Commentary

White Lives Matter in Montana advocates for ethnic cleansing

March 1, 2022 5:26 am

A sticker from the group “White Lives Matter” near Pioneer Park in Billings (Photo by the Daily Montanan).

Longtime Billings residents know the story well. It all started with Neo-Nazi propaganda fliers flooding and vilifying LGBTQ folks, people of color, and of course Jews their neighborhoods.

Then, after a tumultuous year of intimidation against minorities in which skinheads even knocked over Jewish headstones, vandalized houses where minorities lived, and even show up at a local Black church to mean-mugging the congregation, in December of 1993 a brick was thrown through a window of a 5-year-old’s room where a menorah was displayed.

Enough was enough.

The Billings Gazette and local businesses printed menorahs in solidarity. Marches were held. People said, “Not in on our town!” 

The Nazis slunk back into the shadows. PBS made a 1995 documentary about it. Billings became the birthplace of the “Not In Our Town” movement.

Happy ending, right?

Unfortunately, no.

A few short years later in the early 2000s something happened few in Montana ever talk about, and that’s how packs of skinheads again roved around Billings beating up young people of color. Homeless minorities caught a brunt of the violence, too.

I definitely remember first-hand as a young Native American in Billings as even in broad daylight suddenly a dozen or so skinheads would show up at parks or local recreation areas.

Their ages ranged from teens to late twenties. Their leaders had large visible swastika tattoos; all had shaved heads. Red suspenders were “earned” by beating up minorities. Eight of them ended up convicted of hate crimes for assaulting minorities with weapons who dared to frequent Pioneer Park and not be white. “Park Patrol,” they called it. 

Why do we only mention 1993, and not about these hate crimes? Because this large group of skinheads were Montana’s own sons and reflected the immediate failures of the community to not be vigilant in the light of creeping white nationalism.

Fast forward to 2020, you have the Black Lives Matter movement in Montana protesting the brutal strangulation of George Floyd and police violence. At many of these Montana rallies, so-called “militias” glared at peaceful activists across the street with loaded guns. 

Then Republican state Sen. Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls started conspiracies on Facebook from supposed “multiple reports from credible witnesses” that caravans of Antifa—or Anti-Fascist—protestors were coming to Montana. 

Fielder, it must be noted, has been a board member of the Sanders Natural Resource Council County founded by John Trochmann. In 2011 Trochmann said his Militia of Montana transformed into the aforementioned “…little organization called the Sanders Natural Resource Council.”

Trochmann, while he downplays his Aryan Nation involvement, was a featured speaker at the 1990 Congress of the Aryan Nations.

In a 1997 Counter Terrorism Committee meeting, Montana Democrat Sen. Max Baucus highlighted how “Freemen”  militia groups had created an atmosphere of intimidation with their open carrying of guns, with one Ravalli County resident telling him, “If it gets to any one of them that a person doesn’t like the Freemen, they will call or confront the person face to face. They tell people that we are all going to ‘die like the Jews.’”

Baucus noted while militia groups might use anti-government, patriotic, and pro freedom language to attract followers, upon closer review their motives are more sinister. In a 1992 Sanders County document filed “by the Militia of Montana founder (Trochman) illustrates that agenda quite well,” Baucus said. “In it, he uses the Dred Scott decision to claim that only the white race has rights.”

Fielder has also defended her involvement with the controversial Citizens Equal Rights Alliance group, which also seeks to overturn Constitutional treaties with American Indian tribes. She disputed the claims, saying, “To characterize that as an anti-Indian group is a mischaracterization.” 

Longtime CERA chair Elaine Willman, however, has been quoted as saying, “So when I hear (Native Americans say), ‘We were here first,’ I say, ‘You’re very lucky we were here second, because we could be studying you like the dinosaurs.’” 

When Montana Democrats introduced House Joint Resolution 12-2021 condemning Neo-Nazis as domestic terrorists, all Republicans voted against it, with some suggesting the real problem in Montana were or would be alleged Anti-Fascists, or Antifa members. 

Of course, Antifa is oft used as a conspiratorial red herring, just as when Republican lawmakers nationwide initially blamed Antifa activists for leading the charge during the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol takeover. Disbarred Montana-based lawyer and founder of the Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, along with 10 other Oath Keeper members, were recently charged with seditious conspiracy which means to “oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.”

Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale, who spoke at a 2014 Oath Keepers event, downplayed his involvement with the group saying he was only there to speak about the Second Amendment. Sen. Steve Daines, however, voted to delay the execution of President Biden’s election after the Jan. 6 takeover.

In a cringeworthy moment during the 2021 Montana legislative session, Columbia Falls legislator Braxton Mitchell’s zeal to designate Antifa as a “domestic terrorist” organization lead him to outright lie and claim his bill had bipartisan and law enforcement support. The bill had cited numerous instances of alleged Antifa incidents in Portland as the reason it was relevant to Montana.

When republican Derek Skees of Kalispell disingenuously questioned the presence of white supremacist groups in Montana despite living in the Flathead Valley area consistently known for such activity, University of Montana associate professor Tobin Miller said, “It is an act of willful ignorance to say that white supremacist groups are not alive and active in Montana.”

Just 15 miles north of Kalispell in Whitefish, a Neo-Nazi supporter of Richard Spencer – who claims to advocate for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” – had been sued in 2019 for $14 million for promoting The Daily Stormer neo-Nazi website members harass local Jewish residents and activists. In November, Spencer and other organizers of the infamous Charlottesville Unite the Right rally that turned deadly were ordered to pay $26 million in damages.

Love Lives Here, founded in 2010 after local white supremacists showed Holocaust denial films at the local Kalispell library, was gaslit by Spencer as a “local hate group.” 

Like Richard Spencer and his claim to paradoxically advocate for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” White Lives Matter stresses the same. In efforts to rebrand white supremacy, they’re careful to denote they also advocate for non-violence in hopes of appealing to mainstream “normies” and deter and disassociate from neo-Nazis who attract law enforcement.

In the required reading WLM manifesto on the Telegram app, however, one can read between their lines. It explicitly states in the “What We Want” section a desire to eradicate non-whites from North America, Europe, and Australia where they aim to have: A minimum of 99% of White People at all times for all age groups in these said nations, where 1% non-White couple represent people temporarily inhabiting the land for purposes that serve the interest of White People – this includes tourism and trade.”

The Antifa Redoubt blog tracked the alleged leader of the Montana White Lives movement as currently living in Kalispell, where he took pics of his camping area where he hung a Nazi flag.

After an appalled woman tweeted a picture of White Lives Matter propaganda posted in a Billings neighborhood, her social media was immediately flooded with comments (after her screenshot Tweet was posted on the main WLM Telegram page) with hundreds of troll-ish comments like, “Why don’t you like white people?” 

While I realize writing this gives White Lives Matter the notoriety they crave, there is a troubling amount of leeway given to them on social media from conservative “normies” who naively believe it is comparable or no different to Black Lives Matter.

The difference is Black Lives Matter advocates for civil rights, while White Lives Matter advocates for ethnic cleansing and genocide. 

Finding busy roads, WLM protesters were recently spotted in Belgrade holding banners in front of a Taco Bell. In the months prior they were in Helena and Missoula. On Feb. 12, they were in front of the state capitol one year after Montana conservatives like Skees doubted the existence of such groups. In the meanwhile, they’ll keep posting videos of themselves posting WLM fliers and stickers.

Longtime Billings residents know the story well. It all started with Neo-Nazi propaganda fliers vilifying minorities flooding their neighborhoods. The White Lives Matter movement is the same old rebranded neo-Nazi, alt-right ethnic cleansing messaging—just a different year.

This time, let’s not repeat the same mistakes of becoming complacent letting the noxious weed that is white supremacy and bigotry take root and grow and threatens violence in our beautiful Montana and community.

Adrian L. Jawort is the Political Director of Indigenous Transilience.

CORRECTION: This column was updated to reflect the correct location of Montana Rep. Braxton Mitchell.

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