A friend set a bouquet of flowers at the front door of the Har Shalom synagogue this weekend.

One couple of another faith brought the worshipers an apple pie.

The gifts came one day after the synagogue requested police patrols upon hearing reports of anti-Semitic literature dropped elsewhere in Missoula.

The kindnesses came in addition to verbal attacks, racist rants, and minor physical assaults around Montana on the heels of a contentious presidential election that puts in the White House a leader who has made racist and sexist remarks.

When asked about such incidents around the country following his election, Donald Trump said in a "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday night that those reports saddened him. And directly addressing those responsible, he said, "Stop it."

Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center noted that Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who based part-time in Whitefish, praised president-elect Trump's selection of Stephen Bannon, chairman of the hard-right Breitbart News, as chief strategist. The center said Bannon has a "long history of bigotry."

Trump's opponents also appear to be engaging in unsavory activity such as vulgar vandalism in Polson.

"In the weeks and months ahead, we will learn if the dark acts of the last few days become the norm or if they fade," said synagogue spiritual leader Laurie Franklin in a message to the congregation.

Political outsider and businessman Trump pulled in enough votes last week to claim the presidency come January, and hate watchdogs have reported spikes in activity since the Republican real estate mogul won. Peaceful rallies and vigils are advocating for calm in the sometimes violent-aftermath as well.

The Montana Human Rights Network anticipates the verbal and physical attacks fueled by bigotry will continue to a varied degree. Network co-director Rachel Carroll Rivas said Trump's interest in continuing the sorts of mass rallies that characterized his campaign could further perpetuate verbal abuse and action.

"I do not think the numbers are large," Rivas said of those supporting the white supremacist agenda. "I don't think that changes the intimidation factor."

The fliers that landed in Missoula cited the American Nazi Party; party leaders did not respond Monday to the Missoulian's emailed request for comment about the group's membership and activity in Montana.


The following comprise some of the reports of verbal abuse and minor physical assaults and activity since the election:

  • In Kalispell, the Montana Human Rights Network received a report that three juvenile males attacked a single woman holding a sign at a protest against Trump. The men allegedly tore the sign, threw the pieces at her, and pushed the victim, Rivas said. 
  • A man in Missoula reported a physical attack Friday, according to the Missoula Police Department. Sgt. Travis Welsh said the man believed the assault that left him with minor injuries was politically motivated, but the man did not want to press charges. A post about the alleged incident was spread widely on social media.
  • In Great Falls, the bestselling author of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" wrote a Facebook post about a family member's encounter. Jamie Ford, who is part Chinese, said the person told his family member to leave the country because Trump was elected.
  • In Billings, the co-owner of a coffee shop that was about to open wrote sexist and racist comments on his Facebook page. The Billings Gazette reported Larry Heafner left the following note under a video that showed black men assaulting a white man: "These f---ing monkeys would be hanging if I saw this s---," and later added, "You don't see white people doing this s---!"
  • A day or so after Lake County Republicans vacated their headquarters in Polson following last week’s election, vandals spray-painted vulgar language, anarchy signs, pictures and anti-Trump messages on the building. “It’s hard to believe something like that would happen in Polson,” said Ron Tjaden, chairman of the Lake County Republican Central Committee. “Especially when there’s nothing there” in the building. The vandalism was cleaned up Sunday.

Social media also lit up with reports that law enforcement could not verify. One unverified social media story that circulated in Missoula noted a Native American student at the University of Montana had been jumped and put in the hospital.

"Everybody is jumping to conclusions, and it's just kind of where we're at as a country," said Marty Ludemann, chief of the University of Montana campus police.

Monday, the University of Montana referred to the incident on its own Facebook page.

"At this time, the UM Police Department has not received a report of this incident," the post said. "Several UM officials are actively reaching out to the author of the post and to peer law enforcement agencies seeking additional information.

"If anyone has information regarding this incident, they are urged to contact the UMPD at 243-6131 so that it can be investigated. Information can be kept confidential."

Sgt. Welsh with the Missoula Police Department said he did not have information about the alleged attack on campus. Welsh also said investigators could not confirm the other incident widely spread on social media that showed a man with a head wound and jacket that looked bloody. [See related story.]

As interesting or worrisome news crops up on social media, Welsh said people should remember the stories aren't always accurate. He advised people to verify information before drawing conclusions.

"Things show up there that may or may not be accurate, and a lot of times, there's not a good way to find out," Welsh said. "But people take advantage of that sometimes, you know."


Franklin, at Har Shalom, said she believes most people respect the U.S. Constitution and the values enshrined in the Bill of Rights, such as the right to peacefully assemble and the right to worship freely.

"I think most people value these things, and we share them as common values," she said.

Franklin, rabbinic intern, also said she does not feel personally threatened by the anti-Semitic literature. However, she said the good news is that when the leaflets came to light, friends and strangers showed their support for the synagogue.

"That outpouring of support from people is a very beautiful thing, and it's a hopeful thing," Franklin said.

In the days ahead, Rivas said the network will be working on protecting people who are targeted. She also noted the population in Montana is predominantly white, and she called on white people to talk with each other and speak against hateful activity.

"There's been a lot of complacency during what many people called post-racial America during the presidency of Barack Obama, and clearly, it doesn't feel like that right now," Rivas said.

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Missoulian reporters Vince Devlin and Dillon Kato contributed to this story.

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