Ron Christianson wasn't at last Monday night's Willmar City Council meeting.
But Christianson's name and past deeds dominated the proceedings. At issue: The council member, now in his sixth term, had apparently been caught "liking" offensive content on Facebook, including negative -- and, let's just take a wild guess: fake -- stories about immigrants and minorities.
As outlined by Ben Larson, a member of the Willmar Human Rights Commission, "Ron [Christianson] hit the 'like' button on posts that talked about Somali and Mexican immigrants having lower IQs, being crime- and filth-ridden, and he also showed support for a post that talked about Somali and Muslim people wanting us dead."
Larson, who testified first during an open forum to discuss Christianson's socail media conduct, said Christianson's wife had told him "Ron is not a racist." To prove that, Larson said, the council member should "denounce those posts, say that they were wrong," and "ask for forgiveness from the public," adding: "I think he should resign if he can't do that."
Larson was the first of five citizens to speak on the record for or against Christianson, as documented in the video below, each speaker slightly zanier than the last.
John Burns spoke in opposition to Christianson's Facebook activity, saying it harks back to a time when his Irish ancestors were discriminated against as immigrants.
"When I read those remarks," Burns said, referring to the content Christianson was reading online, "I thought, every last one of them would apply to my people... you know, 'dirty,' 'ignorant,' fit only to do the most menial tasks, 'they're going to bring the Pope over, he'll be taking over the country.' That's what was said, it was said in very respectable circles back then."
Burns said similar discrimination has been aimed at "every wave that comes in, Irish, Jews, Italians, Hispanics, all of them have suffered through the same thing." Burns also tells a story of a Ku Klux Klan cross burning that targeted his grandparents in southern Minnesota. It's pretty intense, but the good people of Willmar were just getting started.
"I'm tired of them Somalians too, in this town," said citizen Joe Fernkes, beginning a run of public testimony that literally dropped the jaw of a young woman watching in the audience behind him.
"They're taking over the whole damn town. Downtown Willmar, beautiful downtown Willmar? My rear end. You guys gotta get your blinders off, gotta quit squintin' your eyes. You gotta start figuring this stuff out. They're chasin' girls down, chasin' blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls down, three, four Somalians at a time, chasin' em down, callin' em every name in the book. They take, in Walmart, they take a dump in the aisle, the women do, and then they walk away. They do it at the clinics. I've seen this, I've witnessed it, and stuff, you know. They're very offending."
Right, Joe. They're the "very offending" ones. Fernkes wrapped up saying, "I'm an American soldier" -- as if anyone couldn't tell that from his GI Joe T-shirt -- "and I've been around, and I know a lot." Then Fernkes, blaming the Somali presence, helpfully gives a list of places he "won't go" anymore. So, if you have to be in Willmar sometime... maybe just stick to those places?
Next came Bob Skor, who said he'd known Ron Christianson since childhood. "We played rock and roll together, we hunted together, we did a lot of things. And he is not racist, he's just a proud American."
Then Skor turns to "little Mogadishu... AKA Willmar." Citing absolutely nothing, he tells the council members: "I just hope you guys can change stuff, but, Willmar needs to change. I don't have time to get into everything I wanted to say, but, hey, appreciate the time. Thank you."
Last, and indeed least, is Edward Peterson, who simply challenges "Ron back there" -- probably he means Ben, as in Ben Larson, the first speaker... but by this point, who knows? -- to state the following facts:
"I would like to know how old he is, what he does for a living, and how he can, in his hypocritcal way, draw the conclusions that he does about Ron Christianson. Has he ever served in the military? I doubt it. And I bet you he's probably a Democrat. That's all I have to say!"
The West Central Tribune reports one person in attendance made a "rude gesture" toward another, and the council meeting was recessed to maintain calm after some people started "speaking loudly" in the hallway. No official council action was taken on the Ron Christianson matter, meaning for now, the only resolution the people of Willmar get is the testimony from these five fellow citizens.
Based on this video, Bob Skor got exactly one thing right. Willmar needs to change.
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