Battle over Refugees

In this Feb. 1, 2016 photo, Dee and John Gibney, right, sit holding anti-refugee signs and watch a small group of counter protesters at far left during a rally, in Missoula. What started as a disagreement over whether to welcome dozens of refugees to this corner of western Montana soon erupted into something much larger, encompassing wildly divergent views of Islam, big government and whether Americans should “take care of our own” before worrying about newcomers. The Montana Green Party denounced John Gibney's candidacy Friday after he refused to apologize for comments he made at the rally. 

HAMILTON — The Montana Green Party denounced a Ravalli County candidate Friday morning after he refused to back away from statements made at an anti-refugee protest in Missoula two years ago that party officials called bigoted.

Even with the rebuke, John Gibney of Hamilton remained adamant in his plans to move forward with his Green Party candidacy for House District 85.

“I’m not sacrificing my values for anybody,” Gibney said. “I’m going to speak the truth. If someone doesn’t like it or they don’t want me around, fine, that’s their prerogative. That’s the First Amendment.”

Montana’s fledgling Green Party was approved to appear on this year’s ballot just hours before the filing deadline Monday. Gibney was one of six candidates who beat the clock to file under the party’s banner for state legislative and federal races.

A Green Party candidate with Republican ties, Tim Adams, has already faced questions this week about whether his decision to file for the U.S. Senate was a way to siphon votes from Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat seeking re-election for a third term.

Gibney wouldn’t say if that was his intention in the three-way race that features incumbent Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, and two Democrats.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m registered with the Green Party,” Gibney said. “That’s just the way it is. We have open elections, so why not? I’ll see how it goes with them.”

As a matter of due diligence, Green Party Chair Danielle Breck said party officials asked all the candidates this week for a written statement committing to the party’s values and agreeing to act in a manner that reflects their commitment.

In addition, Breck said the party asked Gibney to apologize for and denounce comments he made while attending a Missoula anti-immigration rally in 2016.

At that rally, Gibney held a sign that read “They rape, kill, destroy.” His wife had a sign that read “They hate Christians, Jews, women, gays.”

Gibney told a reporter at the rally: “There is a legal way of doing things, an orderly way of doing things. There has been since the country was founded. There’s a right way and they’re doing it in the wrong way, and our black Muslim president is trying to bring this country down. And he’s doing a very good job with all his lapdogs.”

Breck said her party "felt those comments were somewhat bigoted and actually did not reflect our values in any manner.” 

During a telephone conversation with Gibney Thursday night, Breck said he not only refused to apologize, but defended his comments.

“After that phone call, party officials decided it was in the best interest of the Green Party to denounce his candidacy,” she said. “Of course there’s nothing we can do to kick him off the ballot or anything like that short of a potential lawsuit that we may or may not be able to prove and which would cost a lot of money we don’t have.

"We feel right now that our best path forward is to make it known to the public, to the media, to everybody that we don’t support him. We don’t agree with his ideals. He is not a member of our party. And we’re not affiliated with his campaign in any way.”

Gibney said Friday that he is not opposed to immigration as long as it’s done legally. He and his wife adopted two Korean children.

The 72-year-old Gibney said the Democratic Party is too liberal and he feels disenfranchised by the current Republican Party, which he said isn’t conservative enough. That led him to the Green Party when it came time to file, he said.

“In my personal opinion, there are too many RINOs in the Republican Party right now,” he said. “They are Republican In Name Only.”

Gibney said the Green Party’s platform hasn’t lived up to his expectations.

“I didn’t realize how much different their platform was from what I expected out of them,” he said. “I thought they were quote ‘The Green Party’ that was interested in the environment. They are definitely more political and more socialist than what I thought. Maybe I’ll have to start my own party.

“I’m just going to play it by ear,” Gibney said. “I may stay in. I may not. I just don’t know.”

Breck said it’s been frustrating to have to deal with candidates that clearly don’t support the party’s platform.

“We’ve been working in politics for a while now,” she said. “There is always going to be that guy or those people who are seeking to discredit you and give the party a black eye. That’s just unfortunately how American politics work. …It’s frustrating, but not necessarily unexpected. It’s not that we didn’t know that we would have to deal with some sort of dirty politics once we got ballot access.”

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Northwest Montana Reporter

Ravalli Republic Associate Editor