Port: Cayler Ellingson deserves better than to be an avatar for cheap political talking points

In a better sort of world, where politicians and activists and social media rubberneckers were capable of a modicum of empathy and rational thought, we might have waited for facts that might support the conclusion before turning Ellingson's death into a political talking point. Sadly, we don't live in that world.

Cayler Ellingson
18-year-old Cayler Ellingson
Submitted Photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Law enforcement officials investigating the death of 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson are saying they've found no evidence of political motivation in the killing.

What worries me now is that law enforcement will be harassed by the political demagogues — people emotionally invested in the idea that this death has its roots in President Joe Biden's divisive rhetoric — for failing to find evidence of something they've already decided exists.

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Shannon Brandt appeared in court via videoconferencing from the Stutsman County Jail on Sept. 19, 2022.

That's how it goes these days.

You either buy into the conspiracy theory, or you're accused of being a part of the cover up. I don't envy the task investigators have of discerning the truth around Ellingson's death with a howling mob of shouty, Trump-movement ninnies poised to pounce.

And yes, the investigation hasn't been concluded yet. There may still be some evidence to emerge that changes how we see Ellingson's death after an altercation with 41-year-old Shannon Brandt, but nothing has been uncovered to date to prove that Brandt was some sort of assassin inspired by Biden.


Yet that's precisely what the demagogues are claiming, based on nothing more than Brandt's self-serving explanations.

"Words can have violent consequences," Sen. Rand Paul said recently , referring to Ellingson's death. "President Biden needs to realize that his vilification of his opponents is inflaming some of his supporters to violence. As a victim of political violence, both sides need to recognize the consequences of heated rhetoric."

The greatest cost of this scandal to our state isn't measured in dollars so much as lost trust in our public servants.
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Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If Sen. Paul wants to lay the tragic death of a young man in rural North Dakota at the feet of the president, carrying on as if Brand were some terrorist radicalized by Biden's words, he ought to be able to point to something more than Brandt's claim of a political dispute as an excuse for running over and killing Ellingson.

He can't do that, because the only evidence we have for this incident being politically related is Brandt's words, which at this point seem more after-the-fact justification than before-the-fact motivation.

In a better sort of world, where politicians and activists and social media rubberneckers were capable of a modicum of empathy and rational thought, we might have waited for facts that might support the conclusion before turning Ellingson's death into a political talking point.

Sadly, we don't live in that world.

The irony in this is that many of the people leaping to the conclusion that Biden somehow has blood on his hands are the same people who refuse to acknowledge President Trump's role in inspiring the rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Biden is absolutely guilty of demonizing the political opposition, and that's not great, but Trump stood in front of an angry mob in Washington, D.C., incited the crowd with vicious rhetoric, some of it targeting his own vice president, and then sicced that mob on Congress as they were voting to certify the 2020 election.


Yet, somehow, Trump is as pure as the driven snow, and a viable candidate for the White House in 2024, while Biden is an accessory-before-the-fact to murder.


It's all so, so stupid.

Sen. Paul is right about one thing. Everyone needs to turn down the temperature of their political rhetoric.

If only people like Paul and others would follow their own advice.

Also, perhaps we should listen to some of the people in tiny McHenry, North Dakota, and the region around it, who are grappling with the loss of one member of their community and serious criminal charges against another.

"I think that's what bothers me the most. It has become something political, which it shouldn't be," Justin McDonald, a friend to the Ellingson family, told our Matt Henson. "This is nothing more than another person taking another person's life."

It's time for the ghouls out to score cheap political points to butt out.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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