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Antisemitic flyers distributed in Kalispell

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | December 5, 2023 12:00 AM

Walter Rowntree thought it was a piece of trash at first glance.

The Kalispell resident grabbed the plastic bag, weighted with rice and containing a folded piece of paper, from his front walk on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 26, and glanced around. When he spotted the same package in the front yards of several of his neighbors, he took it inside.

“I opened it up, of course this was over breakfast, and I was rather horrified,” Rowntree said of the flyer, which draws on an antisemitic conspiracy theory about the media.

The leaflet also featured several images of corporate CEOs, all with foreheads emblazoned with the Star of David. Rowntree described the manipulated images as “tainted with evil” and “just toxically wicked.”

“It’s clearly antisemitic and rather severely tribal. And I felt like it was done aggressively,” said Rowntree, who reported it to a community group aimed at fighting discrimination in the Flathead Valley. 

“Some people go for a walk in the park, take pictures of wildlife, play games with their family, have a baking project and I guess other people think it’s a fun way to spend your day off to toss hate literature in random neighborhoods,” Rowntree said.

The Montana Human Rights Network also received reports of the flyer, said Cherilyn DeVries, spokesperson for the group, last week. She said the individuals or group behind the leaflets remain unknown, but suspected it as the handiwork of one of several white nationalist groups the organization has monitored in recent years.

"We've seen it before in other towns, unfortunately,” DeVries wrote in an email. “[Montana Human Rights Network] has been encouraging local leaders to make statements denouncing racism and supporting shared community values like kindness, compassion, and opportunities for all people.”

The distribution of antisemitic materials comes just weeks after some Kalispell residents found xenophobic and anti-immigrant flyers on their doorsteps. City Councilor Ryan Hunter, who received that pamphlet, which featured an image of a homesteader aiming a rifle, denounced the message at an Oct. 9 Kalispell City Council meeting. 

“In the past, we’ve always been clear to condemn this messaging, so I just want to also reiterate that tonight and say that this type of messaging is not acceptable in our community,” Hunter said during a work session. “The folks that are being targeted in the community are welcome in this community. I just want to make that clear.”

The anti-semitic flyers also come as Jewish and Muslim civil rights groups track increases in reports of harassment in the United States since the outbreak of the Israeli-Hamas War. The Center on Extremism, part of the Anti-Defamation League, saw more than 300 reports of antisemitic acts from Oct. 7 to Oct. 23, according to the Associated Press. That’s up from 64 during the same period in 2022. 

Kalispell Police Chief Jordan Venezio said investigators began looking to see if the flyers were connected to criminal activity after fielding reports about the leaflets. The department also received word of antisemitic stickers plastered onto gas pumps around town, he said. 

“When we get these reports, we need to find out if there is any link to a crime,” Venezio said. “At this point, there are no crimes reported, property damage or violence reported.”

Rabbi Shneur Wolf of the Chabad of the Flathead Valley said he is aware of the leaflets, but had not heard any reports of members of the region’s Jewish community receiving them. It’s the first time in Wolf’s five years in the valley that antisemitic literature has been distributed to his knowledge, he said. 

Wolf noted the proximity of the appearance of the flyers to Hanukkah, which begins Dec. 7.

“The entire idea and topic of Hanukkah is dispelling darkness with light,” he said. “We don’t fight darkness with darkness; we fight darkness in adding in goodness, by adding a light in our world.”

The Jewish community plans to hold several menorah lightings in Kalispell and one at Depot Park in Whitefish at 4:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 10, Wolf said.

“We show the world we are all about positivity and adding in that kindness, in that light, and bringing a brighter future to our world,” he said. “We are going to stand strong; we are not going to be intimidated. This is just going to push for us to do more in adding goodness in our community.”

News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or dperkins@dailyinterlake.com.