Why Are Holocaust Deniers, Ku Klux Klan Members, and Neo-Nazis All Moving to One Small Town in Montana?
Editor's note: This is the second of a four-part series by Media Matters of America.
Last month Media Matters e-mailed April Gaede, the spokeswoman for the Pioneer Little Europe movement, to ask whether she considered PLE a racist endeavor.
"Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white," she replied. "If a group of Jews wanted to move to an area that had a high concentration of Jews already, would that make them Jewish supremacists? If Blacks choose to associate and work with other Blacks to form a 'black racial community,' is that racist? Apparently only White people cannot work for the advancement of their race, while groups like La Raza are accepted as 'cultural groups.' What if the 14 words said 'We must secure the existence of our race and a future for Native American children ' instead of 'We must secure the existence of our race and a future for White children?' Would human rights activists call that racist?"
The "14 words" is a popular white nationalist slogan coined by David Lane, a member of the 1980s right-wing domestic terrorist group The Order. The group committed armed robberies, including a $3.6 million armored car heist, in part to fund the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations, whose founder, Richard Butler,called for the mass migration of white supremacists to the northwestern United States after headquartering Aryan Nations in a northern Idaho compound in the 1970s. He branded the concept the Northwest Territorial Imperative. (Aryan Nations was crippled by a Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit in 2000; it has all but disintegrated since Butler's death in 2004.)
The current Flathead Valley-based PLE movement is the latest manifestation of the longstanding dream of white supremacists to carve out their very own piece of America. Gaede and other PLE activists targeted the Flathead Valley for some of the same demographic reasons Butler picked northern Idaho: historically its population is more than 95 percent white and politically conservative with a strong libertarian streak.
"Around here we have a live and let live mentality," says Kalispell Mayor Tammi Fisher. "That leads to some individuals with fringe beliefs finding refuge in the Flathead Valley."
The PLE movement is guided by an 85-page document titled Pioneer Little Europe (PLE) Prospectus, written in 2001 by H. Michael Barrett, a longtime white supremacist whose history in the movement dates back to the late 1960s, when, by his own account, he served as the armed bodyguard for one of the leaders of the National Socialist White People's Party, which morphed out of the American Nazi Party. Barrett went on to join the Ku Klux Klan and become a field organizer for David Duke.
The table of contents to the Pioneer Little Europe Prospectus,
the guidebook for the PLE movement which explains how to
form white supremacist communities.
PLE Prospectus describes a step-by-step plan to gradually "terraform" a predominately white, conservative area by taking over its local political and economic systems and then unleashing what Barrett terms "Uncontrolled White Nationalist Culture" or UNWC.
"The UNWC starts out by drawing together the WNs [white nationalists] who are no longer permitted to exercise the integrity of their community living space anywhere else, those who are unwanted elsewhere if they even so much as express love for their race," reads the prospectus. "These are the culturally homeless, the beserkers, the greatest misfits, the especially angry, those who refuse to run any more, who refuse to bow and scrape, the doers rather than passive thinkers, the dogs in the cellar."
The prospectus lays out plans to "connect with militants, those who have long lacked a community to defend," and eventually to "displace and DESTROY all the local values that have never really served Whites."
Since PLE Prospectus first appeared online, several white supremacist groups in the U.S. and the United Kingdom have announced their intentions to form Aryan communities as outlined by Barrett. Most of these efforts proved to be no more than bold talk. Certainly no would-be Aryan homeland organizers have gained anywhere close to the kind of traction within the larger white supremacist movement as PLE organizers in Montana have since the fall of 2008. That's when Gaede issued the first in a series of public invitations to white supremacists across the country to join her and a handful of PLE "advance scouts" in the Flathead Valley.
Gaede's message was posted on several major white supremacist online forums, including Stormfront, the largest website of its kind, with more than 100,000 registered users. Stormfront now has several active discussion threads promoting the Kalispell-based PLE movement with more than 3,500 posts.
Gaede wrote in her first overture:
"Hello freinds [sic], I am formally making you an inviation [sic] to "come home" to the Pacific Northest [sic]. For many years the Northwest Imperative or Northwest migration movement has existed in the hearts and minds of many of our people. Over 20 years ago some of the first White Nationalist pioneers started moving to this area. The numbers are not clear but we are slowly but surely gaining ground. By the creation of PLE areas or towns, those of us who have already made the move will try to help and advise those who wish to do so as well."
Local and federal law enforcement put the number of white supremacists who have either relocated to the Flathead Valley permanently or become frequent visitors to the area as a direct result of the PLE movement at close to 50. That figure does not include the right-wing extremist Patriot movement followers who have moved there during the same time period. (A December 2008 ATF report estimated that approximately 35 "Freemen" or sovereign citizen extremists, sub-sets of the Patriot movement, were active in or near Kalispell. That number has at least doubled since then following the arrival of Christian fundamentalist preacher Chuck Baldwin, a leading figure in the Patriot movement, who relocated to Kalispell in late 2009 with 17 members of his family and has since drawn more than 20 followers to the Flathead Valley, according to law enforcement sources.)
At least forty-three white supremacists on Stormfront and similar Internet forums claim to be living in the Flathead Valley as part of PLE and to have moved there since early 2009. Another five claim to be locals who lived there before the PLE movement in Montana began. A Media Matters review of more than 30 hours of video footage of five right-wing extremist events held in the Flathead Valley in the last 12 months reveals at least 36 self-declared white supremacists are either living there or traveling there often enough to appear at event after event.
"I would say there's 25-30 of these individuals living here right now, and maybe about that many who come and go and seem to be thinking about moving here. Obviously we hope they don't," says Flathead Valley Sheriff Chuck Curry.
The sheriff says there has been no uptick in reported hate crimes or extremist violence in the Flathead Valley since the PLE movement went public. "At this point it seems like it's all rhetoric," he says. "But we're keeping our eye on it. We work very well with the FBI here."
Curry says he thinks that Gaede and other PLE activists were drawn to the Flathead Valley by widespread anti-government sentiment in the region. "For whatever reason, it's pretty normal around here for people to declare themselves anti-government, at least in terms of the federal level," says Curry. "That's what these [PLE] folks find attractive, the same as the constitutionalists, who we called 'militia' 10 years ago. But having hard feelings toward the federal government and being a neo-Nazi are two different things. These folks are on the edge of society. They're not representative of our community."
Recent arrivals in Kalispell include rank-and-file members of neo-Nazi, skinhead and Ku Klux Klan groups as well as well-known white supremacists like Gaede, neo-Nazi webmaster Craig Cobb, and former Aryan Nations organizer Karl Gharst.
Earlier this year the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, relocated its headquarters to the Flathead Valley and its director, Richard Spencer, moved to Whitefish, Montana, a small town near Kalispell. Spencer publicly touted the PLE movement in September at an NPI-sponsored racist conference in Washington, D.C.
Anti-hate activists in Kalispell rally against a white supremacist group's Holocaust denial film series.
While its exact numbers remain murky, the PLE movement in Montana is obviously beginning to execute the strategies outlined in PLE Prospectus to garner publicity and to support the larger U.S. white supremacist movement. These include providing "...safe speaking forums for controversial historians, some of whom have 'revisionist' views."
Since March of 2010 PLE members have organized a lecture in Kalispell by prominent Holocaust denier David Irving and four showings of Holocaust denial films in the basement of the Kalispell Public Library. In April 2010 a PLE movie night featured Epic: The Story of the Waffen SS, a 1982 film of a speech by former SS officer Leon Degrelle. In the film, Degrelle calls Adolph Hitler a "man of exceptional genius," says the Holocaust didn't happen, and claims that Hitler was targeted by "international bankers and the servile press... because of his social work."
Although the movie drew about a dozen PLE members and supporters, roughly 200 anti-racist demonstrators rallied outside. Observing the protesters, Karl Gharst told a reporter for The Flathead Beacon, "It's a fucking freak show. ... They're all the same queers and Jews and shit that were at the gay pride parade."
That evening April Gaede and her husband were arrested for scuffling with a protester who was snapping photographs of individuals entering the library to attend the screening. (The charges against them were later dropped.)
The anti-hate protest outside the library was one of four anti-racism demonstrations held in response to the PLE movement by the Flathead Valley Multi-Faith Coalition. It was organized by Rev. Darryl Kistler, pastor of the Flathead Valley United Church of Christ. In March the church was sprayed with gunfire and spray-painted with graffiti that read "Faggot Lovers." (The church was empty when it was fired upon.) "It seems like the PLE extremists feel like they've gained a critical mass of numbers and they're becoming more aggressive and out front with their views," says Rev. Kistler.
"I have friends who share a fence line with April [Gaede], and she's been a really good neighbor. She keeps her dogs under control, she keeps her property neat, and when their kid had surgery she brought them a loaf of homemade banana bread. But that was before her group started to emerge from the underground. They've gone from quirky neighbors to threatening and violent and obviously hateful, and they've hit the limits of this community's tolerance. We are standing up and exposing their intentions and saying 'You are not welcome here.'"