Port: North Dakota lawmaker's family has ties to church espousing white supremacy
The family of state Rep. Donna Henderson has extensive ties to a Missouri-based church that espouses racist and antisemitic views.
MINOT, N.D. — Rep. Donna Henderson, a Republican from Calvin, North Dakota, is currently serving in the first legislative session of her first term in North Dakota's House. She was one of a wave of very populist, very Trump-aligned lawmakers to find electoral success last year in the North Dakota Republican Party's heated primaries which pitted candidates like Henderson against more mainstream conservatives.
Henderson's bombastic approach to politics has drawn attention to her work in Bismarck in the opening weeks of the session. Now scrutiny of her personal life indicates disturbing ties to an organization called the Church of Israel, which promotes white supremacy and antisemitism and has ties to some of America's most notorious and violent bigots.
Henderson lists in her legislative biography having six children with her husband Paul Henderson, a long-time activist in state politics who has, in the past, served in local and regional leadership positions in the NDGOP.
According to social media posts and publicly available records, three of her sons have married women from Schell City, Missouri, a tiny town with a population of about 250 which is home to the Church of Israel.
All three women have ties to the church, posting pictures on Facebook showing them participating in church activities or attending the Christian Heritage Academy, which, per the church's website, is a private K-12 school affiliated with the Church of Israel.
The marriage license for one of her sons indicates that his marriage occurred at the Church of Israel in Schell City in 2018.
Henderson's campaign for the Legislature also enjoyed support from the daughters of Dan Gayman, the church's founder. While I could find no financial contributions from known church members in Henderson's campaign disclosures, two women, identified as Gayman's daughters through their social media records and the obituary for Gayman's wife , commented on Facebook posts Henderson made last year supporting her campaign.
When I reached out to Rep. Henderson to inquire about the connections between her family and the Church of Israel, she refused to comment. "I appreciate your interest in my personal life, Rob, but I don't think that is any of your business," she told me, before hanging up on me.
Paul Henderson did not immediately respond to a voicemail message seeking comment.
'Ordained by hate'
According to a profile of the Church of Israel published by the Anti-Defamation League , a nonprofit group that tracks extremist groups, the Church of Israel was initially a congregation that splintered from Mormonism. Gayman, its long-time leader, is a notorious bigot with ties to some very recognizable names in the world of hate.
The church's logo, seen both on its website and in the background of social media posts about church activities, includes a Confederate battle flag.
Gayman has appeared at gatherings of Christian Identity groups alongside Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations.
The founders of the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord, a militant Christian Identity group, said they were inspired by Gayman.
Domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph , who was responsible for bombing the Centennial Olympic Park at the 1996 Olympics, spent time at Gayman's church, where, per reports from Rudoph's mother and Gayman's estranged family members , he learned his political views.
Rudolph's ties to the church were detailed in a 2001 profile by the Joplin Globe in Missouri headlined, "Ordained by Hate."
Gayman has spent years railing against things such as interracial marriage, and has described Jews as "mud people."
Gayman continues to preach to this day. His sermons about same-sex marriage, Judaism, interracial marriage, and other topics can be found on the church's website. The church also sells literature written by Gayman and others including, per the catalog, works like "Interracial Marriage, Right or Wrong?" and "Racial Purity in the Living Church."
No stranger to controversy
This isn't the first time the Hendersons have found themselves adjacent to extremism. Both were in Washington, D.C., during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol where Trump supporters attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election with violence.
In several Facebook posts, which have since been deleted, Henderson claimed the riots were the work of left-wing agitators. Photos in the post indicate that Sen. Henderson and her husband were present on Jan. 5 and 6.
In January of 2021, reporter Mikkel Pates attempted to contact the Hendersons to get details about their involvement in the events of Jan. 6, but both declined to be interviewed.
Paul Henderson "declined to say how close he went to the Capitol, or whether he went inside," Pates wrote.