One of the first things a serious candidate for public office will do is to have staffers run an audit of his online presence to make sure the candidate doesn’t have any embarrassing information online. Whether that’s an errant like on an Instagram post or an unfortunate comment on a blog, candidates typically want to ensure that their online presence doesn’t offer the potential to offend a voter. Some candidates in Montana, like Steve Daines, spend an enormous amount of time and money obscuring their online history to confuse voters, but at a minimum, staffers will scour Facebook profiles to scrub anything potentially embarrassing.
And that’s what makes Matt Rosendale’s online so perplexing. Months into his ineffectual campaign for the U.S. Senate, his Facebook profile is loaded with likes for a range of controversial figures and organizations ranging from militant churches to an anti-Semitic bigot linked to anti-government activity in the Flathead. These likes, culled from Rosendale’s personal Facebook page, depict a candidate far from the Montana mainstream and deeply embedded in the most virulent, dangerous right-wing groups in the state.
It’s hard not to notice that Rosendale lists Chuck Baldwin, Baldwin’s Liberty Fellowship, and noted white supremacist Taylor Rose among the figures he likes. Baldwin is an especially dangerous fringe figure, one who moved his anti-government, radical-right congregation to the Flathead area in 2010. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Baldwin as an extremist, and little wonder, given his quotes about Jewish people and his apocalyptic rhetoric, if nothing else.
From the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“For the most part, Zionists control America’s television news networks, America’s major newspapers, the Federal Reserve and most of America’s major banking interests–as well as America’s entertainment and educational institutions–and even our legal institutions.”
“America is headed for an almost certain cataclysm. As Christians, we suspect that this cataclysm could include the judgment of God. As students of history, we believe that this cataclysm will most certainly include a fight between Big-Government globalists and freedom-loving, independent-minded patriots. I would even argue that this fight has already started.”
In a 2010 briefing, the Montana Human Rights Network explained just how Baldwin sees that apocalyptic outcome arriving, with a battle between states like Montana acting as the “tip of the spear” in an armed conflict with the federal government. Recent posts from Baldwin defend the heroic “men who led the War for Southern Independence,” condemn “Abraham Lincoln [beginning] the process that provided the framework for all of the sickos who are doing their best to completely destroy the sacrifice of our country’s founders,” intimate that the Las Vegas shootings were a plan to disarm America, and repeatedly defend the right of states to secede from the Union.
It’s crazy, dangerous stuff. And a Senate candidate should probably explain his association and/or connections with someone with such extreme views. As James Conner pointed out in 2014, too, Rosendale’s association with Baldwin goes beyond a simple Facebook like to actually speaking at a Baldwin rally.
Another of the organizations Rosendale has given his online endorsement is American Security Rally of Montana, a xenophobic collection of bigots who couch their terror of Muslims in security rhetoric. Of course, they’re also listed among the 20 extremist groups in Montana. Their Facebook page is filled with propaganda about the creeping danger of imaginary sharia law, conspiracy theories that would make Joe McCarthy proud about Muslim infiltration of the American government, and angry, racist videos posted by “patriots” in their cars. If you want to get a taste of their beliefs, enjoy this video (also featuring white supremacist Taylor Rose!) or this one.
I spoke with Travis McAdam at the Montana Human Rights Network, who told me that the American Security Rally of Montana is centered around “Islamophobic rhetoric that suggests all Muslims are terrorists and believe that there is a serious threat of war between Islam and the West.”
It seems reasonable, given his support for American Security Rally and the controversy over Roy Moore of Alabama, for a reporter to ask Mr. Rosendale if he is worried about sharia law and/or believes that Muslims have infiltrated the American government.
It might be tempting to dismiss the fact that Mr. Rosendale has chosen to give his online endorsement to individuals and groups like this, but that’s too easy. A careful search of Rosendale’s likes doesn’t reveal a person who, as some of us do, likes groups to keep an eye on them. All of his political and religious endorsements live in the same world of militant Christianity and hard conservative groups.
McAdam told me that it’s dangerous when “candidates and government officials appear to endorse these movements,” because given the current administration, “these radical right groups believe that this is their time to exert influence. Right now.”
It’s not hard to conclude that there is a potential symbiotic relationship between a candidate like Mr. Rosendale and the extremist movements he gives his tacit endorsement to. Rosendale can court critical hard-right voters essential for victory in the Republican primary while extremists like Baldwin, Rose, and the ASR of Montana can soften their images as extremists by pointing to “establishment” Republicans like Rosendale to normalize their views.
A cynical, but potentially effective strategy for both.
That Rosendale hasn’t excised these extremists from his personal Facebook profile suggests that he’s either a very unprepared, sloppy candidate or that he believes his support for them will help his candidacy. In either case, it seems fair for the media to begin asking Mr. Rosensale to explain these views and clarify to Montana voters just where he stands when it comes to hate.
(Oh, and Matt, if you clean up the page now, we’ve still got the screenshots. And we’ll be talking about some of your other peculiar likes in the weeks to come.)