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Lawsuit filed after Center of the American Experiment event canceled in Rochester

The group filed for a temporary restraining order in an effort to hold the event as planned, but an Olmsted County District Court judge denied the request Tuesday morning, March 15, 2022.

Groups of people stand in a parking lot outside of the Rochester Golf & Country Club event entrance.
Members of the public waited outside of the Rochester Golf & Country Club Tuesday, March 15, 2022, for Center of the American Experiment sponsored panel discussion Rochester Golf & Country Club.
Emily Cutts / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — An event scheduled to discuss public safety in Rochester with local law enforcement leaders and a conservative think tank headquartered in Golden Valley was canceled Tuesday morning after event organizers say the space they rented terminated the contract.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been canceled,” Center of the American Experiment communications director Bill Walsh said standing outside of the Rochester Golf & Country Club’s event entrance in the minutes before their scheduled event was supposed to begin.”The venue, the Rochester Country Club, canceled the event at the last minute, I think based on some calls they got from left-wing activists that want to shut down the message today, want to shut down the speech we’re trying to get done here.”

Standing next to Walsh, former state representative and Rochester resident Fran Bradley said the event was never to say that crime was rampant in Rochester but rather to highlight the partnerships the police department and sheriff's office have created.

Walsh said the group would reschedule the event and return to Rochester. He said about 50 people were registered to attend. A court filing on Monday, March 14, states there were 44 paid and registered attendees. A Post Bulletin reporter on scene counted around three dozen people milling about the parking lot, waiting for the event to begin. Those included Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin and Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson.

“The issue of crime, punishment, what’s going on here in Rochester and Olmsted County, we wanted to feature that. We wanted to focus on that," Walsh said. "There is some good cooperation going on. That’s what people would have heard today if we had been able to go through with the event.”

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In the days before the event, some community members raised concerns about the organization hosting the event.

A Change.org petition cited the group's past events and the repercussions of those events as a reason for concern. Past events included topics such as "Exploring Education Options in Rochester" “Raise our Standards Tour."

"Following the most recent June event, Rochester Public School Board was met with literal chaos directly resulting from the rhetoric and action encouraged among participants of the CAE luncheon at RGCC," the petition states. "Attendees of this meeting were implored to take action at the local level and to run for public school board positions, while CAE continues to publicly encourage and celebrates disenrollment and defunding of public schools."

Receiving a call just after 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Walsh said there would be no action on the group’s request for a temporary restraining order Tuesday morning so the event could continue on as planned.

A statement about the cancellation was issued by the Rochester Golf & Country Club Tuesday afternoon.

"On Sunday, March 13, 2022, Rochester Golf and Country Club notified The Center of the American Experiment of the upcoming event cancellation," the statement read. "RGCC chose not to host the CAE’s event because it generated controversy among Club members. It was determined that it was not in the best interest of the Club membership to hold the event. RGCC does not endorse any political position."

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin said in a statement he was disappointed that he was not given the opportunity to "provide local law enforcement perspective regarding public safety issues affecting our community and our response to those issues."

"Organizations frequently invite me to participate in conversations about public safety," Franklin said in the statement. "I see these conversations as valuable opportunities to engage with community members and showcase the work RPD is doing within the community. I was looking forward to today’s discussion on how together we could continue to build community trust and safe neighborhoods."

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An affidavit in support of a temporary restraining order/injunction filed by the Center of the American Experiment argued that if the event was not allowed to go forward as planned, the organization would "suffer irreparable and severe damage" to its reputation and "therefore incalculable future loss of fundraising opportunities" that the nonprofit organization relies on.

The motion was denied by Judge Lisa Hayne just after 8:35 a.m. Tuesday. A judicial comment was included in the determination that read "Plaintiffs do not have the right to a hearing without proper filing of suit and motions."

Editor's note: A March 18 version of this story incorrectly referred to a subject’s involvement with the discredited “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. A review of a 2017 radio interview did not support an assertion that the subject was attached to that theory.

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Emily Cutts is the Post Bulletin's public safety reporter. She joined the Post Bulletin in July 2018 after stints in Vermont and Western Massachusetts.
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