Montana's governor and attorney general, its congressional delegation, the mayor of Whitefish, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, more than 50 religious leaders and the Council on American Islamic Relations all asserted – Montana is not and will not become a place that tolerates threats and intimidation by white nationalists.
Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, Gov. Steve Bullock and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox sent a joint letter decrying the recent anti-Semitic language and actions targeting some residents and groups in Whitefish.
“Rest assured, any demonstration or threat of intimidation against any Montanan’s religious liberty will not be tolerated,” the letter said. “We say to those few who seek to publicize anti-Semitic views that they shall find no safe haven here.”
The letter, which called the white supremacist views an “extreme ideology,” offered full support to the Jewish community. It was echoed hours later with a release from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Another letter, published Thursday in the Missoulian and signed by 50 religious leaders across the state, asked Montanans to put a lighted menorah in their window, whether real or printed from the Missoulian’s website, and asked for laws to be enacted across the state that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, race and gender.
“We urge law enforcement to closely monitor bias incidents and act swiftly to protect our citizens,” the letter, drafted by Rev. Tyler Amundson of Missoula, said. “We encourage our schools to teach tolerance and uphold state and district anti-bullying policies.”
In recent weeks, Flathead residents Jessica Laferriere and her friend Dominica Cleveras have been feeling discouraged-discouraged about the attention to a white supremacist website that published names and contact information of businesses, nonprofits and politicians in Whitefish, urging an internet "troll storm" for their support of ethnic and religious diversity.
The Daily Stormer site targeted several people, most of them Jewish, after prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, a part-time Whitefish resident, claimed their protests of his activities has hurt the business interests of his mother, Sherry. In addition to the internet harassment, the Stormer also urged an armed march in Whitefish next month.
So Laferriere, of Whitefish, and Cleveras, of Bigfork, decided to put on a block party promoting another side of Flathead County.
“We thought we needed to pull the community together in a show of love, of acceptance,” said Laferriere, an elementary school teacher. “We are about acceptance.”
Love Lives Here, a group that fights discrimination in the Flathead and the Montana Human Rights Network are co-sponsoring the “Love Not Hate” party, which will be held at Jan. 7 at Depot Park.
The event will have multiple speakers, including Whitefish city council representative and Deputy Mayor Richard Hildner, a performance from Blackfeet musician Jack Gladstone, and dancing from the Halau Ka Waikahe Lani Malie hula school in Kalispell.
Laferriere didn’t want to comment on the Stormer's “troll storm” still underway, or the possible armed march by white supremacists.
She wanted to represent the side of the Flathead she’s familiar with – one that’s inclusive, not threatening.
Hildner said his message as a representative of the city will be just that: inclusiveness and openness.
He said the event isn’t in response to Anglin’s posts and attacks on Whitefish residents, saying he doesn’t think many people in town agree with the white supremacists' beliefs.
“My sense is that, no – there’s no community support,” he said Tuesday.
Andrew Anglin, who runs The Daily Stormer website, posted on the site that the planned armed march would take some time in January, if conditions are not met.
Anglin proposed the march after he wrote that Love Lives Here harassed Sherry Spencer, pushing her to sell her building in Whitefish that houses businesses and apartments, and donate some of the profits to anti-hate groups.
In a Friday post, he wrote “We’ve had a monumental breakthrough,” saying Love Lives Here had denied talking with Spencer’s mother, Sherry.
He said he’d be willing to cancel the march, which would involve only “pre-vetted” skinhead groups, if Love Lives Here met some conditions, which included issuing a public apology and a promise to leave Sherry Spencer alone.
In another post on Tuesday, Anglin reiterated that all he wants is for “Jewish groups to agree to stop harassing Richard Spencer’s mother and trying to interfere with her business as revenge against her son.
“That’s all we want. Period.”
He posted earlier this month about 200 people would show up to the march, but that would require "busing in skinheads from the Bay Area." His site contains a disclaimer opposing violence.
Anglin, whose site is based out of Worthington, Ohio, claims he doesn’t know Richard Spencer, saying he talked to him on the phone “like one time.”
Whitefish Chief of Police Bill Dial said if the march were to happen, it’s perfectly legal as long as it’s peaceful.
He’s working with state and federal agencies on gathering information on the march and the people who are calling or emailing harassing messages to locals.
They have a plan if the march goes through, Dial said, and his main goal is to keep the community and marchers safe, no matter what.
“We will provide security and protection,” he said, adding he took Anglin’s promise of 200 marchers as a tongue-in-cheek reply to a proposed protest outside Sherry Spencer’s building that promised 200 people.
As for harassment of Whitefish residents, Dial said most of it is either from the internet or out-of-state and out-of-country phone calls. He tells business owners or individuals to just hang up and ignore any messages.
“If we can identify who they are, which is difficult, we will take any action we can,” he said.
Representatives for Love Lives Here and the Montana Human Rights Network did not respond to multiple voicemails left Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld signed a proclamation that declared, among other things, "The City of Whitefish repudiates the ideas and ideology of the white nationalist and so called alt-right as a direct affront to our community's core values and principles."