UPDATE: Welcome, fellow Power Line fans!
Let’s talk about Cayler Ellingson.
“Berg’s 18th Law” says that after any politically and emotionally fraught event – mass shootings, police killings, riots, pretty much any event over which people disagree – we need to wait at least 72 hours before taking anything we hear seriously from the media, since they will be more interested in scooping the competition than getting facts straight. I made an executive decision to stretch that deadline to a full week, since on a good day the mainstream media might know how to find North Dakota on a map.
Here are the things we know after a couple weeks:
- After a street dance in McHenry, ND (population 64) on September 18, an extended altercation of some sort happened between the 18 year old Ellingson and 41 year old Shannon Brandt, of nearby Glenfield (population 94).
- After a back-and-forth that went long enough for Ellingson to call his mother several times to ask for a ride home, Brandt hit Ellingson with his truck, and drove home.
- Brandt, who has a DUI and some other low-level crimes on his record, was arrested there a few hours later, intoxicated. Ellingson died shortly after.
- While being interviewed later, he said he thought Ellingson was an “Extremist Republican” who was calling friends to come and get him.
- The Foster County  prosecutor (They’re called “states attorneys“ in North Dakota) initially charged Brandt with vehicular homicide, and released him on $50K in bail.
This – and a complete absence of coverage in mainstream media outside North Dakota – led to a tsunami of anger in conservative media, based around two points:
- the charges and bail seemed ridiculously lenient – and, according to some, politically so.
- the media coverage was lackadaisical, given the politics involved.
Let’s talk about both.
On the show, I pushed back on the first point; the job of Foster County’s State’s Attorney Kara Brinster is to bring charges she and her (tiny ) office can prove beyond a reasonable doubt given the evidence they have, without regard to public opinion or pressure. My theory – Brandt’s statement made “Criminal Vehicular Homicide” a slam dunk right away the morning after Ellingson’s death. Anything beyond that would take investigation – and the States Attorney has all the time they need to do that. The national criticism – up to and including Tucker Carlson – apparently didn’t faze Brinster. She investigated, got the evidence she needed, and had Brandt re-arrested on murder charges. He’s being held in the Stutsman County Jail . If convicted of murder, he could get life without parole.
Some think it happened because of the national attention. I say BS – Brinster ignored the media (none of whom came within 100 miles of the story, literally) and did her job. Keith Ellison should so as well . Criminal justice everywhere should be as lucky.
As to calling the original charge, and (statutory) bail, politically motivated? That’s a good way to show you have no idea about North Dakota politics. It’s perhaps the most conservative state in the union. Trump won by 30 points – and most of the Democrats live within ten miles of the Minnesota border; the Democrats who live west of ND Highway 1 would fit into two booths at Kroll’s Diner in Minot. State’s Attorney Brinster was elected in a county that likely voted 3:1 for Republicans.
So let’s park those allegations in the back 40 and let them quietly rust away.
Now let’s talk about the politics that are involved.
I’m not even talking about the fairly trite point – if a Republican had run down an 18 year old Democrat, it’d be national news, with commentators furrowing their brows and declaiming about tribalism and right-wing violence., regardless of the actual facts.
That’s a given; it’s background scenery with today’s media.
But let’s focus on the details of this case.
Shannon Brandt, according to reports, as a reputation around Glenfield of being a little mentally ill, possibly with a bit of a drinking problem. By appearances and reports, he’s the kind of doughy but dimly malevolent loser that everyone from a small town recognizes, polishing bar stools in double-wide taverns off of two-lane roads until they get enough liquid articulation to start talking, then yelling, and so on.
So he went to a street dance, gets into a fight with a kid less than half. his age, allegedly chases him down, runs him down and kills him…
…and the first thing he thinks of to try to excuse, or get sympathy for, his action is to claim he thought his victim was an “Extremist Republican?”
Last month, in an address full of bizarre thirties-retro authoritarian imagery, President Biden called Republicans “fascists”. An awful lot of Democrats took that statement very, ebulliently, gleefully seriously; they want to believe that the other half are part of a political philsosophy against which our grandparents went to war, fighting whom 412,000 of their generation died; people that anscestors, some of the still with us, spent the best years of their lives killing.
And lo and behold, mere days later, a demented drunk, whether acting out of considered political malice or drunk and mentally ill self-preservation, picks *that* excuse to ennoble, excuse, or at least try to explain killing a human being?
Have we connected those dots yet?
 Trivial but topical disclosure – I lived in Foster County, briefly, while working at the radio station in the county seat, Carrington. Being a ND native, I’d imagine I know people who know both the perp and victim, and likely the county attorney and the law enforcement involved, if I asked around for thirty seconds.
 The population of Foster County – the whole county – was 3,231 in 2020. About 2,000 of them live in Carrington alone.
 Further trivial disclosure – it’s two blocks from the house I grew up in.
 But can’t, and won’t.