Minnesota House candidate encourages people to fly Confederate flag, calls Islam a Satanic plague

By: - October 21, 2022 6:00 am

Stephen Doerr (right) and Rep. Gene Pelowski (left) during a League of Women Voters forum on Oct. 11. Photo courtesy of Winona Post.

A Republican candidate in a newly drawn House district encouraged people to fly the Confederate flag, questioned President Obama’s birthplace as recently as 2019 and called Islam “a plague.” 

Stephen Doerr is running against Rep. Gene Pelowski, DLF-Winona, in House District 26A. Pelowski was first elected in 1986 and has often sailed to reelection, but the newly drawn district is solidly purple. 

According to data compiled by Dave’s Redistricting App — a redistricting simulator used by amateur and professional mapmakers alike — nearly 52% of voters in the new district opted for President Joe Biden in 2020, while 46% supported Donald Trump. Another 2.3% chose a different candidate.

Doerr’s social media posts indicate he has far-right political views:

  • In 2016, he encouraged people to celebrate Confederate History and Heritage Month by flying the Confederate flag, even though Minnesota was the first state to volunteer union soldiers to the Civil War effort.
  • In 2019, he questioned whether President Obama arrived to the United States as a “foreign-born college student.”
  • In 2016, he said Islam is a plague and Satanic in origin.
  • Last year, he compared gun control, tearing down statues of white supremacists and flag burning to “how Nazis took over Germany.”
  • In recent years, he has supported multiple militia members who have been in armed standoffs with the U.S. government.

Doerr himself tangled with the law in the mid-1990s. He was arrested in 1996 for brandishing a pistol and threatening to kill people at a Wisconsin party while trying to get the mother of his child to leave with him.

According to an Arcadia, Wisc., police report, officers were called to a party early in the morning in August 1996 and saw Doerr — who was 23 years old at the time — running toward a red car in a parking lot.

Witnesses told police that Doerr pointed a gun at people at the party, including a woman who said Doerr confronted her and a friend — while pointing a pistol in their direction — and said, “I want to know where (she) is before I hurt people.”

The woman — who had a child with Doerr — told police that shortly after she arrived at the party, Doerr showed up and began chasing her. She told the officer Doerr threatened her. Then the police arrived and he ran to his car.

The officer found a loaded gun in the passenger compartment of Doerr’s car and ammunition in Doerr’s pockets, according to the police report.

Doerr was charged with felony false imprisonment, reckless endangerment and possessing a loaded, uncased gun in a vehicle, which together had a maximum fine of $15,000 and three years of imprisonment.

Days later, Doerr was also charged with trespassing and felony bail jumping. Court records indicate he pleaded guilty to trespassing and the bail jumping charge was dismissed by the prosecutor.

In the kidnapping case, the woman who said Doerr pointed a gun at her changed her story, according to the Trempealeau County Times. So a judge dismissed the false imprisonment and reckless endangerment charges, ruling there wasn’t probable cause to take those charges to trial.

Doerr was convicted in 1997 of the lesser charge, transporting a loaded firearm in a vehicle.

In 2003, Doerr tried to get the convictions expunged from his record after he was rejected for a job in Texas. In a letter to a judge, Doerr said he “changed my way of living my daily life and sought to be a positive role model in my community.”  

Doerr wrote that he got full custody of his child, who was 11 by then, trained as a firefighter, got a bachelor’s and master’s degree and became a high school math teacher. He wrote that the convictions were related to his separation from his daughter’s mom and his attempt to get for “the best care” for their infant.

But the judge denied his request, saying under Wisconsin law, he would have had to be under age 21 at the time of the offense and one of the crimes required the original judge to sign off on possible expungement.

Doerr said in an email to the Reformer that the incidents happened “a lifetime” ago and stemmed from “child-rearing differences with a partner not committed or valuing a life of marriage blessed by God.” 

“Jesus called for us to turn away, and forgive,” he wrote.

Doerr would bring a firmly anti-government stance to the Legislature. He said he has experienced corrupt systems, with “good ol’ boys who fight diversity and different beliefs by targeting, with law enforcement, what government members believe is the enemy: family.” 

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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.