Whitefish residents want city to create anti-hate ordinance
KALISPELL, Mont. - Whitefish residents want the city to pass a no-hate ordinance to show their opposition to a possible white supremacist group in the Flathead Valley.
The National Policy Institute is led by Richard Spencer. According to the group's website, they are an independent think tank dedicated to the identity and future of European people in the United States. Some people refer to them as a white supremacist group.
Now, opponents want a law that would prevent the group from gathering or holding conferences to carry out what they call hate speech.
Whitefish City Council Member Richard Hildner knows what more than 100 people want -- those who packed City Hall this week.
"The request was some kind of an ordinance that would send a clear message and have consequences for hateful activities in Whitefish," Hildner said.
Problem is, it is not clear that this is something that can be legislated.
"It's going to be, as we move forward and consider an ordinance, that we protect and not violate any of the provisions of the first amendment," Hildner said.
That includes freedom of speech and freedom to assemble -- rights every American has no matter what.
"Speech is one of those protected rights of the first amendment, no matter how abhorrent we might find them," Hildner noted.
All the concern is over the National Policy Institute. On its website the group says it is not based in Montana and does not plan on holding conferences here.
Even if members did gather and the city had an anti-hate ordinance in effect, it is unclear what would happen.
"Probably nothing would happen for Mr. Spencer, because we want to make sure everyone's rights are protected, including Mr. Spencer's rights, which are to conduct a business and enjoy all the freedoms and liberties provided by the constitution," Hildner said.
Hildner and other council members plan to try to find a way to protect all citizens' rights.
"That's why I pledged to city council after the public comment that I'm committed to finding that ground," he said.
The man whose group sparked the debate called NBC Montana. Richard Spencer says he isn't trying to change Whitefish or hold gatherings in the city.
"I think there are a lot of people, whether they identify with the left or the right, that will look at this and say ‘I disagree with Richard Spencer' or 'I agree with Richard Spencer' or 'I have no idea who Richard Spencer is, but he is obeying the law, he publishes books and you want to ban this person or make it illegal to do business with Richard Spencer.' That is not how we do things in this country," Spencer said.
The Whitefish City Council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance proposal, and they'll have to vote several times before any type of ordinance is passed.