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Montana State University
Montana Hall serves as the main administration building for Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM
MSU campus stickered with white nationalist slogans
Tuesday, January 16, 2024
Montana Free Press

Stickers and fliers linked to a white nationalist group surfaced on the Montana State University campus late last month, the latest in a wave of such activity across multiple Montana communities.

MSU spokesperson Tracy Ellig told Montana Free Press the stickers — several of which referenced a group called Big Sky Active Club — were first noticed by campus staff December 30 and promptly removed. Ellig added that MSU law enforcement was informed of the situation, and that while an investigation is ongoing, “they’ve not identified a security concern.”

“No stickers or fliers of any kind are allowed on the exterior of any building,” Ellig said. “We immediately let university police know, and university facility services know to remove them. They have been removed.”

The stickers appeared in several locations on the roughly 1,170-acre campus, including on a flagpole and on a sign for MSU’s Montana Hall. According to photos shared with MTFP, the flagpole sticker featured phrases such as “white lives matter” and “preserve your culture.” Other fliers included references to the Big Sky Active Club, which the Southern Poverty Law Center and other human rights organizations have identified as part of a nationwide network of white supremacist groups. Research by the Portland-based racial policy advocacy nonprofit Western States Center indicates the Big Sky Active Club was founded in 2022 and has participated in gatherings targeting immigrant, LGBTQ and Jewish communities.

MSU is currently on its winter break, with the spring semester scheduled to begin January 17. The university is currently the subject of an ongoing federal civil rights investigation into multiple allegations that it failed to adequately respond to student reports of sex- and race-based discrimination during the 2022-23 school year, as well as a separate investigation opened last month into MSU’s response to incidents of harassment against Jewish and female students. Both investigations are unrelated to the recent incident involving the white nationalist stickers.

The appearance of white nationalist propaganda on the campus drew condemnation Saturday from the national Council on American-Islamic Relations, which urged community leaders and public officials to “repudiate all forms of bigotry.” Cherilyn DeVries, outgoing communications director for the Montana Human Rights Network, described the covert dissemination of such propaganda as “low-level terrorism” designed to intimidate community members and exaggerate the size and influence of the white nationalist movement. Speaking with MTFP this week, DeVries said there’s been an uptick in white nationalist activity over the past year coinciding with political debates over LGBTQ rights, immigration and the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

“They are seeing the rhetoric they’ve been promoting for years pop up on the state and national level,” DeVries said of white nationalist groups, “so they think they have a permission slip to be out in public saying racist, discriminatory and dehumanizing things.”

The group linked to the stickers at MSU has repeatedly appeared in news stories about white nationalist activity in Montana over the past year. Big Sky Active Club reportedly took credit last March for etching Nazi symbols at the Four Dances Special Recreation Management Area near Billings, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and named for a prominent Crow leader. Months later, residents of more than a dozen homes in Miles City reported receiving CDs in the mail containing audio and music files supporting the neo-Nazi movement.

In October, a peaceful rally outside the Missoula County Courthouse in support of Palestine was disrupted by a group of masked protesters carrying signs with neo-Nazi slogans, one of whom was arrested and cited for disorderly conduct. White supremacist activity was reported that same day outside Missoula’s Har Shalom synagogue, and according to the Missoulian, witnesses said they believed the masked individuals were members of an Active Club. Har Shalom leaders made similar observations in a message to congregation members.

A “demonstration report” posted online by White Lives Matter Montana last October listed five regional groups, including Big Sky Active Group, as participating in the demonstrations outside the Missoula courthouse and Har Shalom. 

Last month, the Great Falls Public Library learned that neo-Nazi propaganda stickers had been inserted into numerous books in its collection. As the Great Falls Tribune reported, library director Susie McIntyre informed the Great Falls City Commission that staff had removed the stickers from 16 books and searched sections of the library for more, but “we cannot be sure that they were all removed.” The library, along with the YWCA and other local organizations, promptly responded to the situation by launching a community campaign dubbed “Hate Has No Home Here.”

DeVries said the Montana Human Rights Network applauded the Great Falls campaign, as well as the Bozeman City Commission’s adoption last month of a city equity and inclusion plan. While MHRN considers all anti-semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ propaganda dangerous, DeVries said such beliefs are not representative of the values of the Montana communities in which they’ve appeared. 

“For MHRN, what we’re promoting is, ‘yes this is horrible and something we have to stay on top of,’ but we have to remember true community values are much more powerful than these people,” DeVries said.

As for the situation at MSU, Ellig said the university has not identified the person or people responsible for placing the materials around campus. “They were placed effectively anonymously,” Ellig said.

Alex Sakariassen is a 2008 graduate of the University of Montana’s School of Journalism, where he worked for four years at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and cut his journalistic teeth as a paid news intern for the Choteau Acantha for two summers. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in journalism and history, Sakariassen spent nearly 10 years covering environmental issues and state and federal politics for the alternative newsweekly Missoula Independent.

Note: This story originally appeared on Montana Free Press. It is published under a Creative Commons license.