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The Riots: Officials should stop spreading disinformation

At 5:40pm on Sunday evening, a tanker truck drove into protesters on the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis. The event was covered live on local news networks. I saw it live myself and was horrified as people scattered, some possibly hurt. The driver was pulled from his cab on live TV and it was only the intervention of protesters and police that kept him from some summary justice.

Almost immediately, Rep. Ryan Winkler, the DFL House Majority Leader, tweeted the following:

Image

Yesterday, KSTP reported:

Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said Monday that it doesn’t appear that [Bogdan] Vechirko intentionally drove on the highway and tried to cause harm.

From a press conference, Tom Hauser reported:

It is true that Rep. Winkler deleted his tweet, explaining:

But the question is why tweet it in the first place? Anybody who saw the scene on TV knew that it was “chaotic”, hardly surprising when a semi truck drives into a crowd. Why not wait until there is more actual information before taking to social media?

The violence in the Twin Cities in the last week has caught the attention of the world. It can hardly have escaped Rep. Winkler’s notice that this is a highly combustible situation – literally, in all too many cases. What we need from our elected officials is a calming influence. Instead, Rep. Winkler gave us the worst kind of hysterical rumor mongering, throwing a lighted match into a tinderbox without even enough consideration or common sense to check whether the rumors he was peddling were true.

The protests on Sunday were mostly peaceful and did good service to the memory of George Floyd. But they might not have been. There was a very real danger that the incident on the I-35W bridge could have ignited another night of violence in the Twin Cities. Making baseless claims about the driver made that vastly more likely. For that, Rep. Winkler should resign.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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