As Matt Rosendale rose to prominence in Montana politics, he repeatedly leaned on Facebook groups trafficking in extremist and racist rhetoric and campaigned alongside white supremacist and anti-gay leaders to bolster his career.
During Rosendale’s rise from an obscure state legislator to state auditor and now the GOP nominee for Senate, he was an administrator of a 95,000-member Facebook group where conservatives share racist and incendiary posts. He was also forging connections with well-known racists, bigots and white supremacists that have appeared to call for the murders of gay people and President Barack Obama.
As a “moderator,” or high-level administrator, of the Facebook group, simply named Tea Party, Rosendale had the authority to police posts. In the Tea Party Facebook group, conservatives have shared posts targeting African-Americans, school-shooting victims and immigrants.
Rosendale left the group after the American Ledger reported Wednesday that Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., was listed as a moderator of the group and Media Matters for America reported Thursday that Rosendale and four other Republican candidates were involved in the group.
As of Monday, Rosendale’s campaign manager, Kendall Cotton, was still listed as a member of the group.
Cultivating the Support of Extremists
In past campaigns, Rosendale has leaned on extremists known for their racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic views for political support.
In 2014, during his unsuccessful bid for Congress, Rosendale embraced controversial pastor Chuck Baldwin, a racist and anti-Semitic leader of “hardcore white supremacists,” according to the Montana Human Rights Network. In February 2014, Rosendale attended a service at Baldwin’s church, the Liberty Fellowship. Two months later, Rosendale and Baldwin spoke at a rally hosted by Oath Keepers, “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the U.S.,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Baldwin has warned that Jews present a “clear and present danger” to Americans and claims that Zionists control the media, Hollywood and the federal government. Just as frequently, he fulminated against gays and lesbians. In a 2006 column, he wrote, “I believe homosexuality is moral perversion and deserves no special consideration under the law.”
Baldwin is also a Confederate sympathizer who has defended and praised the “men who led the war for southern independence.” In 2006, Baldwin said, “I believe the South was right in the War Between the States, and I am not a racist.”
The neo-Nazi website Stormfront has praised Baldwin’s sermons and columns.
On Facebook, Rosendale “liked” Chuck Baldwin’s promotional page from his personal account as of last year. Rosendale’s personal Facebook account is now private, and American Ledger cannot determine whether he still likes Baldwin’s page.
In 2016, during his successful campaign for state auditor, Rosendale held a campaign event with legislative candidate Taylor Rose, calling him “the outstanding candidate” in the district. However, Rose is a white supremacist who has worked for far-right European political parties and served as vice president of a white nationalist campus group called Youth for Western Civilization, according to SPLC.
“Taylor Rose likes to project a fresh-scrubbed, wholesome image to his fellow Montanans,” SPLC reports. However, Taylor has a “long history of deep involvement with the white nationalist movement.”
Rose is the author of the 2012 book “Return of the Right: How the Political Right is Taking Back Western Civilization,” which argued “western humanists” were engaged in a conspiracy to “institute a radical, multicultural, New World Order agenda.”
Still Embracing Fringe Elements
Rosendale’s Senate campaign has also has close ties to the fringe of the conservative movement.
Earlier this month, Rosendale’s campaign touted a letter to the editor by Brian Kenat, a self-identified “conservative activist” who often takes to social media to air his grievances against gays and lesbians.
“Every gay person who has chosen that lifestyle were [sic] drugged up, irresponsible, overgrown children,” Kenat wrote on Facebook in 2016. “Homosexuality is a choice of behavior, just as being an asshole or a bitch: none of which deserve preferred legal or social status,” he wrote in another post around the same time.
In July, Rosendale’s official Twitter account issued a photo of Rosendale with Tim Ravndnal, who was kicked out of a Montana conservative group after he called for the murder of gay people.
This spring, Rosendale announced the appointment of Ric Holden as an agricultural advisor to his campaign. As a state legislator in the mid-1990s, Holden sponsored an amendment to “require gay men and lesbians to register as felony sex offenders.”
A few weeks later, Rosendale campaigned with state Sen. David Howard, who has “called for President Obama to be killed like Trayvon Martin was,” according to The Montana Post, and who believes “a lesbian is someone who has been mentally impaired.”
Rosendale is also a member of two other Facebook groups rife with racist content: Citizens for a Better Helena and Free Montana Project: 2018 Elections.
In January 2018, one of Rosendale’s fellow Citizens For A Better Helena members shared a post that read, “Nigger isn’t a color, it’s a pluralist/globalist/communistic acceptable, sustainable, dumb down attitude of ‘you owe me, you must think like me or else!’”