Montana public officials have come together in unified opposition of the recent intimidations made against the Jewish community in Whitefish.
Together in a letter co-signed by senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines, Rep. Ryan Zinke, Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox, each denounced efforts of threat and intimidation directed at the community.
The letter comes in response to a post on the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist blog that last week called its followers “to action” to harass and “troll” Whitefish businesses, its Jewish community and the Love Lives Here advocacy group. On Friday, the blog announced plans for an organized armed rally through the streets of Whitefish in January.
The post said that the armed march would be called off if certain groups met a list of demands. The blog’s author requested an apology for the attention brought to Sherry Spencer over the white nationalist viewpoints of her son, Richard Spencer, and for Love Lives Here to promise not to take future action against Sherry.
Tester told the Inter Lake on Tuesday that the protest threats and the presence of the Daily Stormer’s ideology is non-negotiable.
“This is not a negotiation,” he said. “We left England because of religious discrimination. It’s discrimination and it should never be negotiable and neither is anti-Semitism.”
Tester said that Montana-elected officials hope to address the threats “directly and forcefully.”
“I hope that the letter, in part with the leadership, will cause them to say that this is not the right place for this kind of garbage,” Tester said.
The letter offers the delegation’s support to the Jewish community, Montana families, business, faith organizations and law enforcement officers. Tester said he has reached out to law enforcement and some of the families who have been threatened to offer his support.
“I think we can offer the support not only in the letter but with resources if this thing goes really crazy,” Tester said. “Ultimately, law enforcement presence will be the ones on the ground with this. I’m sure they will match the threat with whatever effort they need to ensure the safety of their citizens.”
Tester said he’s aware that Whitefish police have been reporting to the FBI any threats made by neo-Nazis from online posts. He said that if local law enforcement or other groups were to reach out to requests for support from Tester’s office, he would advocate for a bigger FBI presence in the area.
Attorney General Fox on Tuesday said his office is ready to import resources to Whitefish if needed.
“The Department of Justice obviously is equipped to assist local law enforcement should the need arise,” Fox told the Inter Lake. “I give my personal support to people in the Jewish faith and all faiths here in Montana. If there was any demonstration of a threat of intimidation against any [religious group of people], we certainly would view that as something that we would scrutinize.”
As no illegal actions have taken place, Fox underscored the importance of leadership speaking out against hate and anti-Semitic campaigns.
Sen. Daines echoed Fox’s sentiment, saying that combating the neo-Nazi’s focus on Whitefish starts with condemnation from the state’s leadership.
“Leadership starts at the top,” Daines said. “It’s important and I’m very pleased to see the entire Montana delegation unified behind this.”
Daines mentioned a similar anti-Semitic rhetoric that struck the town of Billings during the 1990s.
“The solidarity of the people in Billings eventually squelched that anti-Semitism,” he said. “I’m confident and remain hopeful that the good folks of Montana will continue to stand up against this repulsive ideology and that the light will overcome the darkness.”
WHITEFISH POLICE Chief Bill Dial said that the Daily Stormer’s proposed armed march would require a permit from the city. If, hypothetically, the city were to approve the permit for the march, Dial said his department has a plan to ensure safety.
“We have a plan if this march goes through,” Dial said. “I’ve told the council and I’ve told many people in the community that we’re hoping for the best and planning for the worst.”
Dial said his office has been in contact with several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and Homeland Security. The letter released Tuesday, he said, added to the network of support.
“We’re all on the same page,” Dial added.
Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, said the unified stance from public officials provides a double-sided defense against the attack on Whitefish community members.
“It’s two fold: It really points to the seriousness of the situation… there’s also the support of elected officials from across the state and various parties saying that threats and intimidation and false intimidation is not how we run our community.”
Carroll Rivas said groups at the local level for years have been laying the groundwork establishing a more welcoming and safe community that she believes will outlast the barrage of online threats.
“I’m really proud of the community of Whitefish and all that they have done to stand against the hate and intimidation and for an inclusive community,” she said. “I really believe that it is important for law enforcement to be one of those institutions that we can lean on right now. They can provide both levels of safety and leadership.”
ANDREW ANGLIN of the Daily Stormer has authored the posts regarding the Spencers in Whitefish. The 32-year-old neo-Nazi, as described by the Southern Poverty Law Center, decorates his blog with Nazi symbols and pro-white nationalist imagery. His most recent post, which vows to call off the protest if demands are met, garnered more than 400 responses online.
Carroll Rivas said while an East Coast blog is responsible for recent intimidation efforts, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer should be held responsible for perpetuating the movement against the Jewish community in Whitefish.
“Richard has gone back on radio and YouTube and continued to propel this story by making accusations that are false and he’s continued to spread hate and hateful ideology that is a root of this problem,” she said. “One real specific way is to have the community put that pressure on him to take responsibility for that ideology that spreads those hateful beliefs. He can’t control Anglin but he has a relationship there and it’s clear that he’s just perpetuating this situation.”