As May tipped into June, the Pelican Rapids Press did what all small papers do for their small towns: posted a nice photo spread of the high school commencement ceremony on Facebook.
The shots included plenty of scenes from the day, and plenty of students—some beaming, some nervous, some holding balloons, some playing tubas. But one commenter under the name Mike Morgan apparently had a problem with a few of those students in particular.
“Is the PR press owned by Somalians?” he asked. “The first and biggest pics are always ragheads!!...Anti-Americanism at it’s [sic] finest!”
Managing editor Louis Hoglund, who took those photos, said the comment caught him a little off-guard.
“We just posted a random grouping of photos after graduation,” he says.
“Obviously,” some Somali students were featured prominently, because there are plenty of them. Pelican Rapids may be a small town (just under just under 2,700 residents in 2017), but it’s a diverse one. It has been since the ’50s and ’60s, when the first few Hispanic families moved in to work in the nearby Jennie-O turkey processing plant.
As conflicts arose in other parts of the world—from Vietnam to Bosnia to Somalia—other immigrant families joined them in search of jobs and a safe, welcoming community. They’ve been working, living, praying, and learning in Pelican Rapids for years.
The paper pulled down Morgan’s comment for not meeting the Facebook page’s standards for appropriate content. But after giving it some thought, Hoglund decided it merited a more direct response. Last Wednesday, he published an editorial entitled “Pelican Rapids Press: An anti-American rag!”
With little preamble, he addressed the commencement photos and Morgan’s Facebook tirade, then got straight to a new contendor for "saltiest 'apology' ever to appear in print."
“In our deadline haste, we unthinkingly included a couple of pictures of our Somali graduates,” he wrote. “Good heavens. Shame on us.”
Hoglund invited Morgan to come out from behind his computer screen and pen a proper letter to the editor. Go on, he said – send in your most sincere thoughts about “Americanism, patriotism, liberty, and justice for all.”
“I’m sure you know all about that stuff,” he wrote.
Just be sure to sign your real, verifiable name. And, if it’s not too much trouble, include a picture of yourself. Hoglund promised to have the camera ready.
“We’ll be waiting to hear from you, Mr. Mike Morgan.”
As a little coda to the editorial, Hoglund invited Morgan and the rest of Pelican Rapids to appear at the “horrendous display of Anti-Americanism” that is the town’s upcoming Friendship Festival, which would include performers with heritage from Somalia, Mexico, and—“God forbid”—Scandinavia.
Hoglund says he expected the editorial to get some kind of reaction. It was, after all, a very direct call-out, even if he wasn’t entirely certain at the time that there was a real Mike Morgan and not just some internet troll. He did not expect it to blow up and get more than 35,000 views online.
“It’s kind of gone crazy,” he says. “It just took off.”
To his relief, the vast majority of the internet has reacted with praise and goodwill. Facebook commenters called it a “great response” to an “ignorant, bigoted comment.” There were shining words of praise heaped on the editorial, and on the town, and on the graduates themselves, and their future accomplishments. Aside from a few angry remarks here and there, Hoglund says, it’s been, pretty much, a lovefest.
It wouldn’t be the last the Press would hear from Mike Morgan (who didn't return requests for comment on this story). It turns out, Hoglund says, he's a real person, and he does have some connection with the community. After the editorial was published, he wrote a few more comments doubling down on his first, calling the Press, as Hoglund recalls, “the enemy of the people.”
Eventually, the paper gave up and blocked him. He never did take Hoglund up on his invitation to write a letter to the editor.
“We don’t expect to see one,” he says.
If anything comes out of this, Hoglund hopes it’s a few more smiling faces at the Friendship Festival. He thinks there’s a chance the editorial might boost attendance. In the end, he says, they live in an incredibly supportive community—occasional trolls aside.