White supremacist and "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer defended his mother, as online anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish human rights activist in his Montana community intensified, drawing national attention.
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Montana Governor Steve Bullock was scheduled to travel to Whitefish in order to hold a press conference “to address the media regarding the online harassment of Whitefish businesses and Jewish families have been receiving from neo-Nazi followers of part-time Whitefish resident and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer” but his spokesperson told the Daily Inter Lake newspaper that the event had been cancelled.
According to the newspaper, the governor’s deputy communications director “would not say whether the cancellation was related to reported security concerns, but noted it 'was the way things unfolded'."
Lisa Jones, a spokesperson for the Whitefish Convention and Visitor Bureau was quoted as reacting with disappointment, saying that “It’s sad we have to be afraid to have a press conference about denouncing hate because of the potential actions of the haters.”
Spencer publicly commented on the controversy for the first time on Wednesday, when he posted a video saying that he was speaking out “with a heavy heart” because “it is a personal matter” unrelated to his politics, charging that a “constellation” of activists were trying to “destroy the life” of his mother in order to drive both of them out of the town.
Spencer’s mother, Sherry, has charged that a local real estate agent was trying to bully and force her into selling a building she owns in the town of Whitefish, threatening that if she doesn’t, her property would be the target of pickets and boycotts by those who object to her son’s politics. Both Sherry Spencer and Richard Spencer live in Montana during part of the year.
Spencer is the president and director of the National Policy Institute, which calls itself a “lobby for white nationalism” and has been labeled a “hate group” by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization is registered to his mother’s address there.
Spencer became a national celebrity after a video showed his address to a conference of his organization, celebrating two weeks after Donald Trump’s victory, raising their hands stiffly in salute crying out “hail Trump, Hail our people, Hail Victory!” received media attention.
Spencer repeated his mother’s charges that an “extremely pushy” Jewish agent trying to force her to sell her building backed by “horrible charities” which he called “hate groups that are “solely based on attacking people.” The real estate agent, he said, wanted his mother to donate money from the sale to these groups and “sign ritual humiliating confessions,” calling the behavior “morally repulsive.”
The clash between Spencer’s mother and a group called Love Lives Here, which affiliates with the Montana Human Rights Network, made national headlines after a neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic website put out a call to “take action” against several Jewish members of the community active in the human rights organization.
The Daily Stormer named the local Jews, publishing their contact information and social media addresses, and posted their photographs photoshopped wearing a yellow star, calling for “an old-fashioned troll storm” of harassment against them and their family members, including the 12-year-old son of the real estate agent.
Local police in the Montana have “stepped up” patrols and are working with the FBI which said it is “reviewing to determine if there is a violation of federal law,” the New York Times reported.
Since the controversy hit national headlines over the past week, the attacks in the Daily Stormer have not only continued, but intensified and widened. In their most recent post, they put out a call to “kick it up a notch” by contacting business associates of those they charge with harming Spencer’s mother and “demand they cut their business ties with these individuals due to their unethical practices of threats, harassment and extortion of family members of people they disagree with” in order to “make it clear to those who associate with this criminal Jewish racket that we are aware of their associations.”
The Jewish targets of the attacks have gone silent, refusing to comment in the press and staying off of social media, though the Times article quoted friends as saying they have been receiving graphic death threats.
In his video, Spencer downplayed the actions that his followers have taken against the Montana activists, saying that online trolling is “not the kind of thing I would do but to be honest, at the end of the day, it is mean words, it is pixels, it is not on the level morally, ethically or legally of trying to force a sale or trying to take away the property of an innocent woman.”
He has recently received another burst of attention in the national spotlight after indicated that he is considering an “insurgent campaign” for the congressional seat that will be available if the state’s Rep. Ryan Zinke moves through his confirmation hearings and becomes head of the U.S. Department of Interior in the Trump administration.
The Missoula Independent, a west Montana weekly, said in an article headlined ‘Richard Spencer’s 15 Minutes of Fame Are Just About Up’ that Spencer is publicly flirting with a run “despite the fact that his chances as a candidate are 'incredibly remote,' as political analyst Lee Banville says. In order to obtain the Republican nomination in a special election, as Spencer initially said he'd prefer, he would have to win support from the state party's central committee. Republican Party chairman Jeff Essmann said he expected that his peers would look skeptically upon Spencer, and another potential candidate, Daniel Zolnikov, called Spencer an 'asshat.' Spencer later said he'd instead pursue his still-hypothetical run as an independent, which would require him to collect 15,000 verified signatures just to get on the ballot.”
This didn’t worry Spencer. He bragged to the local paper that "I can get the amount of media that people with millions on Super PACs get," Spencer says, "and I can get it for free."
Journalists, he said, would continue to lavish attention on him because "you can't help yourselves.”