Port: 'I prefer dangerous freedom to peaceful slavery,' says small-town North Dakota bar owner who has repeatedly defied shutdown orders over coronavirus
MINOT, N.D. -- David Corum is the operator of the Gunslinger Grill in tiny Willow City, about 70 miles northeast of Minot.
Like many business owners, he's been walloped by Gov. Doug Burgum's decision to restrict business operations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Unlike most business owners, Corum has tried to operate anyway.
Corum has been cited for infractions by authorities in Bottineau County five times for violating Burgum's executive order. He's currently under a court order not to operate.
Why did he defy the shutdown order? "For one, it's my only means of economic survival," Corum told me. "For another, there are some serious constitutional issues here."
"I prefer dangerous freedom to peaceful slavery," he added, saying that's a paraphrase of something President Thomas Jefferson once said.
Jefferson did once use the Latin phrase "Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem" in a 1787 letter to James Madison. Translated, it means, "I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude."
As I write this, there are no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in Bottineau County, though it is present nearby.
Ward County has 13 confirmed cases. McHenry County has 1. Pierce County has 2.
In Corum's mind, the coronavirus pandemic is a political issue. "It's not a public health issue," he told me. "It's a political facade."
I asked Corum if he thought individuals should choose social distancing and quarantine, whatever the government may be asking them to do. He was skeptical about the threat coronavirus represents. "Three deaths out of 760,000," he said, comparing North Dakota's COVID-19 death toll to the state's population. "What do you care?"
"The governor is not the big daddy," Corum added. "He can't tell us to go to our room."
He also believes President Donald Trump is exaggerating the severity of the outbreak.
"He has been given five citations for violation of the executive order," Bottineau County state's attorney Mike McIntee told me when I called him about Corum. "We've got people at the bar, sitting and drinking and money on the bar."
McIntee says Corum claimed he wasn't selling the alcohol, just giving it away while the recipients made donations.
"If you believe that I've got a bridge to sell you," McIntee said.
After a court hearing on the matter (held by telephone given social distancing requirements), Corum is under a judicial order to not have more than three people in his establishment in addition to himself and his employees. "He has a right to an assembly," McIntee added, "but there can be no alcohol served whatsoever."
If Corum violates the court order, McIntee said he'd be facing a misdemeanor charge that could include jail time. As it stands, Corum is only facing infraction charges, which carry a maximum $1,000 fine each and no jail time.
I asked Corum if he planned to comply with the judge's order, and he said he would. For now. He's waiting for his next court date, which is later this month.
In the meantime, Corum is chronicling his experience on his YouTube channel , where he frequently rails against the government's response to the COVID-19 outbreak while referring to law enforcement officials as "enemy combatants."
"They just can't relate," Corum told me when I asked if he thinks law enforcement officers are enemies. "They're fully paid and fully benefitted. Nobody is cutting their pay."
In his most recent videos, Corum uses photos of President Trump's daily press briefing, as well as photos he's taken at local stores to illustrate what he sees as hypocrisy when it comes to social distancing.
"Go to Walmart, there's no six-foot spacing," he said.
McIntee says he'll continue monitoring Corum's activities, and bears the man no hard feelings. "All we're trying to do is prevent the spread of coronavirus," he said. "Dave is an absolutely fantastic cook. He just doesn't like the rules sometimes."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org .