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Swastika

Swastikas and a racist message were spray-painted on the side of the Colonial Motel in Missoula.

Tuesday morning, it was anti-Semitic flyers distributed in a Missoula neighborhood. Tuesday afternoon, a red spray-painted Swastika and "White Power" message appeared on the broad side of a motel building facing Broadway Avenue.

Consider another round of anti-Semitic flyers found on the University of Montana campus last week, and the message is starting to feel like a growing drumbeat in Missoula.

"I wouldn't say that other communities are experiencing the same pattern of anti-Semitic flyers being left in groups" as Missoula has, said Rachel Carroll Rivas, of the Montana Human Rights Network, in a phone interview before the discovery of the swastika on the side of the Colonial Motel.

"There is white nationalist and other far-right activity around the state that has looked like graffiti and flyers up on telephone posts and kind of protest-type gatherings, but I would say the flyers consistent with anti-Semitism has been" unique to Missoula, she said.

The flyer left around the Lewis and Clark neighborhood Tuesday morning was what Carroll Rivas and Har Shalom Rabbi Laurie Franklin called an "old-age" conspiracy theory.

"Circumcision is how Jews mark their slave populations," it reads, above a depiction of Jesus Christ nailed to a cross. 

Eric Wall discovered the piece of paper on his 61-year-old mother's window, right below a big menorah. He took it down before she found it, he said, because he didn't want her to "freak out" about it.

Wall was at another Jewish family's house a few years ago when another piece of anti-Semitic literature was dropped off. 

"It's scary, and it's also infuriating that we have to deal with this again," he said. "I'm definitely frustrated, just because I feel like the community is doing a really good job of trying to confront this. … But the fact that people feel like they have the support to do this is concerning to me."

Franklin, the Missoula rabbi, agreed. Especially so, she said, after the Oct. 27, 2018, massacre at a Pittsburgh neighborhood synagogue that left 11 dead and seven injured by a gunman. Robert Bowers, the suspected shooter, pleaded not guilty on Monday to 19 additional counts recently filed against him, including federal hate crime charges.

In Montana, a Whitefish real estate agent is suing the publisher of a neo-Nazi website who published contact information for her and her family and called  his followers to action against the Jewish family. The online "troll storm" sent Tanya Gersh's family into hiding.

"You don't know who will be radicalized into action," Franklin said. 

Carroll Rivas said Montana's growing struggle with anti-Semitism, white nationalism and other forms of intolerance has paralleled that of the U.S. and other parts of the world in recent years. In 2016, she said, the Montana Human Rights Network noticed a growing number of hate-related incidents involving people of color, LGBT communities and others.

"We know these are not just words that are being directed at folks," she said. "There's data that there's an increase in violent attacks, and that includes actual hate crimes."

By and large, the organization's research has shown distributors to be single actors, Carroll Rivas said, often radicalized online. 

That's a stark contrast to the response these flyers and graffiti receive.

"Wherever we see these displays of bigotry and hatred against people of color and Jewish folks in the state, we've seen a positive community response in that people have defended those being attacked and denounced discriminatory beliefs and actions," Carroll Rivas said. 

Franklin said, as a leader in the Jewish community, she believes the best way to repel such ideologies is to challenge them at each turn.

"As a community, I feel Missoula repudiates this, strongly," Franklin said. "Let's not reward anybody for putting out messages of hate by ignoring them completely."

Franklin suggested anti-Semites come to the table, rather than slinking around in the night with flyers.

"Let's invite some conversation," she said. "If you truly believe the Jewish people are a bad people, people with an agenda that threatens you, can we talk about it? What in your life brought you to that conclusion?"

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