“Here we are again,” Darryl Kistler said to the small crowd gathered around him, holding candles on the sidewalk across from the Kalispell library last week. They were part of a candlelight vigil held as a response to the Holocaust denial film being shown in the library’s basement by Craig Cobb, who moved to Kalispell from Vancouver this summer after he was investigated by a Canadian hate crimes unit.
“This is our third time that we have gathered in this space, to stand up, to speak out and to stand in solidarity,” Kistler, pastor of the United Church of Christ in Kalispell, said. “It is important that we are so inspired that we can lift up ourselves and lift up each other in a spirit of community.”
Across the street, Karl Gharst stood watching the vigil and smoking. In April and May, Gharst prompted large protests by showing films questioning whether the Holocaust occurred and glorifying Nazis. He planned to screen another film Oct. 19. But Gharst made no moves to descend to the basement to watch Cobb’s film, since Cobb had earlier that week filed a restraining order against Gharst, forcing the two men to leave each other alone.
Visibly angry, Gharst accused Cobb of being an “agent provocateur” sent to the Flathead Valley by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to stop Gharst from showing his films.
“He’s a pretend Nazi and everywhere he goes he just stinks up the place,” Gharst said. “He’s a crash test dummy for the ADL.”
Gharst went on to question the authenticity of the beliefs held by other members of the loose group that has been attempting to draw white nationalists to the Flathead Valley through the “Pioneer Little Europe” project: “They’re just awash with ADL scumbags.”
When asked about Gharst’s accusations, Cobb replied, “I’m not in the ADL. My reputation precedes me.”
Cobb is known for launching “Podblanc,” a video sharing website similar to Youtube, but geared for white supremacists. According to a report by the Montana Human Rights Network, the site featured videos of Russian neo-Nazis beheading and shooting Asian immigrants, as well as videos of skinheads in Europe and Russia attacking orthodox Jews.
Cobb identifies as part of the Creativity Movement, which prizes the white race above any others and has had small chapters spring up in different parts of Montana over the last two years. The Creativity Movement’s leader, Matt Hale, is currently in prison for plotting to kill federal Judge Joan Lefkow in Chicago. According to the Montana Human Rights Network and Southern Poverty Law Center, in 2003 Cobb posted Lefkow’s home address to the white nationalist website Stormfront.org. In 2005, Lefkow’s husband and mother were murdered, though the killer was not connected to racist groups.
In 2005, Cobb moved to Estonia but was eventually jailed and banned from the country. According to Cobb’s blog, he made his way by foot from British Columbia to the Flathead, staying at the Samaritan House in Kalispell and then the Rosebrier Inn, where Gharst also resides.
“He’s taken advantage of my charity and my kindness,” Gharst said.
The disagreement between the two men indicates that the small, but apparently slowly growing community of white supremacists in the Flathead Valley is far from a cohesive, unified group. Gharst describes himself as practicing Christian Identity, a religion of the Aryan Nations group, of which he participated in Idaho. According to Cobb’s blog, he and Gharst’s argument stemmed from disagreements over their religious beliefs.
“The Christian Identity people need to wake up,” Cobb said to the four men in the library basement gathered to watch the film he was showing, a documentary made by David Cole, a Jewish man who gained some fame on talk shows like Phil Donahue’s in the 1990s for denying that the Holocaust occurred. In the movie Cole confronts officials at the Auschwitz concentration camp museum, questioning whether more than a million Jews, along with other ethnic minorities, were killed there by Nazis during World War II. Cole later denounced his own film, and previous views, but many white supremacists believe he was coerced into making those statements.
Across the street, those in the vigil engaged in a call-and-response with Kistler, joined by other religious leaders, including Rabbi Allen Secher of the Bet Harim Jewish community. The repeated refrain was, “Love lives here in the Flathead Valley.”
“We are not here to stifle free speech,” Kistler said. “Anytime someone uses speech and propaganda and media to dehumanize and devalue someone, we will stand up.”
On the sidewalk outside the library’s south door, Cobb handed out a packet with quotations ascribed to Alex Linder, who started an anti-Semitic, white supremacist website called the Vanguard News Network. Cobb noted on the handout it is his religious right to distribute such “teaching information,” which contained lines like, “Nothing will change until the jews are killed.”
When asked about the small turnout for his event, Cobb said he was pleased.
“I’m glad that they’re all young people, because that’s who we want to reach,” he said.