Police called to county GOP convention after right-wing activists raise ruckus

Action 4 Liberty candidate involved in incident reported to police

By: - March 21, 2022 6:00 am

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Police were called to the recent Morrison County Republican convention in Little Falls — twice — to deal with an “unruly crowd” after right-wing activists took over the convention floor. 

The convention had already been postponed due to claims of irregularities with the results of the February precinct caucus, with allegations leveled at the county chair, who is also a staffer for GOP gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. Paul Gazelka. 

Action 4 Liberty is a right-wing group on the fringes of the GOP that has been training people to attend caucuses and run for office and get rid of so-called RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only. At least eight people affiliated with the group are running for office statewide, many of them challenging Republicans and alleging fraud and cheating in the caucuses and now, convention. They have mocked elected Republican lawmakers as ‘weak and feckless’ and some have been kicked out of Action 4 Liberty events.

The incident threatens to undermine the Republican case that the party is focused on vote integrity and competent election administration, after nearly two years in which the GOP has wrongly claimed the 2020 election was fraudulent.

By all accounts, the March 12 convention was heated. Activists from Action 4 Liberty pressed the convention chair, arguing over rules, motions and points of order. 

Police were called to the convention twice, staying for hours — along with a sheriff’s deputy — after a report of an unruly crowd. 

Police were called to the school by Morrison County Republican Party Chair Mandy Heffron, 29, who has been under fire since the Feb. 1 precinct caucuses, during which voting discrepancies prompted some state Republican candidates to call for audits and postponement of conventions.

Last month, gubernatorial candidate Neil Shah, a favorite of Action 4 Liberty, accused Heffron of deliberately deleting delegates and adding people to the delegate list who didn’t attend the caucus. 

Because of all the controversy over the caucus, state Republican Party officials took over a review of the election of delegates. 

Apparently no arrests were made the day of the convention, but the following day, Jennifer Wesenberg, 38, of Little Falls called to report she was assaulted by Loren Heffron, 61, who is the father of Mandy Heffron, the Gazelka staffer and party chair. Her husband is Nathanial Wesenberg, 39, a Little Falls man who is running for the Senate in District 10 and is affiliated with Action 4 Liberty. 

According to a police report, Jennifer Wesenberg said she was using her phone to take video of her husband talking to Loren Heffron when Loren Heffron “became upset and grabbed at it.” Police advised the Wesenbergs to obtain a harassment restraining order “if they felt they needed to.”

Loren Heffron told police Nathanial Wesenberg had exchanged words over them “spreading rumors” about Loren Heffron’s daughter, Mandy. He told police he just put his hand up in front of the phone because he believed they were looking for a fight and he didn’t want to be recorded.

According to a post on Action 4 Liberty’s website by President Jake Duesenberg, one of the delegates who was improperly added to the roster after the Feb. 1 caucus was the wife of state Rep. Ron Kresha. Kresha did not return a call seeking comment. The group says Nathanial Wesenberg — the candidate listed on the police report — demanded delegate lists but didn’t get them for nearly a month. 

Action 4 Liberty, which opposes Gazelka’s campaign for governor because they view him as too moderate, claimed on its website that rather than fix the errors before the convention, Gazelka-aligned county GOP officials tried to fix the convention in their favor. Conservative activists, activated by the Wesenberg for Senate campaign, showed up at the convention in force. 

Chaos ensued. 

Action 4 Liberty supporters say convention chair Justin Krych wouldn’t allow a new chair to be elected, refused to acknowledge motions and points of order, and at one point threatened to shut down the convention and remove delegates.

Wesenberg’s supporters, as well as those of gubernatorial candidate Neil Shah , won 17 of the 22 delegate positions, while Gazelka delegates won five, according to Action 4 Liberty. 

Gazelka has declined to comment on the precinct caucus fracas, saying he’ll let the state party sort it out. In a March 1 email, he called for unity. “Those that call the state party, volunteers, and virtually every GOP legislator the swamp, it’s time to band together and say enough!” he wrote.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer made a similar plea for unity during the Wright County Republican convention in Buffalo on Feb. 19, urging people to support incumbent Rep. Joe McDonald, who was being challenged by Action 4 Liberty activist Joe Crawford. 

Emmer said Republicans narrowly lost the governor’s race in 2010 — not due to “shenanigans in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” but because “Republicans were splintered.” 

“That was the real reason, because people started fighting about their candidate versus someone else’s candidate. And when we had an endorsed candidate, we didn’t all come together and push it across the line. So I say to any candidate out there, if you think you’re going to undermine the credibility of the state convention, think again.”

This story was updated on March 25 after the Little Falls Police Department released additional details about the March 12 police calls. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.