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The hatemonger next door

How clean-cut Flathead resident Richard Spencer is trying to make white separatism respectable

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An Associated Press poll found that anti-black racism in America actually rose over the four years of Obama’s first term, with 51 percent of Americans expressing explicitly anti-black attitudes, compared to 48 percent in 2008, and 56 percent showing implicitly anti-black attitudes, up from 49 percent four years earlier. Why do you think this is?

RCR: At a basic level we know that the white supremacist right has used the election of President Obama as a vehicle for organizing. We even heard one racist leader suggest that conspiracy theories about Obama and the government are a soft way to get people interested in becoming active in building a white homeland here in Montana.

It’s been well documented that the right used Obama’s election, economic instability, a highly polarized political environment and the changing racial makeup of the country to create fear and resentment of certain members of the population. Based on this fear, groups and politicians are making policies that create classes of illegal people—from immigrants to LGBT people, the homeless, women, etc.

Much of this divisiveness is centered on the battle for the heart of rural white America, of which Montana is a prime example. White supremacists and the broader right wing in the U.S. are hanging on to the threads of their movement and fighting for scraps, because they are rightfully worried that history is not on their side and the direction the world is headed in is counter to their core hateful beliefs. Montana is a prime battle ground where they see some of their last hope, but the Human Rights Network is working to make sure that they will not win the day.

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Spencer and NPI recently spoke out on immigration, critiquing the Heritage Foundation for focusing its opposition to comprehensive reform of economic issues. Spencer wrote, “I’d much rather live in an impoverished backwater where my friends and neighbors would be White than in a super-rich metropolis of aliens. Immigration isn’t all about money.” How do you respond to that statement?

RCR: Spencer makes clear what we have been saying about the immigration debate—it is about race. When Montana passed the anti-immigrant referendum LR 121 in fall 2011, we opened the flood gates for xenophobia like that of the National Policy Institute. Like the community of Whitefish and the state of Montana, we are a nation made of immigrants. Most of us have an immigrant story in our family history. We can’t let racism get in the way of important and good policy like comprehensive immigration reform.

While economic arguments in favor of immigration reform and of policies that treat immigrants fairly are important and true, MHRN believes economics aren’t the only justification for policy decision. We believe that good public policy is based in strong progressive values of democracy, fairness and equity. Basic human rights should be at the center of our policy discussion and oftentimes that type of public policy is also good for our economy.

Since 2000, the number of hate groups has increased by 67 percent. What are groups like the Montana Human Rights Network doing to combat this?

RCR: Originally, the Montana Human Rights Network formed in response to white supremacist organizing in the state in the late ’80s. Since then we have broadened our definition of the right and we continue to assist local communities in responding to hateful and anti-democratic activities.

We think it is important to also offer a proactive vision of a state that respects human rights and seeks a more just and equitable society. We have more than 1,800 members and 5,000 supporters that we work with to promote progressive policies like local anti-discrimination ordinances and engage in educational programming about human rights issues in our state. We encourage people who are concerned about right-wing organizing in their community or who want to promote human rights in Montana to start to take action by connecting with us online.

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