Saturday, June 3, 2023

"A small town's tragedy, distorted by Trump's megaphone"

I can't beat the New York Times headline on this story by Charles Homans and Ken Bensinger, so I just repeat it here.  The subhead is "When a teen’s killing became a right-wing talking point, the rush to outrage obscured a more complicated story."  What follows are some key excerpts from the piece, based on events in the tiny town of McHenry, North Dakota but then broadcast and distorted by the national media.

There were no known witnesses when Shannon Brandt and Cayler Ellingson got into an argument in the blurry hours after last call at Buck’s n Doe’s Bar & Grill in September. And no one but Mr. Brandt could say with certainty what led him to run over Mr. Ellingson with his Ford Explorer, crushing him to death in a gravel alley.

But the people of McHenry, a town of 64 in sparsely populated Foster County, N.D., have gotten used to hearing from people who think they know.

They include former President Donald J. Trump, who denounced the killing of Mr. Ellingson, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, at the hands of a “deranged Democrat maniac who was angry that Cayler was a Republican” in a Truth Social post. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia described Mr. Brandt on Twitter as a “Democrat political terrorist” and cited the case as evidence that “Democrats want Republicans dead, and they’ve already started the killings.”

Mr. Trump and Ms. Greene were among a chorus of Republican politicians — including several members of Congress and the attorney general of North Dakota — who rushed to condemn Mr. Brandt. They relied on a handful of early news stories that cited a state highway patrol officer’s report, which suggested Mr. Brandt killed Mr. Ellingson because he believed he was a “Republican extremist.”

That claim, made weeks before the midterm elections, ignited a brief national political firestorm. Republican politicians and right-wing media figures claimed that Mr. Brandt had been inspired by President Biden’s recent warnings about “extremism” in the Republican Party. They complained that news media coverage of political violence willfully ignored instances when the assailants were Democrats.

But the episode quickly became an example of another media phenomenon: the distortion of complex, painful events to fit an opportune political narrative.

And here's a part that highlights the lack of anonymity and intergenerational attachment to place that mark many small towns and rural areas:   

In conversations this month, residents of McHenry — a conservative, close-knit agricultural community where most families, including the Ellingsons and the Brandts, have known each other for decades, if not generations — said the narrative of the tragedy that Mr. Trump and others promoted never made much sense to them. 

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