Like most Montanans, I have watched the Congressional race between Greg Gianforte and Rob Quist with a combination of horror and fascination. Gianforte is full-on right wing fundamentalist, who has poured big money into a creationist museum here in Montana, and has stated that Noah built the ark when he was 600 years old, so there’s no reason people should expect social security. After spending the past few years traveling every corner of our state and reading about our history for my most recent book, Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey, I saw Gianforte as a reincarnation of many of the more nefarious characters in our state’s history—namely, men who have come here and benefited from our resources to make themselves very very wealthy.
Quist is an amiable fellow, part of one of the most successful bands to come out of Montana, but many in the Democratic ranks were disappointed he was chosen over Amanda Curtis, who gave Steve Daines an impressive run in 2014 after John Walsh was forced to drop out of the race when it was revealed that he cheated on a college research paper. Which of course seems quaint in comparison to recent events. But Quist endured a ridiculous series of personal attacks, including one that he smoked pot (!!!), with admirable aplomb. And he wasn’t afraid to express support of issues that aren’t always popular in Montana. So I became a believer.
When Greg Gianforte assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs the night before the election, it made the national news, and Gianforte’s camp immediately put out their version of the story, which completely contracted the audio recording. Gianforte claims that he was in a private room, that he asked Jacobs to leave, and that he also asked him to lower his recorder. Witnesses to the event (three Fox News staffers) corroborated Jacobs’ version, and nowhere on the recording does Gianforte ask him to leave the room or lower the recorder. Oh, unless you count the part where he tells him to ‘get the hell out of here’ after the assault.
Perhaps the most troubling part of this story is how many Montanans are still coming out to support Gianforte. And many of those expressing their support on his facebook cite the following reason—he stood up for himself. Which would imply that Gianforte was somehow the one under attack.
Which leads me to what I have learned from Greg Gianforte through this whole series of events. I’ve always been puzzled by this claim that Christians are under attack in America, and I think I finally understand what they mean. Jacobs was asking Gianforte to clarify his views about the recent Congressional vote on Health Care, an issue Gianforte has expertly dodged throughout the election. It is more than reasonable to wonder what a future member of Congress thinks about an issue that he is likely to face if he’s elected. So after Gianforte refused once again to answer, saying “I’ll talk about that later,” Jacobs reasonably stated “There’s not going to be time,” at which point Gianforte suddenly, according to the Fox witnesses, “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” The Fox reporter went on to state that she “watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”
So apparently, the attack on Gianforte came in the form of a question that made him uncomfortable. A question he didn’t like. Which seems to be a growing trend in our political arena, with our Chief Executive banning certain members of the press, and Sean Spicer making a point of picking and choosing who will be allowed to ask questions.
The fascinating part of this trend is that this same group of people tend to be the ones who are yelling the loudest about the First Amendment, and freedom of speech, in defense of whatever racist or sexist views suit their purposes. So apparently, if they say something that makes the rest of us uncomfortable, that’s covered by the Constitution. But if the opposite occurs, we are somehow persecuting them. It’s the kind of logic your average eight-year-old can see right through, but they have made this such a persistent mantra over the course of the last twenty years that thousands of Americans actually believe it.
So I’d like to extend my thanks to Greg Gianforte and his people for helping me get a better grasp on what I’m doing wrong. I’ve been so blinded by my own personal agenda of making sure women and people of color and people with alternative sexual preferences get treated with the same amount of respect that old white guys like me get that I’ve overlooked the most persecuted people of all. And I apologize for that.