Montana voters heading to the polls on Tuesday could be forgiven for having no idea that Republican Senate nominee Matt Rosendale once spoke at a rally held by an anti-government militia group.
Rosendale’s appearance at an April 2014 Oath Keepers rally in the town of Kalispell received little attention in the press, with the exception of one left-leaning local blog.
But photos on that blog, Flathead Memo, show Rosendale addressing the crowd before a giant black and yellow Oath Keepers banner. The Second Amendment rally was focused on supporting the Bundy family’s armed standoff against the federal government over their illegal use of public lands.
(Rosendale at the Second Amendment rally, Credit: James Connor, Flatheadmemo.com)
The Montana Post, another left-leaning local site, flagged Rosendale’s appearance in a recent article.
“As a candidate, he was invited by local legislators to speak at a Second Amendment rally,” a Rosendale campaign spokesman told TPM. “To be clear, he strongly disavows any inflamed rhetoric or political violence from either side of the political spectrum.”
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who maintained a law practice in Kalispell, did not respond to a request for comment about Rosendale’s relationship with his group.
Rosendale is currently locked in a tight race for the U.S. Senate seat held by incumbent Democrat Jon Tester. Despite Tester’s vote against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Rosendale’s recent tour through the state with Donald Trump Jr., the GOP nominee has consistently lagged in the polls. But the race remains close and is a critical hold for Democrats if they hope to regain a Senate majority.
Back in 2014, Rosendale was a state senator and a rising star in Montana politics, earning strong support from the far-right Tea Party. He was first elected to the state House in 2010, and then to the state Senate in 2012. He was elected state auditor in 2016.
The Oath Keepers rally featured fellow Republican lawmakers including former state Rep. Derek Skees, who recently hosted conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza at a local fundraiser, and Oath Keepers national chaplain Chuck Baldwin.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Baldwin as a “leader in the antigovernment ‘Patriot’ movement,” who leads an “apocalyptic mission.”
Baldwin has called homosexuality a “moral perversion,” said the “South was right in the War between the states,” claimed that Islam is a “bloody, murderous religion,” and said there “is no liberty without the semi-automatic rifle,” according to the SPLC.
(Baldwin speaks at Oath Keepers rally, Credit: James Connor, Flatheadmemo.com)
He became the Oath Keepers’ official chaplain in 2013, not long after moving to Montana, which he believes will be ground zero of the coming “cataclysm.”
The Oath Keepers gained notoriety in 2014 for offering armed support to the Bundys, a Nevada ranching family who illegally allowed their cattle to graze on public lands. The group also regularly offers “protection” to their ideological allies, sending armed members to monitor protests over the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and to support members of the Bundy family in their 2016 takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge.
Other Republican politicians, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. John Faso (R-NY), have appeared at Oath Keepers events before.