Port: NDGOP district chooses man who threatened Grand Forks City Council as new chairman

The NDGOP's District 2 chapter has chosen Jerol Gohrick, the founder of an extremist group called the Sons of Liberty, who threatened Grand Forks officials last year, as its new chairman.

Jerol Gohrick
Jerol Gohrick, one of the founders of the North Dakota Sons of Liberty, made threats to members of the Grand Forks City Council during a public meeting on June 6, 2022.
Screenshot from city meeting live stream

MINOT, N.D. — For a particular faction of Republicans, crude, boorish, and even downright violent behavior has become something not to condemn but to champion — as long as the crude, boorish, and even violent behavior is directed at the right people.

This is to say, anyone out of step with whatever idée fixe the populist right is obsessing about in a given moment.

The Jan. 6 rioters have become something akin to folk heroes. Donald Trump — venal, fatuous, and mendacious as he is — is their mascot. And it's not just a national attitude. It permeates local politics, too.

Legislative District 2, ensconced in the northwest corner of the state, north of Williston and encompassing Tioga, is perhaps the epicenter of the civil war in the North Dakota Republican Party.

The local NDGOP chapter there has been taken over by an extremist group calling itself the Sons of Liberty, which has been criticized by the editor of the Tioga Tribune for their use of violent rhetoric . When failed U.S. Senate candidate Rick Becker campaigned there last year and called for mass arrests in Washington, D.C., he wasn't intemperate enough for his audience.


He faced jeers from the crowd, who demanded executions instead.

The District 2 NDGOP, which, despite mainly covering rural areas, sent the largest contingent of delegates to the party's state convention last year, just held its meeting reorganizing for the coming election cycle. They chose, as their new chairman, Jerol Gohrick, one of the founders of the Sons of Liberty , who made regional headlines when he threatened the Grand Forks City Council with violence amid the debate over the now-defunct Fufeng corn milling plant .

“You smug asses stand up there and you do this to the citizens here. How rude,” he said, apparently without any irony, given his own rudeness, at a June 6 meeting of the city government.

When Mayor Brandon Bochenski asked Gohrick to address the city council members, and not the audience, he threatened physical retribution.

“You want to laugh at me again?” Gohrick asked. “Laugh at me one more time, I’ll come across this table at you. You shut the hell up. I have got the floor, don’t I? Do I have the floor?”

By dint of his election the chairmanship in District 2, this man now sits on the NDGOP's state committee, which governs the party.

That Gohrick will use that position to escalate the war on normalcy in the NDGOP seems obvious given the jeremiad delivered by his predecessor, outgoing chairman Justin LaBar, who accused current NDGOP Chairman Perrie Schafer of being "divisive."

Again, this was a point made without any apparent irony.


Why should you care about the antics of some local Republican functionaries in western North Dakota?

Because their influence is growing. Their views may be out of step with the majority of North Dakota voters, as a contrast between the voting at the NDGOP's state convention last year and the general election outcome starkly shows , but they're having an impact on the Republican party's candidate selection process.

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Only a tiny fraction of North Dakotans participate in that process.

Republicans win elections in North Dakota. In many parts of the state, the Democrats aren't even trying . And, unfortunately, the people picking the Republican candidates are increasingly populist fans of authoritarianism like messieurs Gohrick and LaBar.

And authoritarianism is what they're after. They call it "liberty," but they want to use the incredible power of government to impose their views, and their values, on everyone else.

Their motto could be "liberty for me but not for thee."

Book bans and other nonsensical proposals are what's dominating the current legislative session in Bismarck , and those proposals are either coming from the ideological brethren of people like Gohrick and LaBar, or elected officials who are scared of being cast out of elected office by them.

Perhaps, while reading that, these populists will feel complimented. Here I am, attesting to their political strength and influence. But it's the truth. However ugly their motivations, however out of step their agenda is with fundamentally American notions about liberty, their growing power in North Dakota's GOP politics is genuine and shouldn't be ignored.

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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