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Associated Press Concerns arose over extremist violence

LIBBY - An anti-government protest rally planned for Libby on Tax Day, April 15, was canceled Friday by organizers, who accused fear-mongers and the news media of distorting their intentions.

"The safety of our community and families must come first and foremost," they said in a written statement.

The decision came about two weeks after the rally was announced. Since then, concerns arose that extremists from both the right and the left would attend the event and trigger violence.

The plan called for a show of "forceful civil disobedience" against the federal government and the United Nations. The rally was to include a parade and demonstrations, such as torching the U.N. flag and stacks of federal tax forms.

One organizer had said he expected more than 3,000 frustrated people to gather in the streets to fight for the rights of gun owners, miners and ranchers.

"The newspapers twisted our message and encouraged violence by planting the seeds of fear and doubt," said Rep. Scott Orr, a Libby Republican and a promoter of the event. "Our Chamber of Commerce, City Council and most other civic leaders fell right in line. Their actions have incited diverse groups, prone to violent acts, to attend our rally."

Terry Andreessen, another organizer, said community leaders pressured the planners to cancel the rally.

"We were being somewhat threatened financially with possible lawsuits, court injunctions," he said. "That really didn't bother us, but it came to light that there has been serious harassment and threats against some of our family members, (originating) both within and outside the community.

"Phone calls were made to some of the organizers, saying, 'We know where you live,' " Andreessen said.

He declined to say whether anyone in his family had been threatened.

D.C. Orr, Scott Orr's brother and also an organizer, said he had not expected the level of opposition. "We were wrong. We underestimated their ignorance, arrogance and fear of change," he said.

"We find ourselves in a situation where no positive outcome is possible," D.C. Orr added. "The fear-mongers have twisted our words until there is no hope of advancing our message of empowerment."

Lincoln County Undersheriff Jerry Rust, who had expected opposing groups to stage counterdemonstrations that would lead to confrontations, welcomed news that the rally had been canceled.

"I think it's great," he said. "The potential for injury and some property damage was pretty high."

Paul Neils, president of the Libby Chamber of Commerce, said cancellation of the rally removes the uncertainty of what would have happened if it had gone forward.

"It makes our job as a chamber easier," he said. "There's that much less publicity to deal with. If the thing would have gone off well, it would have been a benefit to the community. If it had not, it would have been a detriment."

The rally was planned at a time when Libby already is in the spotlight over possible asbestos contamination. News reports last fall disclosed hundreds of residents were sick or dead because of exposure to asbestos linked to a nearby mine.

Federal and state officials have been conducting an investigation to determine the level of pollution that still exists in the area.

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