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McFeely blog: Protester-filled buses elusive as Bigfoot

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There were rumors that buses filled with out-of-state protesters rolled into Fargo on Saturday, May 30, to start trouble.

There were also rumors of similar buses, these carrying paid protesters, rolling toward Minot, N.D.

There were later rumors that these buses were headed down I-29 from Fargo to Sioux Falls, S.D., to start trouble down there.

Who knows where the buses are now.

Ottumwa, Iowa? Kearney, Neb.? Gillette, Wyo.?

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Certainly they are somewhere.

Certainly they aren't a figment of the imagination.

Hope not. If so, there are going to be a lot of conservatives miffed the mysterious buses that always show up at protests, always filled with paid out-of-state protesters, always looking for trouble, don't actually exist.

They're like Bigfoot.

A segment of the populace talks about them as if they're real, they have their true believers, but nobody ever provides substantive proof they exist.

Maybe a grainy, out-of-focus photo of one of these buses would help.

I asked a Fargo Police Department spokeswoman if there is any evidence the mystery buses were in Fargo on Saturday. They were supposedly in a Kmart parking lot, where members of the local media searched to no avail.

"We’re still looking into all that information. We know there were several vehicles downtown without plates during the riot and march," she replied in an email.

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Police chief Dave Todd said in his Sunday morning remarks assessing his department's response to the downtown looting that he believed 40-50 people came from out of town "not to participate in the event, but to hijack it and turn it into something else."

He didn't provide further details, nor did the department spokeswoman when asked where these out-of-towners came from.

Todd did say the department got its information from intelligence provided by undercover officers embedded in the peaceful march and by monitoring social media.

We do know that eight of the 10 people being held in the Cass County jail on riot-related charges were locals. Seven from Fargo, one from West Fargo. One person didn't have a permanent address and the other was from California.

So at least 80% of those arrested didn't ride a bus to the protest. Unless it was a MAT bus.

Baffling, is what it is.

I'm not doubting Todd's information. If he says 40-50 people came from out of town to stir up trouble amongst the thousands of peaceful protesters, I'll take him at his word and keep asking if the department can provide more information. Maybe the department will make more arrests based on video that captured the rioters' faces.

I don't doubt that people drove from elsewhere looking to agitate. But the buses? I want to know more about the buses I keep hearing about on Facebook and Twitter.

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Are they comfortable coach buses with air conditioning and TVs? Or are they old rattletrap school buses from 30 years ago? Maybe they're super-fancy like the tour buses second-level country music stars roll around in. I don't know how much a professional protester makes, so I don't know what they can afford.

Nobody wants to believe locals are ever the bad guys in these cases. It's always paid protesters being bused in to wreak havoc. Even if the locals are the ones being arrested. Doesn't really seem fair.

You'd think law enforcement would be able to spot the buses, if they exist, and turn them around at the city limits like a sheriff in an old western movie.

I know this: Starting rumors about bused-in protesters allows conservatives to miss the point of the marches and protests completely, which is convenient. Instead of focusing on the substance behind the protest, in this case police brutality and people of color feeling like their concerns are continually brushed aside by the white establishment, carping about paid protesters coming in by the busload gives aggrieved conservatives more about which to be aggrieved.

They imagine a roving band of protesters cruising from city to city, town to town to cause trouble. Like a carnival of chaos.

Organized lefty groups riding around in buses, probably smoking weed and listening to rap, going from virginal burg to virginal burg causing trouble is the right's nightmare.

It's an amazing, mysterious story. Like Bigfoot.

And a helluva lot easier to get worked up about than, you know, actually addressing the problems that led to the peaceful protests in the first place.

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Opinion by Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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