Tell Your U.S. Senators to Vote “No” on His Confirmation

In late September 2019, President Donald Trump nominated Lawrence VanDyke to serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers a region that includes Montana. From his time in law school through his practice in both the private and public sectors, VanDyke’s history indicates problems with bias and serious questions about his ability to remain impartial and fair. When it comes to judicial nominees, his extremist Far-Right views aren’t considered credible by the majority of mainstream legal professionals.  

Federal judges protect the Constitution and are supposed to act as a check on the legislative and executive branches. Our courts are supposed to be staffed with highly qualified judges who will safeguard the rights of all people and not just the wealthy or the privileged. VanDyke doesn’t fit the bill. During his short time as solicitor general in Montana, VanDyke used his position to get the State of Montana to participate in the Far Right’s culture war. One Montana journalist accurately described VanDyke’s time in the Montana Attorney General’s Office like this:

 

“While he was being paid with taxpayer money, he spent a good portion of his time sniffing out cases in other states where he could advance his own ideological goals on some of the most contentious issues of our times.”

 

While in law school, VanDyke wrote an article for the Harvard Law Review supporting the teaching of the anti-science idea known as “Intelligent Design” in public schools. The political movement known as the Religious Right and other Christian nationalists who want to eradicate the separation of the church and state started using the term Intelligent Design after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for public schools to teach biblical creationism. Rebranding it as Intelligent Design hasn’t been successful in convincing the courts. In 2005, a U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania declared that teaching Intelligent Design in science classes violates the separation of church and state, because its purpose is to “advance creationism.” This early writing of VanDyke’s prompts initial questions about his ability to uphold the separation of church and state, which is a fundamental tenant in the U.S. Constitution.

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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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For Immediate Release


‘Lights for Liberty’ Candlelight Vigil Will Shine Light on Inhumane Detention Camps


Contact: media@mhrn.org for statewide information and to be routed to a local contact

 

In candlelight vigils on Friday, July 12, Montanans in seven cities across the state will protest cruel and inhumane U.S. detention and separation of families fleeing violence in Central America and elsewhere.


“Separating children from their parents or guardians at the US/Mexico border is a moral outrage,” said Laura Folkwein, Associate Pastor at University Congregational Church, Missoula, and acting chair of Montanans for Immigrant Justice (MIJ). “The traumatic consequences for these children will be long lasting. We refuse to accept that caging and abusing children is a solution to any problem in our country or on our southern border. We also gather to demonstrate to our immigrant friends and neighbors, especially families already separated or fearful of separation, that we will not allow immigrant family separation to continue.”


“The calls just keep coming in to our office. Folks are horrified, sad and angry all at once” said Rachel Carroll Rivas of the Montana Human Rights Network, which is helping to coordinate events around the state. “We can’t just sit at home, trying not to look at the image of another child drowned from struggling to reach safety. Montana matters, our senators control the purse strings keeping these children in detention camps. Family to family, we encourage others to gather, write and call our senators now,”


The vigil is part of a national event on the same day called “Lights for Liberty,” a mass mobilization across the country bringing thousands of Americans to detention camps, into the streets and into their own front yards, to protest the inhumane conditions faced by refugees. Five main events will be held in El Paso, San Diego, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Miami.


“Our current government policies for the treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers are inhumane and often illegal,” said Helena Lovick, co-organizer for the Great Falls Community Action Team. “We are gathering to shine a light on these human rights abuses, protest the continued family separations, and call for both transparency and accountability about conditions at the border camps. Family separation is shockingly cruel and we refuse to accept that caging and abusing people is the solution. We demand our members of Congress and government stand up for what is right and fix this now.”

 

Missoula’s hour-long Lights for Liberty Vigil begins at 7:30 p.m. outside St. Paul Lutheran Church, 202 Brooks St. Event organizers include Montanans for Immigrant Justice, Missoula Rises, Soft Landing Missoula, Montana Human Rights Network, and Jeannette Rankin Peace Center. For more information, please contact Erin Erickson at erickson@bebtlaw.com


Helena’s Vigil to End Human Detention Camps begins at 7 p.m. in Constitution Park (6th and Last Chance Gulch) in downtown Helena and will feature songs, immigrant stories and voices of solidarity from the Indigenous and Jewish community. The event is organized by the Montana Human Rights Network. For more information, please contact Rachel Carroll Rivas at media@mhrn.org.


Bozeman’s Lights for Liberty Vigil begins at 7 p.m. at the Gallatin County Courthouse, 205 E Main St. Event organizers include PFLAG Bozeman and the Montana Human Rights Network. For more  information, please contact Michelle Grabbe at mgrabbe1008@msn.com


Billings’ Lights for Liberty Vigil begins at 7 p.m. at Billings First Church, 310 N 27th St. Event organizers include Billings First Church and Billings Sanctuary Rising and the Montana Human Rights Network For more information, please contact Rev. Mike Mullberry at revmikemul@firstchurchbillings.org


In Great Falls, the Lights for Liberty Rally will be the following day, Saturday July 13 at 11:30 a.m. at Great Falls Civic Center, 2 S Park Dr. Event organizers include Great Falls Community Action Team and the Montana Human Rights Network. For more information, please contact Helena Lovick, Great Falls Community Action Team at gfcommunityactionteam@gmail.com


In Kalispell, Close the Camps event will be held at the Museum at Central School at 124 2nd Ave from 5:30-7:00 pm on July 12th. At the event there will be a collection for personal care items for migrant workers in the area. For more information, please contact Cherilyn DeVries at info@loveliveshereflathead.org

 

In Thompson Falls, the Light for Liberty event will be held at the Sanders County Courthouse at 1111 W Main in Thompson Falls, Mt. on July 12th at 7:00 pm.


All human beings have a right to life, liberty and dignity. These fundamental rights are not negotiable

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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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