White Lives Matter: Small but visible in Montana

The group has around 20 members, but is active in its promotion

By: - April 24, 2022 7:58 am

The stairs of the Montana Capitol in Helena, Montana (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan).

The leader of a small but highly-visible white supremacist group has touted Montana’s laws in an effort to recruit other extremists in the state.

The introduction of White Lives Matter in Montana is another reminder of the state’s turbulent history with white supremacy and white nationalist groups as well as the efforts of local activists to push back.  In Montana, White Lives Matter started organizing in April 2021 and has put on small-scale demonstrations across the state in the last couple of months — including on Feb. 12 at the state Capitol building in Helena. 

Sebastian Campbell, known as “Cleetus” online, is the leader of the White Lives Matter Montana chapter. On a Dec. 21, 2021, episode of the “AMERIKANER” podcast from North Dakota, he talked about recruitment efforts, the framework of the group, and his affinity for Montana’s laws.

White Lives Matter has a national chapter and local chapters in nearly every state and is a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center that promotes neo-Nazi ideology. The group pitched itself as a grassroots initiative for White people on the podcast, but Travis McAdam said the messaging is a way to soften its neo-Nazi beliefs. 

“Describing themselves as a  social club is a way to take the edge off their hardcore racist ideology and makes it more appealing to other folks,” said McAdam, who has studied far-right extremism in the state for more than two decades and is the director of combating White nationalism and defending democracy at the Montana Human Rights Network.

People tracking hate groups in the state say the group only has 20 to 30 members, and its rigorous promotion efforts inflate its prominence. Despite the group’s size, organizations like the Montanan Human Rights network say it’s important to push back against it before things escalate from stickering to more dangerous activities.

They put up the stickers and gauge response … if they have some success with stickers and are not facing any opposition, you will see more in-person gatherings like rallies and stuff like that,” McAdam said.

But he said the real worry is what could come next.

“Our real concern is that if this activity starts to escalate, then we start to see the targeting of people in the community … LGBTQ, BIPOC, Jewish folks,” he said.

Missoula Rabbi Laurie Franklin, who has been on the receiving end of antisemitic literature drops by White supremacists and actively organizes to push back on them, described the impact these types of groups can have on people. Franklin is a current Montana Human Rights Network board member.

“It’s deeply troubling because as a sort of low-level terrorism, it makes people who are Jewish and people who have skin of color profoundly uncomfortable,” she said. “This movement gives all of us profound discomfort. It’s yet another chink in our sense of safety, and I honestly feel the most important thing we can do is very present and assertive of our identities.”

The draw of isolated living coupled with its history of anti-government and far-right movements have made it a desirable location for people looking to entrench themselves in White supremacy further. But as waves of White supremacists have ebbed and flowed, Montana has organized against them. 

Billings residents managed to thwart a Nazi movement in the city with their “Not in Our Town” movement in the 1990s. And more recently, in the Flathead, the community successfully organized after the neo-nazi newspaper the Daily Stormer called for a “troll storm” on its Jewish residents. 

Campbell himself has admitted many of his members are not from Montana and he’s on the hunt in neighboring states.

“Almost all of my guys moved here. The native Montananers haven’t done much so far, so I am looking for talent elsewhere,” he said in now-deleted Telegram chats.

“In our 30 years of doing this work, Montana has had a consistent presence of White nationalist and anti-government folks, but Montana also has a long history of standing up and rejecting these ideas too, and it really feels like it’s time for communities to start doing that again,” McAdam said.

On the podcast and in Telegram chats, Campbell has presented Montana as a haven for white supremacists. Campbell did not respond to a Facebook message asking for comment on this story.

“We have a right-wing gov … we have constitutional carry, and an anti-vaccine mandate law,” he said on Telegram as part of his recruitment campaign. And on the podcast, he said, “The laws on all sorts of things in Montana are pretty great.”

In screenshots of now-deleted Telegram chats, Campbell described his frustrations growing up as a vegan under the watch of a single liberal mom. After moving away to college, he said he became “red-pilled” — meaning, as in the “Matrix,” to wake up to the “truths” of the world. In the same chats, Campbell posted pictures of himself camping with Nazi flags and was unwavering in his hatred of Black people.

With aspirations to create a separate society for himself and other White supremacists, he moved to Kalispell from Kentucky in June 2020, he said.

The intermittent stream of groups like White Lives Matter popping up in the state results from the convergence of two separatist ideas that have stewed in the Pacific Northwest for decades. One is anti-government, and the other is white supremacy.

“The anti-government ‘Patriots,’ the larger of the two movements, want to establish a remote base of like-minded allies as a bastion of resistance for the day when, as they believe, the government will impose martial law. White supremacists are organizing around the idea of forming a long-desired all-white homeland far away from the multicultural cities,” the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote in 2011.

Both ideas have resonated with Campbell. 

“We’re trying to build a society within a society we want to network with people who care enough about their race to get outside and do stuff,” he said on the podcast about the group’s long-term goals. And in a since-deleted Telegram chat, he said, “I’m just glad there’s other White people waking up and realizing it’s time to detach from modern society.”

During the 67th legislative session, Republicans rebuffed a joint resolution that would have categorized White supremacist violence as domestic terrorism, and Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, questioned the existence of White supremacist groups in the state.

But Montana’s history with white supremacist groups is well documented. Stewart Rhodes, Chuck Baldwin and Richard Spencer, all notorious anti-government leaders have, at least at one point, called the Flathead home.

“Montana was once selected for the development of a white Aryan homeland to be used as a base of operation for many of these extremist groups,” a 1994 report by the Montana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said. “In Montana, and across the country, the actions of these White supremacist organizations are part of an alarming resurgence of violence and intimidation motivated by bigotry, ignorance, hatred, and racism.”


If you see the flyers in your town

If a WLM sticker or flyer shows up in your town, MHRN suggests you report them to https://mhrn.org/reportingform/.  The organization also suggests you take a picture of the flyers, share it with MRHN and tell local authorities. However, they recommend not sharing pictures of the flyers on social media, as it can provide free advertising for the group.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.