Rep. Greg Gianforte said he might attend a conference organized by anti-government extremists — including a leader of the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016 — this weekend in Whitefish, Mont.
During an interview on the “Voices of Montana” radio show Oct. 3, Gianforte, R-Mont., said he would attend the event if circumstances allowed.
“If I can be there, I’ll be there,” Gianforte replied to Laura Lee O’Neil, a conference organizer who called into the show. He then talked about the work he has done in Congress on property rights.
The conference, sponsored by a group called This West Is OUR West, will focus on “exploring land, water, property and civil rights in the Western States,” according to the group’s website.
Scheduled speakers include Jeanette Finicum, whose husband, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed during the armed militia occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Ore., in 2016, and Ammon Bundy, who led the occupation and was involved in the 2014 standoff with federal law enforcement over his family’s cattle-grazing in Nevada.
The group’s website claims people in western states “have targets on our backs as the Executive Branch of the federal government, Greenies, Globalists and bureaucratic agencies come after our land and water in the Western States.”
The group also promotes conspiracy theories and posted a list of “deep state enemies” from both parties conspiring to stage a “military coup” against President Donald Trump after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Elaine Willman, a prominent anti-American Indian activist, is also scheduled to speak at Saturday’s event. In an essay posted on the group’s website, Willman denounced Native Americans as a “special-preference racial entity that annually demands and takes ever-increasing resources from American taxpayers and provides nearly zero in return.”
Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, a Republican who visited with the Malheur occupiers and organized a chapter of the anti-Muslim group ACT for America, is also scheduled to speak.
The Southern Poverty Law Center designated ACT for America as a “hate group” and calls it the “largest anti-Muslim group in America.”
Gianforte himself has also criticized Native Americans. According to the Great Falls Tribune, Gianforte once argued that the recipe for a thriving free market – respect for the rule of law, property rights, and personal ambition – were not present on Montana reservations.
“These things exist in very limited forms on these reservations,” Gianforte said.
Gianforte was elected in a special election in 2017. Late in the campaign, he was charged with misdemeanor assault on a reporter for The Guardian, who accused the candidate of body slamming him after he attempted to ask a question.
Gianforte won the election with a little more than 50 percent of the vote and later pleaded guilty to the assault. He was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and a $300 fine.