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Opponents to Rally Against Anti-Public Lands Conference in Whitefish

Ammon Bundy, who led an armed occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge, is the closing speaker at a Saturday conference in Whitefish, Mont. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Ammon Bundy, who led an armed occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge, is the closing speaker at a Saturday conference in Whitefish, Mont. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
October 12, 2018

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Controversial figures of the public lands transfer movement in the West – including Ammon Bundy – are coming to Whitefish tomorrow, and many residents of the town are pushing back.

The New Code of the West conference organizers say speakers, including elected officials and legislative candidates, will cover land, water, property and civil rights. Bob Brown, a former secretary of state and Montana senator who represented Whitefish, has denounced the event.

He especially has concerns about Bundy's appearance as the closing speaker. Bundy led an armed occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge and claims the government can't own public land.

"I was sorry to see them come here,” says Brown. “I can't see anything but disruption that can occur from their being in a small and peaceful town that values, overwhelmingly, public property and has no use for people who have a reputation of intimidation and violence coming and holding a public meeting here."

The New Code of the West Conference starts at 8 a.m. at the Grouse Mountain Lodge. In response, local residents are planning a rally opposing the conference on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Depot Park.

The conference also features Elaine Willman, former head of the group Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, who has suggested the federal government should no longer honor treaties or Native American tribal rights. Jan Metzmaker, a Whitefish resident who plans to be at the counter-protest, believes this view doesn't reflect how most people in town feel.

"It's important that we speak up if we don't agree with people and keep to our core values of equality and justice for all, and these kinds of activities really don't fit with our community," says Metzmaker.

The Montana Human Rights Network says the conference host group, known as This West is OUR West, "espouses an ideology at the nexus of the anti-government, anti-Indian, and anti-environmental movements." The group says that isn't true, and that it's working to protect Westerners' constitutional rights.

Amy Robinson, conservation director with the Montana Wilderness Association, will also be at the Saturday counter-protest. She says the goal of the rally is to stay positive.

"We want to come together to say, 'Hey, we are a community here in Whitefish that loves to get outdoors, and we're about acceptance and diversity, and these extremist views don't belong here," says Robinson.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT