A southwestern Minnesota man whose passionate support for President Donald Trump took him to dozens of political events around the country and recently to the White House was killed in a highway crash while returning from a political celebration in Florida.
Randal J. Thom, 60, of Lakefield died in a collision shortly before 4:30 p.m. Monday on Hwy. 169 north of St. Peter, the State Patrol said. Thom was driving his minivan south and hit a pickup truck that also was heading south, the patrol said.
Evidence of recent alcohol use by Thom was detected at the scene, according to the patrol. Thom was not wearing a seat belt, the patrol added.
The other driver, James A. Mollenhauer, 67, of nearby Le Sueur, survived his injuries and was taken to a Mankato hospital.
Thom was the unofficial ringleader of "Front Row Joes," a group that travels the country to Trump rallies starting during the 2016 presidential campaign.
He's been to dozens of Trump gatherings, 23 alone in 2016, earning himself national media attention on CBS News and from as far away as Australia. He would usually show up a half-day early to claim a good spot.
Thom's representative in the U.S. House, Republican Jim Hagedorn, said in a Facebook posting that "Randal loved America, Donald J. Trump and was always so very kind to me." He added that he and his wife, GOP state chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, were "so lucky to have been friends with Randal, to have received his unwavering support during our campaigns and be in the presence of his energy and enthusiasm."
Marthamae Kottschade said she and Thom were among roughly 50 Minnesotans who attended a gathering in support of law enforcement on the White House grounds on Oct. 10. It was at that event where the president, recovering from COVID-19, appeared on the balcony and removed his mask.
"Randal always said, 'I have a better chance of dying in a car crash than I do from COVID,'" Kottschade said.
Kottschade, of Rochester, said Thom was driving home from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after flying to Florida for a pro-Trump flotilla from the Jupiter Inlet to the president's backyard at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
"Randal was a Marine, and both my sons and a nephew are Marines," she said. "He was a loud, proud patriot. He was not afraid to show anyone his passion for our president."
Mary Susan Timion, founder of the Minnesota chapter of Trump Women 2020, started a GoFundMe account online last month to help finance Thom's travels. She has since changed the mission to pay for funeral expenses.
"He was our state's most energetic and present activist" for the president, Timion, of Chanhassen, said. "We're really crushed, so we're taking it really, really hard."
In January 2019, Thom's political enthusiasm led to his arrest at a presidential campaign rally for Elizabeth Warren in Storm Lake, Iowa. He got into a scuffle with supporters of the Massachusetts senator. Thom pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
A month later, a dog Thom owned and named after Donald Trump was shot and killed, prompting rumors that the incident was politically motivated. The Jackson County Sheriff's Office concluded the person responsible was legally protecting livestock on private property. Neighbors lodged many complaints about Thom's dogs running loose, killing animals and attacking a person, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Trump signed Thom's photo of the dog at one of the rallies. The Alaskan malamute was born in 2016, the same year Trump was elected, inspiring the name.
Thom earned a living breeding dogs for fellow wounded veterans, Kottschade said.
Thom's brother, Stan, said Randal also funded his travels "doing odd jobs, painting. He scraped together every bit of money he could. Friends who loved him donated money to him. If it meant he gets to see Trump, he would go."
Even though his brother is gone, Stan Thom said, "he's still Front Row Joe, he's just got a different venue now."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482