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Lois Thielen: Rethinking the definition of freedom

In World
February 04, 2024

A recent event in nearby Melrose has a lot of local residents rethinking their definition of freedom.

In a move shrouded in mystery, a local resident requested the use of the local veterans wars hall for a meeting on a Saturday night.

Little information was given to the manager of the hall other than it would be a local informational meeting open to the public, so the manager booked the event. It’s unclear exactly how the word got out but when several members learned the nature of the meeting, they found a clause in the VFW’s bylaws that allowed them to refuse the use of their hall as a meeting site and told the person asking for the rental the meeting would have to be held elsewhere.

The meeting subsequently got relocated to the local high school and a new poster, apparently only posted online, included the disclaimer: “This presentation is intended for educational purpose. Statement of facts and opinions expressed are those of the participants and ARE NOT the opinions or views of the Melrose Area School District.”

Billed as a “documentary about J6” (Jan. 6, 2021) and a “townhall with Westbury/James Family,” the event was a presentation about three men from Lindstrom in southeastern Minnesota who were charged in October 2021 in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol protesting the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

The three presenting their case of what they claim really happened at the Capitol are facing a 10-count indictment — five felonies, five misdemeanors — and are still awaiting trial. Their poster indicated “Donations welcome for help with legal expenses.”

Headlining the poster is the stark question “What is the truth about Jan. 6?” and promising those attending would find out through the presenters’ “talk about what they saw that day” and “talk about what they have gone through.”

Excuse me, but in my book those who were part of the mob terrorizing the Capitol, our lawmakers and Capitol police trying to protect our lawmakers don’t get to play the victim of what they went through.

Instead, let’s talk about the lawmakers and staff at the Capitol that had to go through being surrounded by hundreds of armed thugs bursting into the Capitol, defacing property and terrorizing those they encountered. Let’s talk about Capitol police who were attacked and injured. Let’s talk about those of us who viewed these six hours of insurrection on television, not knowing if our country was being overthrown as we watched.

Perhaps another indicator of their lack of faith in their own narrative was the complete secrecy in which this event was booked and held. There were no posters downtown; several of us looked. The poster was only available on the social media page of the person booking the event.

There was no mention of this event otherwise on social media and no mention of it on the school’s Facebook page or activities page. It was not posted on marquees in town or mentioned in any local newspaper. Word only got out from the VFW members who were concerned about the message being sent by the presence of the Lindstrom presenters. The school superintendent and school board members felt they legally had to allow the presentation as other political groups had met there and because the school is a public site supported by the taxpayers, some of whom might share the beliefs of the presenters.

This raises some very difficult questions. Do we have to allow any person to present his views, no matter how immoral or criminal we consider them? Would we, for example, have to allow a sex trafficker or the lkeaer of a polygamous cult group a venue in which to tell an audience why this behavior is acceptable in his eyes?

And so, as I suspect is the case in our country that guarantees civil rights to everyone, even those wanting to restrict civil rights for people with whom they disagree, our answer must be to stay very informed about what these people are doing, preferably from more reliable sources than the perpetrators of crimes who justify their behavior, and by not supporting their cause through swelling the attendance figures or through financial donations.

— This is the opinion of Times Writers Group member Lois Thielen, a dairy farmer who lives near Grey Eagle. Her column is published the first Sunday of the month.

This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: Lois Thielen: Rethinking the definition of freedom

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