The Montana Human Rights Network is calling on the Department of Corrections to investigate state prison correctional officer Kelly Chambers over his alleged ties to White nationalism and how they may impact his position as a prison employee.
In a report about Chambers’ White nationalist connections released Tuesday, the Montana Human Rights Network said Chambers of Butte is a loyal follower of Butte’s Ron McVan, who worked with notorious White supremacist David Lane to create the religion “Wotanism,” which MHRN calls a racist version of Odinism.
“Because of this, the Montana Human Rights Network has asked the Montana Department of Corrections to investigate whether Chambers’ white nationalist beliefs impact his job performance and interactions with incarcerated people at the Montana State Prison,” the report reads.
Wotan is the German name for the Norse god Odin, and while MHRN says Wotanism is explicitly racist, it notes not all followers of Odinism and other neo-pagan religions are White supremacists.
In the report, MHRN said the state Department of Corrections would not comment on Chambers’ employment until it could see the report in its entirety. When reached by email Tuesday, the department would not comment on Chambers’ specific situation.
“The Montana Department of Corrections has a zero-tolerance policy for unlawful discrimination in the workplace. There are well-established processes for any staff or inmate at the Montana State Prison to report discriminatory behavior. The DOC continues to encourage any staff or inmate to use those processes if they feel they have been the subject of discrimination,” DOC spokesperson Carolynn Bright said via email. “Montana law prohibits the department from commenting on specific personnel matters, and the department notes that the report released by MHRN does not allege any unlawful workplace discrimination by any DOC staff.”
In 1995, McVan created Wotanism with Lane, a religion described by McVan as “an ancestral faith that puts race first.” Lane, who died in prison in 2007, was a White nationalist and member of the domestic terrorist group The Order, which was responsible for the 1984 assassination of Jewish radio host Alan Berg. Lane also came up with the “14 words” a popular white supremacist slogan used by groups like White Lives Matter.
“Wotanism is a little niche sector in the hardcore White nationalist movement sector,” said Travis McAdam, director of combating White nationalism and defending democracy at MHRN. “It’s essentially McVan working with Lane to take their long-time White nationalist beliefs, dress them up, and sell them as religion. They have basically taken Norse mythology and infused it with White supremacy and antisemitism.”
MHRN learned about Chambers in March of 2021 after he hosted a “gathering of white nationalist neo-pagans” in Butte and has been digging into his and McVan’s relationship for the past year. And since the first gathering last March, McVan followers and White nationalists have returned to Butte for similar gatherings in November of 2021 and January 2022, with plans for another gathering in late August, McAdam.
Social media posts by Chambers are further proof of his connection to McVan and White nationalism, MHRN said in the report. In one post, the report said Chambers wrote “Heil to you sir!” to McVan, and said to McVan online “You truly are one of the great men of our faith.” In another post, Chambers thanked McVan for sacrificing so much for ‘the sake of our culture.’”
Chambers will also relay messages to Facebook for McVan, who was banned from the platform for life in October 2021, according to the report. And on Youtube, there are multiple videos of McVan and Chambers recording music together, which according to MHRN include obscure Aryan anthems.
Chambers did not respond to a Facebook message requesting an interview and comment regarding the report.
On April 19, 2021, McAdam wrote a letter to DOC Director Brian Gootkin informing him about Chambers’ ties to Wotanism and white nationalism. According to the letter, 20% of Wotanism followers are incarcerated and the religion uses prisons as a pipeline to recruit new members.
“Given Wotanism’s basis in white nationalism and its focus on prison recruitment, it’s incredibly troubling that Kelly Chambers sponsored the event in Butte,” the letter said. “Clearly, having a White nationalist serving as an officer at the Montana State Prison is problematic on many levels.”
MHRN says Chambers’ connections coupled with his employment at the state prison raises concerns over how he interacts with incarcerated people of color, if he has tried to spread Wotanism in the state prison and if he is giving special treatment to inmates who have similar White nationalist views.
According to MHRN, the Department of Corrections acknowledged receipt of the letter but did not indicate it had looked into the concerns raised by the organization. Bright confirmed Gootkin had received the letter but did not say if the department was looking into potential issues raised by MHRN.
“Having a McVan follower like Kelly Chambers working in the state prison is highly problematic, and we’re sure the Department of Corrections will want to address it,” the letter says.
And MHRN said Chambers’ employment at MSP is part of a larger reckoning happening at law enforcement agencies across the country after reports have bubbled to the surface since the Jan. 6 insurrection that White nationalists and/or militia supporters are among those employed at local jails, police departments and other law enforcement agencies. Out of the 324 arrests in the Capitol riot made by March 22, 2021, 43 — 7.5% — were current or former first responders or military veterans, according to USA TODAY.
Chambers has publicly denied being a white supremacist, after the Montana Standard reported Chambers’ Wotanism gathering in March of 2021, he said, “we know that we most definitely are not White supremacist,” according to Tuesday’s report. But in his denials, the report said Chambers repeats many white nationalist talking points, like saying he won’t apologize for being White, complaining about unfair persecution against the White race and claiming his beliefs are based solely on celebrating his Northern European (White) heritage.
If Chambers is genuinely not a White nationalist, MHRN said in the report that he needs to renounce McVan and Wotanism publicly and apologize for and stop holding events that bring McVan loyalists to Butte.
“He needs to be publicly accountable for what he’s done,” McAdam said. “We hope that in the case of his role at the prison, we would hope (an investigation) finds it is not impacting the way he is doing his job; but in a slightly larger sense, we are hoping this is a wake-up call for Kelly Chambers.”