Back in October I flagged a National Geographic channel television feature based in Williston, at the epicenter of North Dakota’s oil patch, which many locals decried as fake.
Today we learn, by way of an excellent investigation by Elizabeth Hackenburg of the Williston Herald, that important elements of the show were faked. That according to interviews with people who worked to produce the show, among other evidence.
For instance, in one scene which purportedly shows a man riding his motorcycle down a Williston street to collect his “street tax,” it turns out the man on the motorcycle wasn’t even the man being interviewed.
Although Zart was mainly involved with the narrative on Cowboy and Hoo Doo Brown, he also lent a hand to a potential storyline about underground gambling.
“We tried to find a sports bookie, and I looked high and low for a betting ring, but I couldn’t find any,” he said.
Producers turned to motorcycle gangs instead.
Zart found a promising candidate to talk about the activities of outlaw bikers here.
But producers passed on Zart’s man, and settled on “Rick,” who was discovered by another member of the crew. Rick’s introduction by the narrator includes the line “Every morning he rumbles (on a motorcycle) down Main Street to collect his street taxes.”
In interviews filmed in a rented garage at a Williston apartment complex, Rick boasts that his gang rakes in hundreds of thousands of dollars through extortion and the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine.
Despite Rick’s hard-nosed claims, in reality he didn’t even own a motorcycle, Zart said.
The man seen riding a bike in the show is not Rick, but the man Zart originally found.
Another part of the show allegedly shows law enforcement responding to a fight at a Williston bar called The Shop. When I wrote about this show in October regulars at that bar said the fight the show claims happened never actually, you know, happened. Gregg Zart, a member of the film crew, confirms it.
“That never happened,” Zart told Hackenburg.
“After I watched the video…they just did it for the damn money, the publicity,” a man featured in the show as Cowboy, told Hackenburg. “They had me believing they cared.”
This Cowboy, who talks about the crime and substance abuse problems in Williston from the perspective of personal experience, was lured into participating in the show with promises that his story would inspire others to stay away from that sort of life.
What a tragic and ugly betrayal.
Be sure to read Hackenburg’s entire report.
There are plenty of compelling stories in North Dakota’s oil patch. Positive stories about how oil and gas development has improved the region. Negative stories too about crime and desperation and struggles with addiction. It’s difficult to imagine why anyone would feel the need to exaggerate when the truth is plenty interesting.