The head of a Helena-based organization that tracks hate groups in Montana said white supremacist activity in the state is as high as it has been in a decade.
“Right now we happen to be in the midst of a spike where there’s a lot of activity,” said Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network.
McAdam spoke in Billings on Tuesday at Politics in the Pub, a regular meeting at Bones Brewing that aims to provide a forum for differing views on current issues.
He told the nearly 40 people who attended that several reasons explain for the recent spike, including the economy and having an African-American as president.
“Throughout American history there is a correlation between a bad economy and a rise in these types of groups,” he said. “It’s created this perfect storm of fear, resentment and anger.”
Two groups are largely responsible for much of the recent activity, which includes vandalisms, literature drops and bumps in recruitment efforts, McAdam said.
The first, called the Creativity Movement, is most active in Billings, Bozeman and Kalispell but has branched out to other areas, including Missoula and Miles City.
The group’s leader, Alan Goff, came up several times during the meeting.
He has twice avoided felony convictions for gun incidents, once for threatening an American Indian man with a gun and another for shooting a Hispanic teenager in the knee.
“If that’s OK with you, then do nothing,” said Eran Thompson, chair of Not In Our Town Billings, which helped sponsor Tuesday’s meeting.
“If that’s not OK with you, then do something about it.”
McAdam said Goff is “absolutely dedicated to the movement” and influential with other white supremacists in Montana. The group is made up of mostly younger members, he said.
The second group, called Pioneer Little Europe, is based in Kalispell. McAdam said it’s mostly made up of middle-aged people and wants to create white homelands in communities by getting “like-minded white people to move into an area,” regardless of their affiliation with other groups.
“You have white supremacists telling other white supremacists to move here, which we find concerning,” he said.
Leaders regularly post want ads, job openings and real estate listings on white supremacist websites and give guided tours in the area to people who respond and visit, he said.
McAdam and Thompson stressed the importance of community education on such groups while also saying that law enforcement must take a more active role since most white supremacists can’t be identified by just looking at them.
“They’re not that much different than us,” McAdam said. “We want these folks to have horns and tails, but it’s not that easy.”
Thompson called for more training on diversity, dismantling racism and hate crime investigations within law enforcement groups.
The Billings Police Department “needs to be more proactive instead of reactive in these situations,” he said.
Both men credited law enforcement with taking a closer look at white supremacist groups in recent years and for their general willingness to listen when groups such as the Human Rights Network or NIOT call, but said more can be done.
“We think it’s important for the community to really have an idea of what’s going on,” McAdam said.