Forum of Fargo-Moorhead: Unityfest draws 250

More than 250 people stopped by the Red River Valley Fairgrounds on Saturday for the first-ever Unityfest, an all-day event with music, speakers and kids’ activities that aimed to celebrate tolerance and diversity in North Dakota.

The event, which started at 11 a.m. and continued until midnight in the Hartl Ag Building, was organized by the nonprofit Unity North Dakota that originally formed last summer in response to white supremacist Craig Cobb’s attempted takeover of Leith, N.D.

But Scott Garman, the nonprofit’s director and co-founder, said members decided to keep up their broader work after Cobb’s arrest last November and departure from Leith earlier this year.

“We really thought after that happened that we should stay together as an organization and just work with North Dakotans and work with the communities in building stronger, more tolerant communities,” he said.

Unity North Dakota previously held a rally in Leith last fall, as well as a benefit for the Leith legal defense fund in Bismarck in December, but Saturday’s Unityfest was its first attempt at an annual event.

Several people showed up to speak to the audience throughout the day, including political candidates Todd Reisenauer and Ryan Taylor, Fargo School Board member John Strand and Miss North Dakota USA 2014 Audra Mari, who shared her experiences with bullying.

In the evening, bands The Statmods, Les Dirty Frenchmen and DJ Vooch performed, and Garman said face painting, crafts, movies and games for kids kept the youngsters entertained throughout the day.

Free-will donations raised enough money to cover the event’s costs, he said, and dozens of volunteers showed up to help put on the activities.

Garman said he was pleased with how this first attempt at Unityfest turned out, but said the annual event is “only going to grow from here.” The nonprofit would like to expand Unityfest to a two- or three-day event in future years, he said, and also would like it to rotate to different cities around North Dakota.

Unity North Dakota next plans to continue with its other efforts, including developing a state-specific curriculum that elementary schools could use to teach students about tolerance and diversity, as well as a nonpartisan push to enact comprehensive hate crime legislation in the state.

Garman said the group also has decided to hold three or four roundtable meetings each year to bring together politicians, activists, community organizers and others to continue working on its broader goals.

“We want Unityfest to be an annual yearly event, a celebration of tolerance and diversity in North Dakota, and we want the roundtable discussions to help us get there,” he said. “We feel that if we include as many people as possible from different backgrounds and different political belief systems, we can get there together.”

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UnityFest 2014 Sneak Preview

The event will be held on Saturday, July 26th, from 11a.m.-midnight at the RRV Fairgrounds in West Fargo at the Hartl Ag Building. The official posters and promotional materials will hit the streets and airwaves soon.

Speakers include several well-known North Dakota political figures, renowned scholars, and the one and only Chase Iron Eyes of Last Real Indians.

Musical guests include The Backseat Beat, The Statmods, Les Dirty Frenchman, and West Fargo native DJ Vooch.

A variety of ethnic vendors, children’s activities, food and family fun. The event will be free of charge and free will donations will be accepted.

Unityfest is a celebration of cultural, racial, and community unity in North Dakota. See the Unityfest Event Page for more information.

Neo-Nazis Try To Take Over Tiny Town—But The Town Is Fighting Back!

The size of Leith, North Dakota’s tiny population is in dispute.

The mile-square town has long been home to about 16 people—depending on which census you look at, or if anyone has momentarily wandered off the tiny parcel of land—but a group of Neo-Nazis are laying plans to move in, en masse.

Their leader Craig Cobb, 61, is openly calling Neo-Nazis to take over Leith’s government and make it a refuge for likeminded bigots. The gray-bearded man who has called for violence against Jewish people and destruction of the U.S. government even wants to rename the town “Village of the Damned.”

Mayor Ryan Schock told the Southern Poverty Law Center that Cobb came out of nowhere and paid $5,000 cash for the abandoned house near North Dakota’s fields of sunflower and wheat.

The Neo-Nazis didn’t seem to expect much of a fight when Cobb purchased a home and 12 lots, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Cobb moved to North Dakota from Canada and invited bigots from all over to do the same—though it’s unclear if any are, like Cobb, a fugitive from Canadian law enforcement for operating a hate website in Vancouver.

But Leith’s city council isn’t taking the invasion lying down and Cobb’s plan to start a racist settlement in a place that is 97 percent white has backfired.

In fact, locals are finding ways to make sure Cobb and his cohorts can’t stay in town for long.

First, the council approved an ordinance requiring Cobb to install water and sewer to his house, forbidding people to live in the sorts of abandoned properties Cobb has purchased. The council followed that ordinance up with a moratorium on any new construction, and limiting camping on any lots for longer than 10 days.

Together, it’s clear the rules intend to drive Neo-Nazis from Leith.

“Why now?” Cobb asked at a town meeting this week. “Is it a wonderful coincidence that the moment I show up these are necessary? It’s patently unfair.”

Some of his followers have shown up to settle in Leith, including Kynan Dutton of Oregon, who brought his wife and two children to live in Cobb’s ramshackle property.

A couple weeks ago Dutton went on a drunken tirade at a City Council meeting where he screamed obscenities and slurs at people. Dutton later apologized and said he “was working to correct his drinking problem,” according to the newspaper.

At this week’s meeting, Cobb told members of the local Sioux tribe to leave the town meeting and “go back home”—I can only hope that the Native Americans pointed out to the carpetbagging interloper from Canada exactly how ridiculous that demand was.Cobb went on to call the town’s residents “evil and nasty”—talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

By Shaya Tayefe Mohajer |                                 October 28, 2013 9:22 PM