How Richard Spencer’s hometown weathered a neo-Nazi ‘troll storm’

An onslaught of antisemitic harassment descended upon the residents of Whitefish, a small Montana ski town, for taking a stand against the ‘alt-right’ racist in their midst. Then came the threat of a 200-person armed march 

by Lois Beckett in Whitefish, Montana / The Guardian / February 5, 2017

 

On a bitterly cold afternoon, the residents of a Montana ski town waited to see if armed neo-Nazis would show up to march through their streets.

Whitefish, a tiny town of 7,000 people, is an enclave of Clinton supporters in a largely conservative state. But on the mountain above town, near the ski resort, there is a picturesque mansion where America’s most famous white supremacist sometimes lives.

Richard Spencer, 38, is a well-groomed, well-educated advocate for the creation of a “white ethno-state” in North America. In November, he had been captured on camera shouting “Hail Trump! Hail victory!” while others gave the Nazi salute.

After he was punched in the face at Trump’s inauguration, Spencer would become an internet meme and debate: Punch the Nazi! Is it right to punch the Nazi?

Residents of Whitefish, where Spencer had lived part-time, had tried to take a more peaceful approach to confronting the extremist in their midst: they had issued a town proclamation denouncing Spencer and his racist beliefs. What Whitefish got in response was a hailstorm of antisemitic harassment and threats from Spencer’s neo-Nazi allies that generated headlines across the world.




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“Neo-Nazis urge armed march to harass Montana Jews,” the Times of Israel reported in late December.

Whitefish, a resort town, had found itself on the frontlines of a battle against rising racist extremism that is playing out across the US and Europe.

Residents are facing questions that other, larger communities might soon confront. They said they knew it was important to take a stand against hatred – especially as neo-Nazi extremists seemed to be edging closer towards the political mainstream. They also they knew their attackers craved conflict and attention, and that feeding the controversy meant the “trolls” were winning.

It was a vicious cycle that no one in town quite knew how to escape.

With Spencer, some Whitefish residents said, they faced a particular challenge. What was the best way to confront a fringe extremist – to block his rise – without simply giving him a new opportunity to paint himself as the victim?