Trump falsely claims national media ignored death of North Dakota teen because he was Republican
The former president said Cayler Ellingson was targeted and killed in cold blood for being a proud Republican. The former president didn’t mention Brandt by name, but he called the motorist a maniac
WILMINGTON, N.C. — Former President Donald Trump claimed national media outlets ignored a fatal crash in North Dakota where the driver allegedly said he hit an 18-year-old because the teenager was Republican.
Trump weighed in Friday night, Sept. 23, during a rally in Wilmington on the Sept. 18 death of Cayler Ellingson. Shannon Joseph Brandt, 41, of Glenfield, North Dakota, hit the Grace City, North Dakota, teenager with a vehicle after a street dance in McHenry, North Dakota, according to state troopers.
Brandt told the North Dakota Highway Patrol he hit Ellingson that Sunday morning because of a political argument, a criminal complaint said. Specifics of the argument were not disclosed in the complaint, but Brandt reportedly told dispatchers Ellingson was part of a Republican extremist group. Brandt claimed Ellingson called several people to come after him, the complaint said.
Ellingson's funeral was Monday. A GoFundMe account has raised about $52,000 for expenses.
Brandt’s claims have sparked criticism from well-known Republicans across the country, including questions about why the defense was charged with criminal vehicular homicide instead of murder. Both are felony charges, but murder carries a life sentence. Criminal vehicular homicide is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Some also have asked why Brandt was released on a $50,000 bond.
The Foster County State's Attorney's Office declined to comment to The Forum on why it charged Brandt with criminal vehicular homicide. A message left for Judge James Hovey, who set Brandt's bond, was not returned.
Trump pointed at journalists covering his rally in North Carolina, saying they should be ashamed of themselves for not publishing stories about the crash.
“Not one mainstream media network has even mentioned this horrible crime,” Trump said. “Think of it the other way. Supposing a MAGA person ran down somebody on the other side. It would be the biggest story you’d ever seen. It’s a disgrace.”
The Forum first reported the crash on Sept. 18, and followed up last week with details about the incident after the Foster County State’s Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges on Sept. 19. InForum first published details of the complaint on Sept. 19.
Several national media outlets, including Fox News, CNN, the Associated Press and Washington Post, picked up on the story after InForum.
The Forum also was the first to report that state troopers were skeptical the crash was politically motivated. No evidence supports Brandt’s claims about Ellingson, including that the teenager called people to go after the motorist.
Brandt made the statements when he was allegedly drunk, and it’s not uncommon for people to say things to cover up a crime, Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind said. Highway Patrol said it continues to investigate the case.
Trump said Ellingson was targeted and killed in cold blood for being a proud Republican. The former president didn’t mention Brandt by name, but he called the motorist a maniac and a “radical left, stupid person.”
The Forum has been unable to contact Brandt. His attorney, Mark Friese, declined to comment.
“At my direction, Shannon will not be answering questions or making any statement except in court proceedings,” Friese said in a statement to The Forum. “Although I would like to answer your questions, it would be inappropriate for me to make any comment now — a family and community are mourning. It is also premature to comment because I have not had an opportunity to fully investigate the background.”