Students walks across the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman. In the background is Montana Hall.
Montana State University was targeted with white supremacist and nationalist stickers and flyers last weekend, as prominent places around campus were tagged with messages similar to those removed in other Montana communities, including recently in Great Falls.
Some of the materials are associated with the Big Sky Active Club, a group of neo-Nazi white supremacists who occasionally gather with other similar groups like White Lives Matter.
MSU officials confirmed that they first noticed the stickers on Saturday, and were reported to the facilities officials as well as the university police.
Tracy Ellig, vice president of communications for MSU, said that university policy prohibits stickers of any kind on the exterior of university property and so they were removed promptly.
The stickers were reported in several places, including in front of Montana Hall, an iconic building on the Bozeman campus where many of the university’s administrative offices are located.
Ellig told the Daily Montanan that policing the entire campus can be a challenge because it is spread out on 1,170 acres.
“Based on their assessment, university police have not identified any security concerns related to the anonymous posting of these stickers,” Ellig said.
However, MSU is still investigating their appearance on campus.
The university said it did not notify students of the stickers, nor are there plans to address it, Ellig said.
“The university follows its protocols: We don’t send out a notice to campus over the appearance of stickers,” Ellig said.
Recent history repeats itself
The stickers at MSU are another example in a growing number of incidents cataloged throughout the state.
“What we are seeing is that these groups try to put these up as an act of intimidation against those who already face discrimination in their lives,” said Cherilyn DeVries, a spokesperson for the Montana Human Rights Network.
Last month, white supremacist propaganda was inserted into library books at the Great Falls Public Library, especially in books dealing with the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler and World War II.
Leaders condemned the action, saying that hatred and intolerance were not a part of their community values.
As the Gaza-Israel conflict escalated, White Lives Matter and Big Sky Active Club members also got into a confrontation in Missoula as protesters were calling for peace in Gaza. Those groups also marched and shouted near Har Shalom, the synagogue in Missoula.
Similar stickers have been reported in the Flathead area as well as near parks in Billings.
DeVries said that many of the groups try to use current world events to fan flames of division and racial hatred.
“They don’t represent the community, but at the same time, we take them seriously,” DeVries said.
She said it’s not surprising that white supremacist and nationalist groups would target places like MSU, where there is a lot of diversity concentrated on a campus. The purpose, DeVries said, isn’t just to harass, scare or intimidate, but it’s also seen as an opportunity for recruitment. She said many young men join these groups in their late teens and early twenties.
She said MSU could have also been targeted because it has a strong queer-straight alliance.
DeVries said the groups also try to look bigger than they are – that’s part of the intimidation and strategy.
“They’ll try to impress others and say, ‘Look, we attacked this university,’” DeVries said. “And in a state like Montana, they’ll hit the campus because it’s where you tend to have more diversity.”
Civil rights investigation
Montana State University itself is currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for possible discrimination and Title IX violations.
Members of the LGBTQ community as well as other minorities on campus have told the Daily Montanan that university officials haven’t responded to threats and intimidation, and tried to discourage reporting other incidents out of fear for the university’s reputation.
The latest investigation, reported last month, alleges that MSU discriminated against students of Jewish heritage and women.
How to respond
DeVries said that it’s important for communities to acknowledge what’s going on, especially in high-traffic, high-visibility locations.
“We don’t want leaders to look the other way,” she said.
Instead, she encouraged residents in Bozeman and across the state to let political leaders know how they feel. Furthermore, she said leaders can use the feedback as support to denounce hatred, much like what happened after the Great Falls Public Library found the materials.
The library responded openly about what happened, and utilized the “Hate Has No Home in Montana” campaign, while the Great Falls City Council designated a week as “United Against Hate” there, and adopted a resolution that said, in part:
“Whereas, we recognize that a proclamation or single action, in and of itself, will not change a community but rather acknowledge that we are all responsible, both individually and collectively, for creating and fostering an anti-racist and unbiased community,” the council said.
DeVries said urging local, state and federal leaders to declare their community values as well as emphasizing kindness, compassion and understanding.United Against Hate Week 110723
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