It is a long drive from Seattle to Whitefish, Montana. Rise early in the short days of winter, squint through the windshield as the sun crests the ragged Cascade Mountains, check the rearview mirror as the sun sets behind Idaho's arching Bitterroot Range, and still hours to go. Icy peaks. Snow-covered farmland. Freezing rivers. Frosted canyons. Repeat. Repeat again. By the most direct route—Interstate 90 plus a couple state highways—the distance is more than 530 miles. If you are headed into a problem, as I was, there is plenty of time to consider its nature.
The problem seemed to radiate outward from one man, Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who has admitted he takes "a sadistic pleasure" in getting under the skin of liberals. In late December, Spencer's name became adhered in national news reports to Whitefish, the small, left-leaning ski town I was driving toward, a place where I have family and where Spencer lives part-time. As the snow tires rumbled on the highway beneath us, a neo-Nazi "troll army" was several days into attacking the Jewish people of Whitefish on Spencer's behalf, based on a belief that some Whitefish Jews had recently tried to run Spencer and his mother out of town. Details about what actually happened between the town and the Spencers were in short supply, and, among the neo-Nazi troll brigades, anti-Semitism was in abundance.
At the urging of a website called the Daily Stormer, the trolls were calling Jewish businesses in Whitefish and delivering vile messages, as well as posting negative reviews about those businesses online. "Choke on a shotgun and die," read a message to one person caught in the crossfire, according to the New York Times. The website encouraged its army to visit one of its targets, a Jewish woman who works as a real estate agent, "in person." The site ran photos of her, her child, and a Whitefish rabbi superimposed over an image of a concentration camp decorated with a yellow Nazi Germany–era Star of David identification badge.
"The Jews," a Daily Stormer post read, "are a vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths... So then—let's hit em up."
When it was my husband's turn to drive, I sat in the passenger seat, pulled out my smartphone, and looked Spencer up. He's 38 years old. He studied English and music at the University of Virginia and graduated from the University of Chicago with a master's in humanities. "He looks handsome in some pictures," said my husband, who'd seen a few of the flattering, bad-boy glamour shots Spencer's scored in large media outlets. (In one of those shots: Spencer with rebel shades on, square jaw set, shoulders leaned against a wall, arms crossed. In another: Spencer looking pensive in a fine suit jacket. In still another: Spencer in an alley in Whitefish, partly obscured by shadow, shades in hand, wearing Adidas shoes and jeans while sporting a haircut popular among his followers, a "fashy"—short for "fascist." The style: buzzed on the sides, long and swept over on top.)
To an early profiler from Salon, Spencer had explained the advantage of hiding noxious beliefs behind an appealing face. "We have to look good," he said. "No one," he continued, is going to want to be part of something "that is crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid."
Profiles of Spencer written by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mother Jones, and the Washington Post reveal that he grew up wealthy in Texas, received a pricey prep-school education, and in college and graduate school followed his interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as his fondness for academic-sounding racists, toward his current incarnation as the Brooks Brothers–wearing, smooth-talking leader of the so-called "alt-right" movement. His importance to the movement is most easily understood through the fact that Spencer, with his knack for dressing up old racist ideology in slick haircuts and suits, invented the term "alt-right."
Spencer's aims, however, are pretty much the same as those of your average neo-Nazi. He wants to create an all white "ethno-state" where, as he put it in a 2014 column for Radix, the journal published by his anodyne-sounding National Policy Institute, people would live under a "declaration of difference and distance." That declaration, crafted by Spencer to deliberately echo an 1861 speech from Confederate leader Alexander Stephens, is this: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created unequal."
Though the innate superiority of the white race is now "self-evident" to Spencer, his path toward white supremacy has not been entirely consistent. Over the years, he's had trouble defining exactly who qualifies as white and who doesn't. And while he says he opposes interracial relationships, last year, over Thai food in Whitefish, a reporter from Mother Jones brought up Spencer's Asian ex-girlfriend. Spencer, appearing shocked, asked how the reporter had uncovered the late-2007 relationship and then said: "I would rather you didn't write about that... You are probably going to nail me with this... I think some people in the movement would probably find that terrible." Spencer's ex-girlfriend told Mother Jones, "I am not the only Asian girl he has dated"—a fact Spencer confirmed. He also told the magazine that his relationships with Asian women all "predated his evolution into a white nationalist."
Along his evolutionary path, Spencer attempted to hold a white-nationalist conference in Budapest, Hungary, in 2014. Instead he was arrested, jailed, deported, and banned from all European Union countries for three years. Free-speech laws are more permissive here in the United States, a fact that Spencer and his movement have since used to maximal advantage. In November, when Spencer held a white-nationalist conference in Washington, DC, hundreds of participants showed up. So did dozens of members of the media. Donald Trump had just won the presidency and Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman who once called Breitbart "the platform for the alt-right," had been appointed by Trump as White House chief strategist. At a gathering at an Italian restaurant before the conference opened, Spencer, according to a Washington Post reporter who was shadowing him, urged people to "party like it's 1933"—the year Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. At the conference itself, in a moment captured on a video that's since gone viral, Spencer raised a glass and shouted "Hail Trump!" Energized members of the audience responded with Nazi "Sieg Heil" salutes.
The car we were driving to Whitefish was old but sturdy. I'd inherited it from my father, whose parents fled Vienna in 1938 after Hitler invaded Austria. A combination of luck and bravery helped them make it to London, and then onward to the United States by boat. I am here, in other words, because less than a century ago, a white nationalist decided to fight for his vision of a racially pure ethno-state and people followed him. On the car's back bumper, riding there since 2008, was one of those old Barack Obama stickers in which Obama's name is written in Hebrew. I thought about the sticker as we pulled into Whitefish. I thought, too, about the threat of escalation that was now circulating online: an "armed protest" featuring neo-Nazis with "high-powered rifles" marching through town on Spencer's behalf. Soon a date for the protest would be set: January 16.
Spencer was in Whitefish for the holidays, according to one of the news accounts I'd read in the car. I intended to keep an eye out for him.
In winter, the main drag of Whitefish looks a lot like the main drag of Bedford Falls in the Frank Capra movie It's a Wonderful Life. Small storefronts, festooned lampposts, people constantly running into friends and neighbors and coworkers on the sidewalk. An arrival from urban, liberal America might notice the number of pickup trucks parked in town and, in the same moment, the familiarity of the town's offerings: espresso from single-origin beans, crystals, Pilates, stage and movie theaters, a farmers market, a CrossFit gym, crepes, fresh sushi, acupuncture, naturopathic remedies, locally brewed beer and spirits, an independent bookstore. The town sits on the floor of the Flathead Valley, surrounded on three sides by mountains, including, to the northeast, the high peaks of Glacier National Park. From the top of Whitefish Mountain, the nearby ski resort that brings a lot of visitors to the area, one can see the valley's farms, its straight-arrow roads, its wooded areas, and, to the south, Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. It is strikingly beautiful country, sparsely populated and reliably conservative.
One could say the same for the state of Montana as a whole. The entire population of Montana is just over one million, although only about half that number voted in the recent presidential election. Donald Trump won the state, pulling 56 percent to Hillary Clinton's 36 percent. In Flathead County, where only 46,494 people voted (and only 96,000 people live), Trump won 65 percent of the vote. Trump stacked Flathead along with a whole lot of other conservative Montana counties—several with names that tell the story of Montana's extraction economy: Carbon County, Mineral County, Petroleum County (pop. 485)—and thus built his easy win of the state's three Electoral College votes.
One tiny spot in Flathead County went the other direction: Whitefish. The town is home to just over 6,000 people and is 96 percent white, making it more overwhelmingly monochrome than the state as a whole, which is nearly 90 percent white. But the people of Whitefish are also better educated and better off than the average Montanan, according to US Census data. And more liberal.
Of the 42 voting precincts that make up Flathead County, just three voted for Clinton and, not surprisingly, all three precincts cover areas in and around Whitefish. One of the Clinton precincts even covers the block holding a property owned by Richard Spencer's mother, Sherry Spencer—a property that became the epicenter of the late-December disagreement that was used to fuel the anti-Semitic troll storm.
Richard Spencer has been a source of consternation in Whitefish for years. "Ninety-nine percent of people want him gone," a resident told me one day in the crowded skier cafeteria at the Summit House atop Whitefish Mountain. Through a nearby window was a view of the town, thousands of feet below us—flat, icy, sparkling in the sun. In 2014, a local activist group called Love Lives Here, which is connected to the Montana Human Rights Network, tried to get a city law passed that would have banned hate groups, including Spencer's, from doing business in Whitefish. After free-speech concerns were raised, the city council decided to pass a resolution supporting diversity and condemning, rather than banning, hate groups.
At the time, Spencer was listed on city documents as the owner of that property in the Clinton precinct. Then, in 2015, the property transferred to his mother's hands and she built a mixed-use building with office space on the ground level and rental units for vacationers on the floors above. Its address: 22 Lupfer Avenue. That same year, Spencer's National Policy Institute, the vehicle for many of his white-nationalist activities—and a "hate group," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center—was registered with the Montana secretary of state as a business operating out of another property in Whitefish: a six-bedroom home owned by Spencer's mother. State records in Virginia also show Spencer's National Policy Institute operating out of his mother's house in Whitefish, according to the Washington Post.
Local activists, including members of Love Lives Here, became alarmed by the idea that Richard Spencer's mother was even tacitly supporting his white-nationalist activities. There was talk of a large protest at her Lupfer Avenue property, and this talk reached the tenants of the mixed-use building, including the owner of a beauty salon that was already struggling financially because of its association with the Spencers. Tanya Gersh, the Jewish real estate agent who was later targeted by trolls, appears to have helped spread awareness of the protest. When news of this possible protest reached Sherry Spencer, she phoned Gersh. What was said in their call is not entirely clear.
Gersh, for her part, has gone silent since the neo-Nazis began targeting her and her family. A call to Gersh's cell phone was not returned and a request for an interview with her, made through the Anti-Defamation League, which is helping Jewish residents facing attacks in Whitefish, was declined. Sherry Spencer did not respond to interview requests, either, nor did Richard Spencer. But beginning in mid-December, both Sherry and Richard Spencer made public statements portraying Gersh and other members of Love Lives Here as persecutors who were targeting Sherry for her son's beliefs and trying to force Sherry to sell her Lupfer Avenue property, denounce her son, and make a donation to the Montana Human Rights Network.
In a December 15 post on Medium written by Sherry Spencer (title: "Does Love Really Live Here?"), she described "threats" of a protest at her property made by Gersh. She also published e-mails from Gersh that she said support her version of events. If Spencer sent any e-mails back to Gersh about all this, she didn't publish them.
One of the Gersh e-mails that Spencer published refers to a phone conversation. Gersh writes: "Sherry, thank you for talking so openly with me today. I just can't imagine what you are going through. I am getting the listing agreement together..." In another e-mail, Gersh says she's going to keep her commission as low as possible "due to the unusual circumstance surrounding this sale." Spencer described this in her Medium post as Gersh "shamelessly" trying to "act as my realtor" and, perhaps, attempting to gain "financial benefit from threats of protest and reputation damage." All this, "even though I had not expressed any intention to sell." (Actually, in a television report that aired three days earlier, a local Montana television reporter broadcast an e-mail he had received from Sherry Spencer that read, "As painful as this is, I am exploring a potential sale of the building." That same reporter also broadcast an e-mail he'd received from Gersh, who wrote: "[Sherry] is profiting off the people of the local community, all the while having facilitated Richard's work spreading hate by letting him live and use her home address for his organization.")
In the Medium post, Sherry Spencer posed a provocative question:
Whatever you think about my son's ideas—they are, after all, ideas—in what moral universe is it right for the "sins" of the son to be visited upon the mother?
The day after she posed this question, the troll storm was launched. "Jews Targeting Richard Spencer's Mother for Harassment and Extortion," read the post on the Daily Stormer. "TAKE ACTION!"
In a YouTube video posted five days later, on December 20, after the attacks on Jews in Whitefish had generated alarm and national attention, Richard Spencer addressed the controversy. He was riled up by what he said were the "morally repulsive" actions of Gersh and others. "Just the fact that I'm here means that these people who hate me, these people who want to attack me and go after me and so on, are basically going to try and punish me by punishing my mother," Spencer said. "It's hard for me to put into words how sick I find that. Even criminal gangs don't engage in such behavior. They don't go after a rival's mother. It is sick. And the person who did this is named Tanya Gersh."
Spencer didn't appear very troubled by the rain of anti-Semitic threats and vitriol that Gersh and others were experiencing. "At the end of the day, it's mean words," he said. "It's pixels. It is just simply not on the level, morally, ethically, and quite possibly legally, of trying to force a sale, of trying to take away the property of an innocent woman. It's not even close on that level. We have freedom of speech in this country."
He called Love Lives Here a "local hate group" and described a Whitefish rabbi and his wife, both of whom work with Love Lives Here, as "true haters." That rabbi, Allen Secher, once marched with Martin Luther King Jr., who Spencer has derided as "a fraud and degenerate," as well as a symbol of "White Dispossession and the destruction of Occidental civilization."
For that local Montana television report, the reporter looked deeply into Sherry Spencer's social media profile: "A dive into Sherry's Facebook page supports the fact that Richard has spent a substantial amount of time with his mother in Whitefish: snow skiing, waterskiing, hiking, holidays. Sherry's Facebook page also has photos of her son when he spoke at the [H.L.] Mencken Club's annual gathering in 2010—a group the Southern Poverty Law Center refers to as 'a band of white nationalists' and 'pseudo-academic racists.' Pictures also show Sherry and her husband attending."
However, in the time since the "troll storm" descended on Whitefish, Sherry Spencer and her husband, the ophthalmologist Rand Spencer, have made an effort to publicly declare both love for their son and distance from his beliefs. "We are not racists," the couple wrote in an op-ed for a local Whitefish newspaper in late December. "We have never been racists. We do not endorse the idea of white nationalism... We, too, are victims."
In an "addendum" to her Medium post that was added after the "troll storm" began, Sherry Spencer also urged everyone to stay "within the bounds of respectful, civilized discussion of this matter by refraining from abusive comments or targeted harassment of any of the parties involved, or their families." She wrote that she disavowed "the harassment that anyone faced as a result of these events," concluding, "After all, my own family and I have faced—and continue to face—numerous threats and bullying on social media as well."
There was some sympathy to be found in town for this, but there seemed to be significantly more sympathy for the fear and difficulties Jewish business owners were experiencing. Even non-Jewish business owners were being targeted; the Maetzolds, owners of a popular local cafe, figured they'd become troll targets because someone guessed (wrongly) that they were Jews. There was also a lot of discussion around Whitefish of what people would do if they ran into Richard Spencer, or, more awkwardly, saw him walk into their restaurant or bar. One business owner who was targeted by the trolls told me she had served Spencer before and was still willing to serve him, because she didn't want to become someone who meets hate with more hate. Still, she had told all her waitstaff that if Spencer ever showed up again as a customer, they could now feel free to share their values with him.
After several days in town and no run-ins with Richard Spencer, I went and knocked on the door of Sherry Spencer's mixed-use property at 22 Lupfer Avenue. Among the people I found there was woman who asked to be identified only as a friend of Sherry's.
We spoke as the woman was finishing up some business at the building and then pushing her child in a stroller down a snowy sidewalk. The power of victim narratives had been on my mind—real victim narratives, manufactured victim narratives, exaggerated victim narratives, victim narratives crafted mainly for social media, the possibility that the internet may have helped humanity reach a confusing and overwhelming state that could perhaps be called Peak Victim Narrative. So I asked the woman something about this.
I said that, historically, ideas like Richard Spencer's have led to genocide and I wondered whether, from this perspective, the protests against his presence in town, and against his mother's support for his presence, were really that outrageous a victimization of Sherry. The woman told me Sherry is "absolutely" a victim. I mentioned the ugliness of the recent vitriol and threats directed against Jewish business owners, and in response the woman brought up the ugliness and vitriol she said was being hurled at Sherry online. "Is there a victim hierarchy?" she asked.
I thought to myself: Well, yes.
I would not like to police that victim hierarchy, and large groups of people will never agree on what, exactly, the proper hierarchy of victimhood should look like. We could definitely spend a lot of time arguing about it, and do, and probably that time could be better spent. But just as false equivalency in news reporting is harmful, so is false equivalency of victimhood. To my mind, being pressured to stand against hateful speech and white supremacy is not as traumatic as being the target of hateful speech and white supremacist action.
This is what I thought to myself, but, having seen the facility with which Spencer and people in his orbit flip terms like "hateful speech" back onto those who use them, I didn't say what I was thinking. Instead, I asked the woman: Why didn't Sherry Spencer denounce her son sooner? Say, back in November, when video from that white-nationalist conference in DC showed audience members giving "Sieg Heil" salutes to her son?
"You think family members should denounce other family members?" the woman shot back. "This sounds Stalinist, or like Hitler's Germany."
She asked me things like: What about Black Lives Matter demonstrators who make extreme statements? Should the Black Lives Matter leadership be made to denounce that? What about free speech?
The woman had a strong accent. It sounded possibly Eastern European to me, or maybe Russian. I asked, as tactfully as possible, whether she was from the United States. She said she was not, and was not going to tell me where she came from, but would say this: "I think that one of the reasons people find America great is that it's one of the only countries in the world that really has free speech."
Pursuant with American free-speech rights, the Daily Stormer had recently affirmed that neo-Nazis would be traveling to Whitefish and marching through town with guns sometime in early January. This was to be part of their continued campaign of defending Richard Spencer and antagonizing the town's Jews. "I honestly don't think internet trolls, from wherever they are, are going to fly to Whitefish," the woman told me when I asked about the prospect of an armed march.
Then she added: "This is not anything anyone wanted."
In a December 30 YouTube video about the troll attacks on Jewish people in Whitefish, Richard Spencer said: "It's just words." He said he hoped this would be the last video he ever makes about recent events in the town, which seemed to have wearied him. The video's title: "Let's End This."
Over more than 16 minutes of talking straight to the camera with a full bookshelf as his backdrop, Spencer simultaneously distanced himself from and defended the Daily Stormer's tactics. The lesson of it all, he said, should be this: "I fight back. I don't throw the first punch, but I will punch back, metaphorically speaking. And other people in my broader community, they'll fight back, too. They're gonna stick up for one of their own. So if you don't want these controversies to occur in Whitefish, then stop giving authority to people like Rabbi—who, by the way, Rabbi Secher's an idiot..."
Spencer was continuing his pattern of minimizing harm done to others (particularly Whitefish Jews) while maximizing his concern for his own interests. But this time, it took a revealing turn. He told the Daily Inter Lake, a local newspaper, that he saw the threat of an armed march in Whitefish as a "joke" and suggested that he was beginning to see the aggressive tactics of his fellow travelers as being harmful to his part-time home. "I don't want Whitefish to become a White Nationalist [headquarters]," he said. "I don't want to ruin Whitefish. I just want it all to stop. I'm kind of tired of this. Whitefish should not become synonymous with this. Whitefish needs to be a ski and summer town. I think we should just stop."
It was a notable admission: It would be ruinous for a place like Whitefish, which Spencer and his family enjoy, and which generally attracts people chasing freedom and beauty, to become associated with the narrowness and ugliness of Spencer's ideology, or with the kind of people it attracts. In a way, this was not a new admission. Spencer himself said as much to that early profiler from Salon: No one wants to be part of something—be it a town or be it a movement—"that is crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid."
Not even Richard Spencer. (At least not when it comes to his favorite ski getaway.)
Richard Spencer has long tried to cast himself as a nonviolent person who's just interested in promoting some radical ideas, just looking out for the interests of white people and the need for a white homeland, just talking about what's on his mind. Skillfully tweaking the left's penchant for becoming obsessed by identity politics, he calls himself an "identitarian." The implication: What's good for the goose is good for the goose-stepper.
But he has also been forced to admit the logical conclusion of his words may well be violence. When the Washington Post asked him how his desired white ethno-state would be achieved in a diverse country—"a nation with more than 102 million blacks, Asians, and Latinos"—without triggering large-scale bloodshed, Spencer replied: "Look, maybe it will be horribly bloody and terrible. That's a possibility with anything."
When asked by the Missoulian whether the Daily Stormer, in calling for vengeance on Spencer's behalf, was potentially inciting violence, Spencer replied that he didn't think the site was "explicitly or implicitly calling for violence." But he acknowledged something obvious. "There might be some nut who does something," Spencer told the newspaper. "But you can't really hold anyone accountable for that."
This is the same logic that held the purveyors of fake news harmless when a troubled man showed up with a rifle at a DC pizza restaurant last month and opened fire because he believed—based on fake news reports—that the place needed to be liberated from child sex traffickers.
It also exhibits a kind of rhetorical slipperiness that has alarming historical echoes. In 1938, in Germany and Austria, a massive pogrom occurred against Jews after years of ratcheting up of anti-Semitic rhetoric and restrictions. The windows of Jewish-owned stores were smashed, giving rise to the pogrom's name—Kristallnacht, night of broken glass—and by the time it was all over, 91 Jews had been murdered, hundreds of synagogues had been destroyed (many burned), and thousands of Jewish businesses looted. It was the beginning of a new phase in what we now recognize as the Holocaust. The murder of a German diplomat by a Jew was used by Nazi leaders as the pretext for the progrom, but Nazi leaders also engaged in some rhetorical distancing before the violence. "The führer," Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said at the time, "has decided that... demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered." (In November, after Spencer's white-nationalist conference was held across from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, the museum reminded him in a statement: "The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words.")
Craig Mungas is a gay, married tax attorney who rents one of the ground-floor office spaces in Sherry Spencer's building. When I was at the property, he invited me in and told me it was lucky I'd found him; he'd mostly been avoiding his office since the controversy erupted, instead working from a coffee shop targeted by the anti-Semitic trolls. Mungas, 40, wanted to make a statement of his own that day. He told me he believes his landlord, Sherry Spencer, owes her tenants a clear accounting of where their rents go, so that they can be sure they're not in any way supporting her son, whose views, Mungas said, are "against everything I stand for." Then he printed out a Love Lives Here sign of the same kind that can be found on many businesses in Whitefish these days. (Some homes and businesses have also posted signs with menorahs on them, mimicking a strategy used in Billings, Montana, in 1993, to fight a rise in anti-Semitism there.) Mungas took his Love Lives Here sign and taped it to the glass door of his office, facing the street, so that anyone looking at Sherry's building would see his dissent. Later he told me he hadn't received any negative feedback, "but there were a lot of footprints up to the door and fingerprints on the windows."
More than a lot of other places, Montana tends to leave people and their ideas alone. It's the fourth-largest state in the country, it has one of lowest population densities in America, and because of this, there is space, lots of it, including space for letting a person's ideas spin out into the vast expanse, rattle off a cliff face, tumble into a river, and get washed away. There's space, too, for someone's ideas to turn into bad errors that don't really harm too many people—a luxury not found in urban America. Also, ideas are not often the most pressing threats in Montana. Subzero temperatures, grizzly bears, and the distance to the nearest hospital might make a decent top three. The libertarian strain in the state's culture, a strain that connects to these Montana realities, may have been what Sherry Spencer was appealing to when she portrayed her son's beliefs as merely "ideas."
But Montana also teaches the perils of leaving people alone with their bad ideas. The Unabomber sat alone in his Montana cabin for too long, and when he acted on his dangerous ideas, people died.
One day in Whitefish, I stopped by Richard Spencer's office. It was located a couple blocks from his mother's mixed-used property. A receptionist in the building told me he'd abandoned the place the previous month, and she described Spencer as an odd guy who kept to himself, never said much more than "hello" and "good-bye," but on the whole was polite enough. I couldn't get into the office Spencer had used, but directly outside its door, almost as a vestibule for entering the place, was a little shared kitchen area—corkboard on the wall, coffee pot half filled, microwave, bland linoleum floor. It was a banal entrance to the banal space where Spencer's ideas sat, festered, and grew.
In Whitefish these days, people seem very much done with leaving Spencer alone. I never did run into him while I was there, but when Spencer showed up at a local coffee shop recently to talk with a reporter for the Missoulian, a Whitefish resident who's both African American and Jewish pulled up a chair to Spencer's table and challenged him. In his story afterward, the reporter described the exchange as "lively yet civil"—until the end, when the man, who I know through my husband, told Spencer, "Go fuck yourself," and then left. Later, as Spencer was leaving the cafe, "one woman appeared to give him a lecture," the Missoulian reported. "Another told him that if he loved his mother, he would leave Whitefish."
It remains unclear whether armed marchers really will show up in Whitefish on Spencer's behalf, though the exact date for the event has now been set and reaffirmed by the Daily Stormer: January 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It's being called the "James Earl Ray Day Extravaganza," after King's assassin. Though a permit application has been filled out and posted on the Daily Stormer website, the City of Whitefish says it has received only an "incomplete" permit application by mail. A bipartisan group of Montana elected officials—Democratic governor Steve Bullock, Democratic senator Jon Tester, Republican senator Steve Daines, Republican congressman Ryan Zinke, and Republican attorney general Tim Fox—have jointly condemned "attacks on our religious freedom manifesting in a group of anti-Semites." Referring to the supposed marchers who plan to appear in Whitefish, the group said: "They shall find no safe haven here." (Zinke, it's worth noting, is Trump's pick for secretary of the interior, and Spencer has publicly toyed with the idea of running for Zinke's open spot in Congress. "My candidacy would be something that everyone would be talking about," he recently told the LA Times.)
On January 7, in near zero temperatures, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Whitefish, there to make a show of resistance against the hate that had upended their holiday season and tarnished the reputation of their town. I was back in Seattle by the time this rally happened. Craig Mungas had the flu and couldn't go, either, but his husband went. My family members in Whitefish were there, too, doing one of the things that can be done to push back against a guy like Richard Spencer: speaking up, speaking out, loudly rejecting a worldview that is old, familiar, threatening, and, with Trump's election, emboldened. Letters from around the country supporting Love Lives Here were on display at the rally, and local news reports on the event described an 8-year-old girl carrying a "No Hate in My State" sign, lots of hugs, some tears, and a very large "Love Trumps Hate" placard. "The extremist groups that have been making all the news do not represent us," a woman told Montana Public Radio.
If the national media covered this rally against hate, I missed it—an omission that is certain to annoy Whitefish residents who feel that one man's white nationalism has received far more media attention than a whole town's tolerance. Of course, there was talk at the event about the threatened neo-Nazi march, and in response to questions about it, Whitefish chief of police Bill Dial expressed doubts that the neo-Nazi march would ever happen. But, he told Montana Public Radio: "If they come, if they're going to protest in our city, they're going to do it our way, or we're going to kick their ass."