Facts on the Small Neo-Nazi Showing in Missoula on June 18
A few weeks ago, the leader of a literal neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Movement (NSM), announced on social media that he was planning to hold an event in Missoula. Rumors grew, and it became clear that the community needed support and a plan.
We are relieved to report that despite all of the hype, only three NSM members participated in the event. They stood in front of Southgate Mall on Saturday, June 18, for about an hour. After livestreaming and recording their paltry turnout, they disappeared after rain and hail dumped down on them. This weak showing is evidence that, while white nationalist groups have an online following, they typically have limited in-person support. It’s clear that Missoula’s refusal to engage with them prevented a larger turnout, so we are grateful that people avoided them.
On the same day across the state in Livingston, White Lives Matter supporters in Montana also gathered and had a very small turnout. That low attendance level is similar to other racist honk-and-waves events the group has conducted recently.
Now that this threat is past, it’s a good time to talk about the best ways to Nazi-proof local communities. Here’s what we know and what we learned from these incidents.
Reach out to groups that face discrimination
When we knew the NSM visit was likely, MHRN started crafting a response by speaking with people who would be impacted most. We spoke with our contacts in the Jewish community to get ideas about ways we could be useful. In many cases, a positive community event is the best way counter extremism and generate support. Jewish leaders suggested that instead of protesting, people could learn about Jewish and Bitterroot Salish history at an exhibit at the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana.
Having this kind of direction helped ensure that we were providing support that was actually needed while protecting the entire community. It’s tempting in these situations to jump in and take visible, in-person action, but we have found that these impulses can backfire and cause more harm if they are not requested or approved by the people who are being targeted.
Good research yields great results
When we saw the posts that NSM might appear, we assumed that their “rally” would look like recent White Lives Matter actions. These followed a similar script: a few guys would jump out of a vehicle, wave flags or banners, record themselves making white nationalist chants, and then leave. That’s pretty much what happened on June 18.
Thanks to the hours of research we’ve invested and the support of skilled volunteers who have offered their time and expertise, we were able to accurately identify the NSM members and predict their activity. We collected even more information since the NSM rally that helps us understand the connections that these operatives have in Montana and elsewhere. Click here to watch our webinar on White Lives Matter, which is a great example of the depth of our research on extremist groups.
White nationalists prioritize “Operational Security” which limits turnout
NSM, White Lives Matter, and other white nationalist groups have implemented varying levels of vetting on their social media platforms, so that they only invite people they “know” to their events. They refer to this practice as “operational security.” Many of these groups have also been deplatformed and relegated to marginalized social media spaces. That’s good for us, because it limits how widely they can advertise their events.
Saturday’s NSM rally turned out only three people (two from Washington state and one from Butte). The White Lives Matter chapter in Montana can only get 3-5 people to show up to their events. Even Patriot Front, which had 31 people turn out to intimidate the Pride festival in Coeur d’Alene on June 11, had to pull people from 13 states in order to assemble a group that size.
We will always take reports of white nationalist events seriously. However, we know that their current internal practices limit their ability to get their supporters to show up in person. History also shows that, when it comes to hardcore white nationalists, it doesn’t take a large number to cause problems for our communities. We all must stay vigilant.
Counter protests often backfire
After we saw the comments from the NSM leader online, we figured that he would come to Montana because of relationships he already had with white nationalists in the state. However, he was vague when it came to details about the rally itself. Like other extremists, the NSM leader bragged about how successful the event would be, hoping to get attention and notoriety. With white nationalists, the impact of their events often fails to live up to the hype, as their followers fail to show up due to fears of losing their jobs or housing once their identities are discovered.
Unfortunately, someone in Missoula decided to post a public counter event on Reddit and Facebook. NSM members noticed, posted a screenshot of the event, and said, “It’s real.” This fed into the confrontational environment NSM wanted to create. NSM hoped to draw community members to their event and provoke a hostile environment. They want conflict, and MHRN and our allies repeatedly asked the community to not give into NSM’s desire. Thankfully, on the day of the event, only a couple of passerbys interacted with NSM. NSM didn’t have the crowd they wanted.
We respect everyone’s First Amendment rights and impulse to take strong, in-person actions to stand against violent extremists, but these decisions need to be taken carefully. Our recommendation to avoid engaging with NSM was based on decades of experience with these incidents and in-depth consultations with the nation’s best experts on extremism.
Invest in your community
When extremists show up, it’s easy to give them attention that feeds their sense of self-importance. Too often, this results in marginalized communities receiving less attention than neo-Nazis, militia members, or other extremists. Please find ways to offer ongoing public and personal support for people who face discrimination on a regular basis. Bumper stickers and flags are great. Financial support, notes of encouragement, and offers to volunteer for events they host is even better. Always check with these groups before planning an action or event.
For in-depth information on building strong community resistance to extremism, please read the Community Guide for Opposing Hate from the Bard Center for the Study of Hate and keep our Rapid Response Guide handy. You can always
MHRN is always monitoring extremism
Extremist groups never stop changing or recruiting new members. We have dedicated researchers who keep up with these changes and make sure we know what’s happening across Montana. You can support our work directly by making a contribution online or sending a donation to us at PO Box 1509, Helena MT, 59624.