Montanans speak out against Whitefish event that includes man who led standoff

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A group that includes Whitefish residents, tribal representatives and public land advocates is denouncing a conference set to be held here in October that plans to host a man who led an armed standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016.

Ammon Bundy, who was part of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and participated in a standoff against law enforcement officials at his father Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada in 2014, is schedule to speak at A New Code of the West conference set for Oct. 13. Bob Brown, former Montana secretary of state and state legislator, lives in Whitefish and is among those speaking out against the event in a release sent out Thursday afternoon by the Montana Human Rights Network.

“By inviting Ammon Bundy, organizers and participants of this event are attempting to normalize the seizure of public lands and to legitimize threats against federal and local law enforcement,” Brown said. “This extremist event flies in the face of the values Montanans of all political persuasions share. It has no place in Whitefish or anywhere else in Montana.”

This would be the third time in the past eight months that a member of the Bundy family has spoken in northwestern Montana.

The gathering is being organized by This West is OUR West, which according to the Montana Human Rights Network is rooted in the militia movement of the 1990s and spreads an ideology that is “anti-government, anti-Indian, and anti-environmental movements.”

On its website, This West is OUR West says the conference scheduled for all day on Oct. 13 at Grouse Mountain Lodge and is about “cleaning out corruption from the crooked corral” while “exploring land, water, property and civil rights in the western states.”

The group appears to be based in Flathead County as the mailing address listed on the website is for Kalispell. The principal organizer of the event, according to those speaking out against it, is Laura Lee O’Neil, founder of This West is OUR West.

As of Friday, there was no response to an email from the Pilot sent to the address listed on the This West is OUR West website.

City Councilor Richard Hildner agreed with those speaking out against the event.

“Two years ago, a group of neo-Nazis and white supremacists wanted to hold a rally in Whitefish, and the people of Whitefish stood together against that divisiveness,” he said in a statement. “The New Code of the West event brings with it a similar divisiveness that we rejected two years ago and we reject now.”

In response to the conference, the Montana Wilderness Association, in partnership with Montana Wildlife Federation, Montana Human Rights Network, and Love Lives Here, are set to host an event on the same day. The event is called Montana Undivided: A Rally for Human Rights and Public Lands, and is set for 10 a.m. on Oct. 13 at Depot Park in downtown Whitefish.

During the A New Code of the West event, a full list of speakers are scheduled to attend, according to the website. It says the day will include an array of speakers and subjects to provide an updated overview of “The Deep State” and its impact in the West of “bureaucratic agency over-reach, federal Indian policy, public versus private property rights, environmental and jurisdictional issues affecting our country and each of our communities.” The website lists a registration fee of $75 to $150 per person for the day.

Speakers include Elaine Willman, who according to the Montana Human Rights Network is one of the most well-known anti-Indian activists in the country and advocates for terminating Indian treaty rights and eliminating tribal sovereignty through her work with Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA).

Another speaker at the event is Montana state Rep. Kerry White, a Republican from Bozeman who has advocated for the transfer of public lands to state ownership. White has supported the Bundy family, according to the Montana Human Rights Network, in their armed standoffs with the federal government writing on his Facebook page that he was preparing to leave for Nevada to “stand with Mr. Bundy.”

A number of folks from across the state spoke out against the conference in the release from the Montana Human Rights Network.

“CERA uses false stereotypes to create turmoil, divide communities, and undermine tribal governments,” said state Rep. Shane Morigeau, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. “Now CERA is aligning with anti-public land radicals to try and spread their hateful message. Montanans will continue to speak up against this scourge on our communities.”

“This event is targeting American Indian people across the state and the west,” said Carolyn Pease Lopez, former legislator and member of the Crow tribe, which has been a target of one of the conspiracy theories spread by participants of the conference. “We must stand together undivided against bigotry and any efforts to insert anti-Indian sentiment into the political mainstream.”

“By speaking at this event with Willman and Ammon Bundy, Rep. White is aligning himself with a violent, anti-government, and anti-Indian fringe intent on seizing public lands and making it alright to threaten the lives of public land managers and federal law enforcement officers,” said Jan Metzmaker, a 46-year resident of Whitefish and longtime public lands advocate. “Frankly, it’s shameful that any of our state legislators would participate in this event because it so clearly runs counter to who Montanans are as a people.”

“Montanans reacted with disgust to the Malheur occupation, and for good reason — Ammon Bundy and his gang threatened the lives of our public land managers, tore apart the nearby community of Burns, and, for 40 days, took possession of lands that belong to all Americans,” said Amy Robinson, Montana Wilderness Association conservation director based in Whitefish. “Public lands define and unite Montanans because those lands enable our way of life. So any threat to our public lands is a threat to our way of life, and few threats are greater than that posed by the Bundys and their allies.

“We’ll let them know Montanans prefer unity over the division they’re trying to sow.”

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