When Do We Start Paying Attention to the Threat of People Like Theresa Manzella?

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Just a quick note about Representative Theresa Manzella, who represents both the worst of the Republican Party and the failure of the media in Montana to hold the anti-government, white supremacist wing of the GOP accountable for their dangerous rhetoric.

Representative Manzella, who believes in local control until a city does something she disagrees with, has spent the past few days wailing about the decision by the Helena City Commission to remove a statue commemorating the Confederacy. According to a tipster, Manzella has accused Facebook of “violating her First Amendment rights” for taking down a post (one wonders just how offensive that must have been), approvingly cited the ethnocentric screed written by a Helena Justice of the Peace two years ago on the issue, and tried to start a fundraising page for those arrested defending the statue.

And then she posted this nonsense:

Of course, Manzella’s post is factually incorrect, as the person who designed this Confederate flag intended no religious significance, something a 15 second Google search or trip to the library could have revealed. That there were only eleven states in the Confederacy also seems to have escaped Representative Manzella, but given the Republican budget from the past session, math certainly isn’t a strong suit with the Montana GOP. Even in surrender, the Confederacy couldn’t get its numbers right, either.

The broader concern, of course, is that Representative Manzella sees the flag of the Confederacy as a symbol of “liberty,” given that the nation brutalized and enslaved four million people and was created for the purpose of preserving that enslavement. In the words of the Confederate states and the leaders of the Confederacy when they left, their goal was to maintain the South’s horrific enslavement at all costs.

From the opening of the declaration of secession from those liberty-loving folks in Mississippi:

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.

It’s hard to imagine a less educated or moral position on the Confederacy than to suggest it was about liberty. It was a collection of states so committed to the idea that other human beings were not human that they split off to form their own oppressive, brutal regime.

I point out this post by Representative Manzella not to shame her, but as a reminder that this is hardly the first time she has expressed views that align with the extremist right. She endorsed the occupiers of the Malheur refuge, going so far to publicly and approvingly link them to armed militias. She’s endorsed Montana secession, endorsed the radical agenda of the American Lands Council, and thinks that animal shelter workers are “terrorists.”

Despite all this, Manzella has risen to prominence in the Montana Republican Party. Instead of censure and ridicule, she has received accolades and was even selected as a delegate the national convention.

Manzella represents a wing of the Montana Republican Party that’s growing in power and somehow avoiding serious scrutiny outside of the blogs. The ascendance of the Know-Nothing, anti-government wing of the Montana GOP represents a serious threat to our state and I just can’t understand why there hasn’t been more scrutiny of the positions these extremists have taken publicly.

Being ignorant about the Civil War is hardly a critical matter. As a symptom of Representative Manzella’s extremist views–as well as the transformation of the Republican Party–demands our attention, though. Let’s hope that one positive outcome of the tragedy of Charlottesville might be the press realizing that the people who hold and promote these views need to be exposed for who they are.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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