Event Seeks to Stoke Anger at Pandemic Prevention

 

The upcoming “Rage Against the State” events feature a combination of Bundy Family supporters, candidates running on the Montana Libertarian Party ticket, and fundamentalist Christians. Described as a “three-day tent revival,” this anti-democratic roadshow will be staged in Livingston, Belgrade, and Whitehall on consecutive days between July 3-5, 2020. Promotional materials allude to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the events are organized by people who are “united in our rage” at the “men who would rule us rather than serves us.” While organizers mention taxes and the size of government as issues they care about, the Montana Human Rights Network believes the point of the “Rage” events is creating and harnessing anger over the public health measures taken to slow the spread of the virus, while also targeting the officials making those decisions. The “Rage” speakers (see profiles below) are a tight-knit group with pre-existing relationships.

 

Four of the “Rage” speakers have direct connections to the notorious Bundy Family which garnered national news by engaging in armed standoffs with the federal government in both Nevada and Oregon. The family has become a favorite of the anti-government “patriot” movement and has supporters in Montana. As the Bundys look for their next opportunity to orchestrate a standoff, family members have spoken or appeared in Montana a handful of times in recent years.

 

Three “Rage” speakers are current Libertarian candidates for office. While some Libertarians embrace social issues close to the political Left, the Montana Libertarian Party has historically attracted “patriot” activists and others who think the Montana Republican Party isn’t conservative enough when it comes to issues like guns, taxes, and government regulations. The three “Rage” speakers running for office exemplify these Far Right, anti-democratic views.

 

The “Rage” events help illustrate how militias and other “patriot” groups seek to capitalize on the COVID-19 pandemic. When states implemented shelter-in-place orders earlier this year to slow the spread of the virus, militia activists used it as a recruiting opportunity. COVID-19 led to fear in communities, which made people susceptible to misinformation spread by militia groups. As shelter-in-place and other public health orders continued, some folks grew angry at the government for having to stay home, keep a business closed, or other prevention measures. This anger and fear eventually manifested itself as the lockdown rallies held in Montana and across the country. Militias didn’t always organize the rallies, but they strategically showed up at them. The rallies were perfect recruitment opportunities, as they featured crowds of scared and angry conservatives protesting the government. “Rage Against the State” is trying to both create and tap into that type of anti-democratic fervor.

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Rallies are excellent ways to speak up for important issues, but what happens when the rallies are over? 

 

Love Lives Here knows that the work of dismantling discrimination never ends. It organized an online event designed to help people understand the ongoing, essential work that’s necessary to dismantle white supremacy and systemic racism in our communities and ourselves.

 

This edited recording of the webinar includes:

  • A time to hear the names of the people who have been killed recently by police and racial violence.

  • Thoughts from Indigenous community members. 

  • Action items to support local Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people and organizations.  


For this video that’s available to the public, we decided to not include the portion of the webinar containing a presentation by Tobin Miller Shearer. We made this decision due to the harassment Shearer has faced from white nationalists.

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Paramilitaries are not the answer to police violence and create risk of violence at protests 

The Montana Human Rights Network is seriously concerned about the increased risk for violence by armed paramilitary militia activists who are showing up at otherwise peaceful protests in Montana and other rural communities, especially across the West.  
 
The nation, including Montana, is having a serious and challenging conversation about institutional racism, but paramilitaries are not the answer to police violence because they are not accountable to elected officials and community members. 

The Montana Human Rights Network has documented threats, intimidation and harassment by militia activists at racial justice protests around the state. Paramilitary militia activists are manipulating and controlling people’s right to assembly and speak using the threat of violence with firearms. These paramilitary militia activists were not asked by law enforcement or racial justice protesters to provide an armed presence. 

These militia mobs are using these events as training and recruitment opportunities. In the situations they are creating the threat of violence is real. If one person gets offended and they have their finger on the trigger – or a car backfires nearby — dangerous situation could erupt quickly.  

Inclusive democracy doesn’t happen at the barrel of a gun. Our local and state leaders need to publicly rejecting the presence of armed paramilitaries at peaceful anti-racist protests held in their communities.” said, Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director at the Network. 

The Network has been monitoring hate activity in the state for over two decades. Tracking of hate activity is part of the Network’s efforts to better understand what is happening on the ground in Montana and offer a response and alternative that focuses on our common humanity and human rights. 

The public can report militia activity and other
discriminatory activity at  www.mhrn.org/reportingform and a quick button is located at the top of the homepage at www.mhrn.org 

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Local Officials Should Denounce Rumors, Reject Armed Activists

Anti-racist activists and concerned communities around the state are protesting in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. At the same time, Far Right paramilitaries are spreading rumors to encourage violence against people of color and their supporters. MHRN is sharing the facts behind these rumors and offering two actions that community members can take to help prevent the violence that these activists of the Far Right crave.


Debunking Rumors in Montana


Late Monday, former state Senator Jennifer Fielder set off a firestorm of misinformation regarding anti-racist events in Montana. She posted a note on Facebook warning that “multiple reports from credible witnesses” said a caravan of Antifa members was planning to infiltrate anti-racist protests planned in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, before heading to Missoula. Since this post went live, variations on Fielder’s claims have been shared far and wide in militia and other anti-government Facebook groups. Members of these groups have responded by fantasizing about the chance to shoot Antifa demonstrators.

There were several problems with Fielder’s claim and the agitation it created, but the most important one was this: There was no caravan. MHRN thoroughly researched the situation and was unable to find any solid proof of a caravan, and neither could several law-enforcement sources MHRN contacted. Instead, the claims made by Fielder followed an “Antifa Fantasy” template that is sweeping the country. Both the Associated Press and the Idaho Statesman have published articles debunking the claim. Additionally, the Kalispell Police Department issued a statement yesterday that says it has no information of “any outside groups” planning events in their area. A Montana Public Radio piece quoted the Missoula Police Department making similar statements. 

MHRN is issuing this information because facts matter. MHRN is also concerned that this Antifa Fantasy is being exploited by armed militia groups to divide our communities and intimidate peaceful protesters.

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Dear MHRN Friends,
 
We appeal to you today as a dedicated supporter of human rights, who no doubt, like us, are appalled at the recent murder of George Floyd in the wake of a history of anti-black violence. This has come on the heels of the recent disproportionate economic and health impacts on black and brown communities due to the COVID pandemic.
 
The many faces that have made up our logo for 30 years is representative of the Montana we seek, one that is beautiful and thriving in its diversity and equity. Black Lives Matter.
 
For those of you who have been unfairly subjected to the devastating impacts of racism, we are holding you up in each and every action we take.
 
For those of you who have known the pain of discrimination in other forms, maybe as women or members of the LGBTQ community, we are asking you to conjure the empathy that comes with having been told you are less than.
 
For those of you who carry the historical trauma as Jewish people and others who have been, and continue to be, subjected to the ugliness of bigotry, we are asking you to act from that place of understanding.
 
And for those of you who are privileged to only know of these plagues on our communities through books, videos, and the stories of friends and family, we ask you to act and follow the lead of black, brown, indigenous and other people of color. Each of you will play a different role, but let the commitment to those at the center of this struggle permeate every part of your life.
 
Let us not be paralyzed in our effort to be perfect, but let us commit to lean into our values of justice, equity and inclusive democracy.
 
Black Lives Matter.
 
In Solidarity,
Rachel Carroll Rivas
Co-Director, MHRN
 
PS: We ask that you consider supporting our friends at the Montana Racial Equity Project at www.mtrep.org and Indian People’s Action
at www.indianpeoplesaction.org
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Many of us have been lucky enough to shelter in place in places we feel safe, but some of us have had to endure unsafe and trying environments with unsupportive families and housemates. LGBTQ+ Montanans are especially at risk for family loss, loss of healthcare access, and are at increased risk of homelessness and unemployment. With this in mind, Equality Montana recently brought a presentation to the public about the “Do’s and Don’ts of Allyship.” This presentation was geared specifically at people who wanted to learn how to be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community.


If you watch the video, you will find and learn some very helpful tips, like: 

 

-What it means to be an ally

-How to best support people coming out, and what that means

-How to best support Trans, Non-Binary, and Two-Spirit folks

-What questions are appropriate and how to ask them

 

The Q&A style lecture was made and presented by the staff of Equality Montana as part of its vision to increase the reach, visibility, and impact of LGBTQ+ organizing and policy work in Montana.

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Our affiliate Love Lives Here noticed that misinformation and conspiracy theories are flying around during COVID-19. In Kalispell, the group sees how false information is eroding trust in public health and medical professionals who are trying to prevent the spread during this pandemic.

Love Lives Here contacted Julie Edwards from Humanities Montana to provide information about how to recognize and react constructively to false information that is all too prevalent today. Here’s what you’ll learn in the video: 

– Understand how emotions drive reactions
– Examine the power of cognitive bias
– Find out how funding drives disinformation and misinformation
– See how clickbait hooks readers

Edwards brings 15 years of experience as a librarian in public and academic libraries. She has an MS in Library & Information Science (University of Illinois, 2005) and has worked, published, and presented internationally on issues related to librarianship and information. She is passionate about helping individuals think critically, even when – especially when – that’s unfashionable.

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City Governments, Media, and Christian Leaders Counter Recent Antisemitic Fliers Dropped in Three Montana Cities

 

Human Rights Groups Shame Local GOP Officials for Using Antisemitic Symbol in Fundraising

 

While three Montana communities recently awoke to find neighborhoods papered with conspiratorial antisemitic literature, there has been an impressive and robust response from city governments, media, and Christian leaders to support the Jewish community and denounce the hateful acts. The swift and clear messages countering the acts of antisemitism are even more remarkable given the current challenges for governments, churches, and community organizations during the public health crisis due to COVID-19.


At the same time these community responses have been taking place, human rights groups continue to voice concern about the increased mainstreaming of antisemitism. A recent example includes Gallatin County Republicans using a common antisemitic trope in a recent fundraising letter.

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A couple of weeks ago, the Montana Human Rights Network posted an article about how anti-government activists in the Flathead were organizing against public health efforts by the City of Kalispell to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Our local affiliate, Loves Lives Here, provides this update about the situation.

COVID-19 has dominated the news in the Flathead Valley, and it’s kicked up a strain of extremism, too. The situation in the Flathead Valley is a little complicated, so buckle up for this post — and rest assured that we’re watching everything carefully.


TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

Here’s an overview for those of you who don’t need every detail. In early April, Dr. Annie Bukacek released a video of misinformation about COVID-19 that she’s using to promote anti-government talking points taken straight from dangerous “patriot” extremists like Ammon Bundy. Since then, we’ve discovered that she’s connected with a group of local anti-government activists who are threatening local officials and trying to get businesses to defy public health directives from the state and county.

Along the way, we were reminded that the Flathead County Commission appointed Bukacek to the City-County Health Board late last year without allowing for a public comment period. In spite of community objections to her recent actions, the commissioners are (so far) refusing to make this topic an agenda item for future meetings. If that’s all the information you need, here’s what you can do about this situation.

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Anti-Choice Doctor Undermines Public Health in Kalispell


An anti-choice doctor previously investigated for Medicaid fraud is leading the charge against public health in Kalispell. Dr. Annie Bukacek is already well known to the Far Right in Montana, and she is now trying to gain attention by criticizing public health advice designed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bukacek’s history includes discriminatory views about LGBTQ+ people, opposition to church-state separation in public schools, taking anti-vaccine positions, and her bizarre tactic of using tiny plastic fetus replicas during her efforts opposing women’s reproductive health access in Montana.

 

Earlier this week, the Kalispell City Council followed most other Montana localities and declared a state of emergency due to COIVD-19. This action allowed the city to access emergency funding and gain more flexibility in responding to the pandemic. It also allowed the city to enforce the Governor’s shelter-in-place policy to help contain the spread of COVID-19. This action is designed to preserve public health. However, anti-government talking points and misinformation quickly escalated, claiming such precautions attacked constitutional rights. Annie Bukacek has been the ringleader opposing the city council’s action.
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