Montana Viewpoint: The American ‘redoubt’ and Sanders County
Recently my home county of Sanders twice made national news, first for having the highest increase in Covid cases in the United States and more recently for a group of citizens pressuring a member of the Sanders County Board of Health into resigning because he stood up for what he was trained in and with which the crowd disagreed, namely medical science.
This is the kind of publicity that most communities would not want to have because it would serve as a deterrent to the economic growth of an area. Well, that would have been the case years ago, but times change, and news like this may now be seen more positively by those who favor anti-government expression, especially when used to bully those who disagree with you out of office.
In 1981 a white nationalist group called the Aryan Nations took up residence in a compound near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. They recruited incarcerated felons into their membership and financed their activities with bank robberies. Residents in Northern Idaho were offended by the beliefs and presence of the Aryan Nations and said so.
One outspoken man, a Catholic priest, was in his home when it was pipe-bombed. His life was saved only by his being sheltered by a refrigerator. The group was opposed by local realtors (one Jewish) both for ethical and economic considerations. A reputation for violent extremism did not help in selling local property to out-of-state people.
In 1988, With the heat on in Idaho, the Aryan Nations gave a look to moving to a more sympathetic location, namely across the Idaho border to Sanders County, Montana. This was less than welcome news to the then current residents of the newly discovered Aryan promised land and they organized a meeting to discuss the situation and discourage the move.
Over 350 people assembled in the Noxon, Montana high school gym (which would have been a sellout crowd for a basketball game) to listen to speakers. My most vivid memory of the meeting was a young man with his belly hanging out under a dirty t-shirt marching around the gym with a sign that read “White Pride”.
We did not want our communities to become havens for ideological extremists and the Aryans got the message and stayed home. That was then.
The idea of a “White homeland” had been around for a while and the Inland Northwest was considered a likely place to achieve it, not by the residents but by outsiders looking for a place with few citizens of color. The whiteness of the Interior Northwest was the major attraction and was seen, incorrectly, as a sign that the local residents favored whiteness.
Whether promoted by racial hatred, anti-government feelings, survivalism, or some mixture of all, the idea was that the racially homogenous Inland Northwest should be where the last stand of whiteness could take place. It was named the American Redoubt, “redoubt” meaning fortress, or stronghold, or for some, last stand.
And now, that very kind of anti-government sentiment that caused the citizens of Northern Idaho and Western Montana to stand up to the Aryan Nations and say, “not here you don’t” in 1988 is a selling point for several real estate agencies soliciting anti-government buyers. Search for “redoubt realtors” for examples.
To look at the issue from a different angle, there is a concern amongst some about an issue called “white replacement” which in the minds of some conservative Caucasians means that people of color are being admitted to the United States to offset the influence of the white vote. That’s an old fear, recently revived and is now affecting voting rights and immigration policies.
But while they are worrying themselves silly about “replacement citizens” they are committing the same act on the current citizens of the areas to which they are moving by exercising their political muscle to make the place more to their liking.
So, the Inland Northwest is being transformed politically by new arrivals who are looking for a place where authority can be intimidated, not to say flouted, and news of a place where a crowd is allowed to bully volunteer boards into submission is a good indicator for them of a place to move to.
Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.