If you drive several hundred miles northeast over the mountains from that Boise, Idaho, meeting of the Liberty Agenda you reach Helena, Montana, in about nine hours of twisting travel. The long distances between major cities and relative sparseness of population allows libertarians and other slivered political tendencies to flourish. Travis McAdam leads a tour of the Montana Human Rights Network offices in a converted downtown Helena bank building not far from the state capitol. On the guest tour, the staff likes to drag open a huge vestigial vault door to reveal a set of battered filing cabinets.
The Religious Right still has great influence in the Montana Republican Party and in the state itself, says McAdam, the executive director of the human rights group. He notes that in the past, “when the Religious Right loses a national election, they refocus on the states.” McAdam thinks it is predictable that the “Religious Right will be fighting tooth and nail to maintain the political power” they have in the Republican Party, not only in the states, but as a way to regain national influence.
“Democrats need to start addressing the long-term effects of this rightwing populist upsurge,” says McAdam. “A lot of people out here are getting their political education through the tea parties, so even when the tea party movement itself collapses, it will leave behind many new recruits for other rightwing groups.”
McAdam and his researchers have found that the Ron Paul libertarians, the Christian Right, and well-established ultraconservative groups such as the John Birch Society are all competing to inherit the tea party recruits in Montana and form them into a conservative political movement. Indications are that this is happening nationwide. At the same time in Montana and some other states, it is clear that the tea bag and town hall protesters are also being recruited by white supremacist and organized racist groups.
The activities of the Militia of Montana and the government standoff with the Montana Freemen garnered national headlines in the 1990s when armed units emerged from the broader “Patriot” movement during the early years of the Clinton Administration. Their ideas are “resurfacing at what are considered more mainstream meetings here in Montana,” McAdam says. “We hear talk about the one world government and black helicopters, and now these traditional anti-government conspiracy theories are incorporating new talking points related to, among other things, the swine flu vaccination and the private prison industry.”
On the ultraright, there is a plan among organized racists to encourage white people to move to Montana and build a segregated “separatist” homeland. “We even heard one racist leader suggest that conspiracy theories about Obama and the government are a soft way to get people interested in becoming active in building a white homeland here,” says McAdam. The white racists are well aware of McAdam. On the racist Stormfront website, a post suggested that “Travis McAdam can move his sorry butt to south africa and enjoy his negro overlords which he loves so much. Wonder if he’d cry for freedom then?”
Montana illustrates how rightwing organizing can stretch from the Republican Party out to organized white supremacist groups. “We call that moving from the margins to the mainstream,” says McAdam.
Chip Berlet's whole article appears on page 24 of the February 2010 issue. Subscribe to The Progressive for just $14.97 by clicking here for immediate access.