In one small prairie town, two warring visions of America

Great writing and great photography in this story about a small Minnesota town where conservative Lutheran pastor Jason Wolter denies that COVID-19 vaccines work. “You’re lying to people,” he says, “You flat-out lie about things.”

Wolter is speaking of Reed Anfinson, his next-door neighbor, who is the editor of the Swift County Monitor-News, “[a] contemplative man who casually quotes Voltaire, he loves newspapers deeply, and mourns the hundreds of small-town papers that have gone under in recent years.”

“The easy part is speaking truth to power. The hard part is speaking truth to your community,” said Anfinson, whose wife is a Republican who voted for Trump. “That can cost you advertisers. That can cost you subscribers.”

One little town. Three thousand people. Two starkly different realities.

It’s another measure of how, in an America increasingly split by warring visions of itself, division doesn’t just play out on cable television, or in mayhem at the U.S. Capitol.

It has seeped into the American fabric, all the way to Benson’s 12th Street, where two neighbors — each in his own well-kept, century-old home — can live in different worlds.

In one house is Reed Anfinson, publisher, editor, photographer and reporter for the Monitor-News. Most weeks, he writes every story on the paper’s front page. He wrote that story on clinics struggling with COVID-19.

He’s not the most popular man in the county. Lots of people disagree with his politics. He deals with the occasional veiled threat. Sometimes, he grudgingly worries about his safety.

While his editorials lean left, he works hard to report the news straight. But in an America of competing visions, some here say he has taken sides.

Nowhere in the Monitor-News, for example, will you find reports that local people are dying because they’ve been inoculated.

“There are no alternative facts,” Anfinson says. “There is just the truth.”

But whose truth?

His neighbor, Jason Wolter, is a thoughtful, broad-shouldered Lutheran pastor who reads widely and measures his words carefully. He also suspects Democrats are using the coronavirus pandemic as a political tool, doubts President Joe Biden was legitimately elected and is certain that COVID-19 vaccines kill people.

He hasn’t seen the death certificates and hasn’t contacted health authorities, but he’s sure the vaccine deaths occurred: “I just know that I’m doing their funerals.”

He’s also certain that information “will never make it into the newspaper.”

Wolter’s frustration boils over during a late breakfast in a town cafe. Seated with a reporter, he starts talking as if Anfinson is there.

“You’re lying to people,” he says. “You flat-out lie about things.” —Tim Sullivan, AP