Whitefish, MT – Guest Essay

whitefishReading time – 2:54  .  .  .

An email addressed to our family from my travel writer, Montana native, daughter-in-law Wendy arrived and it was so shocking and important that I asked permission to post it here as a guest essay. You may know what’s going on in Whitefish, MT, but it’s unlikely that you’ve heard about it on such a personal level. Read on. It’s important.

I don’t know if you’ve read the headlines lately, but there’s some super disturbing news happening right now in Whitefish, MT—the town that Scott, the boys and I will be visiting next month (and where Pop just visited). Richard Spencer, the leader of the alt-right white supremacist movement, has targeted Jews in the area. The town is horrified and standing together—they’ve held packed town hall meetings to re-read the anti-discrimination laws and have done everything they can to support the local businesses that are most affected and targeted by racism. Spencer’s mom owned a building of businesses and she said that her business was affected by her son’s activities and she now is forced to sell, which Spencer is using against the Jews in Montana—it’s sick. Read these articles:

Think Progress

CNN Video [There are several videos on the page. Wait for Gary Tuchman’s Whitefish piece to load.]

LA Times

This terrifies me to my core, especially because I was born and raised in Montana and I feel so bad for the open minded and openhearted majority of Montana locals who are dealing with this. The scary thing is that this dirt bag, emboldened by Trump, has decided to run as an Independent and already has a platform: Montana First. Isn’t this what most of us feared with a Trump presidency? The trolls are coming out from under the bridges and are showing themselves. It’s up to us to support and become activists for what’s right. Missoula, MT (the biggest town near Whitefish) has started a “Light in Every Window” campaign and I think everyone, Jews or not, should stand up and show solidarity, across the nation by putting menorahs in our windows. Also, visit the Love Lives Here in the Flathead Valley site to show support for the Whitefish locals.

And, if you think that what happens in one small town in northwest Montana doesn’t affect you, you’re wrong—this hate mongering is happening everywhere and it’s growing. We need to stand up for our brothers and sisters who are being discriminated against.

When I asked Wendy if I could post her comments, here’s how she responded:

Of course.

I’m so disturbed and sad. The hate groups are growing exponentially and I really feel like non-Jews and non-people-of-color need to stand up and SHOUT, “THIS IS NOT OK.” Whitefish has known about Spencer for years and they’ve stayed quiet until Spencer grew emboldened by Trump and became louder. Now, this little picturesque town is getting torn apart by the attention and association with this dirt bag. I’m proud of the people I know who live there and of this little town that could, but I fear that it will harm them beyond repair.

I also feel like my job of visiting and writing with the purpose of tourism is more important now than ever. The majority of Whitefish residents don’t feel this way [like Spencer]. The majority believes in love and diversity and community.

My pal Brian Muldoon is an attorney and mediator living in Whitefish and he keeps his finger on the pulse of the town, so I asked for his comments about what is happening there. He wrote, “And the people of Whitefish are NOT deeply divided about this, as some media have reported. It’s Richard Spencer v. Everyone Else.” That’s reassuring. What is not as reassuring is that, as Brian notes, it’s very hard to shut down the trolls and the haters, in part because they have a First Amendment right to spew their hatred – plus, they revel in the publicity.

It’s important that you understand that this is not just an intellectual, “Oh, that’s interesting” exercise. Brian just advised that the FBI has sent one Whitefish family into hiding. They only do that when there are credible death threats.

Hatred has consequences. For some valuable context, read Brian’s short essay, Why Racism Matters – just click the title to download the PDF.

Do you imagine this is an isolated case of hatred? It isn’t. Here’s yet another independent, ongoing tally of hate crimes, with the Whitefish situation detailed second on the list.

Simply watching in horror is what allows the scourge of hatred to expand. Silence is not an option. Do as Wendy implores: Stand up and, “SHOUT, ‘THIS IS NOT OK.'”

  • ————————————-

    Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

    YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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10 Responses to Whitefish, MT – Guest Essay
  1. Wendy Altschuler Reply

    There is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment; however, there is a limitation to “fighting words” that incite violence, as I understand it. You shouldn’t be able to protest, with arms, a person’s right to exist.

  2. Paul winsor Reply

    I have a question.

    Does Congress have the authority to amend the amendments?

    It is not reasonable to call the swastika free speech. What about the rights of those effected?

    It also isn’t reasonable to extrapolate the Second Amendment to include automatic weapons of war. Sure, everyone is entitled to own a musket, but that’s it!

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      The Amendments can be amended the same way as any change to the Constitution – with a 2/3 aye vote in both houses of Congress, plus ratification by 3/4 of the states = 38 states.

  3. Amy Parker Reply

    I was heartened to read a small item in the Chicago Tribune recently that said local officials have denounced Mr. Spencer and his band of haters. We visited Whitefish about 8 years ago and thought it a charming, delightful little town. I was saddened and worried when Mr. Spencer announced his ugly plan. When the Nazi party tried to march in Skokie, IL (about 2/3’s of the population were Jewish, including many holocaust survivors) many years ago, there was a lot of hand-wringing by those who feared encouraging Hate–they didn’t want to acknowledge, and therefore legitimize anyone who identified as “Nazi.” Local government tried instituting onerous requirements, which were ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court in a ruling establishing that even hate speech (swastikas) is free speech. In the end, the “march” took place with 20 or 30 “marchers” heavily outnumbered by protesters who shouted them down, and the Rule of Law prevailed. The outcome of that incident was the creation of the Holocaust museum in Skokie. In regard to Mr. Spencer and the overall rise of Hate in America today, I can only hope that Montanans will prove their mettle–which I know they have in spades–and show up in person to shout these m**#^rfu*^ers down if such a march proceeds. Every single act of Hate must be loudly and forcefully denounced and met with demonstrators visibly committed to social justice and a fair, peaceful society for ALL.

  4. Dee Williams Reply

    This is absolutely chilling but it is also very heartening to hear how the town has been responding. I have shared this with others,

  5. Paul winsor Reply

    Here s what happened to our Alberta wing nut.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Keegstra

  6. Paul winsor Reply

    You need these laws.

    Hate speech laws in Canada include provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada, provisions in the Human Rights Act and in other federal legislation, and statutory provisions in each of Canada’s ten provinces and three territories. The Criminal Code prohibits “hate propaganda.”

  7. Jim Altschuler Reply

    Think Rodney King: Why can’t we all just get along?

    Why is it necessary to invoke racial and anti-Semitic and anti-national slurs to express one’s point of view? Why can’t people just sit down and talk civilly to one another to express their thoughts and LEARN THE OTHER PERSON’S THOUGHTS? They might have something to learn from, too.

    There have been innumerable poets, song writers and singers who have been beloved for their expressions of love and consideration and tolerance. If the populace can love their poetry why can’t they incorporate that love and consideration and tolerance into their lives and actions and words.

    Have you listened to Dr. King’s speeches? Have you heard the exhortations of Maya Angelou? Have you learned anything from the horrors of the 2nd World War? How can anyone “hate” an entire nationality? An entire race? An entire religion? et al? “Put a little love in your heart.”

    Treat your fellow as you would want to be treated. It’s in every religious teaching I have ever heard of regardless of what the text is called. Not just looking out for one’s self, but looking out for the other person, too.

  8. Frank Levy Reply

    Anyone interested in going to Whitefish, MT to stand in silent witness against the armed march the white supremacists are planning in January? Never again!!!

  9. Joni Lindgren Reply

    I listened as they called my President a Muslim.
    I listened as they called him and his family a pack of monkeys.
    I listened as they said he wasn’t born here.
    I watched as they blocked every single path to progress that they could.
    I saw the pictures of him as Hitler.
    I watched them shut down the government and hurt the entire nation twice.
    I watched them turn their backs on every opportunity to open worthwhile dialog.
    I watched them say that they would not even listen to any choice for Supreme Court no matter who the nominee was.
    I listened as they openly said that they will oppose him at every turn.
    I watched as they did just that.
    I listened.
    I watched.
    I paid attention.
    Now, I’m being called on to be tolerant.
    To move forward.
    To denounce protesters.
    To “Get over it.”
    To accept this…
    I will not.
    I will do my part to make sure this great American mistake becomes the embarrassing footnote of our history that it deserves to be.
    I will do this as quickly as possible every chance I get.
    I will do my part to limit the damage that this man can do to my country.
    I will watch his every move and point out every single mistake and misdeed in a loud and proud voice.
    I will let you know in a loud voice every time this man backs away from a promise he made to them.
    Them. The people who voted for him.
    The ones who sold their souls and prayed for him to win.
    I will do this so that they never forget.
    And they will hear me.
    They will see it in my eyes when I look at them.
    They will hear it in my voice when I talk to them.
    They will know that I know who they are.
    They will know that I know what they are.
    Do not call for my tolerance. I’ve tolerated all I can.
    Now it’s their turn to tolerate ridicule.
    Be aware, make no mistake about it, every single thing that goes wrong in our country from this day
    forward is now Trump’s fault just as much as they thought it was Obama’s.
    I find it unreasonable for them to expect from me what they were entirely unwilling to give.

    Author unknown.