Supreme Court ruling expands states’ authority to prosecute crimes on tribal land

The United States Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that states can prosecute non-Native people who commit crimes against a Native person on tribal lands, a dramatic move for tribal sovereignty that undoes decades of practice.

Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, who is non-Native, was sentenced to 35 years in prison stemming from a 2015 child neglect conviction in Oklahoma against his Native American stepdaughter within the state’s Cherokee Reservation. Castro-Huerta challenged the conviction, citing the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which held states cannot prosecute crimes committed on Native American lands without federal approval.

In this case, Oklahoma argued that because Castro-Huerta is non-Native, McGirt does not bar his prosecution by the state, and the Supreme Court agreed.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who authored the court’s majority opinion, raised questions about the eastern part of Oklahoma, including Tulsa, being labeled as “Indian Country.”

“About two million people live there, and the vast majority are not Indians,” he wrote.”The classification of eastern Oklahoma as Indian country has raised urgent questions about which government or governments have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed there.”

Kavanaugh listed multiple decisions going back to 1845 to support the argument that Indian reservations are “part of the surrounding state” and are subject to the state’s jurisdiction “except as forbidden by federal law.”

“In short, the court’s precedents establish that Indian country is part of a state’s territory and that, unless preempted, states have jurisdiction over crimes committed in Indian Country,” Kavanaugh wrote for the majority.

Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr., and Amy Coney Barrett joined Kavanaugh in the majority. At the same time, Neil Gorsuch joined the three liberal justices — Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor — in dissent.

In his dissent, Gorsuch praised the 1832 decision Worcester v. Georgia, which ruled state law had no power in Indian country without congressional authorization.

“The decision established a foundational rule that would persist for over 200 years: Native American Tribes retain their sovereignty unless and until Congress ordains otherwise,” Gorsuch wrote.

He argued that Wednesday’s ruling was reneging on a promise made to the Cherokee after their exile to what became Oklahoma.

“The federal government promised the tribe that it would remain forever free from interference by state authorities. Only the Tribe or the federal government could punish crimes by or against tribal members on tribal lands,” he wrote. “Where this Court once stood firm, today it wilts … Where our predecessors refused to participate in one state’s unlawful power grab at the expense of the Cherokee, today’s Court accedes to another’s. Respectfully, I dissent.”

Gorsuch pushed back on the majority’s argument that a state possesses “inherent” sovereign power to prosecute crimes on tribal reservations until and unless Congress “preempts” that authority.

“The Court emphasizes that states normally wield broad police powers within their borders absent some preemptive federal law,” he wrote. “But the effort to wedge tribes into that paradigm is a category error. Tribes are not private organizations within state boundaries. Their reservations are not glorified private campgrounds. Tribes are sovereigns.”

Keaton Sunchild, political director at Western Native Voice, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for Native rights in Montana, said the ruling sets a dangerous criterion going forward.

“Obviously we fear that this starts a dangerous precedent of stripping tribal sovereignty and blurring the lines between the treaties made between the federal government and the tribes across the country,” he said. “This is something that we have long just assumed is settled on between state governments, federal governments and tribal governments … I guess the five justices thought differently and now we have to worry about what happens next with tribal rights, who knows what else could be under attack and potentially stripped next.”

He added that the decision is expected to have a harmful impact going forward. “We will likely see more states meddling in tribal affairs and the taking away of autonomy that tribes have had available to them for decades.”

The Native American Fund said in a statement that the ruling “strikes” against the sovereignty of tribal nations and the consequences of the decision for tribal nations, the federal government, and states will take time to unravel.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today is an attack on tribal sovereignty and the hard-fought progress of our ancestors to exercise our inherent sovereignty over our own territories,” said National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp in the release. “It was only a few months ago that Congress loudly supported tribal sovereignty and tribal criminal jurisdiction with the passage of the Violence Against Women’s Act, reaffirming the right of Tribal Nations to protect their own people and communities, but make no mistake, today, the Supreme Court has dealt a massive blow to tribal sovereignty and Congress must, again, respond.”

Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.

Historic flood shuts down Northern part of Yellowstone for rest of season

Heather Muldoon spent most of Monday bracing her Livingston garden business for the oncoming flood.
When she was prompted by local authorities to leave around 6 p.m., she thought the worst of it was over. But her entire business was gone when she returned to it, Heather’s Garden Service and Flower Farm, Tuesday afternoon.

“It got way worse after I left, and I just had no idea. I lost everything … it is a nightmare,” Muldoon, 52, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I don’t even know what to do. I don’t even know what to say. It’s crazy.”

Heather’s business, located on the 9th Street Island in Livingston, washed away as a historic flood took hold of the Yellowstone River and penetrated communities from Gardiner to Red Lodge on Monday — carrying homes, bridges, and businesses with it — leaving behind damage that could take years to repair.

The flood was brought on by snowfall over Memorial Day weekend, combined with warmer temperatures in higher elevations this past weekend that allowed the snow to start melting. The event closed the entire northern half of Yellowstone National Park, including attractions like Lamar Valley, Tower Falls, and Mammoth Hot Springs, for at least the rest of the summer. And more flooding could be on its way, according to Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly.

“We still have very high water as of today … we still have somewhere around 12 inches of snowpack left, and if we get warming temperatures in the right mixture of precipitation like we did Sunday, we could have another flood event coming through Yellowstone in the upcoming four or five days,” he said at a press event broadcast via Zoom

And in Park, Sweetgrass, and Carbon counties, the National Weather Service in Billings forecast high water levels again this weekend. “We have drying conditions through the rest of the week; there is going to be very warm temperatures showing up Friday into Saturday,” said the agency’s Dan Borsum. “Now, there will be no rain associated with it. So we do expect that to come out slower than what we saw the past few days.”

While the damage was extensive, no significant injuries or deaths have been reported, but, Sholly said one visitor did die since the flooding started from a cardiac arrest episode unrelated to the flood.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a state of emergency for Carbon, Park, and Stillwater counties to help with the historic flooding. The declaration was signed by Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras because, as first reported by Lee Newspapers, Gianforte is out of the country and will return in a few days.

“With rapid snowmelt and recent heavy rains, communities in south-central Montana are experiencing severe flooding that is destroying homes, washing away roads and bridges, and leaving Montanans without power and water services,” Gianforte said in a statement. “Today’s disaster declaration will help impacted communities get back on their feet as soon as possible, and I have asked state agencies to bring their resources to bear in support of these communities.”

According to the release, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services is working to support local authorities in Carbon, Park, and Stillwater counties and with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on next steps.

Sholly and Park County Commissioner Bill Berg addressed about 100 reporters on Zoom Tuesday afternoon.

Sholly said he does not expect the northern part of the park to open this summer. He said the hardest-hit area was between Gardner and Cooke City, two gateway towns that rely heavily on the summer tourist months, and the road that connects the two towns will not be reopened this summer.

“I’ll stay as optimistic as possible, but even if we got started right now, I’m not sure we could get the road on the northern end reopened. So that will likely stay closed for the rest of the season,” he said.

Weather in the rest of Montana

In western Montana, flooding and gusty winds also were reported, along with the snow. The National Weather Service in Missoula said in a tweet it had received numerous reports of water over roadways following one to three inches of rain in the northwest Montana valleys in the last 24 hours.

A flood warning was issued that morning for the Yaak River near Troy, and the Weather Service advised motorists not to drive through flooded areas.

The agency also said an urban and small stream flood advisory was issued for northwest Montana, including in Kalispell, Libby, Eureka, and West Glacier, due to heavy rain anticipated until 6 p.m. “Minor flooding in low-lying and poor drainage areas is anticipated,” said NWS Missoula in an update on Twitter.

In Whitefish, snow was accumulating at the Ski Whitefish Base Lodge, the NWS Missoula said in a post with the hashtag #junuary.

That closure is devastating for Gardiner and surrounding areas that rely on summer tourism to keep the lights on year-round.

“It lives and dies by tourism,” Berg said about Gardiner.

Frank James of Livingston is one of those who rely on that industry. Last year he started Mountain Man Guiding, but he said he will likely have to find a new job because of the floods.

“You’re losing your life, basically,” he said. “I own a guiding business, and I can’t guide anymore. I’m going to have to go find a new job.”

And the flood comes right when businesses were starting to bounce back from COVID-19, Berg said.

“The businesses I talked to had reservations that were running even stronger for this summer. And now that’s all gone,” Berg said. “So businesses are already trying to sort out what they’re going to do with their seasonal staff that can’t afford to keep them. Their business projections are shot, reservations are being canceled, folks are asking for refunds, which is understandable.”

Sholly said the park is working with other gateway communities like West Yellowstone, Cody, and Jackson to see how they can support visitors to the southern loop of the park. The park can see up to 1 million visitors in the summer months.

“One thing that we definitely know is that half the park cannot support all of the visitations, so we are exploring a range of options,” Sholly said. He discussed timed entry and reservation systems for the south loop when it opens.

In the last 36 hours, Berg said multiple bridges in the county had been knocked out.

“Sunday night was when we got our first alert that there was trouble on the horizon when two of our bridges on the Bannack trail washed out,” he said.

As for the park, the North Loop took the brunt of the damage, Sholly said, but the full extent of the damage will not be known for some time.

“Water is extremely high. We’re not putting teams in harm’s way at this point. When the waters reside, probably early next week, we will be pulling together a large number of people from different agencies around the country to come to Yellowstone and help us assess what the damage is to various infrastructure in the park,” he said. “You can see by the pictures: it’s expensive. But we will not know exactly what the timelines are, what the costs are, or any of that information until we get teams on the ground can actually assess what happens and what it’s going to take to repair it.”

The park and surrounding gateway towns like Gardiner were full of visitors when the floods started, Sholly said. He estimated about 15,000 people were in the park when it shut down. As of Monday all visitors, outside of a dozen backcountry campers, have been removed from the park.

“We had to make a decision yesterday because of unsafe conditions to move all of the visitors out of northern Yellowstone, and we pushed them south into the southern loop,” he said.

“We have contacted or know the whereabouts of every backcountry user currently in Yellowstone. Right now, there’s only one group remaining in the Northern Range. We have made contact with them; we were prepared to do helicopter evacuations if necessary. That hasn’t been necessary up to this point,” Sholly told reporters. As of Tuesday, there is a full closure of Yellowstone backcountry in place. And the Yellowstone River has been closed for recreational activities.

Along with the visitors in the park, thousands of visitors were stranded in Gardiner, which was isolated after the flood took out Highway 89 on Monday. The highway was reopened late Tuesday afternoon. And road and bridge collapse in Silver Gate and Cooke City also caused temporary isolation.

“We’ve lost several roads in Park County and around the region as well. In addition to the three bridges we lost in Cooke City, Park County lost one bridge over the Yellowstone near Tom Miner Basin … had another bridge compromised in the middle of Paradise Valley,” Berg said.

Muldoon said she is devastated.

“It’s not just the money that I have out. It’s also the sweat equity that I put into this business, and it’s all gone … this is four years of working on this flower farm working on this greenhouse,” she said.

But she knows she is not alone.

“I’m not the only one. There are people whose homes were completely washed away and inundated, and that’s obviously huge,” she said.

Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.

Far-right Montana pastor hit with multiple charges after 'slurring and stumbling' during traffic stop

Controversial Sidney Pastor Jordan Hall has pleaded not guilty to DUI and weapons charges arising from a May 11 traffic stop.

Hall, 40, was arrested in Sidney around 11 p.m. on May 11, and, according to a complaint, he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs, carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence of drugs, and multiple traffic violations — all misdemeanors. He was issued a $585 fine.

The Sidney Herald first reported the news of Hall’s arrest.

Hall pleaded not guilty to the charges on May 12 and has an omnibus hearing scheduled for July 19th.

According to the complaint, Hall was “moving/speaking slowly, his eyes were lowering slowly and deliberately, he had slurred/mumbled speech at times, his eyes were watery, he stumbled and had poor balance.” Hall was also given a field sobriety test and performed poorly, but a blood alcohol test did not register any alcohol in his system, according to the complaint.

On Monday, Hall denied that he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and told the Daily Montanan the symptoms noticed by police were caused by a lack of vitamin D.

“They found no alcohol in my system because I was not using alcohol or any other kind of illegal narcotic or recreational drug,” Hall said. “I was experiencing a known and medically documented severe vitamin D deficiency.” Hall declined to provide medical records regarding the condition but directed the Daily Montanan to a blog post he had written roughly one month earlier that referenced a vitamin deficiency.

As a result of the charges, Hall submitted his resignation as pastor of First Baptist Church in Sidney, but the resignation was denied, according to a statement from the church.

“The deacons and elders met yesterday and rejected his resignation in consultation with three well-respected and Godly pastors of other churches, as it was unanimously determined that, as no alcohol was used and Pastor Hall’s coordination/health issues have been well known, this unfortunate incident was not ministerially disqualifying,” the statement read.

It continued, “The council determined Pastor Hall was exhausted, potentially addicted to working, and must rest, do nothing for three months, and change his phone number (to not be bothered by outsiders).”

The complaint says Hall was driving a 2017 Chevrolet Malibu on East Holly Street when he crossed into the bicycle lane on West Holly Street initiating the stop. During the arrest, police found a Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 Shield handgun under his coat in an inside-the-waistband holster on Hall’s right side.

Hall is also the founder and publisher of the Montana Daily Gazette. Hall and his publishing group are currently being sued by Adrian Jawort, a transgender Native lobbyist who alleges that an article about her in the Montana Daily Gazette damaged her reputation. Hall also filed for bankruptcy in February, just 24 hours before a sanctions hearing in his lawsuit with Jawort.

Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.

New book explores life of Ted Kaczynski through the eyes of longtime Montana neighbor

As a teenager, Jamie Gehring would find solace at the rock quarry on her family’s sprawling Lincoln property, but on a summer day as a 15-year-old, a trip to the rock quarry would leave her feeling terrified — it was the last time she would see notorious serial killer Ted Kaczynski in person.

“There had been times earlier in the ’90s when he would come by the house, and my parents weren’t there, and I would feel scared enough to hide in the closet until he was gone,” she said.

But the day at the rock quarry was the first time Gehring said she was “truly terrified” of him.

“I said ‘hello,’ he said ‘hello,’ and I turned around to leave, and I walked at first, and as soon I thought I was out of eyesight, I just ran,” she said.

About one year later, Gehring would find out the neighbor that would bring her painted rocks and other trinkets was the country’s longest-running domestic terrorist. The Unabomber.

In her new book, “Madman in the Woods: Life next door to the Unabomber,” released on April 19, Gehring recalls growing up next to Kaczynski, who built his 1.4-acre cabin on land sold to him by Gehring’s father, Butch Gehring.

Kaczynski, now 79, gave up his career as a math professor at the University of California, Berkeley to live a primitive life in his remote Lincoln cabin that did not have running water or electricity. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski would go on to kill three people and injure 23 more. Kaczynski was arrested in 1996 after a search by the FBI that cost $50 million. He is currently serving eight life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The book contains stories of the Gehring family’s interactions with Kaczynski, from friendly family dinners and games of pinochle to more menacing revelations like Kaczynski pointing a rifle at Gehring’s little sister and poisoning their family’s dog.

Gehring’s first and last encounter with Kaczynski could not be more different. As illustrated in the book’s opening pages, Gehring views Kaczynski as her friendly neighbor “Teddy,” who brought the then-4-year-old painted rocks.

“However, what I didn’t know at the time was that this man, this hermit, who took time to find these rocks … had already attempted to kill people seven times,” Gehring writes.

After Kaczynski’s life as a serial killer would become public, Gehring said she needed to dig up more of the story, so she spent five years investigating not only Kaczynski but also herself and her family — specifically the role of her father played in the FBI’s investigation.

“I needed to find out more. How could this man who produced such a happy memory also kill three people and injure twenty-three more?” she wrote.

While her main goal in writing the book was to share her own story, Gehring said she tried to write the book as accurately as possible. The process included interviews with Kaczynski’s brother, David Kaczynski, combing through newspaper clippings and court filings and talking with the FBI agents who investigated the case.

“I really did try and write the book in a very balanced w and very journalistic way … I wanted to tell the story as accurately as I possibly could,” she said.

Both David Kaczynski and Max Noel, one of the FBI agents who tracked down Ted, said Gehring succeeded in her goals for the book.

“Jamie Gehring’s book might well be the best attempt yet to understand the strange life and mind of my brother,” David Kaczynski wrote in his review of the book.

Noel echoed the message in his review: “Her exhaustive research and numerous interviews of Kaczynski’s neighbors and Lincoln, Montana, townspeople give her account a unique perspective. I believe ’Madman in the Woods ’ is a must-read for true crime aficionados.”

The most surprising thing Gehring said she discovered about Kaczynski while writing the book was how methodical he was, which tracks for someone with a genius IQ of 167.

“You imagine that the inner workings of a killer would be dark, but I wasn’t quite prepared to read his own words in his journals. I think that was the most shocking and surprising part of this,” she said.

An example she pointed to was Kaczynski referring to his victims as numerated experiments. “It just felt so cold and calculated to see a person referenced that way,” she said.

But she also discovered something about herself, specifically her ability to forgive.

“Even after I discovered that he was committing these acts of domestic terror in our backyard, that he had poisoned our dog and pointed a rifle at my sister … I was really angry, but there was still part of me that wanted to learn more about him and write him in a fair light. I think that was a surprising revelation, she said.

Gehring said her 16-year-old self did not fully grasp the weight of the situation when Kaczynski was arrested in 1998, but looking back on it, she said she feels validated.

“My parents told me I had an overactive imagination because I would tell them there was someone outside of my bedroom, so growing up thinking that, and then finding out (Kaczynski) was scavenging for metal and finding out that it was actually him outside of my window … little things like that from my childhood really made sense to me,” she said.

And despite the trauma from growing up to next Kaczynski, Gehring said she has managed to maintain a pretty level head about the situation.

“I haven’t let it change me, and I still feel like people are good for the most part. Plus, what are the chances I would live next to another serial killer? Pretty slim,” she said.

Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.

'White Lives Matter' social club accused of 'low-level terrorism' in Montana

The leader of a small but highly-visible white supremacist group has touted Montana’s laws in an effort to recruit other extremists in the state.

The introduction of White Lives Matter in Montana is another reminder of the state’s turbulent history with white supremacy and white nationalist groups as well as the efforts of local activists to push back. In Montana, White Lives Matter started organizing in April 2021 and has put on small-scale demonstrations across the state in the last couple of months — including on Feb. 12 at the state Capitol building in Helena.

Sebastian Campbell, known as “Cleetus” online, is the leader of the White Lives Matter Montana chapter. On a Dec. 21, 2021, episode of the “AMERIKANER” podcast from North Dakota, he talked about recruitment efforts, the framework of the group, and his affinity for Montana’s laws.

White Lives Matter has a national chapter and local chapters in nearly every state and is a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center that promotes neo-Nazi ideology. The group pitched itself as a grassroots initiative for White people on the podcast, but Travis McAdam said the messaging is a way to soften its neo-Nazi beliefs.

“Describing themselves as a social club is a way to take the edge off their hardcore racist ideology and makes it more appealing to other folks,” said McAdam, who has studied far-right extremism in the state for more than two decades and is the director of combating White nationalism and defending democracy at the Montana Human Rights Network.

People tracking hate groups in the state say the group only has 20 to 30 members, and its rigorous promotion efforts inflate its prominence. Despite the group’s size, organizations like the Montanan Human Rights network say it’s important to push back against it before things escalate from stickering to more dangerous activities.

They put up the stickers and gauge response … if they have some success with stickers and are not facing any opposition, you will see more in-person gatherings like rallies and stuff like that,” McAdam said.

But he said the real worry is what could come next.

“Our real concern is that if this activity starts to escalate, then we start to see the targeting of people in the community … LGBTQ, BIPOC, Jewish folks,” he said.

Missoula Rabbi Laurie Franklin, who has been on the receiving end of antisemitic literature drops by White supremacists and actively organizes to push back on them, described the impact these types of groups can have on people. Franklin is a current Montana Human Rights Network board member.

“It’s deeply troubling because as a sort of low-level terrorism, it makes people who are Jewish and people who have skin of color profoundly uncomfortable,” she said. “This movement gives all of us profound discomfort. It’s yet another chink in our sense of safety, and I honestly feel the most important thing we can do is very present and assertive of our identities.”

The draw of isolated living coupled with its history of anti-government and far-right movements have made it a desirable location for people looking to entrench themselves in White supremacy further. But as waves of White supremacists have ebbed and flowed, Montana has organized against them.

Billings residents managed to thwart a Nazi movement in the city with their “Not in Our Town” movement in the 1990s. And more recently, in the Flathead, the community successfully organized after the neo-nazi newspaper the Daily Stormer called for a “troll storm” on its Jewish residents.

Campbell himself has admitted many of his members are not from Montana and he’s on the hunt in neighboring states.

“Almost all of my guys moved here. The native Montananers haven’t done much so far, so I am looking for talent elsewhere,” he said in now-deleted Telegram chats.

“In our 30 years of doing this work, Montana has had a consistent presence of White nationalist and anti-government folks, but Montana also has a long history of standing up and rejecting these ideas too, and it really feels like it’s time for communities to start doing that again,” McAdam said.

On the podcast and in Telegram chats, Campbell has presented Montana as a haven for white supremacists. Campbell did not respond to a Facebook message asking for comment on this story.

“We have a right-wing gov … we have constitutional carry, and an anti-vaccine mandate law,” he said on Telegram as part of his recruitment campaign. And on the podcast, he said, “The laws on all sorts of things in Montana are pretty great.”

In screenshots of now-deleted Telegram chats, Campbell described his frustrations growing up as a vegan under the watch of a single liberal mom. After moving away to college, he said he became “red-pilled” — meaning, as in the “Matrix,” to wake up to the “truths” of the world. In the same chats, Campbell posted pictures of himself camping with Nazi flags and was unwavering in his hatred of Black people.

With aspirations to create a separate society for himself and other White supremacists, he moved to Kalispell from Kentucky in June 2020, he said.

The intermittent stream of groups like White Lives Matter popping up in the state results from the convergence of two separatist ideas that have stewed in the Pacific Northwest for decades. One is anti-government, and the other is white supremacy.

“The anti-government ‘Patriots,’ the larger of the two movements, want to establish a remote base of like-minded allies as a bastion of resistance for the day when, as they believe, the government will impose martial law. White supremacists are organizing around the idea of forming a long-desired all-white homeland far away from the multicultural cities,” the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote in 2011.

Both ideas have resonated with Campbell.

“We’re trying to build a society within a society we want to network with people who care enough about their race to get outside and do stuff,” he said on the podcast about the group’s long-term goals. And in a since-deleted Telegram chat, he said, “I’m just glad there’s other White people waking up and realizing it’s time to detach from modern society.”

During the 67th legislative session, Republicans rebuffed a joint resolution that would have categorized White supremacist violence as domestic terrorism, and Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, questioned the existence of White supremacist groups in the state.

But Montana’s history with white supremacist groups is well documented. Stewart Rhodes, Chuck Baldwin and Richard Spencer, all notorious anti-government leaders have, at least at one point, called the Flathead home.

“Montana was once selected for the development of a white Aryan homeland to be used as a base of operation for many of these extremist groups,” a 1994 report by the Montana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said. “In Montana, and across the country, the actions of these White supremacist organizations are part of an alarming resurgence of violence and intimidation motivated by bigotry, ignorance, hatred, and racism.”

If you see the flyers in your town

If a WLM sticker or flyer shows up in your town, MHRN suggests you report them to The organization also suggests you take a picture of the flyers, share it with MRHN and tell local authorities. However, they recommend not sharing pictures of the flyers on social media, as it can provide free advertising for the group.

Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.

Montana governor asserts there are 'adverse impacts' of masking as COVID cases climb

Gov. Greg Gianforte and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Safety published an emergency rule asking local school boards to follow state guidance when issuing mask mandates, calling into question the benefits of wearing masks to ward off COVID-19 in a school setting.

This article was originally published at Daily Montanan

While the rule does not mandate anything, it encourages school boards to let parents have the final say over whether their child should be required to wear a mask. In a statement, Gianforte, a Republican, said there is “inconclusive research" surrounding masking in schools and asserted there are “adverse impacts of masking on a child's health, wellbeing, and development."

Current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination. The updated CDC recommendations came as the more infectious delta variant began to spread across the country.

Also, on Tuesday, the state reported 890 new positive COVID-19 cases, the highest since Dec. 17, 2020 pushing the state's seven-day case average above 500 for the first time since Jan. 13. The state also reported 13 new deaths and 28 more active hospitalizations.

The rule directs schools weighing mask mandates “should consider, and be able to demonstrate they considered, parental concerns in adopting the mandate."

The rule further states schools should “provide the ability for students, and/or parents or guardians on behalf of their children, to choose to opt-out based on physical, mental, emotional, or psychosocial health concerns, as well as on the basis of religious belief, moral conviction, or other fundamental right, the impairment of which may negatively impact such students' physical, mental, emotional, or psychosocial health."

Across Montana, schools have hosted contentious debates over masking policies. Among the districts mandating masks are Missoula, Whitefish, Bozeman, Billings and Helena. Last week, a group of 11 parents and the nonprofit Stand Up Montana — a vocal anti-mask organization — sued three Missoula school districts over their mask policies.

Climbing caseloads and the deterioration of available hospital beds in the state is why Dr. Lauren Wilson said she was against the new rule.

“I think this is a huge step backward for COVID control in Montana at a time when our hospitals are overwhelmed and asking for help," said Dr. Lauren Wilson, vice president of the Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, about the new rule.

In a hospital occupancy report published by DPPHS on Tuesday, six of Montana's 10 large hospitals reported 70 to 90 percent of staffed beds were occupied, and one hospital reported more than 90 percent occupation. The report provided a snapshot of hospital occupancy on Monday.

Just this week, the Billings Clinic announced it was bringing in the National Guard for the second time in two years and postponing non-necessary procedures because it is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

“(The governor's office) say they reviewed medical literature in making this decision but did not talk to any medical professionals in Montana, and they do not appear to have been consulting with national health experts whose job is to review the literature," Wilson said.

Montana's professional health community has been vocal and unified about their support of masking — for children and adults — when indoors.

One area medical professionals and Gianforte agree is vaccinations.

“If more adults were vaccinated in Montana, we would not be having this conversation," Wilson said.

With 50 percent of its eligible residents fully vaccinated, Montana lags behind other states and currently ranks 43 in doses administered per 100,000 people.

Gianforte and DPHHS announced the rule one day after the U.S. Department of Education announced the launch of investigations into five Republican-led states over their mask mandates, which the department says could be violating the civil rights laws protecting students with disabilities.

At the same time, Gianforte cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks in schools; he said, “some scientific studies we've carefully reviewed undoubtedly reveal the adverse impacts of masking on a child's health, wellbeing, and development."

Pediatric pulmonologist and mother Dr. Deborah Liptzin, who also sits on her child's school COVID-19 advisory board, said from her experience kids are happier to be in school than they are upset about wearing masks.

“(The kids) are just so happy to be at school with their friends, they don't really care about the masks, and the best way to keep kids in school is to use mitigation measures that have proven to work like masking, social distancing," she said. She added, “I think the politicization of (masks) is what is traumatizing and the adults are making the kids feel like it's a bigger deal than it is."

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