DFL convention chaos: Nasri Warsame supporters explain what set it off

Ahmed Elmi, 20, and Hamsa Mohamed,19 both volunteered for the Nasri Warsarme campaign during the Ward 10 convention. (FOX 9)

The chaos that enveloped the DFL’s Ward 10 convention in Minneapolis last Saturday has made national and international news, but key questions have remained unanswered — most notably, why did it happen, and what exactly set it off? 

Or more specifically, why did supporters of challenger Nasri Warsame suddenly boo and walk toward the stage when incumbent Aisha Chughtai was introduced to give her speech, especially considering that Warsame had chosen to go second?

What set it off 

We have something approaching an answer now, at least according to two young activists who were volunteering with the Warsame campaign at the convention. First, tensions over procedural issues and translation — both disagreements and misunderstandings — had led many of Warsarme’s supporters to distrust the process and the convention volunteers. Then a critical misunderstanding in the moments leading up to the unrest set everything off, like a match to a powder keg. 

According to the volunteers — Ahmed Elmi, 20, and Hamsa Mohamed,19 — the misunderstanding that served as the catalyst came when DFL volunteers introduced Chughtai, and she began to take the stage with her supporters. Elmi and Mohamed say a rumor had gone through the crowd that someone had seen a volunteer (they were not sure who) say "congratulations" to Chughtai during the lunch break, which occurred before the speech. This, they say, caused Warsarme’s supporters to be concerned Chughtai was about to win the endorsement before there was even a vote. 

This was the first DFL convention for many of Warsame’s supporters, Mohamed and Elmi said people were unaware that candidates often take the stage with their supporters during the speech portion, which is typically conducted like a "mini" rally. The result was that when the translator introduced Chughtai, and her supporters gathered with her on the stage, Warsame’s supporters thought she had been declared the winner — meaning she would be the endorsed DFL candidate — and was about to give a victory speech, which is why, they say, the crowd suddenly begun booing.

Mohamed recalled the moment in an interview with FOX 9


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"They [Chughtai's supporters] were parading it. They came in. They were happy…  They were up there holding the signs. They were dancing. They were smiling, and, you know, when there's a language barrier, you take that as, ‘Oh, my God, she won,’" he said. 

Elmi said the rumor played a key role. As he explained it, the crowd of supporters who approached the stage thought the vote had been "stolen" and they were interrupting the celebrations.    

"When people went back inside the hall and then [a convention volunteer] called out Aisha to peak, people thought that Aisha got the endorsement," he said.  

The volunteer who chaired the convention, Sam Doten, said the procedure for caucuses can be confusing, he had done his best, with the help of a translator, to explain step by step what was happening and why. 

In his view, while they may have been a misunderstanding in the crowd, the actions of the Warsame campaign made the situation worse. 

"I understand there's going to be miscommunication and misunderstanding. It happens even when everyone is fluent in English because it's an esoteric process. But I saw Nasir Warsame’s campaign manager, and people wearing his floor passes, which are badges on behalf of his campaign, encouraging people to stand up and come towards the front, so they knew what was going on," he said. 

Warsarme did not respond to a request for comment, saying he will speak at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

At the convention, once the announcement for Chughtai's speech was made, footage filmed by the local Wedge Live blog, shows irate Warsame supporters shouting and waving signs as they approach the stage. Some Chughtai stand in their way, and the scene captured in the now viral video unfolds. 

Minneapolis police were called to respond, and the convention ended without an endorsement. 

Volunteers told FOX 9 they were pushed, hit, screamed at and spit on. Chughtai's campaign issued a lengthy statement saying people affiliated with Warsame's campaign had punched several women of color on their staff, shoved LGBTQIA2S+ delegates and supporters, and tried to follow them into a back room when they fled.  

"This action by the Warsame campaign to harass, bully, and assault my supporters and DFL volunteers was an attempt to scare us. Despite all this, we stayed calm and committed to our vision for Ward 10 and local democracy," she wrote. 

Warsarme's campaign said one of their delegates and their campaign manager had been assaulted during the chaos. In his statement, Warsarme said one volunteer who had "engaged in the violence" would be removed. And he suggested the issues were due to a lack of security. 

"The convention process should be a place where delegates can safely voice their opinions and support their candidate. I am concerned that the security and safety protocols were not followed yesterday, resulting in an unsafe forum for delegates to be heard. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that violence has disrupted a convention," he said. 

FOX 9 is unable to independently verify the claims of either candidate.  

Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin pinned the blame for the ruckus squarely on Warsarme’s campaign in a press release, and said the party's executive committee will meet this week to determine possible sanctions.    

The people will decide 

Mohamed and Elmi want people to understand that Warsame’s supporters were frustrated from the start. They disagreed with a Minneapolis DFL decision to allow campaigns an extra day to reach out to registered caucus attendees to ask them if they wanted to revise their online forms to register as full delegates, a move they say disproportionately benefited Chughtai. (Doten said the extension was requested by several campaigns across the city, and was available to all the campaigns.) 

They also cited other frustrations, including their view that judges and volunteers at the convention were clearly Chughtai supporters. Ultimately, they hope the DFL takes stock of what happened and makes changes to make convention rules and procedures easier to follow and understand for people from diverse communities. 

If however, the party bars Warsame from continuing in the race as a DFL candidate, Mohamed says he is not sure how his supporters will react. 

"The reaction of the people would be very, very, very, very upset. Frustrated. They will feel more voiceless than they already are. And I don't know, the people will have to make their own decision," he said.