Decorah, IA - The debris-strewn streets of this remote Midwestern hamlet remain under a tense 24-hour curfew tonight, following weekend demonstrations by rock- and figurine-throwing Lutheran farm wives that left over 200 people injured and leveled the Whippy Dip dairy freeze. The rioting appeared to be prompted, in part, by a report in Newsweek magazine claiming military guards at Spirit Lake’s notorious Okoboji internment center had flushed lutefisk down prison toilets. Newsweek’s late announcement of a retraction seems to have done little to quell the inflamed passions of Lutheran insurgents in the region, as outbreaks of violent mailbox bashings and cow tippings have been reported from Bowbells, North Dakota to Pekin, Illinois.
Whether the violence was triggered by Newsweek’s report of lutefisk desecration or frustration over chronic shortages of Beanie Babies and Old Style, one thing seems certain – occupying U.S. troops face a steep road to reestablish trust in this tinderbox of ancient hatreds and delicious dairy products. Some analysts say the latest outbreak represents the most vexing challenge to US strategy since its invasion the region three years ago.
“It could be months before we get the area back under control,” said Brigadier Gen. Glen Hastings of the US Army’s Southern Minnesota Command. “We’re hoping the tractor pull and swap meet seasons will help calm down some of the violent elements.”
‘Campground of Evil’
Military efforts to stabilize the violent ethnic Protestantism of the region have had a mixed record of success. U.S. paratroopers first landed along the Iowa/Minnesota border in early 2002 to root out extremist Uff Da militants, followers of the charismatic Lutheran cleric Pastor Duane Gunderson. Despite fears of being bogged down in the harsh Mankato winter, troops encountered little resistance, save sporadic eggings from ill-equipped insurgents atop the grain elevators of local cornlords. U.S. forces achieved swift success, taking as many as 1,500 Lutheran rebels into custody and bringing a momentary measure of stability to what has long been considered a dangerous Scandinavian backwater.
The initial battlefield victories, however, have since proven to be only the beginning of the American struggle here. The subsequent occupation created a number of difficult challenges critics claim were overlooked by the White House’s top Midwest war planners. The tipping point seems to have been a 2004 incident at the now notorious Okoboji.
First constructed as a boredom punishment camp for Midwest dissident youth, the US Military Command converted the sprawling Arnold’s Park / Lake Okoboji area into an internment facility to house insurgent detainees. Almost immediately stories began to surface of prisoner mistreatment, including vivisections, anal probes by extraterrestrial strippers, and blackouts of Viking games.
American military spokesmen initially dismissed the stories, but several news organizations – led by Newsweek – obtained a series of shocking photos of a Texas Army Reservist, Tyffanie Cruddup, laughing as she humiliates a naked inmate by putting a Dallas Cowboys stocking hat on his head.
The photos sent the Lutheran street into riots as far as Rheinlander, Wisconsin, and sent shockwaves throughout the media world. The incident received heavy play on network and cable news, the New York Times, Washington Post, Le Monde, the Guardian, Packers Illustrated, and was the subject of over a dozen off-Broadway dramas during the 2004 season. For its part, Newsweek ran a record eight consecutive covers on Okoboji, along with a special commemorative November 3 collector’s issue with pull-out humiliation poster.
Luting and Looting
In the wake of the incident, American military spokespeople have taken pains to defend handling of prisoners at Okoboji. A series of new guidelines instruct guards to “respect the rituals and traditions of our valued Lutheran prison guests,” including “dietary needs, Wednesday Nite Bingo, and twice daily viewing of Wheel of Fortune.”
“It is important that we remember that Lutheranism is a religion of peace,” said Army spokesman Maj. Richard Lehrman. “And we need to remember to avoid insensitive behavior and remarks that will cause these peaceful Lutherans to go on another bloody killing rampage.”
Despite officials’ claims of intensified sensitivity, rumors have persisted of continued prisoner abuse at Okoboji, including lutefisk desecration – an especially heinous crime under Lutheran doctrine. Some analysts have viewed the rumors skeptically, pointing to the Uff Da insurgent training manual “How To Lie About Lutefisk Desecration By Infidels.” Still, dozens of news organizations continue to investigate the charges.
In its May 6 “Midwest Quagmire Wire” section, Newsweek appeared to have confirmed the lutefisk rumors. Bylined by Senior Correspondent Michael Isikoff, the magazine cited an unidentified source claiming that Okoboji guards had deliberately flushed an entire batch of the pungent cod-and-lye concoction that prisoners had been aging in a specially prepared commode. “The guard smelled it and thought it was prison burrito night,” the source was quoted as saying.
News of the desecration spread quickly from Iowa to the Dakotas to Minnesota and Wisconsin, fanned by radio soybean reports and Lutheran clerics in fiery pancake breakfast sermons. Soon, enraged farm wives, clad in their traditional sweater vests and Disney jackets, had taken to the streets and begun a wild spree of destruction, overturning hundreds of rusty Blazers and Pontiac Grand Ams and hurling flaming Lladro porcelain figurines. Decorah was particularly hard-hit, as a frenzied throng of ululating Iowa women were seen looting needlepoint geese and rabbit tchotchkes from a Victorian craft shop. In a chilling moment caught on Army night vision cameras, their plus-size leader urges the mob to attack the near-by Pamida.
“Ya, you betcha!” came the chant of her enraged coreligionist.
After battling back the women with volleys of teargas and Land’s End catalogs, a detachment of California reservists finally quelled the riot early Sunday morning, and attended to the injured.
Fake But Not Completely Implausible
As soldiers patrolled the streets of Decorah, Faribault and La Crosse Sunday, Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker issued a surprising, terse clarification of the original story, saying that the magazine could “no longer vouch for every detail of the story, including the brand of lye used, the number of soldiers and prisoners present, or possibly whether any of it actually happened.”
Whitaker, however, declined to retract the story, saying that the magazine was “standing behind its essential plausibility.”
“Obviously, if it causes thousands of native gals go on a berserk looting rampage, there’s got to be something believable in there somewhere,” said Whitaker. “Obviously, it’s now up to the Administration and the DoD to disprove these charges, once they finish cleaning up the carnage.”
In a later and terser clarification, Whitaker said that the magazine’s anonymous source could no longer remember whether he had ever been to Iowa, was in the military, or knew how to pronounce ‘lutefisk.’ In a still-later, and yet-terser clarification, Whitaker finally retracted the story after revealing that its anonymous source was Kippy, Michael Isikoff’s imaginary childhood friend.
“This is a really unfortunate accident for everybody,” said Whitaker. “But let’s not forget the real victims here – Newsweek, Mike Isikoff, and especially Kippy.”
While retracting the Okoboji accusations, Whitaker said Newsweek stood by the original article’s final two sentences, “Boo-yah! In your FACE, Chimpy!”
Despite the Newsweek’s humiliating public retraction of the controversial lutefisk abuse charges, tensions remain high across the upper Midwest. Many here discount the retraction as being coerced by White House “crusaders,” and believe that other abuses are being covered up at Okoboji.
“Oh yahh, I tell ya what, dere’s a lotta bad stuff goin’ on in dat outfit over dere,” said a young Decorah cleric who identified himself only as ‘Pastor Doug.’ “I heard dem infidels are switchin’ da prisoner’s Leinies with Schlitz.”