In Sept. 2009 comedian Joe Lipari returned to his New York apartment after spending several hours at a nearby Apple Store. Lipari went to the store to get his malfunctioning iPhone fixed, but when the concierges ignored him for hours, the frustrated Lipari returned home and flipped on the tube.
As Lipari tells the story the movie “Fight Club” was on. There’s a scene in the film where Edward Norton’s character leaves a copy of the Fight Club rules (you know: “The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club) on the copy machine.
In the scene Norton warns his boss to be careful who he talks to about the document he found on the machine or….
“…the button-down, Oxford-cloth psycho might just snap, and then stalk from office to office with an Armalite AR-10 carbine gas-powered semi-automatic weapon, pumping round after round into colleagues and co-workers…”
Lipari, stoned and amused with himself, paraphrased the quote on Facebook but inserted something about the Apple Store concierges in the post.
Soon thereafter he answered a knock at his door and was greeted by fully armed members of the New York City S.W.A.T. team with their MP5 machine guns drawn.
Lipari was charged with making terrorist threats and spent the better part of the next two years in court trying to clear his name.
So what does this anecdote have to do with Montana?
I bring it up because it makes me wonder what’s going to happen to Steve Connly, the Montana man who not only sent “hate mail” (his words) to the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies in which he specifically threatened gun violence, but who also has a habit of threatening the President of the United States on his Facebook page:
(WARNING - EXPLICIT RACIST LANGUAGE)
“Should be anti obama armory.. Barack Obama Thats right pretty nigger, millions more where these came from, just you wait.. your day will come.. and an fyi, I do not call you nigger simply because you are black.. It is because you fit the TRUE definition of a NIGGER.. Which SLAVES used to call the MASTERS before they were freed. Thats right you are a true NIGGER.”
And then there’s this gem:
“An fyi, I am probably going to be kicked off facebook again very soon. Been trolling obama's page and saying many things which should get him ticked off. Serves him right. I say execute that bastard AT the WWII memorial that he has thrown such a big fit about keeping us away from. FEDERAL LAND IS OUR LAND NOT YOURS YOU GREEDY BASTARD and you cannot keep us out of it. WE pay your overly extravagant paycheck, now WE need to hold you accountable for your actions AGAINST the constitution and AGAINST the american people. DO NOT BE FOOLED SHEEPLE, if he is not impeached this year we will have civil war. His actions prove this point. When he doesn't get his way, he throws a fit and takes it out on american people. WE WILL PUSH BACK mark my words little man, your day will come.”
How do I know the Steve Connly who made these Facebook threats against the President is the same guy who wrote to the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and said he would “love the chance” to use guns on them?
Because he admitted it on the Montana Logging Facebook page:
After the Tribune published the story of Connly’s threat, a few like-minded souls took to the Trib’s comment section to pile on the treats:
Mike Prester, of Belgrade, thinks a “shooting would be to [sic] good!!!!”
So all of this has got me wondering…. if a New York City comedian can be charged with making terrorist threats and spend the better part of two years in court for posting a paraphrased movie quote on his Facebook page, what happens to Montanans who not only make specific threats of violence against individuals, but also generalized violent threats against the President of the United States?
It’s not hard to imagine that those on the receiving end of threats of deadly force –- or their families -- are terrified. Or at least that is the intention of the threat, isn’t it?
FBI spokeswoman Patricia Speelman declined via email to comment on the status of the case other than to say:
“The FBI takes threats very seriously and investigates them thoroughly with the assistance of our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners.”
For those who might be tempted to dismiss these threatening comments as “just talk,” consider the following:
According to environmental investigative group Global Witness, more than 700 environmental activists, journalists and community members were murdered worldwide between 2002-2011.
In Montana environmentalists and conservation advocates know too-well the threat of violence.
“In the Bitterroot, at least one environmentalist has received death threats for his opposition to timber sales. Someone fired shots at another activist’s house, leaving bullet holes in a fence. The home of yet another activist was burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. Still another activist was thrown off his job when his employer learned of his involvement with environmental politics. At a public meeting on a grizzly reintroduction plan in Salmon, Idaho, one pro-grizzly speaker was booed and jeered while someone from the audience yelled, ‘get a rope.’ Then, of course, there’s the suspicious death earlier this year of Flathead Valley activist Tary Mocabee.”
In 2001 Flathead Valley activist and Tary Mocabee mysteriously drowned in a shallow creek near her home. Mocabee’s friends told producers for the PBS documentary “The Fire Next Time” that some in the environmental community suspected foul play based on Mocabee’s environmental and social activism.
And lets not forget the not-too-distant past when a group of anti-government extremists from Connly’s neck of the woods plotted to murder a long list of public officials from cops to judges to dog catchers. The Project 7 day of reckoning was supposed to commence on Earth Day.
The alleged “mastermind” of Project 7 plot, David Burgert, is still missing after disappearing into the woods near the Montana-Idaho border after a shootout with police.
There’s plenty room for civil debate and disagreement about forest and wildlife management, health care, foreign and domestic policy, etc. But when the debate degrades to threats of physical violence, we have lost our way.
In America, and in Montana, civilized citizens settle their differences within the confines of the rules we agreed to through our representative democracy.
When someone steps outside those rules, when they resort to threats of violence in order to intimidate and violate the rights of those they disagree with, they should be met with those agreed upon rules and in short order.