Questioning Conservatism 

A new group of political activists is gathering steam in the Bitterroot, raising questions as to what, exactly, these hard-line Republicans are all about

Page 3 of 4

Last year, McLamb spoke to crowds gathered at a Ron Paul rally in Minneapolis, Minn., about taking the nation back "for God and the Constitution." He called on average Americans to rise up and protect their civil liberties.

The speech—available on YouTube—quickly spiraled into wild conspiracy theories. McLamb called the 9/11 terrorist attacks an "inside job" and began talking about "red and blue lists" compiled by New World Order officials.

"If you have a red dot on your mailbox, they take you out immediately and shoot you right in the head," McLamb said in Minneapolis. "But if you have a blue dot, they take you to the FEMA camps being built by Halliburton right now to house 50 million Americans."

click to enlarge Disillusioned conservatives in Ravalli County are now turning to men like John McManus, president of the right-wing John Birch Society, for political guidance. These guest speakers view the federal government as too big, too intrusive and too liberal. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Disillusioned conservatives in Ravalli County are now turning to men like John McManus, president of the right-wing John Birch Society, for political guidance. These guest speakers view the federal government as too big, too intrusive and too liberal.

"Some of the little details change," McAdam says of McLamb's political philosophy. "But the overall story really has remained the same as it was back in the early 1990s."

McLamb arrived in Hamilton as scheduled in July, but Docteur says she and other facilitators had no idea "how deep the rabbit hole went" until they spoke with him in person.

"When he came, we had a two-hour conversation over breakfast," she says. "In the second hour of the conversation, things were coming out and I thought, 'Whoa, this is going to be a little too heavy for this group.' I didn't even know at that point."

Docteur says McLamb politely opted out of that night's speech, agreeing that perhaps portions of his political philosophy didn't line up with the group's beliefs. Docteur was relieved to avoid a controversial situation.

But the cancellation alleviated none of McAdam's concerns. He admits he hasn't personally attended a Celebrating Conservatism meeting, but questions anyone so willing to associate with the radical right and so quick to defend men like Mack.

"Really, it's an interesting dance that they do," McAdam says, "because on one hand I think they recognize that in order to be seen as legitimate and kind of mainstream conservative, they need to somehow be identified in public with a political party. On the other hand, most of these folks believe that there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans, that they're one and the same...You see them try to balance this public image of, 'We need to engage in the political process,' while at the same time condemning that process as being inherently corrupt, not worthy, structures that need to be destroyed because they can't be saved. So you really find what I would call their public persona, versus what they say when they're not at a community meeting with 500 people."

Since Celebrating Conservatism's meetings attracted statewide attention this summer, members of both political parties have expressed strong reservations about the group. Montana Republican Party Chair Will Deschamps says assemblies like those in Hamilton are symptomatic of the divide that's emerged within his party, both locally and nationally, over the last few years. The group's stubbornness to negotiate its positions leads to the formation of third parties, and can split votes enough to put leftist candidates in office.

click to enlarge Members of Celebrating Conservatism strongly uphold Republican values, including gun rights. A number even choose to attend monthly meetings wearing side arms. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Members of Celebrating Conservatism strongly uphold Republican values, including gun rights. A number even choose to attend monthly meetings wearing side arms.

"I think their fervor is good and I'd like to harness their passion, but you have a group of people that apparently I represent as the Republican Party," Deschamps says. "These people don't believe we're the Republican Party, they are. They want us to move from our position to their position, and yet we'd like them to moderate and support us. So we're at loggerheads, is the way I see it."

The handicap groups like Celebrating Conservatism place on Republican candidates is a very real threat, Deschamps says. Take former presidential candidate and current Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a man revered by members of Celebrating Conservatism for promoting smaller government and lower taxes. Ron Stoker, R-Darby, says he sees Paul as a contributing factor to party division and the rise in far-right thinking across the country.

"I don't necessarily categorize them as 'regular Republicans,'" Stoker says of the speakers at Celebrating Conservatism. "Because until Ron Paul ran in the last cycle of politics, they really didn't have a spokesperson or a leader, someone that was championing the causes that they embrace."

Several of Celebrating Conservatism's speakers have openly criticized the Republican Party as being too moderate. Docteur, Cox and Rodda argue their state legislators refuse to follow the Montana Constitution or the state's Republican Party platform. They believe the party is crumbling.

"I would say it's not conservative at all," Cox says. "To me, some of the things I've seen about the Republican Party right now, if I were to frame it up it kind of looks to me like the Democratic Party has turned into the Communist Party and the Republican Party has turned into the Socialist Party. And there isn't a lot of difference between those two forms of government."

The desire for candidates and elected officials to follow platforms and constitutional documents to the letter troubles Deschamps. Politicians have to serve the broad scope of their constituencies, he says, not just those disillusioned few.

"I think they're looking for someone that's just absolutely this perfect white knight that will ride to their rescue and never deviate," Deschamps says. "That would be fine, but that isn't the way the world is right now, nor has it been. I think there are times when you have to make allowances without giving up your core issues."

Stoker agrees that those with Celebrating Conservatism hold politicians to a stringent standard, one based entirely on their own interpretations of state and federal governing documents. They're unwavering in their expectations, he says, and for some reason view the Republican Party as their only hope, provided they can pull it "quite a bit more to the right."

"I don't see these folks going into a militia-style activity of any kind," Stoker says. "They want to hold politicians like myself and others to a constitutional interpretation that they have. The words of both the U.S Constitution and the Montana Constitution sometimes are open to a little interpretation, and if the ultra-right folks don't see that in a politician's answer, then they immediately attack."

Despite their complaints, Stoker and Deschamps see the group as a benefit to Montana politics in many ways.

"I don't have a negative concern, per se, because they are attracting people who have written off the political systems in the country and now they're taking an active interest," Stoker says. "That's good. More people that participate in the whole process, the better off the whole country and we all are."

  • Email
  • Print

More by Alex Sakariassen

Comments (8)

Showing 1-8 of 8

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-8 of 8

Add a comment

© 2014 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation