Yesterday I somehow got invited to join a Facebook group called “Peaceful Donald Trump Protest #StaNDuptoTrump.” The intent is to organize a protest against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who will be addressing the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck later this month.
As of this writing the event page, which is closed to the public, indicates that 154 people are going.
Curious about the effort I contacted the organizer, NDSU student Austin Alexius Klein who says he is originally from Bismarck, and asked him about why he’s protesting. It was an interesting conversation.
“This situation without Donald Trump is bad enough,” he said. “The North Dakota state government and basically everyone who is involved in oil, and law enforcement, they don’t really have the regulations set in place to keep this oil boom from becoming a disaster. There’s an outbreak of DUI’s and outbreak of car crashes. There’s an outbreak of drug arrests and prostitution. These are examples of the new North Dakota. North Dakota used to be a clean place. North Dakota used to be a safe place. I don’t know if that’s true anymore.”
I asked him what Donald Trump had to do with all that.
“I feel like he’s going to encourage further exploitation of North Dakotans,” he said.
“A lot of the exploitation occurred on reservations, the Fort Berthold reservation,” he continued. “Donald Trump is well known in the media for being a racist and a fascist. He doesn’t really denounce these things. He’s embracing it.”
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]”I think that Bismarck being such a conservative and notoriously racist place, I feel like it’s very possible that there could be some backlash against us,” Klein told me.[/mks_pullquote]
Klein said he feels Trump chose to make his North Dakota appearance in Bismarck because it’s more conservative than the Red River Valley.
“If he had chosen to go to Fargo it would be one thing, but he chose to go to Bismarck where he has most of his support,” he said.
Around the country protests aimed at Trump have devolved into violence perpetrated by both Trump critics and supporters. I asked Klein if his group is prepared for the possibility of violence, and he said it may be a risk given – to use his words – how racist and conservative Bismarck is.
“I think that Bismarck being such a conservative and notoriously racist place, I feel like it’s very possible that there could be some backlash against us,” Klein told me. “I think by tomorrow the police department of Bismarck will have approved our permit. I believe the police will be protecting us. I believe we will have our own body guards there as well to protect us.”
He said his organization plans to train their protesters, and edit their signs, to avoid any incidents.
“We are holding training meetings for our protesters where we will discuss what to do if that happens,” Klein said. “We are going to go over guidelines on what to do and what not to do. We are going to edit our signs so there are no vulgar sayings.”
Asked why he, specifically, decided to organize this effort he says it was a culmination of his feelings about both North Dakota’s energy development and Donald Trump.
“I’m the lead coordinator and organizer of this event because I have been researching the oil boom a lot at North Dakota State University. I write lots of papers and stuff,” Klein said. “When I saw that Donald Trump was going to go to my home town and support the oil industry…he’s there for the money. That’s all he really cares about. That really upsets me.”
“We aren’t just this money pot,” he added. “We don’t deserve to be marginalized like this. The situation is really intense, and Donald Trump coming into it is just going to seal our fate.”
If you want more information about the event Klein has created a public version of the Facebook event page. In a post in the private version of the event he wrote that he created the public version so that members of the private event would “remain secure and hidden from the media and press.”