Whitefish Repudiates Racist Ideology of ‘Alt-Right’

In signing official proclamation, city officials take latest steps to promote equality

By Tristan Scott
Residents filled the Whitefish City Council chambers Dec. 5, 2016 for the signing of a proclamation that repudiates the values of part-time resident Richard Spencer and affirms the community’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Tristan Scott | Flathead Beacon

WHITEFISH — The city of Whitefish on Dec. 5 repudiated the racist ideology of part-time resident Richard B. Spencer, a white nationalist leader whose views have recently been elevated by high-profile media reports that reference his ties to this mountain community.

Before a packed council chambers brimming with residents who raised signs reading “Love Lives Here,” Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld read a proclamation firmly declaring that Spencer’s views and those of the so-called “alt-right” are “a direct affront to our community’s core values and principles,” establishing a symbolic gulf between the inclusive spirit of the tiny resort town and Spencer’s vision of a racially exclusive white ethno-state.

“The City of Whitefish rejects racism and bigotry in all its forms and expressions,” Muhlfeld said to raucous applause.

With an ideology that’s a mix of racism, white nationalism and old-fashioned populism, the “alt-right” has burst into the collective consciousness since members showed up at the Republican National Convention to celebrate Trump’s nomination last summer.

The signing of the Whitefish proclamation is the latest example of the city taking a firm stance in support of diversity and equality and against discrimination, and comes on the heels of recent national and local reports about Spencer’s movement having gained momentum during president-elect Donald Trump’s turbulent campaign and following his victory.

Although Trump has disavowed the views of the “alt-right” movement, a term Spencer coined for a revisionist brand of white separatism he hopes to inject into mainstream culture and politics, members of the fringe movement celebrated the President-elect’s outspoken views opposing immigration, as well as his selection of Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbard News, perhaps the alt-right’s most prominent platform, as his senior adviser and chief strategist.

And while Spencer’s white-nationalist think-tank is headquartered in Whitefish, the droves of residents who turned out for Monday’s council meeting made it clear that his extremist views are the exception, not the rule.

The city’s recent record supporting diversity and inclusion supports their point.

On Dec. 1, 2014, the Whitefish City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting diversity and tolerance in the community, and earlier this year took an even more aggressive step toward protecting and promoting diversity in the community when it adopted a non-discrimination ordinance, extending unmet civil rights protections to residents based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

With Monday night’s proclamation, the city and its residents rounded out their message of equality.

Councilor Frank Sweeney, who was instrumental in pushing for the non-discrimination ordinance and crafting the language in the proclamation, quoted a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Evan McMullin, a former C.I.A. officer who ran as a conservative independent presidential candidate in 2016.

“We must never forget that we are born equal, with basic, natural rights, including those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Sweeney read. “Those rights are inherent in us because we are humans, not because they are granted by government.”

Councilor Richard Hildner thanked the crowd for braving the cold and turning out to support the proclamation, saying the audience members “epitomize the values that we all support.”

In addition to the broad support from those in attendance, the proclamation also received praise from the Whitefish business community, including Whitefish Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Tony Veseth and Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Dylan Boyle.

After signing the proclamation, Muhlfeld expressed his appreciation of Whitefish’s devotion to supporting the town’s diversity.

“It’s humbling,” he said.