By Travis McAdam, Montana Human Rights Network
The University of Montana will be the venue for a gathering of anti-government “patriots” over the weekend of May 21-22, 2010. Organized by Bitterroot Valley’s Celebrating Conservatism, the “Liberty Convention 2010” features a slate of prominent anti-government speakers, including three individuals the Southern Poverty Law Center has named to its list of activists “at the heart” of the resurgent “patriot” movement across the country.
On Friday the Montana Human Rights Network released a special report entitled “Liberty Convention 2010 Speakers” with background on seven of the speakers listed on promotional fliers. One of these speakers is anti-Semitic “tax protestor” Red Beckman.
In addition to his tax protesting, Beckman follows a pseudo-religious Christian Identity, a religion based on a racist interpretation of the Christian Bible. It teaches that Jewish people are literal children of Satan, people of color are sub-human “mud people,” and that people of Northern European descent (white people) are God’s chosen people. Beckman has spoken at Identity events convened by Scriptures for America, an Identity church based in Colorado which is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Also listed is Chuck Baldwin. Baldwin was the 2008 Presidential candidate for the Constitution Party. During the 1990s, Baldwin used his radio show on the Christian Patriot Network to promote the militia movement. He has also been involved with white supremacist groups. The Council of Conservative Citizens (categorized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) is the modern-day incarnation of the White Citizens’ Council that supported segregation and opposed the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. Baldwin has been a contributing writer to the group’s main publication, Citizens Informer.
Also set to speak at the “Liberty Convention” is Richard Mack, a former county sheriff in Arizona and a hero to the “patriot” movement. He became a rising star in the militia movement during the 1990s when he sued the federal government over the Brady Bill, a gun control measure. He began speaking on the anti-government circuit in the early 1990s and never stopped. Mack’s lawsuit and speaking time on the “patriot” circuit became central issues during his 1996 re-election bid, and he didn’t even make it out of the primary.
For the last year, he has toured the country trying to get sheriffs to read his new booklet, The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope, and to adopt his brand of county supremacy. Mack’s version of county supremacy follows the tradition of the white supremacist Posse Comitatus. The Posse viewed the sheriff as the highest legitimate law officer in the land. It believed citizens were not subject to state or federal authorities. For the Posse, it was up to the sheriff to use force, if necessary, to prevent any perceived encroachment by federal institutions, especially when it came to tax and firearm regulations. Mack believes it is up to the sheriff and militias to save America from “utter despotism.” Before his recent revival as a “patriot” hero, he was selling cars in Arizona.
University of Montana officials have confirmed that firearms are not allowed. The Montana Human Rights Network reports that it will be up to Celebrating Conservatism, the group organizing the convention, to make sure firearms are not brought into the facility. This directly contradicts the group’s regular practice of encouraging its followers to bring firearms to events. According to the Montana Human Rights Network none of the promotional materials “Liberty Convention,” so far reviewed, have included notices that firearms are not allowed in campus facilities. The Montana Human Rights Network has also received reports that the organizers, when asked about firearms, are not providing clear instructions to potential attendees.
The Human Rights Network believes that Montanans need to understand the types of people providing the ideological foundation for groups like Celebrating Conservatism. These are the last people that communities should look to for guidance and information.
Celebrating Conservatism is just one of numerous entities that are part of the resurgent right in Montana. These groups are capitalizing on fear and resentment stemming from an unstable economy and a left-leaning, African-American president. Events like the “Liberty Convention” have two purposes. One is to preach to the choir and solidify Celebrating Conservatism’s base. The other is the hope that the event will bring in new people, and the speakers will get the recruits up to speed on the latest “patriot” beliefs.
Celebrating Conservatism clearly hopes to expand its influence by holding this event, and that isn’t good for Montana communities. Celebrating Conservatism and its allies are already fracturing communities and creating environments where only those who yell the loudest and have the most weapons feel safe. These are not the indicators of a healthy community or democratic process.