Montana, Jews, and the rise of American Fascism

Make american greatI write to you from an American state, where a gentile judge named Dusty feels free telling a Jew that he can’t name his own daughter Gavrielle, and if he even uses the name at all, he will deny him access to that child, because according to him it’s not a Jewish name. A state, built literally on a Native American burial ground, where a good number of the white resident’s ancestors helped put many of those Natives in the grave. Now, the Native descendants are being destroyed further by the scourge of meth and opiates. A state that hosts white nationalists and Nazi internet platforms that have been calling for adherents of hate and division to our beautiful mountains for the past 20 years, and which the Charleston church shooter referenced in his manifesto as “…the North-West front…”. A state that was among the first in the nation to have extreme right wing militias become almost essentially a norm. A state where Jews in the town of Whitefish, withstood neo-fascist internet trolls and a firestorm of harassment, targeting even Jewish children, and were threatened with a busload of Hammerskins (Neo-Nazi gang) from San Francisco.

I am ba’al teshuvah, thanks to a Chabad rabbi. I have been in the State of Montana since I was a young man, coming here in 1990 as a traveling musician at 19-years-old. Just a few years later in 1992, I found myself managing the state’s first organic dairy and listening to National Public Radio as the stand-off of Ruby Ridge was under way. While my young, first born child daughter sat in a chair watching me milk cows, I listened to the reports of the siege of federal officers on a family of white separatists just a few hours away in the middle of nowhere of North Idaho. Despite my very different beliefs than those of the Weaver family, whose home was the subject of the siege, I couldn’t help but feel horror when I heard the reports of the matriarch of the family being shot through the head by a federal sniper, while holding her baby daughter in the doorway of their house, dead before the small child hit the floor, the second member of the Weaver family  killed by federal officers trying to arrest the patriarch for selling a shotgun 1/4 of an inch too short.

In 1993, just a year later, I would again listen to the reports echoing through the milking parlor, of yet another federal stand-off with the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. This time, 76 people would die, including women and children. Just a year later, an ex-military man and his accomplice, working in a small terrorist cell of two, would commit the most devastating terrorist attack on US soil, the largest such attack in the history of the United States, citing Waco and Ruby ridge as reasons for murdering men, women, and even children in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, murdering 168 human beings. Both of these men where white nationalists.  Over the years, I watched as this movement moved further and further right, adopting, enhancing, and even creating many of the conspiracy theories we now have so abundantly they are hard to separate from actual reality, and which we now call “fake news.” This time period would see such far right movements creep into the mainstream, a deal sealed by the arrival of Fox news in 1994, by far the worst purveyor of fake news in US media.

Fox News would give these far right groups the red meat, platform, and hyperbole they needed. The brain child of Roger Ailes, and to a larger extent, Lee Atwater, both Nixon administration advisers who came up with the plan to bring the American Christian right under the control of the Republican party. Fox News would come to own the minds of many Americans, insidiously inescapable, being played obsessively on TV’s almost anywhere one goes in public. Obviously, the plan worked, as Fox enabled the Bush administration to lie us into 2 wars, leaving over a million dead, soldiers scarred for nothing, ongoing and costly occupations, leading to a flood of opiates on our streets and Reservations across the State, from the fields of Afghanistan, where our soldiers now stand guarding poppy farms.

These poppy seeds of fascism, drugging an already drunk culture, sprouted and bloomed on the day Donald Trump became the leader of this country. It is this very core of far right wing adherents, and the purveyors of fake news, that has brought us to this point. Since his election, American Jews have seen unprecedented anti-Semitism. We watch as our cousins the Muslims, our immigrant friends, and anybody who doesn’t fit within the white, Anglo-Saxon narrative of how life and the world should look, be targeted with generalized law enforcement sweeps, resulting in the destruction of families, as well as murders and beatings. We stand shocked as people who claim Christianity as a belief, seek to further undermine the least among us, all while uttering words of faith and claims of spirituality. We shudder when we go out on our doorsteps and find Klu Klux Klan literature under our mezuzah. We stare in disbelief, as Nazi’s parade with torches on college campuses founded by our slave owning founding fathers, and run over anti-fascist activists. We find shame as these same neo-Nazis go without punishment, our own activists tracking them down, doing the job of law enforcement, even having to push and prod law enforcement to arrest, and heaven forbid should they be tried as the terrorists they are.

The other day, our so called “resistance” to the ever onward creep of fascism of the United States, the Democratic “leadership”, voted with the Republicans for a $700 billion increase in military spending. Among the least of us, the income disparity gap grows ever wider, our mentally and emotionally destroyed veterans sleep in the streets, and many of us still are without health care. All the while, Republicans are doubling down on their efforts to roll back what health care some of us only just acquired. Our president threatened to annihilate an entire nation in front of the United Nations, happily he didn’t shove anybody out of the way, grope anyone, or make comments about a woman’s appearance… that we know of yet.

While this all sounds somewhat bleak, and in fact it is, there is room for some optimism. I watch the the people, the hoi poloi, come together in ways I couldn’t have imagined even 10 years ago. I am watching the so called millennials, a comparatively highly educated generation, learn and adopt politics they have been educated through the American propaganda system to reject. Socialist thought is at an all-time high, thanks to our fellow Jew, Bernie Sanders, who injected a new generation of political activists with a dose of vigor sorely needed. Sanders, at the time of this writing, stands as the ONLY even halfway righteous political figure we have in politics, and polls show to be immensely popular across many demographics.

Groups and organizations are coming together to push back on a grass roots level. Antifa, Redneck Revolt, and the John Brown Militia are the far lefts answer to the far rights militias, though not nearly as organized or as large as even a smaller far right wing militia. These groups whose purpose is to defend the marginalized, are the natural culmination of a lack of any kind of federal response to proclaiming such groups as the KKK and their associated Neo-Nazi pals as terrorist groups which have been operating with impunity for 100 plus years. These groups have risen to fill the intentional vacuum our leaders and law enforcement have left, given many of them are actually members of these terrorist organizations. Clearly, the thin blue line in America wears a white hood and a carries a golden badge that allows them to falsely accuse, arrest, harass and even murder virtually powerless citizens, at will, and without consequence, as demonstrated time and time again.

America is broken. Oligarchs run the world, and are setting up “green zones” into which you and I are not invited. This blog’s focus will be the experience of American Jews country wide, as well as I can speak to them, as well as Montana Jewery and what we are up against here. The recent re-tweet by Yair Netanyahu, celebrated by fascists and KKK leaders, is going to hurt us. It may not hurt us today but it will give those who wish to see us and other minorities justification and even inspiration to see the leader of Israel’s son sharing their ideals.

This isn’t some fiction, from the mind of a keyboard warrior sitting at a desk; I am the person told by the judge I couldn’t call my daughter by a Jewish name. It is one of my daughters who awoke to find KKK literature under her mezuzah. It is people from Whitefish, whom I sat across the table with a few days ago on the first day of Rosh Hashana and whose young son carried the Torah from its ark at the Chabad house, who are being threatened by Neo-Nazis. I have treated people from Montana militias with white power symbols and swastikas tattooed on their body in an emergency room. It is my children being called “dirty Jews” in their schools, and they are not even outwardly appearing Jewish. This blog will not be an intellectual endeavor. It will be what I see, hear, and feel on the front lines of the American culture wars, during the rise of American fascism.

About the Author
Robert Retallick is a father, activist, Orthophillic Sephardic Jew, and Registered Nurse in Missoula, Montana. He is a lifelong activist who's work has included creating community gardens, organic agriculture, providing free medical care for at risk populations, and supporting Native American culture.
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