Updated: Dec. 27, 4 p.m.
Montana’s elected leaders, including the governor and both U.S. Senators, are condemning anti-Semitic and white nationalistic views that have recently gained attention and tormented Whitefish and the local Jewish community.
The bipartisan coalition of lawmakers — Gov. Steve Bullock, U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke and state Attorney General Tim Fox — issued an open letter on Dec. 27 expressing their full support for the Jewish community, Montana families, faith organizations and law enforcement officers.
“We stand firmly together to send a clear message that ignorance, hatred and threats of violence are unacceptable and have no place in the town of Whitefish, or in any other community in Montana or across this nation,” Montana’s elected officials wrote. “We say to those few who seek to publicize anti-Semitic views that they shall find no safe haven here.”
The delegation said in its letter, “Rest assured, any demonstration or threat of intimidation against any Montanan’s religious liberty will not be tolerated.”
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes also joined in condemning “hatred and bigotry.” The tribes issued a statement saying they stand with Montana’s elected leaders in sending a clear message that “ignorance, hatred and threats of violence are unacceptable and have no place in the town of Whitefish, or in any other community in Montana or across this nation.”
The messages come on the heels of a recent proposal by a white supremacist website to organize an armed march in Whitefish next month. The publisher of The Daily Stormer, Andrew Anglin, said he planned to organize a march for the second week of January. The march would be “against Jews, Jewish businesses and everyone who supports either,” Anglin wrote, though he has since said he could call off the march.
The website, which is a neo-Nazi platform that features images of Hitler and the Auschwitz death camp, has also posted a call to “take action” against the community’s Jewish residents and local businesses, posting personal contact information and slurs in an effort to launch an Internet “troll storm.”
The website says the troll storm is in response to local residents harming the business interests of the mother of Richard Spencer, a part-time Whitefish resident who is a vocal leader of the so-called alt-right movement, which blends racism and white nationalism. The Daily Stormer is not affiliated with Spencer.
Anglin has accused a local realtor and nonprofit Love Lives Here of trying to sabotage a Whitefish real estate venture owned by Sherry Spencer. The chairman of Love Lives Here denies organizing any pressure or protests against Sherry Spencer’s office building.
According to Love Lives Here, the Daily Stormer posts have unleashed a torrent of harassment against local businesses and community members, including threats of violence via social media, phone calls and emails.
Officials with the Whitefish Police Department are monitoring the situation. The communication is mostly coming from Internet accounts on the East Coast and nothing illegal has occurred locally, according to authorities.
Police Chief Bill Dial said his department has received a significant amount of inquiries about the potential march in Whitefish along with residents expressing concern and anxiety.
“I can empathize with people. It’s not a comfortable situation,” he said.
Dial said his department is working with federal and county law enforcement authorities to devise a plan if the armed march does occur.
“I’m hoping for the best, planning for the worst,” he said.
“If they do come, we’re just hoping it’s a peaceful march. I’m sure there will be those protesting at the same time.”
He added, “It’s our job to make sure we keep the community safe and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Love Lives Here and the Montana Human Rights Network are co-sponsoring an event on Jan. 7 in Depot Park in Whitefish. Organizers of the event are calling it a community gathering to celebrate diversity and take a stand against racism and other forms of oppression. The event will include speakers and live music.
Earlier this month, the city of Whitefish signed a proclamation firmly declaring Spencer’s views and those of the alt-right are “a direct affront to our community’s core values and principles.”
An open letter from Montana’s elected leaders
December 27, 2016
Dear Fellow Americans,
As we close out this year and look toward the future, we as Montana’s elected leaders are focused on the values that reflect our true character. Therefore, we condemn attacks on our religious freedom manifesting in a group of anti-Semites. We stand firmly together to send a clear message that ignorance, hatred and threats of violence are unacceptable and have no place in the town of Whitefish, or in any other community in Montana or across this nation. We say to those few who seek to publicize anti-Semitic views that they shall find no safe haven here.
We offer our full support to the Jewish community, Montana families, businesses, faith organizations and law enforcement officers as they ensure the security of all our communities. We will address these threats directly and forcefully, putting our political differences aside to stand up for what’s right. That’s the Montana way, and the American way.
Rest assured, any demonstration or threat of intimidation against any Montanan’s religious liberty will not be tolerated. It takes all Montanans working together to eradicate religious intolerance.
We are encouraged that so many Montanans from a variety of religious backgrounds have joined us in condemning this extreme ideology.
God bless the great state of Montana and the United States of America.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
U.S. Senator Steve Daines
U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke
Governor Steve Bullock
Attorney General Tim Fox
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