Montana-Based Cartoonist Feeds Culture War

“I do the political cartoons out of anger…When the bankers got bailed out, that’s when I discovered my meanness.”

 – Ben Garrison, Cartoonist, June 2016

 

Anger and meanness have allowed Lakeside-based political cartoonist Ben Garrison to ride a wave of support from the Far-Right fringe to national notoriety. Calling himself the “Rogue Cartoonist,” Garrison uses his drawings to wage a war against what he sees as political correctness, which he describes as nothing but “fascism with manners.”


His cartoons are rabidly pro-Trump and anti-liberal, while also enthusiastically supporting conspiracy theories like the Deep State and Q-Anon. He faces criticism that his images are racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and sexist. Each new wave of controversy seems to bring him more fans from the most vitriolic corners of social media. It was a Garrison cartoon deemed anti-Semitic that transformed him from being popular with the white nationalist alt-right into a major headache for the White House.

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Love Lives Here, Montana Human Rights Network Urge Support for Local Jewish Community


While the Jewish community in Whitefish and around the globe honor the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, a few local businesses in downtown Whitefish report that anti-Semitic literature was dropped at their downtown stores on Monday night.

“The hate literature was not only offensive in relation to the Jewish holiday, but it is concerning as there is a recorded rise and mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in the United States, including the troll storm perpetrated from outside the community onto the Jewish people of Whitefish just two and a half years ago,” said Rachel Carroll Rivas of the Montana Human Rights Network.


Several times a year, the Montana Human Rights Network and its local affiliate Love Lives Here get reports when a few individuals have tried to intimidate local communities by secretly posting fliers in the middle of night that promote white nationalism. Hate literature was recently reported dropped on cars in Helena over the weekend as well.

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Anti-Semitic Fliers Dropped in Helena

The Montana Human Rights Network wants to let Helenans know that the Jewish community has been targeted by an anti-Semitic literature drop earlier this week in neighborhoods near the Montana Capitol.

 

“Traditionally targeted communities don’t know where folks stand if they don’t speak up,” said Network Co-Director Rachel Carroll Rivas. “When this kind of literature is dropped in communities, the purpose is to spread anti-Semitism and target the local Jewish community. In response, we need to support our Jewish friends and neighbors and condemn these efforts to divide our communities.”
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Lawmaker Spreads Militia-Based Spiritual Warfare Across the Region

Ever since he was first elected to the Washington Legislature in 2008, Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) has been a favorite speaker at right-wing events. From militia meetings to anti-choice rallies and anti-Indian conferences, if a group needs an ultra-conservative ideological firebrand, Shea fits the bill. His impassioned speeches combined with his status as an elected official make him a desired addition to any lineup of right-wing speakers.

However, until the last few years, Shea was a Tier 2 speaker in the Pacific Northwest region. Right-wing activists knew who he was, but a significant piece of his draw was his “representative” title. That changed when he actively supported the armed standoffs the Bundy Family had with federal agencies in both Nevada and Oregon. This catapulted Shea into the Tier 1 category; however, this upgraded status has also resulted in more scrutiny from the media and public.

 

The militia movement is part of the anti-government “patriot” movement [see inset box below]. The movement’s uber-nationalism is closely tied to other conservative, rural, white, Christian survivalist movements that are often conspiratorial, anti-Semitic, and sometimes violent. The “patriot” movement has historically had a consistent presence in the American West.

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White nationalist beliefs may have motivated the teenage shooter at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, who killed three people and wounded a dozen others in late July. Police arrived shortly after the attack began and killed the shooter. While trying to determine the perpetrator’s motive, journalists have noted that a social media post by the shooter before the incident featured racial slurs and referenced a novel frequently glorified by white nationalists, Might is Right.

While Might is Right was originally published in the 1800s, a white nationalist living in Montana has helped market the book to racist neo-pagans for decades. Butte’s Ron McVan, a longtime white nationalist, illustrated and published a version of Might is Right that is very popular with followers of racist strains of Norse-based religions.

 

While we don’t know which version of Might is Right the Gilroy shooter read, the book’s potential influence on the attacker provides an opportunity to look at McVan, who moved to Butte after playing a significant role in creating and spreading Wotanism, an explicitly racist version of Odinism. In 1995, McVan joined David and Katja Lane in launching Wotanism out of St. Maries, Idaho, through an entity called 14 Words Press. While McVan and Katja Lane worked out of the group’s headquarters, David Lane resided in a prison cell for his role in a domestic white nationalist terror group called The Order.

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Montana’s long history with militant anti-government activists, like the Montana Freemen, resurfaced again with the arrest in early July of a self-proclaimed sovereign citizen in Montana. Michael Duane Strain had been a fugitive for eight years following his indictment in Iowa for being a felon in possession of firearms. U.S. Marshals arrested him at a ranch on the Crow Reservation where he had lived for years. Authorities had previously thought Strain might be in Minnesota, Wyoming, or Utah, but a tip led them to the ranch in southeast Montana.

 

In Iowa in 2011, federal agents found thousands of rounds of ammunition and numerous firearms while searching Strain’s home. That led to his indictment on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms. Strain became a fugitive who made it onto the “Most Wanted List” of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. After he was captured in Montana, a judge stated he will be returned to Iowa to face the charges. In addition to the Iowa indictment, Strain’s criminal history includes obstruction, contempt of court, trespassing, fleeing a peace officer in a vehicle, and possession of explosive devices.

Court documents stated that the 62-year-old Strain calls himself a sovereign citizen. His behavior fits with that description. When he was taken into custody, he claimed the federal agents had no jurisdiction over him. Sovereign citizens believe that they get to decide which laws are legitimate and which ones can be ignored. It’s common for sovereigns to believe they don’t have to pay taxes or register/license their vehicles, while also claiming that judges, juries, and law officers have no jurisdiction over them. When they get into trouble with law enforcement, sovereigns routinely inundate local courts with phony “legal” documents featuring bizarre arguments written with practically unintelligible punctuation. Sometimes sovereigns go beyond this paper terrorism and engage in violent acts, often directed at law enforcement and other public officials. 

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At the beginning of June, the local newspaper reported that a woman in Butte had her home vandalized with racist anti-Indian graffiti. Vandals spray painted “Go Home,” “prairie n—r,” and “f—k you Indian lover” on the side of her trailer. The woman, Miki Chessmore, said this was the latest in a string of vandalism that started when she rented a room to an American Indian tenant. Police had no suspects in what the county sheriff correctly called a hate crime.

The 65-year-old Chessmore told the reporter she had two major concerns. The first was trying to cover up the racist graffiti. She and her tenant had managed to paint over it with some primer, but she lacked the resources to do anything else. The second more serious issue was that she was afraid to be in her own home at night. “I don’t know that these people wouldn’t do bodily harm to me,” she said. The fear was warranted, as this incident wasn’t just the most recent. It was also an escalation of bias-based actions directed at Chessmore and her tenant.

 

“I don’t know what they will do next,” Chessmore told the newspaper, “but people ought to be aware of the hatred and racism going on here.”

 

That’s exactly why MHRN got involved. MHRN staffer Travis McAdam visited Chessmore at her home the morning the news story was published. He talked with her and offered MHRN’s help in organizing a community response to the hate crime, in addition to trying to facilitate some efforts to fix her trailer and address her safety concerns.

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A hearing last month about the future of the National Bison Range illustrated the role that racism and anti-Indian sentiment have played in opposing efforts to return the Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). For 25 years, CSKT has sought a more just partnership with the U.S. government by having management of the Bison Range returned to the Tribes from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. While various steps toward that goal have happened at different points in time, the Trump Administration says a return is off the table.

CSKT is interested in re-acquiring the National Bison Range for numerous reasons. The Range is surrounded by the Flathead Reservation, and the land was taken by the federal government as part of 1908 legislation whereby the government parceled out land on reservations to non-tribal members. Essentially, this amounted to the United States government giving away the land of another sovereign nation. CSKT maintains the land was taken unconstitutionally and without the Tribes’ consent.

Ever since CSKT started its efforts supporting the return of the Bison Range and establishing a more just partnership with the U.S. government, opponents have used racist rhetoric based on derogatory stereotypes of American Indians. During 2016, CSKT took public comment on draft legislation to implement the Range’s return. The written comments received included overt racism directed at American Indians, including:
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June is Pride Month, Opportunity to Remember Policies Must Include All Montanans

 

As we enter the month of June, which is recognized as LGBTQ+ Pride Month, the Montana Human Rights Network says it’s a perfect time to highlight that 72% of Montanans support including the LGBTQ+ community in non-discrimination policies. The fact that the Montana Legislature has ignored these wishes and refused to do so follows a national trend discussed in a recent report.  

The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) recently released a report examining the realities faced by LGBTQ+ people living in rural communities across the country. The estimated 2.9 to 3.8 million LGBTQ+ folks living in rural areas face a frustrating paradox: rural residents support policies that include the LGBTQ+ community, but rural states are less likely to have statewide non-discrimination protections. Montana follows this pattern, as the Montana Legislature has refused to grant protections even though 72% of Montanans support it.

 

“We know that the majority of Montanans want their LGBTQ+ friends, neighbors, and family members to have legal protections from discrimination,” says Shawn Reagor of the Montana Human Rights Network. “The MAP report helps illustrate both the need and support in rural areas, including Montana, for making those changes in policy happen.”

 

MAP estimates that just under 3% of the state’s adult population are LGBTQ+, which translates to over 24,000 Montanans. According to research by the Public Religion Research Institute, 69% of all Americans support LGBTQ+-inclusive non-discrimination laws. The level of support in Montana is even higher at 72%. Despite that level of support, Montana lacks statewide non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

 

“We and our allies have successfully passed local non-discrimination ordinances in a few communities,” says Reagor. “However, as MAP reports, that means only 17% of LGBTQ+ Montanans have protections at the local level. Montanans demand better, and it’s time that policymakers make non-discrimination laws apply to everyone.”

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The Bundys, Imprisoned Militia Leader are Favorites of “OUR West” Group

 

A website originally created to be an online vehicle for the region’s most notorious anti-Indian activist continues to solidify its ideological connection to anti-government “patriots.” Recently, the website has rallied support for a militiaman currently serving more than 25 years in federal prison for conspiring to murder a judge and law enforcement officers. Instead of being an aberration, this fits closely with the direction the site, and the group behind it, have been headed.

 

While “This West is OUR West” started out as a website, it has evolved into a group taking action in the real world. Initially when the site launched in 2016, it served as a home for the writings and videos of Elaine Willman, the most prominent anti-Indian activist in the Pacific Northwest. The anti-Indian movement seeks to eradicate the treaty rights guaranteed to American Indians and uses tactics that amplify discrimination and bigotry towards American Indians. Willman moved to Montana a few years ago specifically to fight against the treaty rights of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
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