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School board stops meeting as speaker alleges rights violations

Keith Haskell, who later identified himself as an investigator with the National Action Task Force, chastised the board during the public forum portion of the meeting with allegations of taking away citizens’ rights. He noted the board’s rules for public forums and the district’s mask mandate.

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Keith Haskell, left, turns to address the public during the Brainerd School Board meeting Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, after the board called for a recess when Haskell would not stop speaking after his time was up. Haskell identified himself as an investigator with the National Action Task Force and chastised the board for taking away citizens' rights. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd School Board members took a brief recess during their meeting Monday, Dec. 13, when a public forum speaker refused to stop speaking when his time was up.

Keith Haskell, who later identified himself as an investigator with the National Action Task Force, chastised the board with allegations of taking away citizens’ rights. He noted the board’s rules for public forums and the district’s mask mandate.

“I assure you that not hearing what I have to say tonight and taking it very seriously will be extremely detrimental to your position on this board, to your entire board and you as an individual,” Haskell said before referencing the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, the Minnesota Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Nowhere in those documents does it say to protect the Brainerd School Board. It says to protect the people,” he said.

“... You’ve made up a bunch of your own little rules just like Timmy the Tyrant to sandbox bully about time restraints for people being limited to three minutes to talk to you, not answering any questions, don’t call out an individual and your wonderful mask policy,” Haskell said in apparent reference to Gov. Tim Walz. “They’re hypocritical.”

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The board’s policy for the open forum at each meeting is those addressing the board get three minutes to speak and are not permitted to bring forth allegations against a board member, student or district staff member. The board also does not typically engage in back-and-forth with those speaking during the public forum. School boards are not required under state statute to have a public forum during their meetings, but the Brainerd School Board does during all regular meetings.

The board put a mask mandate in place before the school year started, requiring face coverings in all district buildings. Board members approved the measure 4-1, with Tom Haglin opposed and Board Chair Ruth Nelson absent. In November, the board voted to no longer require face coverings at most after-school high school activities as a way to slowly dial back restrictions.

Masks don’t work, Haskell said, and five or ten sick kids in a district with more than 1,000 does not constitute a crisis.

As of Dec. 7, the district reported 78 staff members and 473 students contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the school year.

After Board Chair Ruth Nelson told Haskell his three minutes were up, he continued on, telling the board members if they run for office again, their next campaign slogan should be “masking for money.”

“You’re on notice tonight, officially. You are violating state statutes, U.S. codes. You’re violating policies and procedures that you set about bullying with some of what you’ve done,” Haskell said, continuing on beyond his three minutes as Nelson tried to get him to stop talking. “And here’s the best news. You have now pierced the veil of protection that you have as a school board member. You’re no longer protected by your insurance. You are each individually civilly and criminally responsible. And I have news for you so that you’re aware — I know my time’s up. I don’t care.”

Nelson hit her gavel on the table and called for a recess, as Haskell raised his voice and stood up and turned to address the audience.

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“See how they handle it? See how they’re teaching our children? Walk out. Don’t deal with it. Don’t listen to the students. Well guess what? We’re going to get a little louder,” Haskell said, then taking off his jacket to reveal a National Action Task Force T-shirt.

A few audience members clapped after the speech, and Haskell then left the boardroom as the board members came back from the short recess.

According to its website, the National Action Task Force is a decentralized private membership network of Americans who “have decided ‘enough is enough.’” The group works in concert with local and federal authorities when and where appropriate, the website stated. Investigators dig up pertinent data and evidence to expose crimes by public and private parties, while court watchers appear in court as neutral observers to witness proceedings.

Haskell livestreamed video of his public comment on a Facebook page he appears to run called FiveOh Seven. As of Tuesday afternoon, the video had over 75 comments and was shared more than 100 times.

At least nine states have tried to ban school mask mandates this year, but many of the bans have been blocked or suspended by higher officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to advise wearing masks when in close contact with those who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and when in public in areas of high or substantial transmission. The CDC considers Crow Wing County an area of high transmission.

Board members talked about masking guidelines later in the meeting Monday and agreed to revisit the criteria for requiring masks after winter break.

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More about Haskell

After Haskell publicly announced his position as state coordinator for the National Action Task Force in Minnesota in July, Sally Jo Sorensen, owner and editor of the blog Bluestem Prairie, wrote a blog post connecting Haskell to a 2017 crime of impersonating a peace officer.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Steele County, Keith Douglas Haskell, pastor of Bridges of Hope Community Church, was convicted of the charge after following and confronting a teenage shoplifter Sept. 4, 2017. In the complaint, Haskell admits to writing down the license plate number and following the vehicle of two teenagers from Cash Wise in Owatonna after seeing one of them shoplift about $10 worth of cereal and fruit snacks. After noticing Haskell following them, the teens pulled into an apartment building parking lot so as not to let him know where they lived.

A witness in one of the apartment units stated in the complaint he heard Haskell identify himself to the teens as a police officer, as did the teens. Haskell admitted to pepper spraying one of the teens after the teen allegedly swung at him.

Charges of fifth-degree assault and the use of tear gas to immobilize were dropped, though Haskell was convicted of the gross misdemeanor of impersonating a peace officer.

Sorensen wrote in her blog post the inactive business filing for Haskell’s auto detailing business listed the same addresses as those on the court documents for the impersonating a peace officer case. The detailing business is listed on Haskell’s personal Facebook page, along with pictures of a National Action Task Force badge.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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