Matt Rosendale, Kirk MacKenzie, the Defend Rural America movement, and the craziness of Montana politics

Most people from the coasts tend to not understand Montana at all; they think it’s either a place with a lot of free masons, a place with maybe some cool national parks, a place where you can probably drive 90 MPH and no one will care, and a place kinda close to the other places one might go skiing, like Idaho or Colorado. For someone in Boston or NYC, Montana is a vast wasteland in many respects, even if they won’t openly say that.

Stories like this one, however convoluted, probably play into that.

Here’s the deal: Matt Rosendale is a State Senator in Montana; he’s also running for Congress in 2014 to replace Steve Daines, who is running for Senate (Montana has an at-large congressional seat, meaning they send three people total to D.C.) There are six GOP candidates on the primary side — with more considering entering — so it’s a tight little battle coming this summer and fall. Rosendale has a solid shot, but back in mid-December, he attended a presentation by Kirk MacKenzie, who is the head of the Defend Rural America movement (you can probably see where this is going). Here’s one thing MacKenzie said at this meeting:

“The Endangered Species Act is a fraud,” he said. “…As it turns out the spotted owl is not a species. It turns out that barred owls, which are doing just fine, are the same species as spotted owls.”

MacKenzie explained that these plots are the work of what he calls “neo-environmentalists.” “What is the single biggest problem in rural America?” he asked rhetorically during his speech. “Neo-environmentalism. I am not talking about environmentalism. I am talking about a political movement that disguises itself in a green cloak … If you peel it back, you will see what I have been seeing … watermelons, green on the outside, red on the inside … In my opinion, they are domestic terrorists.”

Mackenzie is a former Ross Perot aide who opens presentations by saying he’s “one of the few good ones” from the San Francisco area. Essentially, he believes that the federal government and shadow groups of bankers are destroying the rights of locals around the Mountain West — and he talks about how to fight back.

Here’s their website, and here’s some of the things in their store. Another prominent Defend Rural America speaker, Doyel Shamley, hosts a new world order conspiracy theory program that kind of looks like The Undertaker’s entrance music in WWE:

There are ties between Shamley and the Montana GOP party, as well as ties between other Defend Rural America members and the Montana GOP. Back in 2010, there was a ‘Liberty Convention’ in Montana that featured Red Beckman as a headline speaker; Beckman is often referenced on the Defend Rural America website as a source for some of their ideas and beliefs. He also once wrote a book claiming the Holocaust was in God’s plan — punishment for the Jews, because they all (to a tee) worship the devil. Here’s some video from the Montana Liberty Convention:

For his part, Rosendale is now trying to distance himself from this collection of individuals, telling Mother Jones that:

“I don’t believe that using inflammatory rhetoric on either side of a debate is productive,” he said in an email. “I try to use, and furthermore, strive to focus on the actual facts surrounding and impacting any issue.”

The other major player in all this is Jennifer Fielder; she’s not running for Congress but she is a Montana state senator and the vice-chairwoman of the Montana GOP. She seems to have ties to militias and is fine putting some of these crackpot speakers on agendas (look at one of the Cowgirl Blog links above). Northwest Liberty News, which uploads a bunch of videos to YouTube on the topic of preserving freedom in parts of Montana, has deemed her one of the legislators that goes above and beyond:

This Congressional seat race in Montana should be an interesting one to watch, especially if we can suss out more information about different candidates’ ties to some of these more extreme views — and oh. Wait. Did he mention that Denny Rehberg may be running for the Montana Congress seat? He used to hold it, actually. What’s he been doing since? Oh, nada mas. He now operates a Burger King. We lost the ability to see Cheney vs. Enzi in that part of the country, so the Montana Congressional race could be truly great theater.

Ted Bauer