WHITEFISH, Mont. (CN) – Swastikas appeared on a bridge over the Clark Fork River in Missoula, Montana, this week. But it wasn't long before the swastikas were covered with more graffiti: in the shape of a heart.
As hate speech and Nazi propaganda have popped up around Montana in the last month, so has a proliferation of community groups seeking to squash white-nationalist rhetoric affecting communities in the Treasure State.
From Whitefish in the northwest to Billings in the southeast, Montana is experiencing a rise is hate-related speech and propaganda, according to Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network. She said incidents include Nazi graffiti, language launched at people of color, anti-gay slurs, anti-Semitic and racist leafletting, and bullying of youth and teachers of color.
The increase in hate speech in Montana is tied to Donald Trump, Carroll Rivas said.
“The election of Donald Trump emboldened and validated some people’s efforts to subject others to hateful beliefs and to use intimidation to instill fear,” she said. “And there is a heightened awareness of bigotry because of the microphone and podium the president-elect has given to discriminatory and biased ideas. Both are real reasons and we don’t expect either to subside.”
Montana is a traditionally “red” state that helped elect Trump. The state's three electors this week cast their votes for the president-elect. While Trump's election has emboldened a current of white-nationalistic ideals, Montanans are reacting strongly to the hate rhetoric.
Two groups were formed this week in response and are helping to rally the momentum against white nationalism in Montana. Love Lives Here/Helena is an offshoot of the Love Lives Here organization based in the Flathead Valley of Northwest Montana. That group was formed in 2010, when Nazi films began being shown in Kalispell. Another community group, Missoula Rising, is now actively organizing opposition to the spate of hate speech in Missoula.
During Trump's presidential campaign, Nazi leaflets and swastikas began appearing in Missoula. Recently the attention turned to Whitefish, a resort town about 130 miles north of Missoula, where Richard Spencer, director of the National Policy Institute, lives with his mother.
According to its website, the National Policy Institute is an organization dedicated to the heritage, identity and future of people of European descent in the United States and around the world. The institute has helped coin the term “alt-right,” an offshoot of conservatism that includes racism and white nationalism.
Last week, Richard Spencer told a Montana newspaper that he is considering running for U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke's seat. Trump last week tapped Zinke, who is also from Whitefish, to head the Department of Interior.
The hate groups' rallying cry has reached a fever pitch in the past week, when Sherry Spencer, who owns commercial property in Whitefish, began posting comments on social media that she was being targeted for her son's beliefs.
That resulted in the Daily Stormer website calling for an open response against people of Jewish faith in Whitefish. The website named several people to contact, including emails, Twitter handles and business names. The website posted photos of the people with gold stars of David labeled “Jude.”
Civic organizations have joined the fight against Richard Spencer — and his mother's money. One performing arts organization in the Flathead Valley received a “good sized” donation from Sherry Spencer. But after learning of her son's beliefs and involvement with the National Policy Institute, the arts organization returned the check, according to the organization's director.
Whitefish City Council earlier this month issued a proclamation that it is against all forms of hate in its community, and the town passed a non-discrimination ordinance in March 2016.
Andrew Anglin, publisher of the Daily Stormer website, seems undeterred by any counteractivity to his program of establishing white homeland in Montana.
“We have already pretty much won this round,” he wrote. “Hail victory.”
The Montana Human Rights Network recently began monitoring the rise of hate-related incidents and is forwarding reports of harassment to law enforcement.
“We feel it is our duty to be tracking and responding as much as possible to these incidents,” Carroll Rivas said. “We’ve got to call out hate when we see and hear of it. Folks are afraid right now and feel targeted. Too many folks, actually. That’s no way to live. Everyone deserves to live without fear and we all should be able to fully participate in community.”
Love Lives Here has been a target of Sherry Spencer's and the Daily Stormer's calls to action.
Anglin, writing on the Daily Stormer website, urged his readers to do the following:
“Write a postcard with a negative, hateful message and send it to Love Lives Here at P.O. Box 204, Whitefish, MT 59937. [The mailman will deliver these]. Buy or borrow a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’ and host a story hour for your neighborhood kids. Share the story of what happened in Billings, MT in the ’90s when they rallied around a Jewish family to harass goyim. Get a Nazi flag for your window (window cling or candle holder) to show solidarity with your Aryan brothers and sisters during the Hanukkah holiday (Dec. 24th – Jan. 1st). Print off a pdf of the Nazi swastika logo and post it in your car or home or business.”
Will Randall helped form Love Lives Here in 2010, and said the organization has received a “huge outpouring of support” in the last few weeks from local and national organizations, including the NAACP.
“We're in the middle of a fantastic response,” Randall said. “But no amount of money is worth going through this again.”
Randall said grassroots organizations like Love Lives Here, which has only one paid staff person that works 10 hours a week, “are battling an extremely sophisticated public relations machine on the other side.”
He said anti-Semitic leafletting has been found on cars at the Kalispell Target store parking lot.
“Diversity to them,” he said, “means white genocide. We do not want white supremacists to define what Whitefish is. They do not represent Whitefish.”
Randall said he's known about white supremacists in northwest Montana for several years, but this is more aggressive and emboldened.
“There's a couple different flavors of them,” he said, “from the elite, rich and privileged who live atop Big Mountain (ski resort), to the garden variety neo-Nazis who live by the sewer plant here in Kalispell.”