Conspiracy Theories

Montana Town Full of Ominous, Mostly Harmless Anti-Government Types

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Fearful '90s-style nostalgia over "extremists" is back in the media as western Montana reaches week two of the search for greasy-looking "patriot" David Burgert.

Apropos of nothing except a moving violation, former militia-leader Burgert—who served eight years for federal weapons charges – disappeared into the woods outside Kalispell after allegedly firing at deputies who pulled him over on June 12. This provoked a somber Associated Press story on "extremists" finding a home in Montana.

Gawker mocked the possibly suicidal Burgert for wearing a fanny-pack, but the article's real message was that media is too timid to call Burgert a terrorist for his previous plans to murder government officials and spark a revolution. Gawker followed-up with "Montana Town Becomes Haven for Angry White People," noting how Kalispell boasts, out of 20,000 residents, the white-supremacist singing sisters known as Prussian Blue, a former member of the Aryan Nations (whose screening of a pro-Nazi movie drew 200 protesters in the town last year), as well as:

the grand wizard of the angry white man movement in America, Randy Weaver, whose wife and son were killed by federal agents during the Ruby Ridge standoff. And the racist guy who started Oath Keepers. And prominent "patriot" Chuck Baldwin, "who believes the U.S. is headed for a fight between big-government globalists and independent patriots."

None of these people are perfect allies in the cause of rolling back government, but Stewart Rhodes came off as bracingly reasonable in a February Reason interview with Radley Balko. And while Randy Weaver may have recently spoken at Kalispell's suspicious-to-some "Preparedness Expo," he has a dead wife, son, and dog as reason to distrust government until the end of time. It's cheap to lump him–or anyone else–so casually in amongst the dangerous, possibly violent, and very tiny fringe. These people are a diverse mix of sometimes crazy, sometimes racist, mainly harmless and powerless folks who want to be left alone. 

Former Constitution Party presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin is a frustrating mixture of the good kind of anti-government inclinations, theocratic impulses, and tedious xenophobia. The Prussian Blue twins' terrible mother was just a media-outrage parasite until the family wearied of the attention.

The AP article noted Montana's special brand of tolerance in the face of these sorts of people:

[Kalispell mayor Tammi] Fisher said the Kalispell community does have its limits… But groups espousing their own views on government are tolerated.

"Montana has a live and let live mentality, and respect for each other's privacy and beliefs," the mayor said.

Which is nice and all, but, according to the Mercatus Center's recent rankings (covered by Reason.tv) of state freedoms, Montana is a measly 29. Idaho, the site of Ruby Ridge, comes in fourth. 

In March of last year Reason managing editor Jesse Walker described the Southern Poverty Law Center's inability to tell the difference between fringe groups, as well as the non-threat of militias. The year before Walker wrote about how the problem might not be the right-wing, it might be "The Paranoid Center."