After a year of terror, the Jews of Whitefish, Montana, look ahead

(JTA) — Around the picnic tables at Whitefish City Beach on the final Shabbat eve of last month, the Montana town’s tiny Jewish community shared kosher hot dogs, veggie burgers and memories of terror.

In a year when white supremacists have been ascendant, at least in their public profile, perhaps no community has been harder hit than the Jews in the one-time rail stop set against a backdrop of mountains and bordering the town’s shimmering namesake lake.

The election of Donald Trump as president and a feverish debate among Jews and others over whether he had actively courted the far-right vote raised the profile of the town’s best-known white supremacist, Richard Spencer. A dispute between a Jewish real estate agent and Spencer’s mother, whipped up by a neo-Nazi website, sparked months of harassment, targeting in particular three Jewish families.

Rabbi Francine Green Roston, whose family was among those targeted, said there was no way the community could put behind it the harassment, which reportedly included jarring phone calls and online onslaughts aimed at the families’ children.

“Our lives will never be the same,” Roston said this week in an interview, choosing not to detail the harassment she and her family suffered. “But we have returned to what we were building before this happened. We’re continuing to be part of initiatives to promote strong community ties to fight hatred wherever it arises.”

Positive takeaways, she said, include the awareness of national Jewish support.

“Secure Community Network, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Anti-Defamation League were on the ground supporting us in the first week,” she said. SCN is a security service backed by the federations and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Such attention was unusual for a Jewish community numbering perhaps 60 in Whitefish and a couple of hundred more in the surrounding Flathead County. Roston was in the habit of saying she practiced “pioneer Judaism” in a state with no local federation and no national affiliations.

“We felt the support and connection of the American Jewish community,” she said. Not just from the organizations, she said, “but we received cards and letters and donations from communities across the country. The donations enabled us to have a security fund, and our new normal is to have a security guard at our large community gathering.”

The cyber attacks, which escalated into threatening phone calls and abusive snail mail, were launched late last year after Spencer’s mother, Sherry, said in an online posting that Tanya Gersh, a local real estate agent, was pressuring her to leave the town.

The emails posted by the elder Spencer suggested instead that she and Gersh had, in friendly conversations, discussed selling her property. Gersh was ready to cut her fee in order to facilitate the sale.

Spencer’s posting prompted Andrew Anglin, a neo-Nazi who founded the Daily Stormer website, to write a screed on Dec. 16 calling on his followers in December to harass Gersh and her family, as well as the Rostons and the family of another rabbi in the area, Allen Secher.

Within a day SCN’s director, Paul Goldenberg, had commissioned a colleague in Seattle to drive to the community — no small feat in December, when the roads into Whitefish are icy and beset with snow. ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt also called to see how he could help.

There were also expressions of support from the local non-Jewish community and a commitment by local officials to intensify diversity education.

“After the attacks, a group worked with interfaith clergy, which we hadn’t had before,” she said. There were two “Love Not Hate” rallies in the region and diversity training in the school system.

Goldenberg said his experience with Whitefish was the most moving for him in over a decade dealing with Jewish security.

“Attacks that specifically target children are abhorrent and unthinkable and would have the capability to paralyze any community’s ability to function and thrive,” he said in an interview.

Goldenberg said the community’s resilience — the determination to stay put — amazed him. He was a guest of honor at the summer Shabbat event, which the community calls its annual “ShabbaBBQ.”

Indeed, Roston said, there has been a coming together. She said the community to a person backed Gersh’s lawsuit against Anglin. The Southern Poverty Law Center is assisting in the suit, which seeks damages from Anglin for invading Gersh’s privacy and causing emotional distress.

Still, clearly there are periods when Roston and others retreat into the fears prompted by the cyber onslaught of last winter. Last month’s white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, which included deadly violence, triggered difficult memories for the rabbi. Richard Spencer was there to speak at a rally that Saturday morning.

In a speech at a Love Not Hate gathering after Charlottesville, Roston excoriated President Donald Trump, who has equivocated in condemning white supremacists — but also wondered about those closer to home.

“Did you know that residents of the Flathead Valley through their Twitter accounts and postings on the Daily Stormer threatened Whitefish residents and businesses by giving the Daily Stormer the names of our local businesses to attack?” she said in her speech. “Yes, you heard me correctly. We all have neighbors who joined the Nazis in their attacks on our community this past winter.”


Greg Gianforte, Montana Republican, Captures House Seat Despite Assault Charge

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Greg Gianforte, a wealthy Montana Republican who was charged with assaulting a reporter on Wednesday, nonetheless won the state’s lone seat in the House of Representatives on Thursday, according to The Associated Press, in a special election held up as a test of the country’s political climate.

Mr. Gianforte, 56, was widely seen as a favorite to win against Rob Quist, a Democrat and country music singer. But he seemed to imperil his own candidacy in the final hours of the race after he manhandled a journalist for The Guardian.

Addressing the altercation for the first time late Thursday night, Mr. Gianforte apologized to the Guardian reporter, Ben Jacobs, by name, acknowledged he “made a mistake” and vowed to the state’s voters that he would not embarrass them again.

“You deserve a congressman who stays out of the limelight and just gets the job done,” he said to a group of supporters at a hotel in Bozeman, who repeatedly yelled out that they forgave him.

Voters here shrugged off the episode and handed Republicans a convincing victory. Mr. Gianforte took slightly more than 50 percent of the vote to about 44 percent for Mr. Quist. (President Trump won Montana by about 20 percentage points.) Mr. Gianforte’s success underscored the limitations of the Democrats’ strategy of highlighting the House’s health insurance overhaul and relying on liberal anger toward the president, at least in red-leaning states.


“Montana sent a strong message tonight that we want a congressman who will work with President Trump to make America and Montana great again,” Mr. Gianforte said in remarks shortly after he was declared the winner.
Mr. Gianforte’s capture of the seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spares his party the short-term pain of losing a reliably Republican seat in Congress, but at the cost of having the newest member of the House majority arrive in Washington under a serious legal cloud.

Mr. Gianforte still faces a misdemeanor assault charge that will require him to appear in a Montana courtroom next month. Republicans in Washington indicated that they were unlikely to block him from taking office, despite the possibility of a criminal conviction in the coming weeks.

According to an audio recording and the account of a Fox News reporter, Mr. Gianforte flew into a rage and battered Mr. Jacobs after Mr. Jacobs asked him a straightforward question about the health care bill passed by House Republicans this month.

Mr. Gianforte faced mounting public demands on Thursday from Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senator Steve Daines of Montana, to apologize.

For Democrats, their failure to notch a win, or even come close, raises pressure on their nominee to score a victory in a special House election next month in Georgia, where the party has spent heavily in hopes of capturing a Republican-held seat.

Even before its ugly conclusion, the race in Montana, a state that has long mixed conservatism with populism, had evolved into an early referendum on Mr. Trump and the Republican health care bill.

Republican groups, concerned about the growing backlash to Mr. Trump, poured more than twice as much money into the race as Democrats. The spending was initially a precaution. But Republican officials grew nervous after Mr. Quist, 69, caught fire with progressive activists, who eventually helped him raise over $6 million, narrowing the funding disparity in the race.
While Mr. Gianforte vowed to work with the Trump administration and campaigned with both Vice President Mike Pence and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Quist focused his campaign in its final weeks on the unpopular House health care bill. He hammered Mr. Gianforte for telling a group of Washington lobbyists he was “thankful” the bill had passed while suggesting to Montana voters that he would have opposed it.

But while backlash against the bill may have helped Mr. Quist modestly narrow the gap against Mr. Gianforte, it was not a cure-all for a candidate with a messy financial history running in a state Mr. Trump had won by more than 20 points.

National Democrats were pessimistic about Mr. Quist’s prospects from the start and privately said their polling never indicated that he was making significant progress against Mr. Gianforte.

In the end, Mr. Gianforte’s attack on the reporter did little more than inject a measure of 11th-hour drama into the race.

In ads rushed into production late Wednesday night, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accused Mr. Gianforte of being “unhinged.” Accompanied by the jarring sounds of the altercation, which sent Mr. Jacobs to the hospital, the spots captured Mr. Gianforte screaming, “I’m sick and tired of you guys!”

But prospects that the incident would tip the race to Mr. Quist were complicated by Montana’s early-voting tradition: More than half the estimated total ballots had already been returned.

Regardless of the winner, the specter of a June court date for Mr. Gianforte on a misdemeanor assault charge was an unwelcome coda for Republicans at a difficult moment. The party had already been forced to spend millions of dollars to prop up its nominee in a race being pored over for clues about the national political environment in the tumultuous first months of Mr. Trump’s presidency.
On Thursday, some of his Republican supporters vented publicly at their candidate even before the polls closed.

“He’s the problem,” Corry Bliss, who runs a “super PAC” aligned with House Republicans, said of Mr. Gianforte. When the contest began, Mr. Bliss said, private polling showed that Mr. Gianforte was as unpopular as he was popular, a leftover result of his failed campaign for governor last year.

“This race was essentially an unpopular incumbent trying to get re-elected,” said Mr. Bliss, whose Congressional Leadership Fund spent nearly $2.7 million on Mr. Gianforte’s behalf. “And in this environment, C-minus candidates aren’t going to cut it.”

Elected Republicans in Washington also expressed frustration, publicly scolding Mr. Gianforte.

“Should the gentleman apologize? Yeah, I think he should apologize,” said Mr. Ryan, the House speaker. “I know he has his own version, and I’m sure he’s going to have more to say, but there’s no call for this, no matter what — on any circumstance.”

Mr. Gianforte kept silent while the polls were open on Thursday, and his campaign aides did not respond to messages.

His outburst placed Republicans in a distinctly awkward position as ballots were being cast, with victory in the race suddenly looking as uncomfortable as defeat.

A loss would have been an embarrassing setback and encouraged Democratic hopes for taking control of the House next year. But his victory forces Republicans in Congress to interact with, and address the behavior of, a man summoned to the Gallatin County Courthouse on June 7 to answer an accusation that he “purposely or knowingly” caused “bodily injury to another.”
While private polling consistently showed him ahead of Mr. Quist, Republicans fumed that Mr. Gianforte seemed unable to establish a dominant lead.

But a monthslong advertising onslaught assailing Mr. Quist on issues ranging from his troubled personal finances to his suggestion of a gun registry ultimately paid dividends.

In Montana, the news of the altercation spread like a Big Sky wildfire, dominating newspaper front pages and local television news in Bozeman, Mr. Gianforte’s adopted hometown, and across the sprawling state. Three of the largest daily papers in the state rescinded their endorsements of him.

Democrats here were newly buoyant about their chances but stopped short of predicting victory, given that more than 250,000 votes had been cast by Wednesday. There are some 700,000 voters in the state, and few political veterans expected turnout to reach much higher than 60 percent.

In downtown Bozeman on Thursday, many said they had already voted or were unmoved.

“I was already going to vote for Rob Quist,” said Ariel Lusty, a 22-year-old graduate student at Montana State, who sported an “I Voted” sticker as she sat inside Wild Joe’s Coffee Spot.

Richard Shanahan, a 75-year-old architect in Bozeman, said he had already voted by mail for Mr. Gianforte and was largely unbothered by the ugly end to the campaign.

“It doesn’t change my mind at all,” said Mr. Shanahan, who remarked on how ubiquitous the news had become overnight. “I think it’s being blown out of proportion.”

Dinosaur named for ‘Ghostbusters’ creature found in Montana 75 million years after its death


Someone call the Ghostbusters: Scientists have discovered a new species of horned, club-tailed dinosaur with a spooky resemblance to the monstrous demigod Zuul, one of the villains of the 1984 movie.

The ankylosaur, described in Royal Society Open Science, could shed light on the surprising diversity of these creatures near the end of the age of dinosaurs.

Zuul crurivastator’s scaly body stretched some 20 feet long, with an impressive tail that took up half that length. Its tail was lined with forbidding spikes and ended in a sledgehammer-like club. Two horns sat on its skull right behind the eyes, giving it a very Zuul-like look that inspired the genus name.

Size comparison of Zuul crurivastator and a modern human.
Size comparison of Zuul crurivastator and a modern human. (Danielle Dufault / Royal Ontario Museum)

As big as a rhino, but with more spikes

Z. crurivastator weighed in around 5,500 pounds, which is about the size of a white rhinoceros, said study leader Victoria Arbour, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Fearsome as it may look, this dinosaur was a plant eater that roamed present-day northern Montana some 75 million years ago. This specimen was discovered while scientists were digging up another dinosaur and a bulldozer apparently encountered the ankylosaur’s tail. (A small fragment came off in the process but was easily reattached later, Arbour said.)

Complete fossils of ankylosaurs are, for some reason, very difficult to find. Like a coin toss, these specimens basically appear to produce either heads or tails — but not both at the same time.

“You get, like, an OK tail but a little scrap of the skull, or a pretty nice skull and a little scrap of the tail,” Arbour said.

The fact that this specimen has such a complete skull and tail makes it a rare discovery. The size and shape of the strange spikes along the tail and the ornamentation on the skull help mark it as a novel ankylosaur species.

A Rosetta stone for dinosaurs

And the fossil has been so well preserved — perhaps buried in sediment soon after it died — that researchers even found soft tissue, including scales and sheaths for the spikes. Because the soft tissue was so well preserved, the spikes were held together in their original placement.

“It keeps those bony spikes in place all the way down the tail, so we have a really good idea of what it would have looked like while it was alive,” Arbour said. “It kind of is like a Rosetta stone for interpreting isolated spikes when we find them when we’re just walking around the badlands.”

Zuul crurivastator tail showing bony spikes and preserved skin.
Zuul crurivastator tail showing bony spikes and preserved skin. (Brian Boyle / Royal Ontario Museum)

Like their relatively close cousins the stegosaurs, ankylosaurs may have used their weaponized tails to fend off predators such as tyrannosaurs: The species name crurivastator means “destroyer of shins.”

It’s also possible that the dinosaurs used their tails to compete with other males, though it’s hard to test that theory in an extinct species, Arbour noted.

“We know that other ankylosaurs could swing their tails with a lot of force, enough force to break bone,” she said. “But they were really well-adapted for absorbing those forces so they wouldn’t break themselves.”

A surprising diversity of dinosaurs

Scientists once thought North America was home to just one or two species of ankylosaur, but this new specimen adds to the growing body of evidence that there were far more of these hammer-tailed species than previously thought.

“That kind of matches up a bit more with what we see in the horned dinosaurs and the duck-billed dinosaurs, where there’s really high species diversity in the twilight of the age of dinosaurs,” Arbour said. “So they were doing really well at that period … and this particular dinosaur filled in a little bit of a gap in that record.”

An artist's depiction of Zuul crurivastator.
An artist’s depiction of Zuul crurivastator. (Danielle Dufault / Royal Ontario Museum)

The paleontologists haven’t yet fully extricated the fossil from the large hunks of rock they brought back to the lab; that process could take a couple of years, Arbour said.

In the meantime, they hope to examine the fossil’s soft tissues to learn about its biochemistry and perhaps identify molecules like keratin or collagen, the kinds of compounds found in fingernails or skin.

“We’re also going to be studying some of the other fossils that were found in the same quarry as this ankylosaur,” Arbour added. “We’ve got great fossils of turtles and crocodiles and other dinosaurs and plants and clams and snails, so we’re hoping to be able to flesh out the ecosystem that Zuul lived in as well.”

Montana anti-jews march still on, white nationalist website editor says

An armed neo-Nazi march proposed by a white supremacist website to harass a Montana Jewish community will go forward, the website’s editor said.

Andrew Anglin, who runs the Daily Stormer website, told the ABC-FOX affiliate in Montana that the march on Whitefish will be held January 15, which ironically is Martin Luther King Day.

Whitefish is home to white supremacist leader Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank. Spencer’s mother also lives there. In November, Spencer spoke at a white supremacist event in Washington, DC, celebrating President-elect Donald Trump’s victory in which he called out “Hail Trump!” and was greeted by Nazi salutes.

Spencer has said that he doesn’t believe the march will happen, calling it a joke, according to ABC-FOX Montana, but he has not denounced it.

The Daily Stormer published a blog post last month calling for followers to “take action” against Jews in Whitefish by writing and calling them with anti-Semitic messages. The post claimed that Jewish residents were “threatening” the business run by Spencer’s mother in the town.

The post included the names, phone numbers and addresses of Jewish Whitefish residents, as well as their photos emblazoned with yellow stars. It also showed the Twitter handle and photo of a child. Along with using a number of anti-Semitic slurs, the post warned readers against using “violence or threats of violence or anything close to that.”

There are about 100 known Jewish households in Whitefish and nearby Kalispell, part of the Flathead Valley.

Montana lawmakers and faith leaders have issued statements in support of the Whitefish community.

Whitefish has a population of about 6,000 full-time residents and is home to a ski resort on Big Mountain called Whitefish Mountain Resort.

National Socialist website calls for armed march in Whitefish, Montana to harass Jewish community (VERY VERY VERY GOOD!!!!)

(JTA) — The man who runs the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer has announced an armed march by white supremacists in an effort to harass a Montana Jewish community.

The web graphic published Friday announcing the march in Whitefish, Montana, is published over a picture of the entrance to Auschwitz and includes a yellow Star of David with the word “Jude” printed in it.

Whitefish is home to white supremacist leader Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank. Last month, he spoke at a white supremacist event in Washington, D.C. celebrating President-elect Donald Trump’s victory. At the event, Spencer said “Hail Trump!” and was greeted by Nazi salutes.

The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist publication, published a blog post earlier in the month calling for followers to “take action” against Jews in Whitefish by writing and calling them with anti-Semitic messages. The post claimed that Jewish residents were “threatening” Spencer’s mother’s business in the town.

The post included the names, phone numbers and addresses of Jewish Whitefish residents — in addition to the Twitter handle and photo of a child. The post also included photos of Jewish residents of Whitefish emblazoned with yellow stars. Along with using a number of anti-Semitic slurs, the post warned readers against using “violence or threats of violence or anything close to that.”

A local rabbi last week encouraged people to send notes of sympathy to the Jewish harassment victims in Whitefish and asked people to put a menorah in their window to show solidarity with the Jews of Whitefish, the ADL said in a statement issued on Friday.

In response, Anglin told his followers to put Nazi flags in their windows and to put Nazi swastikas on their cars, homes and businesses, he also called on his followers to send hateful messages to two anti-hate organizations targeted by Anglin’s campaign, according to the ADL.

The local government of Whitefish, which has 6,000 full-time residents, has rejected Spencer’s ideas.

“Not only is Anglin harassing the Jewish community of Whitefish, he is at the same time exploiting the situation there to promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish power and control. He alleges that Jews have targeted white supremacists and anti-Semites but now he is somehow turning the tables on them,” the ADL said.

The ADL said it has been in regular contact with the Whitefish Jews singled out by Anglin as well as law enforcement.

Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer’s mom faces financial ruin as Montana town turns against her (GOOD!!!!)

The notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer’s mother disagrees with his racist views — but her neighbors want her to prove it.

The founder of the so-called “alt-right” movement has moved from the political fringes to something approaching mainstream notoriety since the election of Donald Trump, but recent newspaper and magazine profiles have made residents of his part-time home aware of Spencer and his views, reported KTMF-TV.

Spencer lives part of the year in Whitefish, Montana, where his parents live and his mother owns property.

“As parents, we deeply love our son, as we always will,” Sherry Spencer told the TV station in an email. “We unequivocally do not agree with the extreme positions espoused by Richard.”

Although she may disagree with his racist views, Sherry Spencer allows her son to list the property she owns as the principle office location for his pseudo-academic National Policy Institute, the TV station reported.

That doesn’t sit well with Tanya Gersh, a local realtor and wedding planner, and civil rights groups.

“She is profiting off of 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,” Gersh said.

Sherry Spencer rents out vacation residences on the building’s top floor and leases businesses on the ground floor, but she said the unwanted attention on her business and her son may force her to sell the property located in the city’s historic downtown.

Her commercial tenants say the white nationalist association to the building, which Richard Spencer and his mother built two years ago, is hurting their business.

Sherry Spencer blames a local human rights organization for forcing her to consider selling her downtown property.

“We are stunned by the actions of Love Lives Here, an organization claiming to advocate tolerance and equal treatment of all citizens, yet causing financial harm to many innocent parties,” Sherry Spencer told the TV station.

However, the group’s co-founder dismissed her claims.

“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” said activist Ina Albert. “We don’t cause financial harm to anybody.”

Whitefish residents tried in 2014 to get City Council to pass an anti-hate speech ordinance they hoped would prevent Spencer and his group from holding conferences in the town, but free speech concerns kept the measure from moving forward.

Albert said she doesn’t care that Richard Spencer spends part of the year in Whitefish, where he likes to ski and hike — but she’s not happy the city is “smeared” by its link to his National Policy Institute.

Gersh, however, thinks Sherry Spencer could prove she disagreed with her son’s ideology by ending her business link to his organized hate group.

“(She) could address this by selling the building, making a donation to human rights efforts, and making a statement in opposition to white supremacist ideas spread by Richard,” Gersh said.