What happened: On Monday, 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson crossed paths with 41-year-old male Shannon Brandt at a North Dakota street festival. After an altercation, Ellingson fled, called his mother for help, and sought refuge in a nearby ally, only to be found and murdered by Brant with his car. Brandt turned himself in and claimed he targeted the “Republican-extremist” boy after a political disagreement.
Considering the essentially nonexistent mainstream media attention on this incident and that Brandt was later released from jail after receiving an unusually low bail for voluntary manslaughter, the brazen act of political murder could be mistakenly understood as unimportant.
How did America get here?
Rhetoric from the top: Before the midterms, the Biden administration embraced new rhetoric labeling “MAGA Republicans” as “extreme,” “fascist,” and a threat to democracy. The rhetoric intensified in President Joe Biden’s prime-time speech earlier this month and then again, two days after the murder, when Biden called on Americans to “fight back against extreme MAGA Republicans.”
Rhetoric from the media: Most legacy outlets amplify the same ideas. Phrases comparing Republicans to extremists are heard daily on these platforms. The assassination attempt on a conservative Supreme Court justice (caused by similar rhetoric) was also buried by the press, perhaps because the media and the culprits are ideologically and rhetorically aligned, putting responsibility on the platforms.
Big picture: The political murder of 18-year-old Ellingson captured the state of America. Division is spilling over, political violence is growing, and the most powerful institutions—government and the media—fuel it and conceal their part.