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An FBI raid, 'dark money' and a drag show protest top the Timberjay's coverage

A scene from the 2022 drag show at Grand Ely Lodge.
The packed house at last year’s drag show at the Grand Ely Lodge enjoyed a highly entertaining event.

Marshall Helmberger publishes the Timberjay newspaper serving Ely, Tower and Cook and much of northeastern Minn. Each week on KAXE’s Friday morning show he talks about the big stories of the week.

TOWER — The Timberjay had a big week for news.

Orr resident Josh Armbrust said he was visited by 15-20 FBI agents on April 12 with an electronics sniffing dog from the Hibbing Police. The FBI executed a search warrant for five to six hours and separated Armbrust from his 73-year-old mother, according to Armbrust’s account. Armbrust currently works remotely for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“It's not a surprise that the FBI is being relatively tight lipped at this point."
Marshall Helmberger

In a Friday, April 21, conversation on the KAXE Morning Show, Timberjay editor Marshall Helmberger reported the FBI told Armbrust the agency was investigating theft of about $5,000 worth of cryptocurrency.

During the course of the raid, the FBI confiscated thumb drives and hard drives, according to Armbrust.

“It's not a surprise that the FBI is being relatively tight-lipped at this point,” Helmberger said. “We're still watching to see what develops here and we are going to try to track down what must have been a probable cause statement that they would have given to a judge in order to get a search warrant."

‘Dark money’ group targeting state senator

The Timberjay also reported this week on a group called Minnesotans for Freedom, who Helmberger described as a “dark money group.”

“They’re not registered as a lobbying organization and nobody knows where the money is coming from,” he said.

Grant Hauschild headshot - 2023.jpg
Minnesota Senate
State Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown.

According to Helmberger, Minnesotans for Freedom is trying to influence the Minnesota Legislature and derail a proposal for a prescription drug affordability board. When medications like insulin become cost prohibitive, the board could dictate price caps.

“Obviously it has a potential of eroding profits for the pharmaceutical industry if they can’t charge this much, so they are launching a pressure campaign,” Helmberger said.

They have taken out full page ads in area newspapers, including The Timberjay. Though the Minnesota DFL Party doesn’t have actual proof, according to Helmberger, party officials believe money for the campaign is coming from the pharmaceutical industry. Targeted in this campaign is freshman state Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown.

Big Pharma is not something Hauschild seems to be worried about.

“We’ve made some people mad, but we’re making the right people mad,” Hauschild told The Timberjay.

Ely drag show stirs protest

Also in Northeastern Minnesota news, a popular drag show is back, taking place Saturday, April 22, at the Grand Ely Lodge, with a group expected to protest. The drag show was hosted by Flip Phone Productions and one of the shows was sold out at the time of Helmberger’s Friday conversation.

The all-ages performance featured Disney-themed characters. Helmberger said he thought this was a show of support for Disney in Florida, with Gov. Ron DeSantis trying to limit the power of the company he’s repeatedly called “woke.”

Ely Timberjay Editor Catie Clark reported the pastor of Berean Baptist Church encouraged the protest.

In a letter published in the Ely Echo, Pastor Bob Dalberg wrote, “Drag is an assault upon the glory of womanhood by mocking them with an oversexualized, perverted performance by men."

He further described drag performers in the letter to the editor as “perverted men clowning as women in order to sexually groom children.”

Bird abundance

Sue Keeler via KAXE-KBXE Season Watch Page
A dark-eyed junco.

At the end of the conversation, Helmberger couldn't help but mention the abundance of birds during the whiplash winter of 2023.

“I tell people that April is the cruelest month."

The brief warm weather has led to hundreds of migrant birds at Helmberger’s feeder, including Rusty Blackbirds, Pine Siskins, goldfinches, juncos and more.

Students and listeners from across the state send in their nature reports. Depending on the season, reports may cover wildflowers, wildlife, weather and other wonders.

“I don’t even want to leave my couch in the morning to come to work because there’s just so much entertainment right out the window,” Helmberger said.

Listen to the Border News Roundup at 7:20 a.m. on KAXE’s Friday Morning Show.

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.