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OPINION

Grand Forks, North Dakota: Profound Lessons for America’s National Security

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Lori Hinz.

A great under-reported story of our present troubled time in America is how a small group of patriotic citizens in North Dakota stood up to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and utterly defeated them. First, the backstory:

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The struggle between good and evil has been raging since the beginning of human history. In varying degrees, that struggle is also manifest in the relations between governments and the people—often understood as a struggle between elites preoccupied with money and power, and people grounded in more timeless relational priorities. 

Because the U.S. is free and open, enemies enter and operate within our borders often with little interference. Chief among those enemies today is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that draws from the military strategy playbook from Sun Tzu of the 5th century B.C., who advocates overcoming and defeating the enemy without firing a shot. The CCP has been stealing American technology secrets for decades, and about 10 years ago, CCP-backed companies and proxies began purchasing American companies and more recently vast amounts of U.S. farmland. In addition, the CCP has identified U.S. military bases and missile sites where land or businesses can be purchased in proximity for the purpose of surveillance or sabotage.                                     

On the outskirts of Grand Forks, North Dakota, there is a prize target U.S. Air Force Base. So, the CCP wanted to acquire property there for signal intelligence gathering and other military surveillance. 

The Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB) plays a central role in America’s defense, home to the 319th Air Base Wing—the only Air Mobility Command to have remotely piloted aircraft systems, such as RQ-4 Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that contain the military’s most sophisticated drone technology. GFAFB was also chosen to become the home of the Space Development Agency’s Networking Center (which will become part of the new U.S. Space Force later this year). That agency’s primary mission is to support a new low-Earth satellite orbit mission, which will serve as the “backbone for all U.S. military communications across the globe.” 

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Gaining access to this location would enable the Chinese to intercept and collect digital uplinks and downlinks inherent with drones and unmanned air systems and their interaction with space-based assets. And being able to tap into the low-earth satellite system that provides the backbone for all U.S. military global communications would be the coup-de-grace, assuring Chinese victory over the United States.

What is disturbing is that the CCP almost pulled this off through a company known as Fufeng USA, a subsidiary of the Fufeng Group. Fufeng’s CEO, Li Xuechun, was a leader in the People’s Congress, which meant he was CCP member and would be required to direct his company and its subsidiaries to carry out orders from Xi Jinping or his Beijing subordinates.  

Fufeng USA was the perfect Trojan horse. Being a food biproducts company, it would appear both innocuous and a good source of jobs. But there were two signs that this was a CCP political-military operation rather than business operation: First, Fufeng USA overpaid by three to four times for the land to construct the plant—$29, 262 per acre vs. the going comparable sales price range of $5,500-9,500 per acre. Second, this was a dubious location for a corn milling plant, being considerably north of traditional corn-growing country. 

Distrust from Grand Forks residents toward city government officials—notably Mayor Bochenski and City Administrator Feland—stemmed from their meeting with Fufeng USA in October 2020 to discuss site selection, but then chose to keep that secret from citizens of Grand Forks. The governing city elite referred to it by a decoy code name—Project Peony—for over a year before informing the public. 

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The locals were upset from being blindsided by the city’s fait accompli on the largest plant ever to be built in Grand Forks, undertaken by a Chinese company without any public input. Word of mouth passed quickly in Grand Forks, and residents began showing up at City Council meetings starting on February 6, 2022, criticizing city officials for being dishonest about when they learned of the project’s ownership and country of origin. And that began a steady stream of people—self-identifying as the “Concerned Citizens of Fufeng Group”—showing up at the City Council meetings every other Monday for months. 

When the City Council couldn’t reconcile the Fufeng corn mill project with the national security risks implicit with close proximity to Air Force Base, more people began showing up. The display of patriotism and love for their community was overwhelming. The passionate—sometimes rough and sometimes tearful—testimony about the dangers of communism from diverse Concerned Citizens provided a portrait of sharp contrast with stone-faced City Council members more focused on deflecting and defending the Fufeng project than to the life and death concerns of the locals. Simultaneously, a vicious social media campaign was unleashed against Concerned Citizens. 

Five of the seven City Council members favored the Fufeng project, with City Council President, Dana Sande, the most outspoken leading advocate. Sande was clearly a man whom CCP officials had to have known, having made many trips to China over the span of 10 years, under the auspices of University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation and their recruiting contractor, Topflight, enlisted to recruit Chinese candidates for their pilot training program. The CCP primarily advances their agenda in the United States by “elite capture,” wherein Americans get compromised—most often through money—to help advance the CCP agenda. Elite capture does not just target high levels of the U.S. government, like the Joe Biden family. It may be more used on the local level, like in Grand Forks. 

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Because the City Council was stubbornly unresponsive, Concerned Citizens decided to initiate a petition in accord with city bylaws, to bring the Fufeng project to a vote of the people. Within days of submitting 47 percent more signatures than required, city officials set about disqualifying petition signatures, and enlisting the police to call and pressure the weak to recant. The FBI even showed up at the door of the founder of Concerned Citizens. The city attorney found legal reason to deny the petition on arcane legal grounds. 

The City Council showed little inclination to apply for a national security review by Washington’s Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) until midsummer when pressure mounted from Concerned Citizens. That review was completed in December 2022, concluding CFIUS did not have jurisdiction over Fufeng’s land purchase. 

Having fought so hard and lost so many battles against various elites for more than a year, Concerned Citizens entered 2023 demoralized with the CFIUS abstention still sinking in as heavy equipment could be seen moving dirt around the Fufeng property. One of the faithful among the Concerned Citizens likened their position to that of Paul who wrote to the Philippians from jail in Rome that what looks like defeat turns out to be victory.

And so… a surprise decision came to pass from an unexpected source, an Air Force Major from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada whose training in cryptology and intelligence prompted him to study the Grand Forks-Fufeng controversy.  He concluded it would be more effective to write a memo from the people’s perspective as a citizen rather than as an Air Force officer. His finding was direct: “Allowing the Fufeng project to stand would present a costly national security risk causing grave damage to the United States strategic advantage.” The   memo went viral within the Air Force and came back to Grand Forks to end the Fufeng project and crush the CCP.

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There is a timeless lesson from Grand Forks, North Dakota, applicable everywhere, and one that can save America: When average people persevere for what is right and true, they can defeat corrupt elites, both foreign and domestic. 

______________

Scott Powell is a member of the Committee on the Present Danger China and senior fellow at Discovery Institute. His recent book, Rediscovering America, was #1 new release in history for eight straight weeks at Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1637581599)Reach him at scottp@discovery.org

Lori Hinz is Host of “No Apologies” on BEK TV in North Dakota and the inspiration behind the series “China Conquest: Inside Job.”

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