(INDEPENDENT RECORD) In Hamilton, they call themselves Celebrating Conservatism. In Eureka, they have become known as the Lincoln County Watch. Down in Bozeman, they are the Oath Keepers.
The names may vary but the groups share a common platform that has gained the attention of researchers this past year, including those who warn that such anti-government groups are growing more active.
With the nation having its first black president, coupled with a poor economy – not to mention a social debate that includes gay rights, health care, immigration and the bailout – the groups are coming out after 15 years of silence, looking to place themselves back into the mainstream discussion.
“Over the past year in Montana, we have witnessed a resurgence of those anti-Semitic, anti-government groups,” said Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network.
“Militia Montana, the Montana Freemen – they’re back and they’re organizing again under different names,” he added. “It’s frighteningly similar to how it felt in 1993 and 1994 at the height of the militia movement here in Montana.”
Montana had the dubious distinction of making national news on a number of occasions in the 1990s, including the 81-day Freemen standoff with the FBI near Jordan in 1996.
In many cases, McAdam said, the same groups have resurfaced under different names, often with the same members. They’ve simply hung around, he said, waiting for another chance to capitalize on current events and jump back into the mainstream debate.
“Historically, any time there’s been a recession in America, there has generally been a right-wing populist backlash that feeds off that,” McAdam said. “Obama and the current economy are only triggers that have led to an atmosphere which these groups are trying to capitalize on.”
McAdam named several new groups, often dubbed “patriot groups,” that have become increasingly active in Montana over the past year, including the Oath Keepers in Bozeman and Celebrating Conservatism in the Bitterroot Valley.
They also include the Lincoln County Watch, which began as a grassroots organization backing the Ron Paul campaign.
After Obama’s election as president, however, Lincoln County Watch reorganized with members who share concerns about “public safety, the rule of law, crime prevention, the restoration of our Republic, and the Constitution.”
“That is right, the government in Washington, District of Criminals, is terrorizing ‘We the People’ with threats against our freedoms, including the threat to take away all our guns, steal our retirement accounts, devalue our currency, end our freedom of speech, and tax us into oblivion,” the group says on its Web site.
The group also says it’s against democracy, “because they always deteriorates into mob rule,” and it names the mainstream media as a guilty party. It adds, “All of these (groups) are guilty of plundering ‘We the People’ under the color of law. They are guilty of the crime of fraud, when they present their actions as lawful and official.”
While anti-government groups are making a comeback, McAdam said, so too are the hate groups that grew to prominence in the mid-1990s, including the Creativity Movement, which traces its roots back to 1973 and its founder Ben Klassen.
After Klassen committed suicide, Matt Hale took over the group in 1996 at a meeting in Superior. The newly named World Church of the Creator went on to become one of the most active hate groups in the country.
While Hale is now serving 40 years for soliciting the murder of a federal judge, the group lives on in the Creativity Movement, which includes a forum recently maintained by Allen Goff of Billings.
The group claims contacts in Bozeman, Helena, Missoula, Laurel and Kalispell, where, last month, a band of demonstrators rallied on a street corner waving Creativity Movement flags. The group’s members told the Flathead Beacon they were concerned about the rights of white people.
Down in Bozeman, residents have recently found racist literature left at their homes and on public bulletin boards. McAdam said the fliers promote a new anti-Semitic Web site called “Stormfront.”
The postings frequently call for a race war and say Hitler was a “good man.” They also mention Obama, calling him a puppet of the “new world order.”
“It may seem like these are just pieces of paper, but literature drops tend to be a hate group’s opening salvo against a community,” McAdam said. “It escalates from there.”
The Montana Human Rights Network was formed in response to such populist groups during their rise to prominence in the 1990s.
Now, the resurgence of the groups has prompted the Human Rights Network to bring Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates in Massachusetts, to Helena to discuss the issue. Berlet hopes to make contacts while in Montana to track the growing movement.
“The resurgence of these groups involves not only fear surrounding the economic collapse, but also anxiety around changing social and political relationships,” Berlet said. “In a situation where you’re asking people to make substantial changes in the way they relate the world – and if you don’t take seriously the resulting anxiety and fear – then conspiracy theories are going to spread.”
Berlet has researched the ideology that gives rise to particular movements, allowing certain groups to create new ideologies and recruit new members by scapegoating and demonizing others.
“Some people live in information silos, where they only hear one point of view over and over,” Berlet said. “The more government is secretive – the more it refuses or fails to explain to the population what it’s doing – the more arrogant it appears.
“If you serve bologna to the people, they’re going to spit it back,” he added.
Berlet dubs himself an “equal opportunity curmudgeon.” He doesn’t hesitate in casting blame across the political spectrum.
Both sides, he believes, are guilty of demonizing and making scapegoats of their opponents. What the country needs, he added, are honest conversations about today’s important issues.
“Instead of bombardments from either side that basically inflame the situation, we need to engage people in frank conversation,” he said. “The political parties are spending a lot more time demonizing and scapegoating each other, and, by doing so, they’re helping create the situation.”
Berlet will discuss the issue tonight at 7 p.m. at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Helena. Information tracked by the Montana Human Rights Network related to Berlet’s talk can be viewed atmhrn.org.
Reporter Martin Kidston: 447-4086 or firstname.lastname@example.org