The rise of conservative groups throughout western Montana over the past year has raised serious concerns among those on the left, particularly in the Bitterroot Valley, that the militia movement ideology of the early 1990s is experiencing a second coming. Now those who question the motives of citizen organizations like Hamilton's Celebrating Conservatism are fighting back with groups of their own.
Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance (BHRA) Coordinator Bill LaCroix announced this week the founding of the Bitterroot Democracy Project, a grassroots movement designed to promote "the positive values of democracy, fairness, truth-telling, pluralism, equality and respectful speech." LaCroix stated in a press release that the group will aim for better public education on political issues—the same mantra claimed by the right's own Celebrating Conservatism.
“We will be making the case in public that most people in this valley ultimately do not want their elected officials afraid to say words like ‘zoning' and ‘liberal,' or phrases like ‘growth policy,’ ‘streamside setbacks’ and 'international responsibilities,'" LaCroix said. "We also want them to know that, no matter if we agree with them or not, we do not want them being threatened or intimidated by vocal minorities.”
LaCroix spoke out against Celebrating Conservatism and other incubators of conservative mentality on behalf of BHRA last fall. At the time, he expressed doubts about the motives of these groups, recalling decades of conspiracy theories, militia activity and far-right paranoia in Ravalli County. He pointed specifically to Celebrating Conservatism member Dan Cox, who led a successful petition to repeal the county's growth policy in 2008. LaCroix sees such actions—and the tendency of conservative group members to openly carry firearms in public—as detrimental not only to how Ravalli County operates, but to civilized discourse in general.
"Carrying guns downtown is a hostile act," LaCroix told the Independent in October 2009. "I don't see how they can say they're trying to bring in all kinds of people when they're carrying guns to show what they would do to people that disagree with them...If you want to have a public discussion, maybe we should discuss what planet we should have it on first. That's kind of where it's at. They're not speaking what they mean."
In forming the Bitterroot Democracy Project, LaCroix hopes to rally liberal thinkers and "effectively say, 'Enough already!'"