Think tank fire is a troubling twist

Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.

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The news that three politically conservative organizations housed in the same Golden Valley office building were targets of a suspected arson attack on Jan. 28 is disturbing.

The ideologically aligned but independent entities — the Center of the American Experiment, the Upper Midwest Law Center and Take Charge — were the only offices in the three-story building to suffer fire damage in an incident that's being investigated as arson by federal, state, county and local authorities.

If arson is indeed found to be the cause, there should be nonpartisan condemnation in Minnesota — and prosecution of the perpetrators. While shocking, it may sadly be another sign of these highly divisive times.

"So, is this just another chapter in the polarization?" Bill Walsh, the center's director of marketing and communications, rhetorically asked an editorial writer.

"We're in the arena of ideas, and we have a particular point of view, of course," said Walsh, who added, "We're in a disturbing level, to go beyond comments on Twitter [now X] to arson."

Minnesota needs a "rigorous debate, a thorough debate, and let's fight it out," Walsh said. "But let's stick to words. Both sides — everybody needs to calm down."

That's true, especially since political passions are near historic highs. But there is no room for violence, ever. And while thankfully no one was hurt in the overnight attack in Golden Valley, arson can kill not only those who may be directly at risk but others who do not receive necessary medical attention because first responders are occupied.

If the allegations are accurate, Minnesotans should react the way they would to an alleged firebombing of a mosque or other place of worship, a health care facility or an office of any other organization, regardless of its mission or ideology. An attack on one civic entity is an attack on civilized society itself and has no place in this state.

The Center of the American Experiment is committed to improving Minnesota, Walsh said. To do so, it's gone "beyond the white paper" to include advocacy and campaigns in favor of or against certain legislation. "We want to make the state a better place," Walsh said. "We have a certain viewpoint on that."

That certain viewpoint is occasionally expressed in commentaries on these pages, which are often among the top-read items of the day, week or even year. Institutionally and individually, the Star Tribune Editorial Board and its members sometimes agree with the center. Conversely, on some issues there's healthy disagreement. Readers get involved, too, in counterpoints and letters to the editor that often reflect passion that matches the original perspective.

As it should be.

What shouldn't be, of course, is that any opinions are met with threats or criminal acts of any type.

Although there is no good time for an alleged arson attack, the disruption for the three organizations comes on the eve of the Feb. 12 start of the 2024 legislative session. But don't expect any of the targeted organizations to retreat from their rightful role in the ensuing debate.

"We're making a really concerted effort to make sure it doesn't," Walsh said. "That was the message of the staff meeting this morning: Don't slow down. Don't get distracted."

That's the right response for any organization that's wrongly under attack, especially those involved in debating public policy. All should feel welcome to offer the spark of ideas without the specter of arson or other intimidation.