Yellowstone County Treasurer Max Lenington has again sent to The Billings Gazette a racially charged letter — again with words and ideas taken from another author — this time calling for “acts of defiance” and decrying President Barack Obama as the “beige puppet,” in addition to singling out numerous minorities.
The letter from Max. R. Lenington, the county's treasurer, assessor and superintendent of schools, states: “A coalition of Blacks, Latinos, Gays, Government Workers, Union Members, Environmental Extremists, loony liberal left Media, Hollywood, uniformed (sic) young people, the ‘forever needy', the chronic unemployed and illegal aliens have now ended Norman Rockwell’s America.”
“I don’t hate gay people. I don’t hate Negros. I don’t hate Latinos,” Lenington, 70, said in an interview Tuesday. “No, it’s just that faction of the United States that is running us on the rocks.”
He wrote in a postscript to the letter that he “quotes” from a widely circulated online posting purportedly written by an anonymous retired U.S. Marine.
“The second term of Barack Obama will be the final nail in the coffin for the legacy of the white Christian male who discovered, explored, pioneered, settled and developed the greatest Republic in the history of mankind,” Lenington’s letter and online versions of the posting read.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said Tuesday that his office is again planning to investigate whether Lenington has violated county policy or if there is legal cause to seek a recall.
Lenington has come under fire in the past year for, among other things, using the N-word in an anti-Obama message he sent with his government email account and for submitting two anti-Obama letters to the editor that used words and ideas taken from others without proper attribution.
The Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office investigated those incidents and found that Lenington’s actions hadn’t significantly violated county policy and that there wasn’t legal grounds to seek his removal from office.
Unlike in some earlier instances, Lenington didn't use his government email to send this letter, and he didn't mention his position as an elected official.
The Yellowstone County commissioners asked Lenington last November to resign, but he refused.
Lenington, who has worked for the county for four decades, said Tuesday he still plans to retire once his term is up at the end of the year.
“I don’t think he could get elected dogcatcher in our community anymore,” Eran Thompson, the head of Not in Our Town Billings, said Tuesday. “These are just the ramblings now of a really hateful person, and they’re not even his own.”
Thompson said Lenington’s actions and the lack of legal repercussions raise questions about county policy and about state law regulating the recall of elected officials.
“This guy is basically just challenging us now,” Thompson said.
County Commissioner Jim Reno said Tuesday he is “damn disappointed” with Lenington, whose actions reflect poorly on other hardworking elected officials and county workers.
“You can’t cut somebody’s pay,” Reno said, when asked about what recourse the county has in the matter. “Our options are very limited. Actually, I don’t know if there are any options. If there are, the County Attorney’s Office will tell us.”
Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, said Tuesday that Lenington’s letter contains the most blatantly white supremacist rhetoric used by a Montana elected official in recent times.
The online post that Lenington’s letter borrows from has been circulating for about a year, Rivas said, and has often been sourced from Stormcloud.org, a white supremacist forum with the slogan “White Pride World Wide,” and militianews.com, another far-right website.
“We will never again out-vote these people,” Lenington’s letter states. “It will take individual acts of defiance and massive displays of civil disobedience to get back the rights we have allowed them to take away.”
Lenington insisted in an interview that he is not racist or a white supremacist, and stated that his political views do not impact his ability to serve members of minority groups who come into his office.
He did, however, add a derogatory name for a Chinese person to the list of racial epithets he has used when he said that Obama would be a “joke” of a president regardless of his skin color.
Lenington also stated Tuesday he is a member of the Tea Party, and that some of his political views line up with the political views of white supremacists.
“Most white supremacists believe in politics pretty much the same way as the Tea Party, as conservatives,” Lenington said. “Conservatism is what it is.”
Lenington also said Tuesday he isn’t actually suggesting that people should act violently or break the law.
“I’m just saying we’re so far down the road, we’re so lost, that it’s going to take something that major in order to turn the government around,” he said.
He then volunteered that his daughter is married to a “very nice” black man.
“I told him, I told him right to his face, ‘it has nothing to do with you,’” Lenington said, when asked about his son-in-law’s reaction to his political views and past statements.
“Let me show you something else that will really surprise you … my granddaughter is a black gal,” Lenington said, walking across his office to a photo of the woman.
He explained that she graduated from high school in Billings with a 4.0 GPA and is an honor student at University of Montana.
“And she’s a black gal. I have no problem with that, OK? Love her to death,” he said.
When asked why he has repeatedly taken words and ideas from other authors, Lenington explained, “I know what I need to say, and if I can find somebody else that feels exactly the same way I do that says it exactly the same way I do, then I will mold their comments to fit mine.”
Lenington's letter and the post he borrows from both state "People like me are politically irrelevant and I will never again comment on or concern myself with the aforementioned coalition," referring to the long list of minorities and individuals who have supposedly contributed to the end of the "American Dream."
Lenington restated this point Tuesday, and said the letter would be his last.