We in the so-called liberal press have a list of convenient labels to describe them. Filed under the heading of ultraconservative, the Far Right, the Hard Right or the Radical Right, they are as often branded for the company they keep as the ideas they espouse: patriots, states rightists, constitutional fundamentalists, militia sympathizers and—even if they run for and serve in elected office year after year—anti-government. Whatever the label, the suggestion is the same: Politics of the extreme.
Their ideas and agendas vary somewhat, but the basic philosophical threads that run through their speeches, literature, resolutions and initiatives share many common themes. They are, by and large, deeply distrustful of state and federal governments. In their estimation, government controls such as planning and zoning ordinances, environmental codes, campaign finance restrictions and welfare services are by their very nature flagrant encroachments upon the fundamental rights of private property.
Generally speaking, they are more likely to mention the Second Amendment before the First when discussing individual liberties, and often can quote the Federalist Papers or articles of the U.S. and Montana Constitutions as easily as citing biblical chapter and verse.
They are, almost without exception, white, landowners and devoutly Christian, and see the U.S. Constitution as an unchanging, infallible and even divinely inspired document. They would argue that if the Founding Fathers didn’t explicitly spell out a right, responsibility or function in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, they never meant for laws to be written about them.
Whether we find such beliefs refreshing or abhorrent, revolutionary or archaic, the fact remains that they strike a chord among enough voters in Montana to warrant closer scrutiny. Over the last few weeks, I sat down with three regional candidates for the Montana Legislature who subscribe to the Jeffersonian notion that we must “bind [men] down from mischief by the chains of a Constitution.” Not surprisingly, they eschew most of the labels assigned to them by the mainstream media, including their portrayals by their political opponents as “marginal” or “fringe” elements in Montana’s political arena, as well as any insinuation that they represent the views of racists, white supremacists or advocates of hatred.
I let them speak at will about what they see are the fundamental challenges facing the citizens of Montana, as well as the proper roles of government, guns and God in modern political life. As much as possible, I have allowed their ideas to speak for themselves, because for better or for worse, whether marginal or mainstream, their words say more than any label can about the choices our democracy lays before us.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
When I first caught up with Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association and first-time Republican candidate for House District 69 in Missoula, he was feeding rounds into the clip of his Glock .45, on deck in a friendly competition of “practical pistol shooting” with a handful of his regular shooting buddies. It’s a weekly ritual for them, this run-and-gun contest that tests a shooter’s speed and accuracy at hitting targets after zigzagging from one station to the next. Marbut, who also serves as chairman of the range committee, is a stickler for safety, insisting that I wear ear plugs and goggles to protect against the lead fragments that can splatter off the metal targets and occasionally draw a trickle of blood.
Steady conversation is a challenge through plugged ears and the rapid report of semi-automatic gunfire, but it doesn’t take long to discover that Marbut adheres to a very strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, including his assertion that it makes no provision for a federal police force. Thus, I’m surprised to learn that he manufactures and sells shooting range equipment to federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Border Patrol and even a SWAT team for the Social Security Administration.
“I make good equipment. The people I sell it to like it and it works well for them,” says Marbut, without a trace of irony. “When we have a police state, I will prosper. I’d rather starve.”
It’s just one of the curious ironies about this former Assistant Sergeant-At-Arms from the 1970 Montana House of Representatives, who has since drafted close to two dozen bills or resolutions lobbying the Legislature for Second Amendment protections, including one to protect citizens from “overzealous federal officers” by requiring that they notify local sheriffs prior to making an arrest, search or seizure in their counties.
Marbut sees no contradiction there. Unlike some conservatives, he rejects the traditional political monikers of “left” and “right,” preferring instead to measure political inclinations along a spectrum that ranges from anarchy to tyranny.
“A lot of people don’t trust individual citizens,” Marbut says. “They think that if they’re allowed to keep any of their own money they’ll use it unwisely, if they’re allowed to exercise any prerogatives they’ll make stupid decisions, and so we have rules that constrain our every behavior and spend all our money.”
Marbut’s defense of the Second Amendment is so fierce—the only gun control he says can be reasonably justified is for “jet fighters, nuclear missiles and artillery weapons”—that in 1994 he urged that Montana secede from the United States after Sen. Max Baucus cast swing votes for the passage of the Brady Law and the military-style semi-automatic weapons ban.
Citing chapter and verse of both the Montana and U.S. Constitutions, Marbut accused the federal government of breaching its contract with the states and drew up a constitutional initiative to declare Montana a sovereign nation. Only after the Republicans regained control of Congress in 1994 did he feel assuaged that the right to keep and bear arms would not be further eroded. Still, he doesn’t rule out the possibility that his initiative might one day be necessary.
“It’s still sitting on my computer,” he says. “Certainly, if Montana were to go on its own, it would be a very hard time. It would challenge us to the extreme. But it would also be very stimulating.”
It was Marbut’s stance against one particular gun control measure that drew the attention of the Montana Human Rights Network. After the passage of the Gun-Free School Zones Act, a federal law making it illegal to travel within 1,000 feet of a school with a firearm (a law he asserts makes criminals out of most Montanans), Marbut wrote an article for the Nevada-based Sierra Times, a publication founded by longtime militia activist J.J. Johnson. The article claimed that gun control advocates are “willing to pour out the blood of slain real people onto the altar of their own social agenda” in order to fulfill “their own selfish urges to power and to an unreachable and undesirable utopia.” For his part, Marbut makes no apologies for his association with “so-called militia members.”
“Militia is defined as all able-bodied citizens not exempted by law,” Marbut explains. “So when the City Council meets, it’s a meeting of the militia. When a sociology class meets, that’s a meeting of the militia.”
Marbut’s article was picked up and republished in January by The Jubilee, a California-based publication that caters to Christian Identity followers, a philosophy that adheres to a racist interpretation of the Bible, including the notion that Jews are the children of Satan, and people of color are of the “mud races.”
Marbut laughs at the suggestion that he or his cohorts harbor any racist or anti-Semitic tendencies, and claims he’s never witnessed examples of either among the people he knows. Moreover, he says he had never even heard of The Jubilee and had no idea that they had republished his article.
“I don’t know whether Gary Marbut approved of it or not,” says Christine Kaufmann, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network. “But has he written a letter saying, ‘Cease and desist. I don’t want my information appearing in a white supremacist magazine?’ That’s what we’re talking about here.”
“Anybody who is concerned about escalating levels of governmental authority is all of a sudden a hate group because they’re anti-government and they’re militia and they’re all these other evil things,” counters Marbut. “[The Montana Human Rights Network] is a core group of a half-dozen or so militant homosexuals whose chief agenda is the prerogatives of the homosexuals of Montana. Part of their theory is that they can gain power by beating up on other people who they perceive have power or vulnerability or both.”
And that power, says Marbut, quoting Mao Tse Tung, “derives from the muzzle of the gun.” And as I’m reminded during my visit to the gun range, always assume that all guns are loaded.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
Rick Jore, the Constitution Party candidate and incumbent representative from House District 73 in Ronan, says he never really intended to get involved in politics, a claim his political opponents probably wish he had lived up to.
“My only goal in life was to live a quiet and peaceful life with my wife and kids,” says Jore. “But I began to evaluate the way things were going and I became quite dissatisfied. I felt like our freedoms were being eroded and diminished, and that regulations and taxation were hindering my ability to pursue my own happiness.”
Jore has invited me to lunch at the headquarters of the Jore Corporation in Ronan, where his brothers operate this multi-million-dollar tool company, one of the few economic success stories to spring from the Flathead Valley. From his brother’s spacious offices, we can just make out the 80-acre Jore ranch at the foot of the Mission Mountains.
“I strongly believe in the premise of the Declaration of Independence,” Jore says almost immediately, when asked about the foundations that shape his political beliefs. “I believe that truth never changes. I don’t believe in moral relativism, and this separates me from a lot of people in this day and age who have an evolutionary world view and believe that the Constitution is a living document that changes from one day to the next.”
The powers of self-governance, he says, are endowed straight from God as a gift to the people, a belief he readily defends by alternating quotes from memory by Thomas Jefferson, the Book of Romans, James Madison and the Old Testament.
“Every person is a religious person. Every person is a person of faith. It’s just a matter of where that faith is,” says Jore.
I ask him if he thinks the judicial interpretations of separation of church and state have gone too far.
“Absolutely,” he says. “The original intent of the First Amendment has been absolutely perverted. I believe in the separation of church and state according to what the bible teaches, because before God established civil government he established the church, and before he established both those institutions he established the family first.
“It’s interesting to me how we often talk about the separation of church and state but don’t talk about the separation of family and state. Who’s responsible for the education of children? The family. The state’s usurped that. Who’s responsible for feeding those children? The family.”
Not surprisingly, Jore has introduced legislation every session since he arrived in Helena in 1995 trying to abolish compulsory education laws as an usurpation of the rights of parents. (Both Jore and his wife home-schooled all five of their children.)
Arguing that no voter can give to government any powers not expressly outlined in the Constitution, Jore also views social service programs of any kind as a form of tyranny.
“Our country is going toward a socialist mindset,” says Jore. “The government takes the fruit of the labor of one person and bestows it arbitrarily to other persons. There was a time when we called that slavery. Today we give it fancy terms. We call it welfare, we call it subsidies, but it’s the force of law extracting the wealth from the productive people in society and putting it into the Treasury and using it to buy votes to get elected.”
After Republican lawmakers in the 1999 session cast the deciding votes in favor of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and accepted federal dollars in exchange for requiring the use of social security numbers on hunting and fishing licenses, Jore abandoned his longtime affiliation with the Republican Party and joined the Constitution Party ticket, saying that “there’s no longer any philosophical difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. It’s only a matter of degrees.”
As a staunch property rights advocate and non-tribal member who owns land on the Flathead Indian Reservation, Jore has occasionally butted heads with tribal members on various issues involving tribal sovereignty, clean water standards, hunting rights and a move in 1995 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to turn over control of the National Bison Range in Moiese to the tribes. In an odd twist, he suggested that the feds could do a better job managing it.
Still, Jore is surprised that anyone would accuse him of harboring anti-Indian sentiments, saying, “Gosh, I grew up with tribal members. They’re my friends.”
On the subject of the Montana Human Rights Network, Jore is unequivocal.
“The Human Rights Network doesn’t understand me and thinks I’m a fundamentalist who would deprive everyone of their freedom to indulge in everything under the sun, like an Ayatollah Khomeini,” says Jore. “But if we accept their premise that genetic codes bring about homosexuality, then is adultery genetic? How can we condemn the pedophile if he has sexual inclinations toward children? How can we condemn the murderer, the thief? Basically, we’ve done away with all right and wrong.”
Since Jore defends these beliefs with biblical references, I ask him if that means the law specifically endorses a Christian world view.
“The law will endorse one world view or the other,” says Jore. “There is no neutrality. The myth that the law does not impose morality is just that, a myth.”
No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
For someone who has lived in western Montana for 32 years and watched the explosion of growth and development in Ravalli County from his home high above the banks of the Bitterroot River, Dick Green is remarkably accepting of the rapid changes unfolding on the land.
“By the very nature of living, people are polluting. So are elk, so are bald eagles, so are finches,” says Green, who served in the Legislature in 1995 and is running again for the seat in House District 61 from Victor, this time on the Constitution Party ticket. “I am opposed to growth plans, covenants, codes, restrictions, building ordinances, all that sort of thing. I still have to live with the absolute conservative position that the best possible law is the least law possible.”
The best possible law is the least law possible. It’s a phrase repeated numerous times during my visit by this jovial fellow with a face full of smiles and colorful colloquialisms—“I’m as Irish as Paddy’s Pig and keep as busy as a cranberry merchant”—a man who also describes himself as a constitutional fundamentalist. I ask him if he believes the hand of God influenced the writing of the Constitution.
“I would go that far, yes,” says Green. “Here were a bunch of very common people. In August of 1787 in Philadelphia they ironed out probably the single best couched, most wonderful thing that mankind and the body politic has ever ironed out anywhere, anyplace, anytime.
“The one thing that chokes most firm, solid conservatives is this thing that the Constitution is a living document. I just want to scream when someone says that,” says Green. “The Constitution is not a living document. The Constitution is a contract between the government and the people … with a very clearly stated list of ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots.’”
Still, even this staunch defender of private property rights recognizes that those rights should not be entirely unrestricted. For example, while he sees nothing wrong with landowners doing with their land as they see fit, he has no problem with laws that outlaw someone from growing marijuana on their property or operating a nude dance club.
“I’m not here to protect somebody from themselves,” says Green. Still, he was one of the major advocates for three anti-obscenity laws passed by Ravalli County voters banning the distribution of obscenity, the display of obscenity to minors and public nudity. Those laws were later struck down as unconstitutional by District Court Judge Jeff Langton, a decision Green hopes to appeal, to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.
He defends his stance by equating pornography with alcoholism and gambling (another activity he opposes), two compulsive and self-destructive behaviors that he says require our compassion and treatment. “To this extent, I’m going to take this stuff out of the hands of innocents,” says Green.
On the subject of campaign finance reform, Green says simply, “It is my God-given right to do with my dollar whatever I want to do with that dollar, as long as it has a legal purpose. If I can vote at the ballot box, I should be able to vote with the almighty dollar.”
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
For some, it may be difficult to find anything good to say about those who hold up the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as the pinnacle statements on human rights and self-determination, but who don’t seem to recognize that the words “all men are created equal” mean all rights for all people, without precondition that we be armed, heterosexual or adhere to the belief that our Creator is a Christian one.
And yet, these men were most generous and kind to me, inviting me into their homes and businesses for hours at a time, speaking politely and openly about their beliefs, and trusting me to accurately represent their ideas without bias, labels or hidden agendas. However fundamental and profound our differences, I do believe they honestly want what’s best for this country. That may come as little comfort to some, but it’s enough to sustain my faith that our system still works.
“There’s a tendency in all of us to want the people with bad ideas to be ogres and to be evil people, and have horns coming out of their head,” says Kaufmann of the Montana Human Rights Network. “We have to distinguish between who has good ideas for where Montana wants to go and who has bad ideas, and not who is an evil person and who is a good person.”