Hate on the Rise: White Supremacy in Montana

America has a problem. Since the Trump candidacy and rise to presidency, the national profile of White supremacist groups has grown, and the government is doing very little to counteract this. Figures like Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin are given profiles on the New York Times, called “dapper” by news sites like Mother Jones and altogether allowed to make their hatred of minority groups mainstream.

The Anti-Defamation League reported that, in the first three months of 2017, there was an 86 percent jump in anti-Semitic incidents alone. Incidents like the Nazi marches in Charlottesville and Whitefish have become all too commonplace, and tweeting our discomfort and derision while sitting at home, safe in our privileged lives, is no longer enough. We have to do more.

Hate Groups Nationally Compared to Montana

“[Montana is] kind of facing a different scene here than we are nationally, where we’re really seeing a kind of increase in hate groups, and then really mainstreaming and legitimizing white nationalist thoughts and ideas,” Travis McAdam, research director of the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN), said. MHRN is a group currently working on immigrant rights, LGBTQ equality, healthcare and much more, but started out as a “fight the racist right” group in 1990, springing from a combination of groups combating the wave of white supremacy in Montana at that time.

Though the scene may be static in Montana, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong here at all. In May of 2017, anti-Semitic fliers were posted around Bozeman, depicting a supposed rabbi calling for “White genocide,” a tactic used by supremacists to both gain new supporters by inciting baseless fear that minority groups wish to wipe out white people and to intimidate community members.

This “literature drop,” as the MHRN refers to it, was organized locally. Other events, like the march in Whitefish, were organized by online groups from “alt-right,” neo-Nazi sites like Breitbart or The Daily Stormer.

Montana is home to several hate groups, most prominently one called Pioneer Little Europe (PLE). PLE’s philosophy is to create an “Aryan homeland” by moving in Nazis to susceptible communities. As McAdam puts it, “[PLE has] come up with this idea of moving in at the community level, until they reach critical mass, and then they can start doing things like taking over city council and those types of those activities.”

Whitefish and Community Response

MHRN isn’t the only group in Montana currently working to counteract hate. Franke Wilmer, Ph.D, professor of Political Science at MSU, was involved with Whitefish as well, and the “Love Lives Here” movement created by Montana citizens.

“The announcement of a Nazi march occurred in the context of ongoing responses to the attacks on specific Jews in Whitefish that preceded it,” Wilmer said. One Jewish woman, Tanya Gersh, a resident of Whitefish, received hundreds of calls from anonymous Nazis and members of The Daily Stormer, calling her slurs and wishing for her and her family’s deaths, simply for being Jewish.

Why Whitefish, though? A town with a population just over 7,000 isn’t one many would think would be home to a Nazi march. However, it is home to current figurehead of the White supremacist movement, Richard Spencer, as well as “Patriot” Chuck Baldwin, a preacher, failed candidate for governor of Florida and leader of the Liberty Fellowship church. The combination of these public figureheads, the lack of diversity and the history of hate groups in Flathead Valley make little Montana towns like Whitefish common targets for Nazis.

Flathead County is also one of the whitest places in America. At above 95 percent, you’d be hard pressed to find a community more ripe for the brewing of a hate movement.

That is, if it weren’t for the citizens. The response to this announcement was incredible, as Whitefish citizens and some out-of-towners banded together to create the “Love Lives Here” project. “The Love Lives Here project is widely supported in Whitefish, as evidenced by how many local businesses place “Love Lives Here” posters, flyers and stickers prominently in their business windows and storefronts,” Wilmer said. A week before the planned march, residents held a “Love Not Hate” rally.

In the end, there was no march. The community of Whitefish soundly rejected the idea that Nazis had a place in their community. “Because of the work the community did in standing up and saying ‘Richard Spencer isn’t going to be the person that represents our town and no, we’re not gonna let this Andrew Anglin [creator The Daily Stormer] guy and his troll storm target and scare and marginalize people in our community,” McAdam said. “Through that response, it really sent a message through the Flathead area that no, White supremacy is not one of our values, and when those of you try to rise up and turn us into an Aryan homeland, we’re gonna stand up, and we’re gonna push back.’”

Counteracting Hate

This isn’t the only way to stop the growth of white supremacy in our communities. You don’t have to hold big rallies and start networks (though those are good options and completely necessary as well). Stopping it, McAdam and Wilmer both say, can be simple, too.

“When you’re talking about right-wing extremists, they’re more than happy to put their view of our communities and what they want them to look like, how they want them to operate out there in a very aggressive manner,” McAdam said, who went on to say that people with opposing viewpoints to these supremacists should stand up just as often, and be just as loud.

Wilmer said that “often just “showing up” in support for public rallies in support of love and opposed to hate in all its forms” is enough. “[There is] nothing like having hundreds of people show up at an anti-hate rally.”

Stand up in public forums against hate movements, write Letters to the Editor of your local newspaper. Share information about rallies and stay informed about local politics. Most importantly, vote, in every election, because hate isn’t just national. It starts locally, and grows from there. If we can stop it at home, we can stop it anywhere.

And know that you’re not alone. “Being one person trying to do things can be overwhelming,” McAdam said. “Seek out like-minded people, thinking about what you can do to get [your] message out there is a big piece of the battle, and it can be quite a bit easier to do if you’re not trying to do it by yourself.”