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Port: Online idiocy takes over a small-town tragedy

This is a situation that deserves better than the hot takes we're getting from Twitter demagogues and cable news creeps.

A boy with glasses and braces smiles and poses for a photo.
18-year-old Cayler Ellingson.
Contributed photo
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MINOT, N.D. — In the early hours of Sunday, Sept.18, a 41-year-old man named Shannon Brandt allegedly ran over 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson.

Ellingson is dead. Brandt has been charged with vehicular homicide .

The story, as tragic and sad as it is, would have been nothing more than a regional headline but for a claim Brandt made to law enforcement about his altercation with Ellingson.

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Shannon Brandt appeared in court via videoconferencing from the Stutsman County Jail on Sept. 19, 2022.

"Court papers show Brandt called 911 around 2:30 a.m. Sunday and told the 911 dispatcher that he just hit Ellingson, claiming the teen was part of a Republican extremist group and was calling people to come get Brandt after a political argument," our Matt Henson reports .

That statement quickly became fodder for the dumpster fire that represents our national political moment. Many on the right seized on the comments as a way to shoehorn Ellingson's death into some larger narrative.


The people jumping to conclusions, from talk radio ranters to cable news bloviators to social media mouth breathers, didn't let facts get in their way. Here's a representative example from Jack Posobiec, a MAGA-world luminary and Pizzagate conspiracy promoter with over 1.8 million Twitter followers:

Where to begin?

The words Posobiec has put in quotes are not an actual quote from Brandt.

North Dakota did release Brandt on a $50,000 bond, but he is facing a murder charge. Vehicular homicide, as I already noted. Apparently, Posobiec hasn't watched enough "Law & Order" to know that "homicide" means murder.

The last thing we need is a bunch of opportunistic politicians jumping into the debate over carbon pipelines not to protect their constituents but to exact revenge on their political enemies.
Ben Hanson, a candidate for the Cass County Commission, and Sen. Kevin Cramer join this episode of Plain Talk.
It's time for state officials to get serious about this. There are too many red flags, too many convenient connections between family, political allies, and business partners, for us to believe that this deal was above board.

And tagging Attorney General Drew Wrigley speaks to a near-complete misunderstanding of how North Dakota's criminal justice system works.

Our attorney general doesn't prosecute crimes. Mr. Brandt's case will be adjudicated in district court, and the charges against him will be prosecuted by the Foster County state's attorney.

That's Kara Brinster, who like all state's attorneys in North Dakota, is elected by the people. She works for them, not the attorney general.

But the average Twitter user isn't going to understand that sort of nuance nor is someone like Posobiec interested in helping people understand the facts of what happened after that street dance in McHenry.


Posobiec has a political narrative to promote to his nearly 2 million followers, and it's all that really matters to him. Nor is a fringe pundit the only one promoting a conspiracy. Here's U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, doing the same:

There is so much we don't know, as yet, about what happened between Brandt and Ellingson.

Were Brandt or Ellingson really motivated by political animus?

Was it merely a politically themed disagreement fueled by alcohol?

Was Brandt's reported comments about extremist Republicans anything more than an off-the-cuff remark from an agitated suspect in a tense situation who, reportedly, had been drinking?

I don't know.

You don't either. We also don't know if Brandt was a "crazed leftist," or if Ellingson was a Republican extremist.

The investigation is unfolding, and hopefully, we'll all learn more, but as things stand there is a young man dead, and another man, who has a right to a presumption of innocence, facing charges that could put him in jail for years.


This is a situation that deserves better than the hot takes we're getting from Twitter demagogues and cable news creeps.

This isn't entertainment. Stop acting like it is.

Ellingson and Brandt aren't players in some drama.

These are real people involved in a truly tragic situation.

Let's all start acting like it.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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