Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis held an Enbridge Line 3 Town Hall meeting today in Bemidji; in spite of the statewide mask mandate for indoor gatherings, almost none of the 50 people in attendance wore masks, according to a report by Lakeland PBS. The event was held at the DoubleTree Hotel Conference Room.
Nancy Beaulieu, an enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, attended the event and tried unsuccessfully to get either the hotel staff or Bemidji police to enforce the mask mandate. Beaulieu also is the northern Minnesota organizer for MN350 and works to stop the Line 3 pipeline. (Full disclosure: The blog’s author is a colleague of Beaulieu’s, Facebook friends, and we have worked together on Stop Line 3 efforts.)
Beaulieu’s efforts to get the mask mandate enforced shows just how empty the mandate is, at least in Bemidji.
Lakeland PBS does not appear to have pressed Lewis on why he and others weren’t wearing masks.
Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Lucachick attended the meeting and was not wearing a mask, Beaulieu wrote in a Facebook post, adding he “has contracts with Leech Lake. He puts our reservation at further risk and this should be addressed.”
Beltrami County, population 47,188, has had 286 reported coronavirus cases so far, and one reported death. Even when the disease isn’t fatal, it can result in long-term health effects for those who had it.
Beaulieu posted a 24-minute video on the Town Hall and its fall out. At the beginning, she tells a hotel clerk that people at the meeting are violating the mask ordinance and “it’s not safe for your other hotel guests.”
Beaulieu next speaks to the hotel desk manager (who is wearing a mask). She doesn’t seem too concerned about the health risks repeatedly deflecting Beaulieu’s questions. It’s unfortunate that Lewis’ event put the manager in such a difficult situation.
The manager confirms to Beaulieu that the hotel has a mask mandate and it applies to everyone.
When Beaulieu informs her that most people in the conference room aren’t wearing masks, the manager responds that the only thing she could do is to call the Minnesota Department of Health. That doesn’t seem like it will resolve the problem before the Town Hall ends. Beaulieu presses her, telling her that as a manager she should have the authority to require people to wear masks.
The manager tells her: “I can’t interrupt him while he’s doing his thing.”
Beaulieu: “Well, he’s going to keep doing his thing and then it will be too late.”
The manager then turns the tables: “Are you in there participating in it?” she asks Beaulieu (as if that were somehow relevant as to whether the hotel should enforce the mask mandate.)
Beaulieau: “Yes, I was listening and it was concerning to me.
Manager: “Oh, well then you can say something.”
Beaulieu: I did, but he [Lewis] said he wasn’t going to take questions until he is done.
Manager: “If he isn’t going to listen to you, he isn’t going to listen to me either.”
Beaulieu said she would be reporting it to the Department of Health. The manager said she would be, too. Then the manager signs off with the old chestnut: “I very much appreciate your concern,” adding “we’re doing everything we can to mandate masks.”
Beaulieu tried one last time to get the manager to enforce the mask mandate. The manager said: “We absolutely cannot ask someone to leave because they don’t have a mask on.”
(Comment: DoubleTree should check with Costco. I have to wear a mask when I shop there. The Star Tribune just reported that St. Olaf College suspended 17 students for attending off-campus mask-free party.)
At some point, the hotel staff called the police.
The video shows Beaulieu returning to the Town Hall about the same time as the manager. An Indigenous water protector is heckling the crowd, using profanity. He’s upset about how the pipeline harms treaty rights, water and wild rice.
The manager accuses Beaulieu of trying to start fights. (The manager apparently assumed Beaulieu and the man were together, which wasn’t the case.) The manager asked Beaulieu to leave the building regardless. Beaulieu complies, walking outside with her until the police arrive.
The video moves to the DoubleTree parking lot, with Beaulieu, the Native man and two officers. One officer talks to the Native man. The other officer goes to get statements from people at the Town Hall meeting. When he returns, police give the man a disorderly conduct ticket.
Beaulieau asks the officer if he dispersed the Town Hall crowd because people weren’t wearing masks.
The officer said he couldn’t, because “I can’t ask them if they all have medical conditions.”
(This is an apparent reference an exemption in the statewide mask mandate. It exempts people who have medical or other health conditions from wearing masks. By this interpretation, it seems the mask mandate is unenforceable.)
Final Score: Native man upset about Line 3: One disorderly conduct ticket. Room full people violating the state mask ordinance: Zero tickets.
I talked to Beaulieu briefly by phone this evening. She was still talking to police, trying to understand why the mask mandate wasn’t enforced.
Thought experiment. If a bunch of Indians were playing Bingo in the DoubleTree Hotel Conference Room and none of them were wearing masks, what would happen if a businessman in a suit complained to hotel staff that his health was at risk because they were violating the state mask ordinance?
Update: The Bemidji Pioneer story on the Lewis event fails to mention the violation of the mask mandate. It says only: ” …. about 30 minutes into the town hall, the event was interrupted by a couple of protesters. One of the individuals said building the pipeline is a violation of Native American treaty rights.” A story accompanying the photo shows State Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, speaking at the event without a mask.