In late May, we looked briefly at Minnesota Sixth District Congressman Tom Emmer's challengers in our post, No longer the Tea Party darling, Emmer draws 2 outstanding whackadoodle primary challengers.
Having lost the CD6 GOP's endorsement on the first ballot, failed Sauk Rapids school board contender and Emmer primary challenger AJ Kern is using her Facebook pages to call out Somali leaders in St. Cloud who felt that anti-Islam speaker Usama Dakdok had a right to speak, just as they have every right to ignore what he says.
What seems to be the problem, since support for the freedom of speech for someone who completely disagrees with you, while pursuing one's own freedom of religion, seems pretty gosh-darned respectful of the Constitution and the American way of life?
What is it that's giving poor Mrs. Kern the hopping fantods now in her insurgent campaign against the sitting Congressman? We see two parts: mythic prayer rooms in schools and Somali men creating voluntary associations and non-profits that might possibly access federal funds. That's some of heckova idea upon which to run for Congress, but we can't say we weren't warned that Alt-White folks might be a few Lego blocks short of a platform.
Snopes warns us there will be posts like this
Living on the American tax dollar.... creating nonprofits for a living, while demanding prayer rooms in the schools and work place. Yes. The St Cloud school district is accommodating Muslim prayer time. And you wonder why there is growing conflict. Here's a clue: It's not because of speakers on Islam.
We'll get to the part about "creating nonprofits for a living" in a moment, after dispatching Kern's assertion about prayer in school. In Lying Carpet, Snopes' Kim LaCapria writes:
On 29 March 2016 the web site US Herald published an article reporting that Muslim students in St. Cloud, Minnesota were receiving accommodations (namely, prayer rugs) at taxpayer expense deemed "impermissible" for pupils of other religions . . .
US Herald included a "source" link at the bottom of the page. That led to a 23 March 2016 PBS Newshour article, which made absolutely no mention of prayer rugs bought at taxpayer expense and contradicted the claim that Muslim students receive accommodations that are denied students of other faiths. In keeping with federal laws regarding religious accommodation, St. Cloud's middle and high schools maintain rooms for prayer (and other purposes) that are open to students of all religions, and the school cafeteria offers pork-free lunch options but has not removed pork from their menu.
There's more at the Snopes link. The St. Cloud Times also noted in an October 2015 fact-check:
Somali students, and all other students of any religion, will be allowed to practice their religion on school property, but there will not be any rooms dedicated for the use of any one religion group, [St. Cloud's superintendent of schools Willie] Jett said.
He said the district will follow state and federal guidelines that don't allow spending tax dollars for specific accommodations for any one religion. Students have been allowed to practice their religion as a group on school property, and that will continue to be allowed.
He cited examples of student groups that do Bible study or prayer groups around a flag pole.
"That's ongoing in schools for years," Jett said. "And there are Bible studies within schools in different classrooms, if it's during a time when (the classroom) is not being used for a specific course. . . .
As for the "And you wonder why there is growing conflict" crack, we recommend John F. Carlsted's letter to the editor reflecting on his granddaughter's recent graduation from St. Cloud Tech, Optimism shines bright at graduation:
. . . My intent is to briefly describe my reaction to some events at the Tech graduation exercises as a contrast to the event at the Granite City Baptist Church as reported May 28 in the Times. (“Anti-Islam preacher draws crowd, protest.")
My motivation comes from the joy my wife and I experienced while witnessing our granddaughter receive her diploma, along with others sharing that same pride for their graduates.
The event took on added meaning for me as I witnessed the diversity within the class, along with the diversity represented within the program itself, the presenters, and the makeup of the multi-cultural audience.
By casually studying the names of the 300 graduates, I estimated at least 75 of them were Somali, with still others representing other minority groups. The diversity was everywhere, on stage and in the audience. The program included interpreters for two groups.
The young lady selected by the graduates to speak for them was Somali. She did a great job to the delight of all, both graduates and those of us in the audience. You could also not miss the diverse relationships shown by the snippets of fun times in the video presentation shown prior to the beginning of the formal program.
My final reaction was the feeling of pride and joy felt by all as we gathered together at this important event. Full inclusion was in the air, not fear and separation.
For me, it was diversity at its best – a diverse group coming together for a common purpose – celebrating the accomplishments of all of our special young people as they move on into lives of challenge, hope, service and fulfillment, within a more interconnected and diverse nation and world. . . .
Growing conflict? St. Cloud Tech had been the site of some true ugliness in March 2015, but the school responded by adding staff and forming a Student Advocacy Team to address the issues troubling the student body, Minnesota Public Radio reported in August.
Kern can denounce Somali students and their parents from her crabby tower in Sauk Rapids, but that's not to say that she's either accurate or fit to serve in Congress. She does seem to want to grow the conflict, regardless of what else other people are experiencing or doing to create a more inclusive community.
Perish the thought that people might be able to get along while still nurturing their distinct cultures and faiths--and be stronger for those differences.
About those nonprofits
In the post from her personal Facebook page that Kern shared with her friends and congressional campaign "Likes," she writes in part:
These three men are Muslim/Somali leaders in the St Cloud area. All three are 'Directors'... 'Executive Directors' of nonprofits. All three are living on federal grants/hard earned taxpayer dollars.
In the last decade, our federal government began bringing greater numbers of refugees who are eligible to create nonprofits on the American taxpayers backs simply because they are refugees. Then, year after year, they continue to live on the taxpayer dime by serving other refugees... directing new refugees where to sign up for government assistance, interpretation services....
They're not "executive directors" of non-profits they formed to get federal grants. But what if they were?
Kern seems to have fallen asleep during the study of "freedom of association." American citizens and refugees can form organizations to promote anything from ATV trails to art fairs to ethnic empowerment groups,Tea Party Patriot chapters, anti-refugee/immigration reduction groups and refugee relief organizations. Some of these may gain nonprofit status. Some may secure federal grants.
A little background about the St. Cloud Times video that Kern shares: Kate Kompas reports in Anti-Islam preacher draws crowd, protest:
Not everyone who disagreed with Dakdok wanted to protest. A group of Somali community members released a statement late Thursday saying the best way to deal with him was not to respond in that manner.
Still, the statement sharply criticized his message. "Although we understand this individual's right to free speech, we strongly disagree with his attempt to cause disharmony and to sow division in our community," the statement read.
The statement also noted that someone set fire to a Muslim-owned business in Grand Forks, where Dakdok has spoken.
"We understand that this individual does not speak for Christians and Jews or other peoples of faith because faith by its very nature inspires love, trust, sharing, caring and uplifting human beings," it said.
The statement was signed by Abdullahi Kulane, executive director of Central Minnesota Community Empowerment Community, Ahmed Ali Said, executive director of the Somali American Relations Council, and Farhan Mohamud, community outreach director for the St. Cloud Area Somali Salvation Organization.
Jama Alimad, an elder member of the St. Cloud Somali community who met with others who didn't want to protest, said Dakdok didn't deserve any response and that his speech is protected under the Constitution.
"We don't care about whatever he says, we don't care," he said. "This is our town. This is our place. This is our community."
Kern appears to be making things up about these individuals in particular. We contacted Kulane, a St. John's University graduate, businessman and St. Cloud school district employee who unsuccessfully ran for St. Cloud City Council in 2014. Kulane, who was traveling, wrote:
"I work full time for the school district and I have a business. I volunteered part time to lead this organization and I am not getting paid for it." He added, "We are all volunteers."
The organization he heads is an informal, unincorporated association, similar to many community or interest membership groups with a small annual budget and no paid staff.
The Somali American Relations Council was founded in September 2015, according to records at the Minnesota Secretary of State's office. According to his Facebook page, Director Ahmed Ali Said works as an interpreter for the Arch Language Network, a St. Paul-based domestic corporation whose CEO is Russell Hastings, according to records at the Secretary of State's office. The company offers "nearly 50 languages for face-to-face interpreting and over 100 languages for translation and transcription." This is a business, in which Said isn't an officer.
The St. Cloud Area Somali Salvation Organization (SASSO) has received government grants off and on, and the organization's 2014 990 filing with the IRS (the latest available via Guidestar) reflects the contract that SASSO obtained through MNSure in that year. While this partnership didn't end well, the scale of the grant was also not typical for the established but still relatively small non-profit.
The St. Cloud Times reported in SASSO must repay MNsure grant money:
MNsure ended its contract with the St. Cloud Area Somali Salvation Organization in May over concerns about SASSO's ability to account for how it spent its grant dollars. Last month, MNsure's decision became final, and the agency is trying to collect the $91,867 it paid to SASSO. . . .
Farhan Mohamud said MNsure officials acknowledged they were satisfied with SASSO's performance in outreach and enrollment. The nonprofit enrolled close to 1,000 people in MNsure, he said. . . .
The MNsure dispute could be costing SASSO other funding. The state Department of Human Services' Resettlement Programs Office had a contract with SASSO until Sept. 30 to help refugees find stable housing and community services.
DHS did not renew its contract with SASSO because of concerns about its fiscal management, the agency wrote in an emailed statement. DHS said it is conducting an audit of SASSO and expects to have a final report soon.
Read the whole story for the details. It does not appear that the MNSURE contract ended well--or that the organization simply exists to live in high clover at taxpayers' expense.
Outreach Director Farhan Mohumad was paid received $26,641 as an employee, when SASSO was managing the MNSure grant in 2014. Because of the grant, the organization recorded $203,789 in gross receipts. A 2013 990 report kept in the ProPublic non-profit 990 database shows that the organization received $80,398 in contributions including grants of all sorts in 2013, though no government fees and contracts are declared. Working under contractor arrangement, Farhan Mohumad received $17,115 (page 7), while another contractor received $15,774. By way of contrast, a full-time, 40-hour a week job at Minnesota's current minimum wage of $9 per hour is $18,720 before taxes and social security and insurance; these contractors had to pay that on their own.
The group's executive director received $15, 774 (page 10) in 2013, while he was paid $27,703 in 2014 when the MNSure grant more than doubled the group's revenue. Propublica has made the group's 990 forms available back to 2003. Does SASSO get special treatment simply because it works with refugees? Doesn't seem like it.
Fear and Loathing in Stearns County
Kern can fantasize all she wants about the three leaders being kingpins in a nonprofit industrial refugee complex, but her insinuations don't mesh with the numbers. Moreover, Kern's allergic reaction to the right of refugees to create associations and non-profits to better their communities is peculiar. The Refugee Act of 1980 standardized the arrangement bringing refugees to the United States. It's unclear why Kern singles out her Somali neighbors as being unique in wanting to help their fellow refugees.
The funding mechanism for refugee relief has been changed--but the impulse isn't any different than that which started the Russian United Benevolent Association in our old neighborhood in Philadelphia. Or that which gave rise among immigrants to create the Independent Order of the Sons of Norway, at first a secret society that helped with insurance. Of course, Kern the anti-refugee candidate can run on the notion that the law needs to be changed because she doesn't like the religion of some of those coming in--if she can find enough primary voters foolish enough to agree with her.
Nonetheless, she probably should check the facts before she makes accusations about the livelihoods and motives of individual Somali-American leaders in the district she wants to lead. As we noted at the beginning of the post, it's peculiar to attack people in St. Cloud who are advocating for freedom of speech and religion. From those odd jabs to her butthurt urban legend about prayer rooms in St. Cloud public school, Kern isn't one to let facts stop her in her dogged pursuit of fear and loathing.
It takes a mighty imagination to make Congressman Tom Emmer seem to be the sweet voice of reason, but Kern has pulled it off on her campaign Facebook page.
Photo: AJ Kern For Congress graphic, via the Red Herring Alert blog. When
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