by Oliver Poole

News.telegraph.co.uk 4/20/02

"Rural America declares war on 'green fascists'
By Oliver Poole
(Filed: 20/04/2002)

"THE crowd cheered as the flames took hold of the 15ft-high green swastika. With the Stars and Stripes waving above their heads, they celebrated as the structure they had erected as a symbol of the hated environmental campaigners burned.

In this fiercely independent part of north-west Montana, a war is being waged - a war that the locals claim is to protect their jobs, their traditional hunting and fishing rights and above all the right to live the way they want to.

Their enemy is the raft of bureaucratic initiatives that have stopped them logging the forests that used to provide them with an income, the rules that ban them from riding their snow mobiles in case it disturbs sleeping bears, the regulations that in many districts prevent them digging up a worm to use for fishing.

It is a battle that drew around 1,000 people to a field outside the town of Kalispell yesterday morning for the latest demonstration against what they call eco-fascism.

"Rural America is screaming right now and people who can't hear the roar have to be deaf," said the rally's organiser, local DJ John Stokes. "We want to show people we are sick and tired of this green crap."

Amid the crowd gathered in front of him and in the bars and shops of the surrounding area there was no mistaking the anger against the "outsiders" who had come armed with government funds and out-of-state donations to impose the new restrictions.

Donna Thornton, a local logger, said a way of life was disappearing. "The majority of folks around here are people who are fed up with being controlled by some place like Washington DC. People are frustrated."

In Montana it is a warning that no one takes lightly. In recent years the state has been home to both Ted Kaczynski - the Unabomber - and also the Freemen, a group that rejected government authority and engaged in a stand-off with the FBI that lasted nearly three months. Officials at the Forest Service and eco-groups such as Earth First say their cars have been vandalised and they have received abusive late-night telephone calls and threatening mail.

One misspelt email sent to Keith Hammer, chairman of the Swan View Coalition, a conservation group, warned: "You diserve everything your going to recieve, such as a train ride, like the Jews got to take."

Police intervened to warn off some of the authors of hate mail. But last month a new militia group was identified in the region called Project 7.

After an armed stand-off, police arrested a local called David Burgert, 38, who was discovered to have two trailers packed with guns, 30,000 rounds of ammunition, bomb-making material, body armour and survivalist gear.

With him was found a target list of police officers and public officials, many of whom had spoken in support of the environmentalist cause. Police also found plans to draw in the Montana National Guard and even Nato to spark a revolution by militia groups against the federal government.

Jim Dupont, sheriff of Flathead County in which Kalispell is located, said Burgert had intended to target outside organisations including the environmental bodies. "Had we not discovered what they were doing, I guess it could have been a serious thing," he said.

The tension can be traced to a decision by the federal government, which owns 82 per cent of land in the county, to turn the region into an environmentally protected region in the 1990s.

The result was the gradual implementation of restrictions on mining, the closure of forest roads, grazing restrictions and cutbacks in logging. The environmentalists insist the steps were essential to save a range of endangered species, including grizzly bears, and repair decades of damage caused to the fragile eco-system by logging and mining.

The result has been crippling job losses. From being the fourth wealthiest state per capita in the US in the 1960s, Montana is now the poorest. In the past decade around 250 lumber mills have closed.

Every morning in Kalispell, John Stokes hosts a three-hour talk show on local radio station Z-600 that fans the flames of smouldering resentment that local people feel towards the "green Nazis". Mr Stokes, 50, has called for environmentalists to be "rounded up and put in an internment camp".

To the concern of local authorities, the show is the most popular radio programme in the county. Burgert used to be among the dozens who regularly ring in and thank him for his efforts.

"It is time to realise that people have had enough," said Mr Stokes. "We are not going to just sit and watch the destruction of property and jobs and livelihoods and recreational opportunities and the economics of the state.

"That is the real crime being committed here. Compared to what they are doing, some wacko with a gun is hardly a threat to anyone."