Police outnumber protesters at anti-government rally
LIBBY - A cold and persistent drizzle did not dampen the heated rhetoric outside Libby on Saturday, nor was it enough to douse the United Nations flag, which was set ablaze and left to burn to a crisp on the pavement.
About three dozen people, frustrated with federal policies and what they called a New World Order, gathered in a peaceful but emotionally charged demonstration at a rest stop 15 miles west of the small town. Their bumper stickers told their tale.
"I love my country, but I fear my government."
"Environmentalists: Welcome to Montana, park at the border and walk in."
"Jesus Saves. The U.N. Enslaves."
"Politically incorrect and proud of it."
"Shoot first - Live longer."
And, emblazoned next to the image of a handgun, "We don't call 9-1-1."
The gathering of 40 or so was a far cry from the 3,000 initially expected to attend when Rep. Scott Orr, R-Libby, and a handful of friends put out the call for a "mass rally of civil disobedience."
A flier put out by Orr and the group invited those with a grievance against the federal government to come to Libby for a show of force on April 15, the traditional tax day.
The language of the flier, however, concerned many in Libby, including the Chamber of Commerce, the City Council and local law enforcement. Ultimately, the group called off the rally, saying the media had blown the event out of proportion and encouraged acts of violence. Others in town have argued it was the initial flier that encouraged violent action.
Nevertheless, a small but dedicated cadre of people came from as far away as Idaho and Wyoming to rally against what they perceive as an oppressive global government.
In the end, few from Libby turned out - even Orr kept his distance - and there was little discussion about timber, mining and federal land access, which were originally to be high on the agenda.
Instead, the largely out-of-town crowd lambasted the United Nations and the "lying commie-pinko media."
Participants also took exception with Lincoln County Sheriff Daryl Anderson, who meanwhile had beefed up patrols for the gathering, bringing in officers from Libby, Troy, the Montana Highway Patrol, Missoula, Kalispell and elsewhere. Department of Justice agents also were on hand for what Anderson called a "white patriot anti-government rally."
"We're not anti-government," said a man who identified himself as Julio Martinez of Kalispell. "This is a pro-government rally. We the people. We're not against the government. We are the government. We're just against the people who are trying to put us in shackles. These are all men who love our country, who will die for their country. Most of them are veterans, but you never see that in the media."
One media representative, a reporter from Spokane, was singled out by the group and told by rally participant Tom Stetson that if he ever referred to Stetson as an anti-government racist, "I will personally come and visit you."
Others in the crowd called the reporter a "lying sack of crap," and said "the name of this rally is 'media on trial.' "
The media, in fact, found itself in the spotlight as rally participants turned their camcorders on reporters who were interviewing members of the crowd.
Those running the camcorders would narrate for the record, making sure to get the reporter's name and employer to go with the face.
Although participants denied it, Sheriff Anderson said Stetson represents a militia group from Idaho called Americans for Constitutional Government.
Jack Gurganus, an Idaho resident also purported to belong to that group, denied any affiliation, and said he was close friends with Stetson and knew no one in the crowd as a member of the militia group.
Anderson, however, disagreed, and said both men identified themselves as representatives of that group in a meeting late last week. Gurganus also said he and others came to town at Anderson's request - to help police against "extreme leftists" - another statement Anderson disputes.
"These guys play both ends and the middle," Anderson said. "I'm just glad it turned out peacefully. We hoped it would go like this, but we had to prepare for the worst."
Anti-government fervor and civil disobedience, police said, conjure up images of federal building bombings and attacks.
Anderson said his deputies are required to train in a mock emergency once a year, and Saturday's event will qualify for this year's field test, he said. That will help defray some of the costs of preparation, but the bill still will run into the thousands of taxpayer dollars for overtime and assistance from other agencies.
"We had to prepare," Anderson said. "We had no idea what the hell to expect."
In the end, there were about as many media representatives as there were rally participants, and slightly more police than anyone else.
The gathering attracted no audience other than reporters and police, and dissolved quickly in the drizzle not long after the blackened United Nation's flag was stomped out and deposited, with some fanfare, in the trash.
"The U.N., well I think our main concern there is so many of our national parks and monuments are being turned over as U.N. peace parks," Gurganus said. "Parks run and managed by the U.N."
And as the flag smoldered on the wet pavement, Stetson drew applause in summing up the afternoon sentiment: "We will never stand by and watch a U.N. flag fly over any part of this country."