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Whitefish resident Eric Kanter, left, who described himself as being of mixed race, and Richard Spencer engage in a lively discussion about race and identity in a downtown Whitefish coffee shop in this file photo from January 2017.

Why is the Missoulian giving ink to a self-described “white nationalist” in Whitefish? Don’t we understand that these people thrive on attention – good or bad?

Readers, the Missoulian has struggled with the best way to cover people like Richard Spencer. We do understand the dangers of encouraging these extremists’ tantrums by giving them the attention they crave. The Missoulian carefully weighs this cost whenever we publish a story featuring such divisive ideologies. And in the end, we have determined that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The alternative is even more costly; we cannot ignore a threat to our neighbors when they are targeted because of their race, religion or merely for supporting the inclusive ideals this nation was founded on, and has fought for decades to achieve.

This is not, unfortunately, Montana’s first experience with fringe groups or white supremacist activity. White supremacist individuals and groups have long sought to put down roots in our sparsely populated, relatively homogenous state.

What Montanans have learned from those encounters is that it is unwise to ignore hateful ideologies, to allow them to fester and eventually erupt in crime or violence. No, it’s far better to identify the ailment and administer preventive medicine if at all possible.

And that’s exactly what the people of Whitefish and the wider Montana community have been doing. Alerted to the recent alarming symptoms of racism and anti-Semitism throughout western Montana, they have responded in the best way possible: with a strong, united show of opposition. Hundreds of people flocked to Whitefish last weekend to stand in solidarity against hate, despite frigid temperatures.

The Missoulian stands firmly with them. Early on, we joined with several other local groups to publish an image of a menorah inside an image of Montana, and urged our readers to display it in their windows during the eight days of Hanukkah in a show of support for our Jewish neighbors. A menorah hangs in the Missoulian newsroom window still.

Montana must never take it for granted that those who foment racist, anti-Semitic ideas in our state will eventually fade away on their own, especially not at a time when they are experiencing a nation-wide resurgence. No, we must all stand united in addressing this problem. But first, we must understand the problem.

And in this case, the problem is hiding behind a new “mainstream” cloak of would-be respectability, seeking to make inroads into everyday American politics. It is desperately trying to latch on to the momentum of support, in Montana and other states, for a president who has boosted key leaders of those who identify as members of the “alt-right.” It is no longer wearing a pointed white hood, and therefore, more people are likely to fail to recognize it for what it is.

As one writer noted in a message to us, the Holocaust “happened in part because news media failed to identify the threat of the Nazis early on…’’ We believe that ignoring Spencer and his ilk simply lets them operate in the shadows. Writing about them, shining a light on their beliefs and letting people know their backgrounds, helps to identify the threat they pose. Readers need to see what this iteration of hate looks and sounds like, in its own words.

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It is always uncomfortable to confront such deeply unpleasant realities. But we don’t have the luxury of ignoring this. It has wormed its way into our community, and is working to make itself acceptable. We must not allow it to do so.

Our ongoing coverage of Spencer and the vile actions of the Daily Stormer against Whitefish’s Jewish population has brought world-wide attention to what has been happening here. Our stories have been cited by Haaretz, the Guardian and the New York Times, among others. Far from normalizing Spencer and his sympathizers, our reporting shows that what they are doing is not normal – and not acceptable either to everyday Montanans or Montana political leaders, whom have stepped forward to condemn these views after attention was drawn to them.

Sadly, hatred is not isolated to one man in Whitefish, or even to one fringe group. We see it, not every day, but often enough to dishearten us, whenever the Missoulian reviews letters to the editor or online comments that are simply too prejudiced to publish. Our readers never see these letters, and thus remain unaware, perhaps, that their neighbor, their favorite business owner, their colleague holds these views. Thus an opportunity for a tough but potentially healing conversation is lost. That’s the price we pay to prevent the Missoulian from being used as a platform for hate speech.

But when a hateful ideology such as Richard Spencer’s begins to metastasize and threaten our fellow Montanans, we must call attention to it. Then, armed with good information, every one of us can stand against hate whenever and wherever it appears, and join together in saying: No. There’s no room for hate in our state.

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