Even as the founder of a neo-Nazi website publishes claims that skinheads are moving forward with plans to organize a march through Whitefish on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, officials monitoring the situation are skeptical.
Still, if a march does materialize, as the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer claims, local law enforcement will be prepared, and are urging local community members to act as though it’s business as usual.
Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, said the prospect of a white supremacist gathering in Whitefish is improbable given the organization’s recent intelligence gathering, but it is not impossible.
“All of our research shows (the march) is unlikely, but it’s not new to have white supremacist gatherings in Montana,” she said. “We have experienced this before.”
Officials with the Whitefish Police Department have been monitoring the situation for weeks.
Whitefish 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.
Dial said his department is working with federal and county law enforcement authorities to devise a plan if the armed march does occur.
On Thursday, Andrew Anglin, founder of The Daily Stormer, published a photo of his application to the city of Whitefish to hold a special event, the title of which he calls the “James Earl Ray Day Extravaganza,” a reference to the assassin who shot and killed King, the celebrated civil rights leader, on April 4, 1968.
In a memo to city officials and members of the press Thursday afternoon, Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns said he has not received a special event permit application for a march on Jan. 16, “therefore, no such permit has been reviewed, approved or denied.”
“We will keep you informed as to whether an application for a Special Event Permit for a march is received and what its disposition is,” Stearns wrote. “If a march were ever to happen, please be assured that the Whitefish Police Department has a critical incident plan in place aimed at ensuring the public safety of our citizens and visitors.”
Meanwhile, local residents have organized an event to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in the Flathead Valley.
The Jan. 7 block party called “Love Not Hate” is designed to take a stand against racism and other forms of oppression, and begins at 10:30 a.m. between Depot Park and the O’Shaughnessy Center in downtown Whitefish. It will feature performances by Blackfeet singer and storyteller Jack Gladstone and his daughter, Mariah Gladstone, as well as remarks by Whitefish City Councilor Richard Hildner, Mennonite Pastor Jeryl Hollinger and Hilary Shaw, executive director of the Abbie Shelter.
For more information about the “Love Not Hate” event, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/169186313551133/.
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