In the fourth and final part of our series on the surge of right-wing extremist activity in the Flathead Valley region of Montana we look into the recent arrival of anti-government Patriot movement adherents, most notably Chuck Baldwin, a fundamentalist Baptist preacher identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the most important figures in that growing movement.
God told Chuck Baldwin to move to Montana. Specifically, to Kalispell. God did this, according to Baldwin, sometime in the summer of 2010.
For 35 years Baldwin, a fundamentalist Christian, had lived and preached in Pensacola, Florida, railing in a syndicated column in recent years about U.N. gun control conspiracy theories, tyranny-minded globalists and FEMA internment camps.
Chuck Baldwin, a leader of the right-wing extremist
Baldwin is now one of the leading figures in the Patriot movement, which has grown explosively since the U.S. economic meltdown and election of President Obama in 2008. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, the number of Patriot groups in the country skyrocketed from 149 in 2008 to 824 in 2010. The SPLC describes such groups as comprised of "people who generally believe that the federal government is an evil entity that is engaged in a secret conspiracy to impose martial law, herd those who resist into concentration camps, and force the United States into a socialistic 'New World Order.'"
Baldwin first aligned himself formally with the Patriot movement when he ran for Vice President on the far-right, anti-government Constitution Party ticket. After that his rhetoric, both from behind the pulpit and in his prolific writings, became increasingly militant and more concerned with gun rights and battling with globalists than with gay rights and the Rapture, previously his favorite topics.
Then in September 2010, Baldwin abruptly announced that he was pulling up stakes and moving to Kalispell along with his grown children and their spouses and homeschooled offspring.
At the time Baldwin and his brood of 17 resettled, unprecedented numbers of white supremacists were migrating to the region to support the Pioneer Little Europe movement, which seeks to establish a whites only homeland in northwest Montana. Baldwin's dire warnings of a looming epic battle between Patriots and "Big-Government globalists" in the U.S. mirrors in key ways longstanding white supremacist predictions of a war against ZOG, or Zionist Occupation Government.
"We believe America is headed for an almost certain cataclysm," Baldwin wrote in a September 2010 column titled, "Why We Are Moving to Montana."
This cataclysm, Baldwin wrote, "...will almost certainly include a fight between Big-Government globalists and freedom-loving, independent-minded patriots. I would even argue that this fight has already started. And as this battle escalates (and it will most assuredly escalate), only those states that are willing to stand and fight for their independence and freedom will survive--at least in a state of freedom. And we believe that God has already put the love of liberty deep into the hearts of the people of the Mountain States; and we further believe that God is already calling (and will continue to call) many other freedom lovers to those states. One thing is for sure: we know He called us!"
Baldwin assured his followers that he wasn't moving to Montana for the scenery or the skiing. "We're not going to play games, or play politics; we are not going to 'take it easy,' or 'hide,' or hibernate. We are not going to 'enjoy the climate.' We are going to fight! We are going to work! We are going to help the freedom-minded people of Montana make their stand for liberty! In many ways, the Mountain States just might become The Alamo of the twenty-first century, with, hopefully, much better results. But if not, I would rather die fighting for freedom with liberty-loving patriots by my side than be shuttled off to some FEMA camp after having been rejected and betrayed by soft-living, comfort-seeking, materialistic statists..."
True to his word, within a month of getting situated in Montana in early 2011 Baldwin launched a new ministry, The Liberty Fellowship, which meets weekly at the Kalispell Red Lion Inn. His sermons regularly draw around 200 attendees, including well-known members of the PLE movement. Last month PLE leader April Gaede posted to Stormfront that "PLE Christians" attend The Liberty Fellowship. She'd previously written that Baldwin's sermonizing moved her to tears. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported earlier this week that Baldwin's congregation also includes Kalispell resident and white separatist Randy Weaver, whose 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff with federal agents fueled the rapid growth of the militia movement of the 1990s. (Baldwin did not return two messages seeking comment.)
"Both hardcore white supremacists and anti-government patriots in the Flathead Valley can hardly contain their enthusiasm when talking about Baldwin now living in Montana," says Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network and an expert on the region's white supremacist and Patriot groups. "It almost feels like the worshipping of a teen idol. Baldwin is being treated like a savior by people promoting a white homeland and outright war with the federal government."
Like Patriot groups, the PLE movement promotes itself as being rooted in a strict interpretation of U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The PLE Prospectus, a guiding document for the Kalispell-based movement written by a former Ku Klux Klan organizer, calls for targeting communities that will be attractive to restless whites who are "conscious of their own best interests," whether they are self-declared white supremacists or not. "A PLE is defined as a conscious White community -- initially possessing greatly contrasting views among its residents -- which comes to dominate a geographical area," reads the PLE guide.
White supremacists in the Flathead Valley view the newly arrived Patriots as natural allies. Law enforcement sources, local religious leaders and McAdam of the Montana Human Rights Network say that Patriot group members have attended recent screenings of Holocaust denial films hosted by PLE activists, and that PLE white supremacists have attended recent Patriot events, including presentations by Baldwin's eldest son Timothy.
Timothy Baldwin delivered lectures on state sovereignty in Kalispell and in Ronan, Montana, a small town nearby. Freedom Action Rally and Citizens Acting for Liberty, both Flathead Valley Patriot groups, sponsored the events. Earlier this year Timothy Baldwin ran for the board of trustees of Flathead Valley Community College and received 778 votes, about 20 percent of those cast.
Chuck Baldwin was a featured speaker at a major survivalist gathering held in mid-June in Kalispell by yet another local patriot group, the Flathead Liberty Bell Network, which was founded in 2009 with help from Alaska militia leader Schaeffer Cox, who's currently jailed awaiting trial on charges of plotting to murder judges and Alaska State Troopers.
The "Preparedness Expo" took place inside the Valley Victory Christian Church and eight adjoining acres less than a week after Kalispell militia leader David Earl Burgert engaged in a shootout with sheriff's deputies on a backwoods logging road in Missoula County, which adjoins the Flathead Valley region to the south. Burgert remains at large. "We don't have quite the same problem with [extremist] activity as they do in Kalispell, but sometimes the Kalispell activity spills over," says Missoula County Undersheriff Mike Dominick. "I've dealt with the militias quite a bit in the past, and in terms of what's going on now, I haven't seen anything like it since the early 1990s."
The survivalist expo offered workshops and demonstrations on topics ranging from small unit combat tactics to canning peaches. Other speakers included Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, a national Patriot group that calls on law enforcement officers and military personnel to disobey orders that they deem unconstitutional, especially when it comes to government confiscation of firearms.
Another speaker was retired Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, a hero to many in the Patriot movement for opposing the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act when he was sheriff of a rural Arizona county in the 1990s. Mack is also the author of From My Cold Dead Hands: Why America Needs Guns, which is popular reading in the Patriot movement.
The top-billed "Special Guest" at the exposition was Randy Weaver.
At least five PLE members appear on videos from the expo. One of them, posting on Stormfront as "White Wolf," declared Weaver's presentation "amazing." Also in attendance was Scott Ernest, a white supremacist from southern Florida who, according to a travelogue he posted to Stormfront, a major white supremacist web forum, took Amtrak to Kalispell in order to visit the Flathead Valley for the first time and meet with Gaede and two other PLE leaders to discuss moving there.
Ernest has since relocated to Kalispell, where, according to his Stormfront posts, he's living in an RV. He's become a huge booster for PLE online, regularly updating his Stormfront thread, which has more than 21,000 views.
"It's paradise here," he gushes in one of more than 400 posts. "I open carry [a handgun] every day. If you can, you should too."
Media Matters extremism reporter David Holthouse can be reached at email@example.com
For more on Kalispell from the SPLC, click here.