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Hundreds rally against vaccine mandates; some enter North Dakota Capitol hoping to be heard

Organizers said they ordered 3,000 T-shirts to give out to attendees, but at most 400 people congregated on the Capitol's front lawn.

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Organizers of an anti-vaccine mandate rally encouraged protesters to enter the North Dakota Capitol on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, the first day of the Legislature's special session. Many gathered inside in hopes of speaking with Republican leadership. Adam Willis / The Forum

BISMARCK — About 400 people gathered on the North Dakota Capitol building’s front lawn on Monday, Nov. 8, to protest vaccine mandates and urge legislators to support bills that restrict such mandates.

The "We The People" rally drew demonstrators who believe employers and the government instituting COVID-19 vaccine requirements is an infringement on a person's rights. Organizers planned for thousands of attendees at the noon rally and said they ordered 3,000 T-shirts to pass out, but at most 400 people congregated outside the Capitol.

"COVID can be very deadly for some, we all know that, but giving away our basic freedoms to power hungry corporations and totalitarian governments can be deadly also," said Jared Hendrix, Republican District 38 chair and one of the rally's organizers.

"You've got these masks and you've got these vaccinations. People are losing their jobs," said Elmer Knodel, a rally-goer from Drayton, North Dakota. "They're taking our freedom of speech away."

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Protesters lined up to enter the North Dakota Capitol on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, the first day of the Legislature's special session, following an anti-vaccine mandate rally attended by hundreds. Adam Willis / The Forum

On Monday, North Dakota lawmakers met for their first day of a special session and pushed eight bills and one concurrent resolution further along the legislative process, including two that curb the power of vaccine mandates in the state.

At a press conference Monday afternoon after the rally, House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said the vaccine mandate bills were advanced in the legislative process even before the rally began.

Senate Majority Leader Richard Wardner said passing an anti-vaccine mandate bill is a priority.

"We don't have a mandate for vaccination, and we don't think there should be," Wardner said. "We're going to take care of the people of this state."

At about 2:30 p.m. Monday, more than 100 rally-goers entered the Capitol to attend the press conference held by the Legislative leaders. However, the leaders moved the press conference at the last minute and rally-goers were knocking on doors throughout the Capitol trying to find it.

Rally-goers entered the building hoping to talk to legislative leaders and urge them to vote in favor of the bills restricting vaccine mandates.

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The House furthered along a vaccine mandate bill drafted by Rep. Bob Paulson, R-Minot, on Monday, which says it's unlawful for someone to discriminate based on vaccination status. The bill doesn't prevent businesses from incentivizing or recommending employees to get vaccinated, but it restricts them from "coercing employees," Paulson said on Monday.

Rep. Robin Weiz, R-Hurdsfield, proposed a bill on Monday that says the government and businesses cannot mandate vaccines. It also states that if a person has coronavirus antibodies, then that is equivalent to being vaccinated. The bill was approved and will receive further consideration.

The "We The People Rally" was organized by four Minot-area GOP district chairs and Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot. Hoverson on Monday told The Forum he tested positive for COVID-19 and was taking ivermectin pills as a treatment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not authorized the drug to treat COVID-19 and warns it can be dangerous in high doses.

Attendees regularly chanted "Let's Go Brandon" — a phrase used as an alternative to profanity aimed at insulting President Joe Biden. Many wore garments supporting former President Donald Trump and donned American flags.

"Sometimes these problems seem so big when our voices seem so small," Hendrix told the crowd. "Are we not loud enough to make a difference?"

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

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