A tangled path to extremism: desperation, resentment, and rebellion in rural Montana
Dunn, Jennifer Anne
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In the closing decades of the twentieth century, the American West saw an increase in anti-government and white supremacy extremism. Montana had a number of events where residents resisted the federal government culminating in the Montana Freemen, a group who engaged in an 81-day armed standoff with the FBI in the spring and summer of 1996. Why were western residents so angry at the federal government who they believed was, at best, ignoring rural western communities, and at worst, threatening their liberty and their lives? To answer this question, I examined three rural Montana communities - Denton, Jordan and Libby - each of whom clashed with the government at the end of the century. While these conflicts developed for different reasons, residents' responses to the encounters and the regulations imposed on them illustrate a continuum ranging from resigned irritation, to urgent pleas for help, to outright rebellion. In this dissertation, I argue that the study of the 1990s in Montana reveals the development of anti-government extremism. To understand how western residents' frustrations and concerns coalesced into this directed anger, I examine three rural communities in Montana - Libby, Jordan, and Denton - whose residents were frustrated with federal regulation and believed not only that they had been forgotten by the government, unions, academics, and urbanites but that those groups were working against them. The residents of these towns lived and worked in resource communities and supplied the materials that built post-World War II America. They believed that their communities and economies had been sacrificed and forgotten. The residents in these rural town expressed their anger in different ways, but it did not dissipate after the decade ended. Their responses reveal the mounting tension, frustration, and anger that existed in the last decade of the twentieth century and highlight a throughline of connection and historical significance to anti-government extremist groups that continue to threaten democracy today.