reported this story. My source now says they're down to 95, though they added that there have been few new messages since my story was published.

"They've mostly gone radio silent," they told me.

Grand Forks lawmaker Claire Cory and Bismarck-area legislative candidate Dawson Holle are two of those who have left the group, though Rep. Cole Christensen of Rogers, District 38 NDGOP chairman Jared Hendrix, and Andrea Toman, campaign manager for U.S. Senate candidate Rick Becker, remain members.

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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