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Shaw: Fargo School Board members get hateful messages after Pledge of Allegiance vote

Ugly, vicious, profane and racist emails and phone calls, from all parts of the country, have been sent to Fargo School Board members following the board's decision to drop the Pledge of Allegiance at its meetings

A woman seated on a  couch looks down at her phone.
Fargo School Board member Nyamal Dei listens to her hate-filled messages on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. The messages come after she and other school board members voted to discontinue saying the Pledge of Allegiance at board meetings.
Jim Shaw / Special to The Forum
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FARGO — The controversy over the Fargo School Board dropping the Pledge of Allegiance at its meetings has become ugly, vicious, profane and racist. School Board members have received hundreds of hate-filled communications, mostly emails and phone calls, from around the country.

Some of the emails have been sent to all the board members.

One of them written by someone from Louisiana says, “What a bunch of ungrateful lunatics! I will be glad to buy a one-way ticket for anyone to immigrate to any s-------country that practices Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism.”

Another one written by someone from New Jersey says, “If you don’t like the pledge or country, go to Russia or China. This board is a disgrace. F--- you. Trump2024.”

Another email says, “I pledge that you are stupid evil pieces of s---. You are enemies of this country.”

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One email written just to board member Melissa Burkland says, “What kind of special stupid are you? Do you plan to replace it with the Nazi flag? How dare you! If you hate America so much just leave.”

One person who called Burkland said, “What the f--- are you doing in my country? Give me a call. I fear for your safety.”

“This is unsettling,” said Burkland, who works for the U.S. government. “I’ve never been attacked like this. I love this country and you can support your patriotism in a variety of ways.”

The most abhorrent and repulsive emails and phone calls have been directed at school board member Nyamal Dei. Just two months ago, she was celebrating her victory as the first African American elected to the Fargo School Board or any other elected office in Fargo.

Now, she’s being bombarded with sickening racist comments.

One person who called Dei said, “I can’t believe what people like you are doing to my country…Why don’t you go back to f------ Africa, you f------ (N-word).”

Another caller said, “Should have figured a Black mother f----- wouldn’t vote for the pledge of allegiance before school. Listen jackass…If you don’t like the Pledge of Allegiance because it hurts your little Black feelings, ah. You’re a c---. F------ fascist. F------Nazi. And now you’re marked.”

An email written by someone from Fargo says, "I believe one member is an immigrant and who had to swear her loyalty to this country. Didn't take long for her to turn her back on that pledge."

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Another one written by someone from Bemidji, Minnesota, says, “The libtard maggots that don’t appreciate America should move to Somalia so the non-menstruating persons can beat the crap out of the birthing persons."

“It hurts. I am very disappointed,” Dei said. “I’m shocked with the foul language and the use of the N-word.”

Dei emphasizes that people forget that in February former board member David Paulson moved to get the pledge recited at board meetings, only to see his motion fail. Dei was not on the board at that time.

“If people were upset about the board voting against reciting the pledge, why didn’t they speak up then?" Dei said.

Paulson brought it up again in March, and that time it passed. Dei said the motion was politically motivated.

“He had been on the Board for many years. I think he brought it up because he was running for reelection,” Dei said. “It wasn’t genuine. … Still, I understand why people are angry now.”

Dei said she and her daughter have often been called the N-word in Fargo.

“It’s just wrong,” Dei said. “I was expecting it (the racism) after my vote. I’m not surprised. … I tell my daughter don’t worry about it. I’ve been through a lot worse.”

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Indeed, she has.

Dei grew up in Sudan, and she was caught in the middle of the Second Sudanese Civil War in the 1990s. Two million people died in that war.

“My three brothers died," Dei said. “A lot of people were shot. I saw a lot of dead bodies in the streets and in the river.”

Dei spent much of her young life in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Those camps were constantly bombed. Food was scarce, and Dei got very sick.

“I was afraid I was going to die,” Dei said.

Dei, a devout Christian, came to the U.S. as a refugee, worked hard and became a success story. She graduated from North Dakota State University and received her master’s degree from Benedictine University in Chicago. She worked in public health and founded a nonprofit group which works to help people through education.

Dei also studied U.S. history and the Constitution to become an American citizen in 2007.

“I was so happy to become an American citizen,” she said. “I could vote. I am thrilled to be an American. I am very passionate about it.”

The phone calls and emails that Dei, Burkland and the other board members have received are disgusting and inexcusable. It’s perfectly acceptable to criticize someone’s vote, but the low-lifes who wrote this filth went way over the top. They pretend that they are the real patriots, but their appalling comments are un-American. The pledge says, “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” but their loathsome comments reflect just the opposite.

Perhaps many of the nasty writers forgot that, outside of the Native Americans, we’re a nation of immigrants. Many of us were lucky to be born here. Others, such as Nyamal Dei, overcame so much to get here.

Dei is an inspiration to us all. Calling her the N-word or a Nazi or telling her to go back to Africa is cruel and uncalled for. She’s as much an American as any of us.

“It makes me furious for people to tell me to go back to my country,” Dei said. “This is my country. I love America.”

InForum columnist Jim Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.
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