With the exception of critical letters to local media outlets, the rise of conservative grassroots organizations in western Montana over the past year has gone largely unanswered by the citizen left. But it now seems concern over the spread of far-right ideology has reached a tipping point.
Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance Coordinator Bill LaCroix announced last week the formation of the Bitterroot Democracy Project (BDP), a roughly 20-member organization emphasizing "fairness...equality and respectful speech." The group aims to better educate locals on contentious political issues—ironically the same mantra claimed by the right's own Celebrating Conservatism in Hamilton.
"Credit where it's due, they've got an energized base and they're getting people to show up at these huge meetings once a month," LaCroix says. "At their best they're doing a successful public education campaign. We just feel like a lot of it's misinformation and it's not being challenged."
However, LaCroix emphasizes that the BDP was not formed in direct opposition to existing groups on the right. The organization is far more concerned with the disruptive role models that have emerged from the valley's conservative core. It's "opposed to the message," LaCroix says, not the body of individuals seeking relief for their political frustrations.
"We feel that we need to get the conversation back toward the middle from where it is on the far right, with conspiracy theories and bringing guns to rallies," LaCroix says. "That's just not helpful to encourage people to participate in the democratic process."
Celebrating Conservatism founder Mona Docteur welcomes the BDP to Ravalli County. The new group's presence balances the scales for grassroots activism in the valley, she says, offering residents the opportunity to learn about issues from both sides of the aisle.
"I think that people should attend it, from our group," Docteur says. "It's a free country still, I think, so absolutely they should attend those venues and see if there's education that they haven't gotten through us."
"In fact," she adds, "I'll probably attend."
As long as she and her cohorts promise to behave, LaCroix says he has no problem with that.