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A number of state legislatures in the Interior West in recent years, reflecting their deeply conservative constituencies, have tried to outdo each other in promoting gun rights within their boundaries -- almost always at the behest of far-right gun factions. Leading the way, probably, has been Montana, whose legislature has passed a number of radical bills in recent years aimed at limiting federal oversight of guns in the state, including a recent bill giving sheriffs the right to arrest federal agents.
Now Montanans are learning there is a steep price to pay for endorsing gun-rights extremism: Not only does it empower some of the most extreme right-wingers operating in the realm of mainstream politics, it also attracts some of the most radical members of the far right, including committed racists who see their new Western homes as the place to try to build a white-supremacist homeland.
David Holthouse has a four-part series at Media Matters reporting on this phenomenon in detail, and it is a must-read:
In addition to calling on fellow right-wing extremists to move to the Flathead Valley, leaders of both the PLE and the Patriot movements in the region are urging followers to exploit Montana's weak firearms regulations by stocking up on guns, including .50 caliber sniper rifles and assault weapons, says Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, which closely follows PLE and Patriot activity, including online communications.
"With the PLE, it's the coming battle with Zionist Occupied Government, with the Patriots, it's the New World Order, but again the rhetoric is similar: 'A big fight is coming, so move with us to Montana where it's easy to get a lot of serious guns, because chances are you're going to need them,'" says McAdam.
Gaede cited Montana's "pro-gun" culture in a recent PLE recruiting message posted to the major white nationalist online forum Stormfront.
"The atmosphere of the area has a distinct 'Montana' feel and attitude. That attitude is to leave others alone and allow them to have their own beliefs and choices," Gaede wrote. "There is a strong pro-gun and pro-hunting population and one of the strongest Constitution parties that I have seen yet. Our Christmas parade still goes by that name and we have a nativity scene in our public square with a Baby Jesus... Come Home!"
Yes, this is the same April Gaede who dressed up her twin daughters as a neo-Nazi pop-music act called Prussian Blue, all so that they could become the objects of creepy old Nazi fetishists' desires. (The girls recently told Montana reporters that they no longer believed in the Nazi upbringing.)
Gaede and her fellow neo-Nazis, in fact, have been intimidating their neighbors ever since they moved into the Kalispell area, and their activism has spread into larger campaigns of vicious harassment against liberals previously.
But as Holthouse explains, it isn't simply white supremacists who are changing the political landscape in Montana. They're being aided and abetted by far-right "Patriot" movement followers who are extending their power into the halls of the Montana Legislature -- particularly by trying to enact an extremist "gun rights" agenda that also reflects the longtime agenda of the racist radical right.
Chuck Baldwin, a Baptist preacher who ran for president under the Constitution Party banner in 2008, moved 18 members of his family to Montana’s Flathead Valley last fall after receiving what he called a divine message telling him the state was the “tip of the spear” in the fight for liberty. Stewart Rhodes, a Yale-educated lawyer, former Army paratrooper and head of the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers, also moved here. Rhodes is laying the groundwork for a new militia and is calling for citizens to adopt a barter economy to escape the bondage of U.S. currency.
... What is happening in Montana — thanks to this newest wave of extremists — is a convergence of two “separatist” ideas that have long fermented in the brew of Pacific Northwest extremism. The antigovernment “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.
Significantly, as we reported last year in an investigative report for AlterNet, a majority of the Patriot movement revival is taking place under the banner of the Tea Party, which has proven a fertile recruitment ground for right-wing extremism.
Moreover, the Montana Legislature, for this past session, has been largely controlled by this same faction of Tea Partying Republicans, following the lead of these gun-rights radicals. As we reported, these radicals actually announced their agenda in the fall of 2010 in the run-up to the election that brought the Tea Partiers to power:
The evening's first speaker is a fellow Montanan and another gun-rights figure: Missoula's own Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association and a longtime fixture on Montana's far-right political scene.
Marbut enjoys an almost legendary status among Patriots and Tea Parties, one seriously burnished by his May 2009 appearance on a Glenn Beck episode on Fox News as part of a group of state-level political activists Beck had called in to discuss then-nascent efforts by legislators in a number of conservative states to declare their "sovereignty" in relation to the federal government. Just the month before, Montana legislators had passed (and the Democratic governor signed) a bill declaring that all guns manufactured in the state were exempt from federal legislation. The bill had been drafted by Marbut, who enjoys guru-like status among the state's gun-rights aficionadoes.
Marbut has never actually been elected to any office at all, though he has run numerous times, largely because he resides in liberal Missoula, where local residents are all too well aware just how radical he really is – embodied by his long history of forming alliances and dalliances with figures on the extremist right. For instance, Marbut in the 1990s tried organizing Patriot "neighborhood watches," advising Militia of Montana members not to call themselves "militias". Of course, his concept of a "neighborhood watch" was largely a survivalist one, incorporating "communications, organizations, and supply" issues.
In 1994, disgusted with the passage of the Brady Act, Marbut suggested Montana secede from the Union, and his MSSA promoted a resolution legalizing the formation of "unorganized militias." And Marbut wasn't merely involved in the militias -- he also played footsie with Christian Identity activists, running his columns in a white-supremacist "Christian Identity" newspaper, along with a related militia magazine, the Sierra Times. And he's actively promoted tax-resistance-style jury nullification in the form of the Fully Informed Jury Association, which Marbut calls "the last peaceable barrier between innocent gun owners and a tyrannous government." FIJA sells video tapes of speeches by Red Beckman, among others.
Marbut references FIJA in his talk in Hamilton this night, but mostly he wants to talk about the next session of the Montana Legislature, where he hopes to propose a new piece of "sovereignty" lawmaking. He calls it his "Sheriffs First" bill.
"That's a bill that if we get it passed -- and I think we can -- we'll make it a crime in Montana, a state crime, for a federal officer to arrest, search or seize without the advance written permission of the county sheriff," Marbut explains, to enthusiastic applause. "And how that will work is, ah, the federal officers might come to your local sheriff and say, 'OK, here's our probable cause, we believe there's people at this location in your county who have a meth lab – they're making methamphetamine. And we wanna bust 'em.' The sheriff might look it over and say, 'Gosh, I'm glad you brought this to me, here's your advance written permission, and I will send a couple deputies to help you.'
"Or the federal officers might come to the sheriff and say, 'Here's our probable cause, it leads us to believe there's somebody in your county at this location who's manufacturing firearms without a federal license. And we want to go bust them.' The sheriff might say, 'Sorry, we have a state law in Montana that authorizes that activity, it's perfectly legal here, you may not go bust them, you do not have permission, and if you do, we can put you in Deer Lodge. We can put you behind bars in Montana for doing that.' " That brings out the whoops alongside the applause.
Indeed, this bill -- along with a slate of others promoted by Marbut and his Patriot-movement cohorts, including a law to allow a reintroduction of spear hunting in the state -- passed this past spring, prompting the state's Democratic governor to publicly veto the bills with a branding iron. The Patriots, of course, are vowing to overwhelm any resistance in the next Legislature.
The newcomers have peculiar attitudes about their new neighbors that are not likely to win them many friends in the long term, however, particularly among longtime Montanans. Chuck Baldwin expressed it in his announcement of his move to the Flathead:
Baldwin went on to state that being born in Montana does not necessarily make one a Montanan.
“There are a lot of people that were born in Montana but are not Montanans,” Baldwin said. “And there are a lot of people, like me, who were not born in Montana but we have been Montanans our whole lives.” (Baldwin arrived in the Flathead in October.)
“Real Montanans love freedom,” he said. “Real Montanans will fight and die for the principles of truth, honor and freedom.”
Their solution, apparently, is to attempt to frighten and intimidate the "not real Montanans", such as the folks at the Montana Human Rights Network (founded by a sixth-generation Montanan), who comprise much of the state's tolerant, common-sensical longtime residents. They're now being subjected to the usual barrage of death threats and other forms of intimidation.
And make no mistake: They intend to intimidate with their superior arsenals. As Holthouse reports in the last installment:
At least five PLE members appear on videos from the expo. One of them, posting on Stormfront as "White Wolf," declared Weaver's presentation "amazing." Also in attendance was Scott Ernest, a white supremacist from southern Florida who, according to a travelogue he posted to Stormfront, a major white supremacist web forum, took Amtrak to Kalispell in order to visit the Flathead Valley for the first time and meet with Gaede and two other PLE leaders to discuss moving there.
Ernest has since relocated to Kalispell, where, according to his Stormfront posts, he's living in an RV. He's become a huge booster for PLE online, regularly updating his Stormfront thread, which has more than 21,000 views.
"It's paradise here," he gushes in one of more than 400 posts. "I open carry [a handgun] every day. If you can, you should too."
Those of us who endured a similar campaign in Idaho in the 1980s and '90s will be forgiven if they feel a little shudder of recognition.
This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism; the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.