The neo-Nazi, white supremacist website The Daily Stormer published photographs of Jewish residents of a Montana town with Holocaust-era yellow stars bearing the word “Jude” photoshopped onto their images. The site published the names and contact information of three women and a 12-year-old boy – and called for their readers to attack their social media accounts to “tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda to attack and harm the mother of someone whom they disagree with.”
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The website’s campaign was intended to show support for "alt-right" figure and white supremacist Richard Spencer, founder and president of a group called National Policy Institute which is "dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent." Spencer’s profile rose dramatically when 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!” was widely disseminated.
The attacks on Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana in the state’s Flathead Valley near Glacier National Park took place in defense of Spencer’s mother. Sherry Spencer owns a building in Whitefish containing offices and vacation apartments which she claims she has been “forced to sell” under pressure from those hostile to her son’s activities. Richard Spencer divides his time between the Montana resort town where his mother lives and Virginia, but has lived there full-time in the past. Although Sherry Spencer has stated that she does not share her son's “extreme views,” Richard Spencer's group is still registered to her Montana address and his connection to the state is mentioned frequently in the media.
In an article she published on Medium, Spencer painted herself as the victim of bullying and extortion, claiming that a local Jewish realtor, Tanya Gersh, threatened her with boycotts, saying if she didn’t sell her building, protesters and the national media would “show up outside which would drive down the property value.”
Gersh told a local TV news outlet that Sherry Spencer was supporting her son “profiting off of the people of the local community, all the while having facilitated Richard’s work spreading hate by letting him live and use her home address for his organization.” Gersh suggested that Spencer prove her distance from her son “by selling the building, making a donation to human rights efforts, and making a statement in opposition to white supremacist ideas spread by Richard."
The Daily Stormer article charged, alongside its racist photos, that the situation in Whitefish demonstrated that Jews were a “a vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths” and charged “when you do something they don’t like, they will use the power of the media to come down on you, assassinate your character. They will call you names and accuse you of all sorts of things. They will go after your money. If all of that fails, they will attack your mother.”
Claiming that the time had come to “take action,” it said:
“There are only 6,000 Jews in the entire state of Montana, yet they’re 100% of the people trying to trying to silence Richard Spencer by harassing his mother. So then – let’s hit em up. Are y’all ready for an old fashioned Troll Storm?”
Both Sherry Spencer and her son’s supporters laid blame for the effort on an organization called "Love Lives Here” an affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network.
On its website, the group’s stated mission is to help create “a caring, open, accepting and diverse community, free from discrimination and dedicated to equal treatment for all our citizens” that is “devoted to justice, equality, dignity and fairness for all citizens” and supports Campaign Against Violence, LGBT, Human Rights, and discrimination issues.
The organization’s chairman, Will Randall, told the local newspaper "The Missoulian" that his group “never promoted the idea of a protest of a boycott of a building.” The Jewish woman targeted in the neo-Nazi website "is a beloved member of our community who entered into this conversation trying to help,” he said, adding that she and others "are some of the best people around, and to see them attacked because they're Jewish or have a Jewish-sounding name is disgusting.
Love Lives Here has countered the presence of the so-called alt-right in their state, highlighted by Spencer’s new celebrity status. The Missoulian also reported that Spencer may be planning to capitalize on his new-found celebrity by considering a run for Congress for the U.S. House 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.
One of the targets of the vicious Daily Stormer social media attacks was Rabbi Francine Roston, who leads the Glacier Jewish community after leaving a prominent pulpit in New Jersey a year ago in order to move to Whitefish for a quieter life. She has written about what it is like to be Jewish in Montana and has given examples of anti-Semitism her children have faced there.
Roston was featured on a CNN story last week declaring that his beliefs are “not representatives of this country or this community."
Like much of the national media coverage, the CNN piece showed how the Love Lives Here group has recently stepped up efforts by the community to speak out the ideology Richard Spencer represents.
The public connection of Spencer and the "alt-right" to Montana is not a new worry in the region, whose economy relies heavily on tourism and so is concerned with its image nationally. Two years ago, Love Lives Here pushed for the adoption of a local “community values resolution” supporting diversity and inclusion to distance themselves from racism and xenophobia.
Anti-racism efforts have intensified since the election and the conference video, leading Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld issued a proclamation that declared, among other things, "The City of Whitefish repudiates the ideas and ideology of the white nationalist and so called alt-right as a direct affront to our community's core values and principles."