An anti-refugee resettlement meeting with ties to the Carlton County GOP will take place in Cloquet on Thursday at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.
The meeting, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., is listed on a college calendar as being for the Carlton County GOP, but the News Tribune learned further details about the meeting on Tuesday.
The meeting’s organizer, Bill Dian of Wrenshall, confirmed he’s using Carlton County GOP’s insurance in order to reserve the room for what he called “an informational meeting.”
“I’m a conservative and I’m a taxpayer that is concerned about what we spend our money on,” he said.
The chair of the Carlton County GOP, Tony Sheda of Wrenshall, seemed to endorse the meeting despite denying its ties to the local GOP unit.
“It’s an independent group,” Sheda said. “They come out to our meetings, and we said we’d support them, but we never gave them money and they’re not under our auspices or anything.”
The Carlton County Board has yet to take up the issue of refugee resettlement consent, an issue that has swept the country following President Donald Trump’s executive order in September requiring states and counties to consent to refugee resettlement in writing by June 1.
At least 25 counties in Minnesota have voted on the issue, despite only roughly half of them having resettled any refugees in the last decade, according to the Association of Minnesota Counties. Notably, Beltrami County rejected giving its consent. St. Louis County is scheduled to vote on the issue at its May 26 meeting.
A tribal college spokesperson declined to comment about the meeting, referring the News Tribune to administrators who could not be reached in time for this story.
The meeting is being conducted by Ron Branstner of Eden Valley, Minn.
Branstner describes himself as an expert on the topic of refugee resettlement and told the News Tribune he’s been conducting similar meetings for 15 years across a five-state region.
He told the News Tribune most people have only heard one side of the story on refugee resettlement, but he didn't share any academic background on the issue and declined to say what he did for a profession.
“The refugee resettlement program is human trafficking,” Branstner said. “We’re buying and selling people from (refugee) camps and using them for low-commodity work.”
However, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, refugees are people "who have been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence." More than 70 million people were forcibly displaced in 2019, according to UN data. Under the Trump administration, the United States will only accept as many as 18,000 refugees in 2020.
Last summer, Branstner wrote an op-ed for the St. Cloud Times disparaging of Somali-American refugees, saying they insult America by celebrating their native country's July 1 independence.
A similar meeting at the tribal college in November drew 35 people. Dian said the subject of that meeting was “free speech,” and that it was also conducted by Branstner.
“I have a funny feeling this is probably going to be bigger, only because of what came up here about the votes in other counties,” Dian said.
Dian and other sources were adamant the meeting wasn’t anti-refugee.
“They had one meeting before that was a very interesting meeting,” Sheda said. “You’ve got to go in with an open mind and come away with your own opinions.”
Trump’s opt-in order was blocked by a federal judge in Maryland in January. The Trump administration has not yet appealed the decision and it’s not clear if it will.
When confronted with the question about the United States’ historic participation in refugee resettlement, Dian said: “Yes, we have participated in it for many years, but the problem is are they coming here to love our country or are they coming here to take over our country?”
When asked if he expected opposition or even protesters, Branstner said: “When they come, I invite them in.”