Brandon Bryant Is A Political Prisoner

A storm has been brewing in Missoula, Montana. Income inequality city-wide has risen to the 33rd highest in the nation. Tension between the public and elected officials over runaway development and crony capitalism spills into the streets. And a world-renowned United States Air Force whistle-blower is jailed over his political statements to, and about, the Missoula City Council. There is a political prisoner in the Missoula County Detention Facility right now, and his name is Brandon Bryant. The storm isn’t coming. The storm is here.

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Bryant appears via video at his preliminary hearing

On Monday November 18th at the Missoula City Council chambers, a man stood up to address the council during general public comment. He identified himself as Staff Sergeant Brandon Bryant. He proceeded to relate a parable, about a rich man who had 100 sheep, and a poor man who had only one. The rich man observed that the poor man’s sheep was of significantly higher quality than any of his own. So the rich man decided to take the poor man’s sheep, kill it, and serve it to his guests, leaving the poor man with nothing.

A heavy silence hung over the crowded chamber as the officials of the city waited for this life-long resident to continue speaking. After a pause he asked them if they understood the story. His elected representatives did not respond. His next words sparked a fire storm that has embroiled Missoula’s political situation ever since. At the full-volume fitting of a Sergeant, Brandon Bryant bellowed, “YOU ARE THAT RICH MAN!”

As reported by Shannon MacNeil:

“Tempers boiled over at Monday night’s City Council meeting. One resident accused the city of taking from the poor to gild their own pockets.

“You are that rich man,” resident Brandon Bryant said. Mayor John Engen responded, “We are not going to yell in this chamber, sir.”

Then Bryant said, “You need to understand, Mister, what you have done. You have sold out this community — you have wrecked the trust in this community.”

Engen ended the exchange with, “We’re off until you can calm down; let’s take a five-minute breather.”

Bryant replied “You have wrecked the trust in this community!”

At this point the Mayor gaveled the meeting to a close and called a five-minute recess until order and calm could be restored in the chamber.

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The consequences of Staff Sergeant Brandon Bryant’s address to the Missoula City Council that evening have only grown with time. The situation continues to spin into wildly unexpected directions as every action taken by elected officials, and in-turn Missoula’s growing activist community, continues to generate a viral explosion of news and gossip, focusing the eyes of the world on Missoula, Montana once again.

And to think, this all started over Tax Increment Financing.

In October 2019 the Missoula City Council abruptly moved-up a meeting on a highly controversial development project that involved an enormous $16.5 million TIF giveaway for the proposed Riverfront Triangle project. This meeting was originally scheduled for 7:00 PM on Monday the 21st of October 2019. Monday evenings are the regular time for Missoula City Council meetings, when working people are able to attend public hearings and provide public comment. However, Mayor John Engen unexpectedly moved this particular meeting up by five days to Wednesday the 16th of October, rescheduling it from a Monday evening to the previous Wednesday afternoon.

Even the City Clerk was unaware of the reschedule. Mayor Engen stated a desire to “get ahead of the rumors” as reason for secretly precipitating the meeting to a time when most working people would be unable to attend. In fact, only one citizen was present to provide public comment in opposition to the project, which involved a $16.5 million dollar taxpayer handout to one of Missoula’s richest citizens: Wisconsin transplant and entertainment industry monopolist Nick Checota.

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Nick Checota, owner of “Logjam Presents”

Mayor Engen’s pro-development regime leans heavily on the “imperfect tool” of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to fund an ever-growing series of handouts to some of the city’s most successful entrepreneurs.

In brief, TIF is a program where districts of the city are designated as “blighted” thus creating TIF districts where tax funding that would otherwise go to roads, schools, emergency services, etc. are capped at their current levels. As the tax base in that district grows through increasing property values, the additional funds from property taxes are skimmed off the top and put into the TIF fund, which is then awarded to developers for projects meant to address urban blight. TIF districts are meant to sunset after fifteen years, but through various mechanisms City development officials in the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) can prevent districts from sun-setting and maintain their designation as “blighted” for decades (perhaps indefinitely).

The proposed TIF handout to the already fantastically-wealthy Checota entertainment empire is the largest in the state’s history, at $16.5 million. And as Bob Moore, a CFO for Fortune 500 companies stated in Council chambers last month, “[TIF] is nothing but taking taxpayer money and giving it to developers and builders, and calling it ‘investment’.”

Engen’s indiscretion of moving the meeting to avoid public scrutiny sparked an immediate and impassioned reaction from the community. Dozens of citizens emerged from the woodwork to articulate the well-documented perils of Tax Increment Financing, as well as its correlation with income inequality and trickle-down economics.

City Council member Jesse Ramos was, at the time, the only member of the Council who opposed the rampant use of TIF. But Missoula had an election in the weeks that followed, and the controversy provided Ramos with two anti-TIF allies on the Council. Council members John Contos and Sandra Vasecka were swept into office from a groundswell of citizen support for Team Liberty candidates.

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Contos, Ramos and Vasecka on election night (6 NOV 2019)

Over the following month a diverse collection of citizens began attending every single Council meeting, voicing their disparate perspectives and warning against the consequences of crony capitalism – consequences evident to every Missoulian. Among these citizens was Brandon Bryant, a life-long resident with a family history dating back four generations in Missoula. And from his very first appearance before the Council, he commanded attention and respect.

levitasBryant spoke more forcefully and more passionately than most are accustomed to in these dry proceedings, perhaps because Bryant cut his teeth as an orator on the world stage. As a US Air Force whistle-blower spilling dark secrets about the Pentagon’s drone program, Bryant addressed the United Nations, received a whistle-blower award in Germany, gave a TED Talk in Norway, and was interviewed on Democracy Now! as well as the BBC’s Hard Talk. He’s also been published in Gentleman’s Quarterly, The Sun, The Independent, etc.

 


As citizen awareness expanded throughout Missoula, citizen outrage continued to grow. Brandon Bryant happened to find himself at the forefront of a swelling scandal that was pouring over into Council chambers in the form of public comment. This collective outrage soon grew to the point where meetings that usually took one or two hours were now lasting five hours or more. One particularly well-attended City Council meeting beginning on Monday evening at 7:00 PM lasted until nearly 2:00 AM the following Tuesday.

Meanwhile, all across Missoula, hundreds of posters appeared literally overnight with the newly fallen snow. Masquerading as a missing cat poster, these posters turned out to be an explanation and indictment of the Tax Increment Financing policies running rampant in Missoula’s City Government.

At every turn, officials and media alike attempted to label Bryant and other TIF activists as an organized group lobbying for political reform. But that overly simplistic narrative exposes itself as deliberately misleading once you begin to peel back the layers.

Bryant was only one among dozens of citizens voicing an emotionally-charged opposition to the agenda of the City Council. All citizens that attended did so for a variety of different reasons, and they all spoke for themselves. The only “group” Brandon Bryant was part of is the citizenry of Missoula, many of whom share his passionate opposition to Mayor Engen’s disastrous status quo policies.


In December of 2019 Bryant posted a video diary to his Youtube page, musing at length about his frustrations, not only with the City Council, but with all the forces he has opposed throughout his career in the military, as well as his life as a whistle-blower and disabled veteran. The contents of that video are impossible to defend. Bryant rambles tangentially and menacingly about spiritual warfare on people and organizations he sees as evil. He vows to destroy those he sees as his enemies.

Kidston1Bryant himself explains these video diaries (which he has been posting on Youtube for years) are part of his therapeutic process he engages with as a disabled veteran who received a traumatic brain injury and suffers from intense PTSD. He cautions that his vlogs are meant to vent his depression and frustration. He also clearly states that while he may use extreme language, threats of physical violence against anyone can only be construed by extracting his statements from their larger context, that context being a spiritual and political war he means to wage; not a physical one.

Bryant also stated at the 8 January committee meeting that upon leaving the military he had “vowed to never again take a human life”, a solemn oath he swore as a direct consequence of collateral damage he himself was responsible for as a member of the drone program.

He carried a wooden stick to the podium, carved in the shape of a sword. He identified it as a bokken; a wooden practice sword used by Japanese masters to train their skills for the blade. He said he carried it as a reminder of his vow of nonviolence.

Bryant announced his intention to rhetorically indict the use of so-called “imperfect tools” with metaphor. He compared the wooden practice sword to the City’s tax collection scheme vis-a-vis Tax Increment Financing. Many council members had publicly stated in the months and years prior that TIF may be an “imperfect tool” but it’s “the only tool we have”. Bryant claimed that the stick carved in the shape of a sword would be an imperfect tool indeed if required to serve the function of a sword, and he cautioned that the use of imperfect tools could only create imperfect results.

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At the time his speech was greeted with the same kind of bored tolerance that many citizens have come to expect from the Missoula City Council. No tempers were raised at this meeting. No one seemed to feel threatened or afraid. The Police officer present at the meeting didn’t so much as bat an eyelash. Indeed, as a disabled veteran with a chronic leg injury, Bryant usually carries a walking stick for mobility anyway. But no one at the time suspected that this address, paired with the previous outburst and aforementioned video diary, would be used to mobilize a political attack on Brandon Bryant resulting in a judicial order excluding him from all city property in his home town.


Enter Rick Rynearson.

rickLike Bryant, Rynearson is also an Air Force veteran who worked in the drone program. Retired from the Air Force as a Major, Rynearson now wages a personal war against Brandon Bryant. From his home on Bainbridge Island in Seattle, he has stalked Bryant’s every move ever since Bryant became a whistle-blower. Rynearson operates his own Youtube channel (“Pick Your Battles“), which for the last year has been dedicated exclusively to showcasing the most shocking and disturbing moments from Brandon Bryant’s video journals. Unbeknownst to Brandon Bryant or any of the other TIF activists in Missoula, Rynearson had worked his magic with Bryant’s December video journal, selecting a juicy nugget that suggested Bryant intended to “eliminate” his enemies, including the City Council.

Rynearson then sent his edited version of Bryant’s video to members of the City Council, igniting a firestorm of controversy, the consequences of which are still unfolding.

This latest batch of small-town drama began when Ward 1 Council Member Heidi West and her husband, Adam West, contacted City Attorney Jim Nugent, citing “death threats” from Brandon Bryant. This prompted the City Attorney to restrict Bryant from attending any further Council meetings.

To the passive observer, the controversy ended there. Bryant verbally ceded his role in Council’s public comment observance, subsequently releasing a public statement apologizing for the video in-question, promising that threats of violence against Council members had never been his intention.

But one more factor had yet to be revealed to the fine citizens of Missoula, Montana; a factor that once disclosed would escalate the City’s battle against public involvement in government affairs to the level of a crisis.

Many months prior to these circumstances, during an autumn afternoon in 2019, Bryant was approached by someone claiming to be close to Mayor John Engen. This anonymous individual provided Bryant with a treasure trove of documents, hinting they could prove systemic corruption by the Mayor and his cronies. After he was barred from direct participation in Council meetings, Bryant leaked these documents to the media and they were published online soon after, on February 7th.

At the following Council meeting on February 10th a member of the public spoke to the council, describing Sergeant Bryant’s history and circumstances, admonishing them to help him instead of punishing him. Council Vice President Gwen Jones publicly stated that “efforts are being made” to connect Bryant with services.

But two days after the documents were published, Brandon Bryant was in jail, charged with “threats and undue influence in official and political matters”. A felony. And his bail was set at an absurd $100,000.

Bryant’s extraordinarily high bail of $100,000 has triggered a go-fund-me page promoting his release.

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The page reads:

“On 11 February 2020, Air Force Combat Veteran and Drone whistle-blower Brandon Bryant was arrested on charges of “Threats and Undue Influence in public and political matters” by the Missoula Police Department.  He is currently being held on $100,000 bail despite having no criminal record and being a decorated Air Force veteran with strong ties to the community … We believe his incarceration is politically motivated … We are attempting to raise the full $100,000 dollars required for his bail so that we can get him out of jail and get him the services he requires as a disabled veteran. Money raised may also be used to pay for legal representation to protect Brandon’s first amendment rights as he is being prosecuted for exercising his right of free speech. When we raise the full amount of $100,000 dollars we have a unique opportunity to make a positive difference for other veterans like Brandon. We will post his $100,000 bail ourselves instead of using a bondsman, which means the full bond will be returned to us when Brandon makes all his required court appearances. We will use the funds returned in this way to pay for Brandon’s legal defense and everything else will go to charitable efforts for other disabled veterans like Brandon.”

Brandon Bryant’s arrest came during one of the most intense political periods in Missoula’s history. Controversy over TIF giveaways swelled, in part due to the activism of Bryant and Missoulians like him. Council meetings in the months leading up to his arrest were some of the most heavily attended (and highly entertaining) in Missoula’s history. Media coverage of Council affairs became a routine occurrence. Public attitudes toward the mounting catastrophe of income inequality and crony capitalism approached fever pitch. Under such circumstances the Mayor and his inner circle were feeling immense pressure to swat down citizen efforts that have successfully revealed business-as-usual in Missoula.

And the threat of a leaked dossier making its way into the media’s eye surely contributed to their apprehension.

The documents in question, if their providence was genuine, could imperil the careers and future of not just the Mayor and his colleagues, but also the developers and businesses he allegedly received kickbacks from. In short, the stakes were raised and local elites were not comfortable. So it seems they capitalized on the only alternative in their grasp: striking back at the individuals that seem to pose the most direct threat to Missoula’s power monopoly.

Despite public statements by the Council that “efforts are being made” to connect Bryant with services, no member of the Council ever appealed to any veteran’s organization to directly seek those services.

In fact, when contacted directly the day after her public statement that efforts were being made, Council Vice President Gwen Jones disavowed her involvement or responsibility with facilitating that connection. She said it wasn’t her responsibility and she was not involved, instructing interested parties to speak to MPD officer Ethan Smith who was in charge of Bryant’s case.

But it was officer Smith who called Bryant to tell him a warrant had been issued for his arrest on the morning of 11 February 2020, instructing him to turn himself in by 2:00 PM, and warning him that if he didn’t surrender himself to the police that he would be tracked down and captured.

Far from the promised connection with services, Bryant’s incarceration actually isolates him from the necessary resources he enjoyed access to while free in his community. As a disabled veteran, Bryant’s service dog constitutes an essential part of his treatment for PTSD.

Locked in Missoula County Detention Facility, Bryant’s health and well-being are heavily compromised. The decision to jail him was made despite his cooperation with all Police orders. His incarceration also comes despite Bryant’s public apology for his previous remarks, re-avowing that he never possessed ANY intention of committing ANY act of violence against ANY City Council member, or ANY human being AT ALL.

The inescapable message of Brandon Bryant’s arrest suggests this was a consequence of, and warning against, interfering with the interests of the Mayor, the MRA, and the City Council; a message that had most certainly occurred to those who decided to charge him. A charge of “threats and undue influence in public and official matters” is essentially a terrorism charge. Terrorism is the act of provoking fear to influence public policy, and that is exactly what Brandon Bryant is accused of doing.

The fact that Bryant himself never sent his remarks to any members of the City Council was at best overlooked, and at worst, ignored. The individual who sent his edited video to the Council – Rick Rynearson – did so with the intent of provoking fear to influence public policy.

Perhaps the City Council labored under the false apprehension that the Youtube channel hosting the video they were sent was indeed Bryant’s. Upon cursory inspection, that erroneous conclusion would be understandable. In fact, the local newspaper, The Missoulian, reported that the Youtube channel in question (titled “Pick Your Battles”) may have belonged to Bryant. Indeed, the Pick Your Battles Youtube channel posts nothing but clips of Brandon Bryant’s video diaries for the last year. So the idea that it might be his channel may be somewhat understandable.

However, any close examination reveals the “Pick Your Battles” page can only be the work of someone who is very critical of Bryant’s position. It only posts edited clips featuring the most frightening and unflattering segments of Bryant’s videos, interspersed with negative documentaries and smears of Bryant and other military whistle-blowers. Indeed, the channel has continued posting videos even after Bryant’s arrest, including a new hour-long documentary entitled “Brandon Bryant the Threat”.

While the mistake of conflating this terror-inducing Youtube channel to Bryant may be understandable, it is certainly not forgivable, especially in the case of The Missoulian staff who are ostensibly charged with investigating the truth and reporting in the public interest. Their careless and incredulous coverage of the issues at the root of this case provide aid-and-comfort to an allegedly corrupt government regime who now hypocritically broadcasts threats and undue influence in public and official matters.

Indeed the threat of political retribution had already proven effective against anti-TIF activists even before Bryant’s arrest. The mere suggestion that criminal charges could be leveled against those who stood in the Mayor’s way has already caused some citizens to withdraw their voices from public appearance before the Council. Smears in local media against Bryant have prompted some members of the public to carefully avow that they would never condone, promote or engage in acts of violent rebellion. The jailing of an anti-TIF activist sends shockwaves of fear through the community, leaving many terrified that they will be the next victims of political retaliation by the Engen regime.

This is where this entire story goes completely off the rails.

In the immediate wake of Bryant’s arrest, tensions in Missoula escalate to a new and baffling intensity. On the morning of February 12th – less than 24 hours after Brandon Bryant’s arrest – Missoula is the site of a dramatic downtown lockdown by squads of militarized police. Armored vehicles patrol the streets. Police surround and lock-down the County Courthouse, City Hall and City Council Chambers. Snipers perched atop the courthouse scan downtown in their cross hairs. SWAT teams infiltrate downtown houses and businesses for an alleged assailant for which they have no description and no physical evidence.

 

The Missoula Police Department’s official story for all of this alleges that at around 9:45 AM, an officer was conducting a routine traffic stop on the 400 block of Woody Street, when he reported that the back window of his patrol car had been shot out.

The officer immediately sought cover, called for backup and prepared for an armed showdown with an unseen and unidentified attacker. As the militarized police apparatus thundered into downtown Missoula, a dystopic reality gripped the area. City, County, State and Federal law enforcement held the city center hostage for hours, conducting door-to-door searches for the assailant. But despite their prolonged efforts and overwhelming show of force, no witnesses described seeing a shooter, no shell casings were found at the site, and an examination of the patrol car by police forensics experts found no bullets or other projectiles had entered the vehicle.

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After hours of the entire downtown being locked down by SWAT teams, with no suspect and no description of the person who allegedly shot at a police officer in broad daylight, the Missoula Police Department declared there was “no danger to public safety”.

Meanwhile, a disabled US Air Force combat veteran languishes in a jail cell, cut off from his friends, family and medically-mandated service animal. And his bail is maintained at $100,000 because the County Attorney affirms he is a danger to public safety, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Brandon Bryant has no criminal record, is a decorated veteran, and was honorably discharged from the Air Force. And yet the City of Missoula and the Missoula Police Department consider him a threat to public safety, while simultaneously, an anonymous shooter firing at police in broad daylight does not apparently constitute a threat to public safety.

The fact that a documented murderer walked free after only one day in jail further highlights the absurdity of this situation. As William Skink observes:

So, because Brandon Bryant used threatening language that elected officials have interpreted as being directed toward them, he is deemed “a threat to public safety” and thrown in jail.

Johnny Lee Perry, on the other hand, USED HIS HANDS TO KILL ANOTHER HUMAN BEING and he spent exactly ONE DAY IN JAIL before being released back to the streets without ANY CHARGES, felony or otherwise.

The juxtaposition of these two cases is absolutely insane. How is a man who literally killed another person with his bare hands not considered a threat to public safety while a veteran whistleblower who used threatening language is allegedly so threatening he deserves to sit in jail on $100,000 bond?

Welcome to destination Missoula.

Nearly a week after this intense and dramatic show of armed military force by City, County, State and Federal law enforcement agencies, no new information has been released. The story dominated headlines across the board the night of the lockdown, but has since disappeared completely from the banner, without any successive followup by local media.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s frightening spectacle continues to capture the imagination of the public, sparking speculation and outrage from all quarters. That speculation ran rampant during the initial hours of the tense “standoff” at the forefront of which was uninformed conjecture that Brandon Bryant was himself responsible for the alleged shooting.

A City Council committee meeting was in session at the time of the alleged shooting, just a block away, and was part of the lockdown. Considering the arrest of an internationally prominent whistle-blower for allegedly threatening the City Council just one day prior to all of this commotion, it would be naive to assume that the special security detail assigned to the Council Chambers during the lockdown was not aware of the circumstances of Brandon Bryant’s arrest. In fact, numerous in-person interviews and social media conversations taking place during the lockdown speculated that Bryant was indeed the shooter. Only a few participants knew that Bryant was already in the Missoula County Detention Facility, but had little ability to restrain the rumors intimating Bryant’s involvement.

In the absence of any official explanation of the incident, the community is left to speculate about a complex story with little more  than convoluted and incomplete information. One of the most simple and innocuous explanations seems relatively plausible; that something other than a firearm caused the officer to overreact, and in order to avoid embarrassment after setting off such an extreme chain of events, he has resolutely stuck to his lone-gunman story.

Indeed the only evidence that the Missoula Police Department offers to corroborate a shooting at all is the officer’s testimony that his back window was “shot out”. No physical evidence authenticating these claims have been announced. Quite the contrary, in fact. The Missoula Police have themselves stated that no bullets or projectiles were found in the car, directly refuting the assertion that the window was shot out.

As reported by The Missoulian:

Investigators immediately sealed up the patrol vehicle involved and will soon conduct a search of the car, Welsh said. At the time of the press conference, Welsh said a bullet or projectile that fractured the patrol car’s window had not been found. Still, police had gathered enough information to believe it was gunfire that set off Wednesday morning’s events.

It is true that some witnesses downtown reported hearing what they described as a single gunshot. However, despite the panic-driven rumors that multiple shots were reported at the time of the incident, no witnesses have stated they heard anything more than a single report. It is possible that the officer heard a car backfire and mistook it for a gunshot. It is also possible that the rear window of his squad car spontaneously shattered.

As many drivers can attest, car windows can spontaneously shatter, an occurrence that can be extremely startling. But as many car owners know, car windows sometimes explode without being struck by any object, without the car being in motion, and without any perceivable provocation. This could very likely have been the case. But the deafening silence confirms that officials are sticking to the official narrative: that the officer’s back window was “shot out” even though there isn’t a shred of physical evidence to this end, and the “suspect” is still at large.

Other speculation about the causes of this bizarre incident grow ever more sinister. A video surfaced on twitter of a police car being towed out of the downtown area hours after the lockdown began. Seeing a police car being towed by a civilian tow truck is already an unusual sight. In this case, the draggin’-wagon was escorted by a fire engine with sirens blazing, inciting understandable hypothesis that this may have been the police car that spurred the lockdown. Clearly discernible in the video is the fact that the rear window of this patrol car being pulled down the road by a Red’s tow truck seems intact:

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This inconsistency calls into question the entire narrative spun about the downtown lockdown of 12 February 2020. In the absence of information from official sources, speculation becomes inevitable. The most sinister explanation suggests that the entire circus was possibly a training operation; that Mayor Engen, controlling the response from a fortified command center, tested the tactical capabilities of local law enforcement by mobilizing at least eight different agencies in armed response, occupying downtown Missoula with an army of militarized enforcers. This occupying army included personnel from agencies including the FBI, the US Marshals, the US Department of Interior, the Montana Highway Patrol, and even Fish-Wildlife-and-Parks.

Unless a plausible official narrative is offered to counter Missoula’s runaway speculations, they will only continue to become more outrageous. The traumatic and fear-provoking effect that such rumors produce in local residents is such that efforts by officials to quell them seem like they might be in the public good.

However, factual and plausible official explanations can only be used to quell such rumors if said rumors are untrue. Silence from official quarters only fuels speculation. Indeed, nearly a week after the incident, that silence persists. The February 16th edition of the Missoulian, the first Sunday publication after the event, contains no new coverage of the incident – the biggest local news story of 2020 by far.

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Whether the downtown lockdown and Brandon Bryant’s politically-motivated arrest are connected or not, they are now inextricably linked in the public imagination.

That lockdown transpiring as it did, right on the heels of Bryant’s arrest, connected him in the public rumor mill from the very beginning. And even though his involvement as the “shooter” was impossible, the events themselves were so extreme that many have found it plausible the Mayor and Council had him in mind when they responded to the alleged shooting.

Nearly a week after his arrest, Bryant’s situation remains unresolved. Most local mainstream media coverage remains highly critical of him, thereby playing into the City government’s agenda of quashing anti-TIF activism, whether deliberately or not. One local media outlet, Montana Public Radio, has at least called into question the fine line between First Amendment free speech rights and limitations on threatening language. They acknowledge that jailing anyone for speech is a delicate decision at best, and that Brandon Bryant’s legal case will be a bellwether for the free speech rights of activists and dissenters nationwide.

In that way Brandon Bryant shares something in common with his hometown. The precise reason why the TIF debate has played out so passionately in Missoula is because Missoula is an extremely significant microcosm for 21st Century development. A canary in the coal mine. Missoula’s trajectory is indicative of the trajectory of many similar-sized cities across the country. The confluence of climate upheaval, economic stresses and public unrest in Missoula make it a unique and influential location. Over the coming months, Missoula’s District Court will serve as the arena for a legal battle that will signal momentous precedents for activists and dissenters across the country. If they can jail a world renowned whistle-blower for opposing the agenda of an allegedly corrupt local government, what else can they do?

If they can jail a decorated combat veteran with no criminal record for speaking out, what can they do to you?

Pawel-Kuczynski

Gabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you.
May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.

Missoula Officials Distort Facts To Suppress TIF Activism

Tax Increment Financing has become a household phrase in Missoula, Montana. So much so that it seems local authorities will do whatever is necessary to protect the financial bottom line over the good of the people. Now that locals are mobilizing against cronyism, waste and shady taxpayer giveaways, a few local bureaucrats have sunk to a new low to defend their piggy bank, smearing a local activist as a threat to the community. And our local media are doing their job to exacerbate the fear mongering, suggesting that maybe all activists are dangerous, oversimplifying this  extraordinarily complex tale of greed, lies and betrayal. Our team dove head-first into the cesspool this week, not because we’re thrilled about telling this difficult story, but because it needs to be told and our local “journalists” don’t feel comfortable doing anything other than corporate PR. There is an elephant in the living room, but his name is not Brandon Bryant.     Jesse

On February 4th, the Missoula Current published a smear piece against Air Force veteran and award-winning drone whistleblower, Staff Sergeant Brandon Bryant. Not only does the piece’s author, Martin Kidston, allude to Bryant as a case of Stolen Valor, he goes so far as to paint him as a violent lunatic:

One man’s threat to “hunt down and eliminate” members of the Missoula City Council has gained the attention of local law enforcement, which for now has banned the man from city property … Brandon Bryant, who claims to be an Air Force veteran, posted the video to YouTube in mid-December, where he railed against Missoula’s development community, the city’s elected officials, his past girlfriend and military commanders.

It seems like yellow journalism to say Bryant “claims to be an Air Force veteran” when it’s so easy to do your job as a reporter and confirm that he is not only indeed a veteran, but an extremely high-profile veteran. And a highly decorated one at that, with 36 Aerial Achievement Medals and Squadron with Valor. Kidston’s piece feels like just another obvious case of convenient journalistic laziness, bordering on malfeasance. Propaganda. Part and parcel of the Missoula Current.

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What Missoula’s fib factory doesn’t know, however, is that several months ago, someone claiming to be embedded within Missoula Mayor John Engen’s camp contacted Missoula local Brandon Bryant, providing a mysterious dossier of information purportedly verifying systemic corruption by the Mayor and his associates. The anonymous contact alleged that this evidence would be enough to entirely destroy Mayor Engen’s political career, as well as the careers of complicit parties, while simultaneously undermining the highly controversial development regime Engen has spent his career spearheading.


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National Security and Human Rights Attorney Jesselyn Radack

Bryant is represented by Jesselyn Radack, an American national security and human rights attorney known for her defense of whistleblowers, journalists, and hacktivists, including NSA whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Thomas Drake. This latest batch of small-town drama began when Radack was contacted at her DC office by Adam West – Missoula City Councilwoman Heidi West’s husband – about a terrifying death threat made against his wife. And the video, when viewed out of context, indeed looks very scary.

But Heidi West recently sat down for coffee with the man accused of making these so-called death threats. In fact, Councilwoman West met with Brandon Bryant on at least 2 occasions this winter to discuss Missoula’s complex problems.

So how did Mrs. West become so convinced that Bryant meant her harm as to prompt action by law enforcement? It certainly wasn’t because she’s made a habit of viewing Brandon Bryant’s youtube page. She’s raising kids and who has the time.

So how was all this brought to our attention? What youtube channel was it that created so much upset in Missoula this week? That youtube channel, ladies and gentlemen, belongs to dedicated youtube troll Rick Rynearson.

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Rynearson reposed a short segment of one of Bryant’s longer videos before directing Heidi’s husband Adam into the fear machine: “Dear sir – aren’t you worried about this Boogie Man? Look how scary he is!”

And the video has a hypnotically scary caption, again compliments of Rynearson:

Brandon Bryant identifies people for “extermination” including the entire Missoula City Council and people in the military that he worked with, saying that he is “preparing” his soul to make those people “submit” and “die.”

Upon review, it seems rather strange that Rynearson’s entire page is dedicated to making Bryant look bad. Since Bryant sustained a TBI, and struggles with PTSD, he is not the best speaker in the world; a weakness on which Rynearson seems to capitalize on loudly and often. Perhaps what Rynearson doesn’t totally understand, is that by acting this way, he spits in the face of other veterans who suffer from similar afflictions, and feel just as powerless and just as broken down.

This seems especially odd considering the fact that Rynearson was himself an Air Force fly-boy for over 20 years. Even though this retired Major was once a USAF pilot, he now seems to spend most of his time stalking and smearing Bryant, as evidenced by the broader focus of his channel. It seems Rynearson passionately disagrees with the stance Bryant took as a whistleblower against America’s drone wars, and sees this brand of cyber-vigilantism an appropriate serving of justice.

Rynearson, who is now retired in Seattle, has been accused of stalking and cyberbullyng before against anti-war activists and public officials alike.

As reported by the Seattle Times:

“Richard L. Rynearson III, a retired Air Force major, sued to overturn the law in 2017, saying he had been threatened with prosecution by Kitsap County for writing posts that criticized a local activist… The Bainbridge island Police Department referred a police report to the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office finding probably cause for a cyberstalking charge, but the prosecutor did not file charges, instead saying the office would wait to see how Rynearson behaved in the future. And while the activist obtained a restraining order against him in a city court, a Kitsap County judge dismissed it, saying Rynearson’s posts were protected by the First Amendment.”

Now that Rynearson is fear mongering as many people in the Missoula as he can, Bryant has pushed back.

Brandon posted a statement apologizing for creating anxiety, admitting his statements were hyperbolic, assuring our elected officials he means them no harm, and setting the record straight about who he actually feels angry with. I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t Missoula’s bureaucracy.

Furthermore, the police report to the Council indicates that law enforcement “Don’t believe he’s an immediate threat to any council safety,” further stating that Bryant “admitted to posting these videos to ‘incite a response’“.

The Missoula Police Department acknowledge that efforts are being made, hand-in-hand with law enforcement, to arrive at a peaceful resolution to this situation.

Bryant has no criminal record whatsoever and was discharged from the military honorably. In the wake of the video controversy, he has issued a statement that was sent to Radack as well as members of the Missoula City Council. Here’s what Bryant himself has to say about all of this:

“So here we have a situation where local politics is reaching such a boiling point, with our citizens committing suicide all around us, with all of our local businesses closing down, with one of the highest income disparities in the country, where emotions are very high, and mainstream media distracts attention AWAY from the pressing issues of extreme suffering in our community.

“And because emotions are high, certain elements of identity politics are rearing their ugly head again. And right now that’s manifesting with certain elected officials in my town feeling threatened because this online bully continues to blow my statements completely out of proportion and take them completely out of context. He’s attempting to again rob me of the quality of my words, but this time it involves my very own community, which I cherish more than my own life. That’s why I swore an oath to the Constitution to defend my community from all threats, both foreign and domestic.

“I’m being smeared as threatening the safety of a public official with whom I disagree politically. This smear seems especially timely considering the fact that last week I was featured recently (as were many other Missoula locals) on KECI, Missoula, voicing concerns about Montana’s Tax Increment Financing statute, which, upon study, seems to have caused measurable harm to many people and nobody wants to talk about it. And now that people like ME are talking about it, some deem it a convenient time to reduce the entire conversation down to personality, and demonize anyone who speaks ill of the status quo generally. And the principal issues are silenced once again.

“I’ve been notified of a potential restraining order that would bar me from attending City Council meetings in my town – a town I was born in. This translates as a truth-teller being potentially robbed of his 1st Amendment rights for honestly voicing the frustration and despair felt by people all around the community over; people our elected officials CLAIM to represent.

“Things are really dark in Missoula and nobody is talking about it. And okay, I admit it. I’ve had a mental breakdown. I blew the whistle and it seemed like nothing happened; I was ousted from my church; I was excommunicated from my family; I lost my job; I lost my son; I lost my health. Even my housing. Of COURSE I’ve lost my mind! But my heart is in the right place.

“I admit I made a mistake. I was speaking on my personal blog which is part of my therapeutic process. Part of therapy involves purging negative thoughts. And the mistake was not what I said, but  that I spoke in a way that could be so easily misinterpreted. In the context, it’s clear that violence is NOT something I can participate in ever again, but it’s understandable how my statements could be misconstrued as such, as they were made during very emotional times for me.

“But its not like I was Emailing threats to the Wests. I felt ignored and threw a temper tantrum because it seemed nobody cared what I said anyway, which means that none of my words felt like they had any power at all.

“I also want people to think about the fact that part of the reason I make these videos in the first place is to give myself the perspective of what is broken within me and how to fix it. How am I supposed to know what I think until I hear what I say?

“I’m not making excuses or trying to minimize the issue.

“I sincerely hope the members of my community do not seriously believe I mean them physical harm. If so, I apologize for the anxiety I have caused, and will spell out my intentions plainly: I mean no physical violence to anyone. As I have mentioned before, I’ve sworn an oath after leaving that infernal drone program to never create suffering like that ever again. And I’m not exactly suited for violence anymore. I’m a disabled veteran for God’s sake. I’m tired of unnecessary fighting with people just as under-served by the status quo as I am.

“That’s why I became a whistle-blower.

“Furthermore, I sincerely hope the members of my community take note of this Rick Rynearson character, who can’t seem to find anything better to do with his retirement than painting targets on my back. He’s been stalking me and harassing me ever since I began blowing the whistle on America’s disastrous drone program. He’s stalked me online and done everything he can to ruin my reputation. No matter what I’m doing, he’s always right over my shoulder trying to distract the American people away from my statements; about the disastrous wars we shouldn’t be engaged with anymore; wars that cause horror many of us cannot un-see, and cannot condone.

“Even now in my home town, Rick Rynearson is fear-mongering individuals in my community, alleging that I’m threatening physical violence upon them. This is transparent fear mongering and I encourage law enforcement to take note, especially given that Rynearson was already skating on thin ice for cyber-bullying a few years ago.

“Rynearson dispatched several veterans, all of whom had been propagandized to his views to such a degree that they sought my harm. One such veteran, Jerrard Christian ‘JC’ Widdicombe, had wrestled for my grandfather at Big Sky High, and told me that the only reason he and his posse weren’t going to harm me was, “out of respect for my grandfather.” Widdicombe died in a fire soon thereafter, and also happened to be a soldier in the Army’s 182nd airborne division.

“If that hadn’t left enough of a profoundly chilling impression on me, I received a call from the FBI soon thereafter, saying, “Mr. Bryant, you’re not in trouble. We’re looking for your whereabouts; someone is making threats and means to do you harm.” This all prompted me to leave the country, at which point the Air Force’s OSI (Office of Special Investigations) came to my mother’s house in Missoula to “warn” her that she was “in danger from ISIS retaliation” because “her son is a whistleblower”.

“It was also around this time, when I was being invited to speak before the NSA council on the use of Ramstein in the United State’s Drone War, that Judge Kathleen Jenks hit me with a warrant for my arrest, threatening to incarcerate me for 6 months on the charge of animal abuse (my dog got into a fight with another dog, and the other dog’s owner kicked my dog repeatedly, before apparently reporting me as responsible). The only thing that saved me was security camera footage that surfaced, showing I was innocent of all wrongdoing.

“Let’s also keep in mind that Rynearson had to start a GoFundMe to pay for his legal fees that accrue from all of the slander suits he dodges constantly because of his highly inflammatory nature, which involves, but isn’t limited to, defaming the character of anyone who tells the truth about war. He’s been in trouble before for harassing public officials. He’s even been disciplined for harassing judges in Kitsap County; the very behavior he now relishes to project on me.

“For some reason, Rick Rynearson can’t seem to find anything better to do with his days but demonize me as the reason for all the problems in our world. It’s a really sad state of affairs, and I trust the highly-literate Missoulians all around me can see right through this blatant tactic to again disarm the will of the popular majority. Missoula taxpayers are losing out big time. Our 500 homeless school children are losing out big time. And our suicide statistics are not getting better. This isn’t about me. These are the symptoms of a system starting to crack, and I shudder to think what those I love are likely to endure if present trends continue.

“Let’s focus on the issues, please. Reducing this to personality seems pretty infantile at this point. Let us please quit diverting the issues into ad-hominem attacks on my personality, and competing in the victim-Olympics of the little-boy-who-cried wolf, and redirect toward the root causes of our society’s problems.”

We can begin to see some of the dark but unspoken consequences of living in a militarized society. We are confronted with the flesh-and-blood consequences of training our young men to kill and sending them to military bases where they operate killer robots and drop explosive ordinance on children halfway around the world. All too often it is possible to ignore the very real traumas these policies create because the victims are so far away and so unfamiliar, but when the men tasked ostensibly with protecting our country are members of our own community we can’t turn away from the toll that it takes on these individuals and on our culture at large. In situations like this a pledge from such a man to not take another human life again are small comfort against the dark specter that militarized society casts into our communities.

The Mayor and members of the Council are perhaps justified in their concern. Their response may be proportional and appropriate, but as we’ve all seen over the last decades, the fear of violence dominates the narrative and distracts from the issues. The onus for such terror can be traced to powerful people in our culture who wage war against distant societies and against their own increasingly medicated and impoverished population, creating victims and trauma at home and abroad.

Furthermore, the Email Brandon Bryant sent to Councilwoman Heather Harp on Saturday, the 25th of January 2020 (days BEFORE Rynearson, Kidston and the Panic Patrol began shouting “THE SKY IS FALLING!”) seems also to indicate more of a disappointed sigh than a threat for senseless violence:

Mrs. Harp,

“I’m writing this letter in formal writing to simply advise you to endure what is to come. My standards are not unrealistic, and neither are the citizens of Missoula. I am stepping back myself, to handle other issues, but my [colleagues] are stepping forward …

“I did my best to tell you all what was happening and avert disaster. For selling out the people of Missoula the city council will face public ridicule and shame for as long as they decide to hold a public office. … You’ve all made enough people angry here that you’ll most likely be replaced next election. I’m honestly impressed and grateful. I was worried that everyone was sleeping as our city was being stolen from under our noses.”

CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT

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Bryant with his dossier on 6 FEB 2020. He says he keeps it where “no one could ever think to find it.”

As mentioned, someone claiming to be in the Mayor’s camp contacted Sgt. Bryant several months ago, providing a mysterious dossier of information purportedly verifying systemic corruption by the Mayor and his associates. The anonymous contact alleged that this evidence would be enough to entirely destroy Mayor Engen’s political career, as well as the careers of complicit parties, while simultaneously undermining the development regime Engen has spent his career spearheading.

And even his critics have been quick to report the public statements Bryant has made, vowing never again to take a human life. With all that context in mind there can be little doubt that the “battle” he’s referring to is a political and spiritual battle and not a physical one. When he vows to wage war on his enemies, he is promising to do everything he can to end their political careers and separate them from the apparatus of power they wield, a threat which to some of them likely seems more frightening than any threats of physical violence could ever be.

Bryant has no criminal record and no public officials have been accosted. Nothing has really happened at all, but for blatant character defamation.

Also important context to keep in mind: Bryant’s family and Mayor Engen’s family aren’t strangers to each other. Both Bryant and the Mayor are inter-generational Missoulians. The Mayor even attended high school with one of Bryant’s uncles. In fact, when the two men recently encountered each other on the street, they had a friendly exchange, inquiring about each other’s families. Mayor Engen asked Bryant how his Grandparents were. Bryant admitted that they had to move away because they couldn’t afford their property taxes anymore. And that’s the crux of the controversy generated by TIF.

Bryant isn’t the only one who feels angry. He’s surrounded by folks who don’t know how to express their anger and also avoid confrontation. This lack of engagement is further exacerbated by the City Council’s belief that since there aren’t angry mobs of people showing up to decry taxpayer giveaways, “nobody has any problems with any of this”.

This is the context that was present when Staff Sergeant Bryant made the controversial video. And it seems he didn’t give up blowing whistles after leaving the military. It also seems that he remains at his post as the butt of the punchline for those powerful people who have every reason to smear popular messages by smearing Bryant. For them he’s the exception that proves the rule that average citizens shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the levers of power. Let the “professionals” handle where the money flows, and keep your mouth shut.

When thoughtful public comment is delivered on the subject of — not even stopping TIFs but merely slowing them down — those citizens are, at best, patted on the head and assured they “just don’t understand what’s going on,” and at worst, apparently, smeared for all they’re worth by Martin Kidston’s impotent rag and the other sunshine patriots who go along to get along while whistling past the graveyard.

If only Kidston understood that so much of the anger felt by this community has stemmed from a universal feeling of being ignored. Call it learned helplessness if you like, but people in Missoula – especially contractors – are terrified of upsetting Herr Engen’s apple cart, for “fear of political retribution.”

But TIF isn’t the chief reason Bryant is angry. While he did feel the need to voice his opinions on the matter, he does have a life, and his attention is otherwise entirely directed toward being reunited with his estranged son. Brandon Bryant’s beef is not with the Missoula City Council necessarily, but the system itself, which has absolutely ruined his life. And his primary focus – the one which he spends most of his time talking about – is not Tax Increment Financing, but his desperate attempts to be reunited with his son, whom he has not seen in over three years.

For Bryant, problematic taxing schemes simply feel like nothing more than just another example of the same, tired brand of corruption he encountered over and over again along his path, writ-small here in Missoula. The smear tactics employed by propagandists reminds him of the smears made about him when he came out publicly against the war. And most critically, he worries for his safety, since Rynearson has proven to pose a legitimate danger not only to him, but for law enforcement as well.

But the direction of his statements, especially when viewed in their entirety, reveal that the lion’s share of the pain Bryant feels is expressed because he misses his son desperately.

When viewed through this light, we can see how inappropriate and off-base Kidston’s smear piece really was.

This isn’t a mass shooting story. This is a story about an estranged father; a father who estranged himself by doing the right thing; a father who does not know who his son is or where his son is; a father driven mad by hopelessness, powerlessness and despair.

Interestingly, I found Martin Kidston’s biography, wherein he not only claims to be a non-fiction writer, but also claims to have served with the Marine Corps, alleging that he deployed to Iraq during the Bush Dynasty’s first attempt to overthrow Saddam.

Kidston Bio

Perhaps Martin has been reading a little fiction lately, maybe from forums like Valor Guardians:

this is still up

And though Bryant doesn’t necessarily feel nostalgic about his time in uniform, what Rynearson and other critics can’t seem to realize in their binary world-views is the gray area where maybe things aren’t so certain.

Even though Bryant has lamented his experience in the Air Force as traumatic, the fact that he continues to identify as a “Staff Sergeant” at all reveals how someone can simultaneously express both an admiration for, as well as regret of, their military service. Indeed I’m aware of other veterans who express this kind of “duality of man” sentiment expressed so poetically by Kubrick’s iconic “peace button” scene:

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There is no doubt that Bryant was as proud to serve in the Air Force as he is proud to be a Montanan. It’s part of his DNA at this point. He did his job, he did it well, and he did it for one of America’s most elite military units: JSOC. An organization that didn’t “exist” when Jeremy Scahill published his expose/documentary on JSOC: Dirty Wars.

At the time of Scahill’s reporting, the White House dismissed his reporting as a “conspiracy theory”. It wouldn’t be until JSOC officially took credit for the death of terrorist kingpin Osama Bin Laden that US officials began publicly admitting to the organization’s existence.

Scahill’s reporting outlines America’s wars in the Middle East, effectively communicating the extent of the disconnect between the American people and the foreign policy carried out in their name in faraway lands, one horrifying detail after another. If the deliberate murder of women and children to radicalize young males in small villages wasn’t bad enough, the lengths that the organization would go to cover up their crimes were truly harrowing, as were the sheer numbers of night raids of such kinds taking place in dozens of countries around the world, many of which can never be publicly acknowledged. As Nick Basciano of the Lawfare blog put it, “Scahill paints what he sees as the new reality of U.S. counterterrorism policy: the entire world is a battlefield, one in which the U.S. government feels at liberty to assassinate its own citizens, without oversight, and without trial.”

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The so-called dossier didn’t appear until after tempers “boiled over” at City Council on the 18th of November 2019 (Bryant’s birthday). As reported by Shannon MacNeil of NBC Montana:

Tempers boiled over at Monday night’s City Council meeting. One resident accused the city of taking from the poor to gild their own pockets.

“You are that rich man,” resident Brandon Bryant said. Mayor John Engen responded, “We are not going to yell in this chamber, sir.”

Then Bryant said, “You need to understand, Mister, what you have done. You have sold out this community — you have wrecked the trust in this community.”

Engen ended the exchange with, “We’re off until you can calm down; let’s take a five-minute breather.”

Bryant and members of the group walked out during the break, although one stayed to urge the Council to continue the conversation.

What’s particularly disturbing, however, is how Kidston characterizes other citizens who express concerns about TIF at City Council meetings:

“…Bryant is among a handful of recent attendees who address the council at nearly every meeting, mostly with disdain over development and their inability to find meaningful work. Along the way, they’ve referred to “ivory towers of ideology” and the “dark underbelly of Missoula’s slave ship” while making other questionable statements used in their arguments….”

The citizen activists that show up to Council chambers on Monday nights do not typically comment about “their inability to find meaningful work,” but rather, the wrongs endured by Missoula’s working class residents; wrongs which are spun as prosperity and growth by the media whores and PRESStitutes serving the town’s oligarchs.

What is wrong with being critical of poorly-conceived developments, and more importantly, why did Kidston omit reference to the City’s addiction to Tax Increment Financing, its issuance of junk bonds, or ANY of the other issues that drives such criticism? If Kidston would care to participate in a public debate regarding the metaphorical relevance of the two cherry-picked catch phrases he characterized as “among other questionable arguments,” I’m certain that can be easily arranged.

Fake-news outlets like Kidston’s Current will likely attempt to twist this situation as carte blanche to equate all citizens who criticize TIF as unbalanced conspiracy theorists. One activist was scary, and since many of the public speaking out against TIF agree about the issues, Kidston assumes these citizens must be part of a unanimous NGO or something.

As William Skink observes:

The author of this piece, Martin Kidston, seems to be casting doubt on whether or not Brandon Bryant is an Air Force Veteran. I find this odd, considering the power of Google mentioned above produces articles from media outlets like the Rolling Stone. In this Rolling Stone piece there doesn’t seem to be any doubt as to the “claims” Brandon Bryant is making about his experiences in the military killing the enemy for Uncle Sam.

It appears to me that the intent of the Missoula Current piece is to maximize the gift of these alleged threats toward City Council to character assassinate Bryant and to cast the guilt-by-association net over the other critics of Council policies…

How convenient for City Council. They get to look like the victims here, AND they get to increase the police presence for themselves while those in this community without protection–like homeless individuals living and dying in our shelters and on our streets–are left to fend for themselves.

While I don’t condone threats or acts of violence, I do understand how frustration for many is reaching a boiling point here in Missoula. This one video made by someone who let their frustration get the better of him is now going to be used to depict all critics of Council as jobless losers who pose a threat to the safety of Councilors. Just watch.

And The Missoulian followed Kidston’s lead, further inflaming the city with lies and even suggesting that Bryant is a Trump supporter who  hates democrats.

At another committee meeting in January, Bryant brought a large stick to the podium that he identified as a weapon, which led councilors and city staff to express concerns for safety, von Lossberg said.

Von Lossberg added that he thinks the incident points to “the polarized environment that we’re living in” and the rhetoric that elected officials use at every level of government.

The country is polarized for a lot of reasons, but it’s pretty clear that von Lossberg is referring to America’s first orange President as the reason for an absence of civility in public discourse. Perhaps von Lossberg doesn’t understand how his words here only intensify division and polarity.

First of all von Lossberg’s claim that Bryant identified his antique bokken as a “weapon” is completely untrue. Anyone who bothers to analyze the video feed from that meeting (start @ 8:30) will quickly observe what a liar von Lossberg is, and how unbelievably complicit local media are in perpetrating this obvious distortion.

Bryant speaks in metaphors to illustrate how using an “imperfect tool” can lead to disastrous consequences. Since Council repeatedly refer to TIF as an “imperfect tool”, Bryant attempted to demonstrate how a warrior would never enter combat with the wrong tool, like a wooden sword. Bryant clearly states the bokken resembles a weapon because of its SHAPE, and went on to say  that looking at it reminds him to him priority number one is always doing the right thing, and that he swore an oath after his military service never to visit violence upon another human being ever again. If you need additional context, America’s drone assassination of an Iranian general took place the weekend prior to this January meeting involving the wooden bokken, illustrating a parallel to another “imperfect tool”: drones.

“You cannot use an imperfect tool to do a correct job. And just like if a sword is made incorrectly, it doesn’t protect the people who depend on it. And this tool of Tax Increment Financing, if you do not use it correctly, it will end people’s lives in ways that are worse than death.”

von Lossberg

Nobody in the audience seemed to think anything one way or the other about it at the time. Committee members can even be seen joking around and laughing. Is that how people who feel threatened act? Posted at the entrance to City Council chambers is a sign clearly prohibiting the possession of weapons on site. Why didn’t anyone say, “Hey, you’re not allowed to have that in here”?

Because the demeanor in that room at time was one of boredom; not terror.  It’s a show-and-tell segment; not a death threat.

I guess the Perception Managers at The Missoulian missed all that critical context somehow. But they nevertheless succeed in evoking a similar tone to Kidston’s smear, albeit with slightly toned down wording; this time Bryant is “identifying himself as an Air Force veteran”. I suppose that’s a step-up from saying he “claims to be an Air Force veteran” but it still leaves unnecessary doubt about his service where none need exist. Why even make such a suggestion?

Does anybody at The Missoulian have access to this thing called Google search? Bryant is easily the most high-profile Air Force veteran in the state by far, and was just featured yesterday in yet another explosive expose on America’s murderous drone program:

 

SUN

ptsd

Article in The Sun

And England’s Independent picked up the story the following day:

Independent

7 Feb 2020 Article in The Independent

But wait a tick… The Missoulian is owned by Lee Enterprises, who stand among the big boys playing pirate with America’s economy these days, and might have every reason to toe the Pentagon’s line on war, hence, they have every reason to help solidify the narrative that anyone who opposes their business dealings is either stupid, unpatriotic, or crazy. Here’s a convenient opportunity to get two birds stoned at once: get rid of TIF activism and anti-war activism with one easy smear.

Reporting about a person barred from City Council meetings due to explicit threats to ‘hunt down and terminate’ alder-persons is one thing. But grouping that individual – who is tragically experiencing difficulties secondary to neo-colonial overseas military deployment – with others who actively participate in their local government, and disparaging their statements without specificity, attribution or a scintilla of information beyond the personal biased opinion of the “reporter,” is something else entirely, and that something else goes by the name of “yellow journalism.”

Get this party-crasher out of here! We’re trying to give your tax money away!

This all highlights something we’ve been asserting for months: that Missoula’s “leaders” can’t debate TIF because they know they’ll lose public support if people find out about its correlations with gentrification. So instead they continue silencing the noise around TIF.

It seems abundantly clear that Martin Kidston wouldn’t know authentic journalism if it slapped him in the face. Insinuating Stolen Valor strikes a new low, even for Kidston. I suppose I don’t blame him for acting like just another “imperfect tool” who demonstrates cowardice in his complicity to silence a truth teller. Because even a lackadaisical search for “Brandon Bryant” almost immediately conjures up Bryant’s many interviews, all of which confirm that he wasn’t simply in the Air Force, he participated in some of the most controversial operations America’s military has ever known:

 


So just what kind of information was contained in the mysterious dossier?

Bryant was never able to make heads or tails of it. But it seems to suggest that Missoula’s Imperial Mayoralty have made powerful enemies in this community. However, the plausibility has occurred to us, after analyzing this Rynearson character’s tactics, that this dossier might have been bait in an attempt to lure Bryant into doing something embarrassing. There’s probably no way to know. In any event, Bryant felt comfortable enough to share said documents with us.

For the purposes of “getting ahead of the rumors” we’ve featured a portion of said documents below.

Here’s some of what said dossier contained – this string seems to suggest that Mayor John Engen may have received some kind of kickback for awarding Jackson Contractor Group a $3 million job to build a new evidence facility for the City, and that kickback may have come to him in the form of property, perhaps at less than market rate, or as they say in the Real Estate business, “with money left on the table”.

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CURVE NUMBA ONE

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you.
May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.

 

The (G)Reed at Missoula’s Hip Strip

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This is what the death of Missoula looks like. A Borg Death Cube called “The Reed

If Missoula’s affordable housing woes and homelessness crises weren’t already ridiculous, the approaching avalanche of luxury condos cascading into the Garden City now places this once-quiet mountain town firmly within the theater of the absurd.

WGM’s Nick Kaufman appeared again before the Missoula City Council this Monday on behalf of Cole Bergquist, Cade LLC and Pupaw LLC, to make the case for their 4th Street gentrification project: The Reed.

The plan involves displacing Missoula locals and tearing down several  century-old structures and uprooting a native plant garden to construct towering eyesores of glass and steel erected for the enjoyment of anyone who can afford a $500,000 condominium.

Since there was no way to play within existing rules to make this elaborate plan work, Kaufman has asked the Council to simply alter the rules. And he’s pulled out all the stops: WGM have asked the City to throw out the University historic character overlay, they asked to vacate city Right-of-Way at 4th and Ronald to the developers, and they’ve asked for a unique “spot rezone” to include commercial applications.

And on top of it all, Missoula’s locals are told we should celebrate because this development that’s being crammed down our throat will help us “go green” — because tower blocks can be deemed “environmentally friendly” somehow.

Kaufman’s presentations insult the Missoula community’s intelligence with hopelessly optimistic projections, half-truths and outright lies. But the most egregious misstep was attempting to sneak commercial “spot zoning” past the Missoula community, hoping nobody would notice this metaphorical elephant in the living room that is poised to shit on all of our faces.

Let’s start with their traffic projections. WGM’s engineers told us with a straight face that this 40+ condo development with 75 underground parking spaces will only contribute 13 vehicles leaving in the morning at 13 leaving at night. It seems bewildering they expected us to believe this nonsense. But even more bewildering, it appears many of our public officials drank WGM’s Kool-AId long ago, as they seem to sincerely believe such nonsense.

Moving on to the Council’s condition that the existing historical structures be moved at the developer’s expense. WGM generously offered to provide up to $12,500 per building to be moved, however the language of the condition repeatedly states that they’ll provide these funds for moving the buildings only if “designated feasible for relocation“. Given that these are century-old structures, said feasibility is decidedly ludicrous. The cost of moving such structures would be several times the amount proposed.

Next, the outright lies that WGM presented to the council.

Kaufman stood before the City claiming that his group had offered financial compensation to the residents his development threatens to displace. This claim was already suspect, as one such resident, Jeff Gardner, appeared in The Missoulian the week prior, revealing that he’d received no such offer of compensation.

In response to this glaring inconsistency, Nick Kaufman claimed, “We had outreach to our tenants and we notified the tenants and offered relocation assistance. Apparently we missed one of those tenants. We apologize for that.”

Kaufman told us that “apparently we missed one of those tenants” and promised to rectify that oversight. However, over the course of the evening, no less than four of the current residents appeared before the Council and revealed that none of them had received the relocation funds WGM promised.

As of this writing, none of that has changed. Though that hasn’t stopped the Bergquist fib factory from manufacturing the next obvious excuse, that he offered to assist them in locating a new place, if needed, but that “no FINANCIAL assistance was ever offered or discussed with any of the tenants.” But what other meaningful assistance could there possibly be, Cole, if not financial? Selling them one of the other luxurious properties you’ve been tasked to represent by your lofty real estate firm?

But the lies didn’t end there.

After Councilwoman Stacie Anderson proposed an amendment prohibiting commercial applications as part of this controversial rezone, the Mayor asked Kaufman directly if the developer was “intending to do commercial” with this project. Nick Kaufman said, “No. The developer is not intending to do commercial.” 

But when the prospect of losing the commercial aspect to this rezone began taking shape as the council discussed the feasibility of Anderson’s amendment, Kaufman doubled back, saying they had indeed planned to use commercial, but only as a “fallback”, saying that without such a fallback, perhaps they would need to reconsider the 20% affordable housing requirement, which he alleged had already severely undermined their profit margin. 

It was further suggested that the commercial implications may be interrelated with the so-called affordability threshold, thus weaponizing the buzzword of “affordable housing” to justify commercial “spot zoning”and unapologetic gentrification.

Heather Harp opposed Anderson’s amendment, saying, “ I worry that based upon the document that was uploaded today … that if the developer can’t get to 20% and is going to lose money, that we will get zero affordable housing, and that they will walk away from the project. it’s a possibility. Which is something none of us in this room want. So I just caution that.”

Mrs. Harp’s bias for WGM may stem from her husband’s role as Principal Engineer for WGM until two years ago, when he became part of Missoula’s highly lucrative revolving-door economics. Today he’s Missoula’s interim director of Development Services which he stepped up to from his post as director of Missoula’s public works.

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Nick Kaufman of WGM Group

Nick Kaufman lied to our faces.

If anyone on the Missoula City Council should choose to take something personally, let it be that inconvenient fact.

But they shouldn’t get angry when half the chamber laughs at them for claiming “4 units of affordable housing is better than zero” when seven currently exist.

They shouldn’t throw up their hands claiming “the plan is far from perfect” without making any attempt to secure a better deal for the people of Missoula.

They shouldn’t cry crocodile tears about isolated statements regarding parallels between poverty and crime — statements couched within hours of thoughtful public comment that covered a much wider scope of issues.

And whatever they do, they definitely shouldn’t then decry such statements as “classist”. Punching down is bad enough, but punching down on your own kind just makes you look stupid.

There may be a problem with classism in Missoula’s city council chambers, but that problem doesn’t originate with the working-class residents of the city who attend council meetings to try to defend their way of life.

No.

It comes from the developer-class who attempt to weaponize the City Council as their instrument in the Class War they wage against working people. A class war worsened by the brazen cronyism of revolving-door politics; the infiltration of public offices by organizations who stand to benefit from deregulation.

The Council were elected by said working people to represent their interests; not to sell them out to developers, or to railroad them in defense of developers, or patronize them about their apparent lack of understanding of economic theories. Our representatives can either become public servants operating the levers of power or acquiesce as tools of the developer class. But they cannot do both.


WHAT IS SPOT ZONING AND IS IT LEGAL?

One defense of this controversial and potentially illegal commercial spot zone hinged on convincing average Missoulians that this neighborhood is part of the Hip Strip’s commercial throughway. But, as revealed by vociferous public comment, that area is not cherished by locals as a potential shopping district, but as part of the Kim Williams River Trail.

The commercial implications of Kaufman’s rezone request suggests that The Reed was likely imagined as another monument to gentrification like that exemplified by South Park’s SoDoSoPa. Indeed, such developments have become increasingly unpopular as their negative side effects have been duly noted. Severe gentrification can usually be charted as a wave that started with an unprecedented development that promised to “re-imagine” a small section of the city. These developments are presented as innocuous, but bring about detrimental and irreversible effects.

This is why the Missoula community responded to this development the way they did. For should the “spot zone” for The Reed be determined legal, Missoula henceforth opens a giant Pandora’s Box of increasingly controversial developments all over town based on that precedent.

The Reed‘s new zoning covers exactly one building, granting that single building the right to be twice as tall as the maximum allowed height for any of its neighbors. And that height discrepancy will be locked-in forever, unless and until zoning for neighboring properties is likewise altered.

This begs the question: What’s the point of zoning then? If such discrete exceptions are allowed, why do it at all?

Such occurrences are known as “spot zoning”; a controversial practice which is illegal in some circumstances. According to the Montana Supreme Court, there is a 3-pronged legality test, including public good.

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From Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent’s 2011 legal opinion from 2011 regarding the legality of “spot zoning”

Three conditions are cited that, if violated, make the “spot zoning” illegal. And all three seem applicable to The Reed:

  1.  the proposed use is significantly different from the prevailing use in the area;

  2.  the area in which the requested use is to apply is rather small from the perspective of concern with the number of separate landowners benefited from the proposed change;

  3.  the change is special legislation designed to benefit only one or a few landowners at the expense of the surrounding landowners or the general public

And from the MSU Extension office’s, How To Spot a Spotzone:

One illegal form of rezoning is spot zoning…To be considered a spot zone, the property, in most cases, must meet the following four criteria:

  • The area is small compared to districts surrounding the parcel in question.

  • The new district allows land uses inconsistent with those allowed in the vicinity.

  • The spot zone would confer a special benefit on the individual property owner not commonly enjoyed by the owners of similar property.

  • The existence of the spot zone conflicts with the policies in the text of the master plan and the future land use map.

From where most average citizens stand, those three out of the four of those conditions all seem to establish a slam dunk for this case. But then again we’re citizens, not lawyers. Lawyers possess that special-bullshit-barrister magic that enables them look at those words and see a completely different meaning from the common English speaker.

For example, in the four legal precedents cited by Nugent, all four cases appear to be situations where the court determined spot zoning could be legal. The following reasoning seems particularly egregious:

“Boland v. City of Great Falls, 275 Mont. 128; 910 P.2d 890; 1996 Mont. LEXIS 17; (1996), the Supreme Court held that no illegal spot zoning occurred and indicated that the zoning change would benefit the adjacent property owners whose property values would tend to increase from the project development; and that there would be benefit to more landowners than the individuals whose property was being zoned and therefore the zoning was not in the nature of special legislation designed to benefit only one landowner”

This brings us to the City Council’s requirement that their development include at least 20% affordable housing units. Because of the implications of “spot zoning” it was essential that WGM be able to prove some kind of “public good” to cover the potentiality for legal problems moving forward. Ironically, the linchpin for the entire proposal to build luxury condominiums, ended up being “affordable housing”.

As previously observed, this constitutes a net loss of affordable housing units, since the existing buildings already provide seven units of affordable housing. The council’s position of course has been to allege those seven units are under threat, maintaining that four permanent units is better than zero.

The absurd icing on this turd cake is of course that Zero units of affordable housing could be exactly what they get. The language of the proposal states that the developers include an affordable housing condition in either the for sale condo units OR the for rent apartment units. At one point the city council changed that language in the proposal to make the OR an AND, meaning that both the for sale units and the rental units would have to include a certain percentage of affordable housing, but at the request of the developer who complained of the effect on profit margins, the City Council removed that change, returning the OR.

Why is this important? Because the mechanisms the city has to enforce the affordable housing are very different for the for purchase units versus the for rent units. For sale units would be what is referred to as “deed restricted”, which is a term the City Council uses repeatedly in avowing their support for the proposal. Deed Restricted units would in fact be permanent affordable housing. They would be sold to qualified residents at a rate much lower than the other condo units, and the lower price would be maintained as these units were sold and resold in the housing market.

The for rent units however are what is referred to as “voucher preferenced”, which means that qualified residents could receive a housing voucher every month which is good for $800 dollars of their rent. They give that voucher to the property owner and pay the difference. The property owner would make the same amount of money off each unit as they would renting to someone paying the full price. They’re still making just as much money, but a person who couldn’t afford these apartments can get in. The property owner is just partially being paid by the government, who of course pays for it by collecting our tax dollars. Essentially we are subsidizing these apartments.

Now this doesn’t sound altogether unacceptable, the Deed Restricted option is clearly preferable, but the Voucher Preference doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize that the “voucher preference” is only in place for 60 days before the property owner can abandon it and rent to anyone. This means that if the property owner decides for any reason that they don’t want to rent to the voucher holding citizens, all they have to do is let the apartment sit empty for 60 days, then those units of affordable housing the Council fought so hard to secure are gone forever. So much for “permanent, structural affordable housing”.

WGM is attempting to hold the city to ransom, promising to mitigate the damage to public good if the City gives them massive concessions in the form of a drastic and unpopular rezone, as well as surrendering city Right-of-Way.

But when it comes to bullying locals who speak out against gentrification, these developers really pulled out all the stops. As reported by Cameron Evans this week:

“Members of the public reiterated concerns that the project would disrupt the historic nature of the neighborhood and obstruct their view of the river. Last week, those concerns manifested in an image created by an anonymous resident that circulated Facebook. It featured a large black box purportedly representing the proposed structure to illustrate the scale of the project.

“Bergquist, however, said the image was inaccurate and responded with another rendering that he commissioned from an architectural firm.”

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Missoulian WGM Condo picture

Original (above) posted to facebook. Bergquist’s response (below) as printed by The Missoulian

The keen observer will notice by Mount Sentinel’s relative size in the background of each image, that Bergquist’s rebuttal image is zoomed way out, thus severely minimizing what essentially amounts to validation of the original image; more boxy modernist architecture blighting Missoula’s otherwise pristine skyline.

Cameron Evans continues, illustrating the sleazy lengths these developers will go to bully anyone who threatens their precious profits:

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Mary LaPorte shared a letter that she said her friend, Shirley Juhl, received from Datsopoulos MacDonald & Lind on January 24, saying they represent developers Cade, LLC and Pupaw, LLC.

LaPorte read the letter to the council:

It has recently come to our attention that you have posted on Facebook a rendering of what the Fourth Street condominium project would look like from the Higgins Bridge … I’m writing for the purposes of placing you on formal legal notice that this rendering presents false and misleading information apparently designed to wrongly influence the public’s perception of the project.

LaPorte further commented that, “This is a letter from a lawyer threatening a citizen for speaking out against a project. That is so against the values of our community. This is not who we are as Missoula.”

Millionaires and billionaire are constantly crowing that any marginal impact on their profit due to regulation will ruin them; that any concession to public good or common decency will destroy their profit margin and cripple their ability to contribute to a thriving economy. We’re made to believe that those who have the most in our society are constantly teetering on the edge of total financial disaster should the society they’ve thrived upon ask for them to give anything back, however minuscule. We’re told to believe that property rights are sacrosanct above public good or community responsibility, reminiscent of the fracking industry’s defensive tactics in the face of criticisms about public good.

Even if it were indeed true that WGM’s profit margins are razor thin and that any concession of public good will somehow deem their project untenable, what does that really mean?

It means they’re not entrepreneurs at all.

If the only way they can turn a reasonable profit on this project is on the backs of massive public giveaways, then they’re not the drivers of progress and innovation so lauded by wide-eyed acolytes of trickle-down economics like the mayor and his hand picked successor.

If poverty is the deadliest form of violence, then all contributors to poverty are accomplices. And if these economic amateurs can only get their way by resorting to threats to sue little old ladies and further worsen the city’s housing crisis if their demands are not met, then they are no less than economic terrorists. And it should not be the policy of the City of Missoula to negotiate with such swine.

genty

Gabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show. This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you. May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.

Montana’s Jackson Hole

If you’ve been having trouble keeping up with business closures in Missoula lately, you’re not alone. Just when it seems the situation in here couldn’t possibly grow more absurd, even more iconic local businesses and longtime Missoula institutions forever closed their doors this month, including Missoula Breakfast fixture The Shack, Barfly prebarf purveyors Pita Pit, fashion purveying Green Light, Lucky’s Market and JCPenny. The dust has barely settled from the last round of closures, claiming the Old Post American Legion Hall, Iza and Zoo Brew, among many others, all within the space of three months

Many displaced shopkeepers say they were forced to close down because their landlords increased rents. Others were obliged to vacate after property taxes suddenly multiplied. Both reasons highlight the effects of Missoula’s ongoing gentrification disaster.

The Green Light’s shop owner Sabrina Smith corroborates this fact. She says that after 11 and-a-half years working retail in downtown Missoula, she is retiring because her rent increased last January by about 30%, then increased again due to property taxes.

And the same vice squeezing locals out of their business is likewise pinching residents from what affordable homes remain that haven’t yet been bulldozed to install giant monuments of gentrification; projects that permanently contaminate entire neighborhoods with construction blight, ugly architecture, and fly-by-night tourists who only spend their summers in Missoula and consider the locals their compliant servants.

26% of Missoula’s work force must now commute from outside of Missoula largely because they cannot afford to live in town anymore. A chilling parallel to the housing crisis currently playing out in California’s Bay Area, where housing prices have ballooned to such an absurd degree that an annual salary of $120,000 is now considered “low income.”

Additionally, as many as 40% of Missoula residents are what is referred to as “income independent”, meaning they do not have to rely on income from local wages to pay for their costs of living here. Some of these residents are remote workers who draw silicone-valley level incomes from out of state businesses, while still others are simply independently wealthy people who do not need to work at all.

But Missoula’s income disparity insinuates an even more chilling reality. It’s the case today that 24% of people living in Missoula are one-percenters. Considering that Missoula’s income disparity is now the 33rd highest in the nation, it would seem Missoula isn’t so much becoming the “Austin of the Northwest” as it is to becoming Montana’s Jackson Hole.

Locals aren’t happy about this deadly trend, and they’re starting to become savvy to its causes. And one cause increasingly stands out above the rest: the misuse and abuse of Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

TIF constitutes an elaborate taxpayer-giveaway scheme that bankrupts cities through a morbid process of death-by-a-thousand-cuts. This kind of Voodoo economics directly causes property taxes to spike, in-turn causing rents to skyrocket, thus displacing locals and gentrifying entire communities.

But some TIFs are more egregious than others. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) are all-too happy to cough up TIF money, even to organizations who don’t ask for it. But when developers hold the blight gun to the city’s head, they coerce our public officials to ensnare us all in highly regrettable quagmires that accelerate the decay of our fragile community.

Five years ago Peter Lambros threatened the MRA with “mall blight” if it didn’t cough up millions in public financing for a road, namely the Mary’s Avenue extension. Lambros said millions had already been invested, claiming that without public TIF the whole deal would collapse.

plPeter Lambros presented a cartoonishly-dismal picture, threatening “future blight” if the city didn’t grant the Lambros Cartel millions in taxpayer subsidies to build that unnecessary road. The Lambros Cartel and Southgate Mall Associates got their $7.6 dollars of public money, plus several more millions in additional TIF money, then turned around and flipped the entire property to Ohio-based Washington Prime for $58 million.

mary's tif

More than $8.6 million in taxpayer money was spent on the Mary’s extension

But it gets even better!

Not only did MRA director Ellen Buchanan assure us that it’s fine for Peter Lambros to screw over the taxpayers of Missoula so brazenly because apparently Missoula requires a better road to the mall, when asked whether Lambros would have to repay the millions of taxpayer dollars granted to them through TIF, Buchanan dug in even further:

As reported by Sarah Gravlee last week:

Ellen Buchanan Director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, the group that manages TIF funding, said the city has been trying to identify an east-west connection between Reserve Street and Brooks Street for decades. This project gave them that opportunity.

So, that’s what the money’s for,” Buchanan concluded. “It’s for a city street.”

The only problem with that story is that this so-called “public” street was requested by Peter Lambros specifically to get Lucky’s Market into Southgate.

Buchanan knows that, and she knows it looks bad.

According to Councilman Jesse Ramos, that road was explicitly requested by Peter Lambros to get more customers into his mall. “It’s in the minutes for that meeting,” he says. “It’s public record.”

So is Buchanan lying?

It seems obvious that the road would naturally be desired by Lambros for the purposes of attracting customers into the parking lot, but Buchanan continues to spin it as nothing more than a benefit for the community. Unfortunately, locals are well aware that these millions in TIF subsidies did little more than complete a road that nobody uses except to access Southgate Mall. Indeed, the very shape of the road itself indicates to whom its fruits would benefit, and it wasn’t the Missoula community. What a great deal for Lambros, and yet another cold shoulder for Missoula taxpayers.

extension

From WGM’s 2015 TIF proposal for Southgate

The above map featuring “SOUTHGATE MALL” indicates “JCPENNY” on the western corner and “OLD SEARS” on the eastern. That “old Sears” would become Lucky’s Market. Both businesses are directly contiguous with this road which was meant to give life to them. A superb example of the fact that no speculator, no matter how well spoken, has a crystal ball for what the future will bring.

And even as the ideology of the MRA’s master-plan narrative crumbles, Ellen Buchanan doubles down on the vapid claim that the City desired this unnecessary road through that part of town since the 1990’s. But the only reason anybody would ever use that road is to go to the mall or the shops around the mall. Trying to navigate that area is a nightmare, new road notwithstanding.

With malls across the country closing down and boarding up, Lambros was clever enough to realize that “future blight” might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though Southgate wasn’t a “mall” anymore, choosing instead to identify as a “Mixed-Use Town Center,” it remained just as susceptible to the same economic forces currently driving all brick and mortars out of business nationwide as it was before.

Lambros clearly knew this. So he flipped the mall while it was still profitable to do so, but not before taxpayers built him this unnecessary road to make the sale more appealing. And Washington Prime Group did indeed bite for $58 million.

You’re welcome Peter.

Mary-Avenue

From the developer’s standpoint at the time, the sole purpose of the Mary’s Avenue extension was to direct more traffic into the mall so that the owners could entice Lucky’s to move in. Because of this poor decision from the Council, tens of millions of dollars will be diverted from roads, from police, from fires, from schools, to benefit wealthy business owners.

But Southgate is just the tip of the iceberg!

South-Reserve-Pedestrian-Crossing-1-1024x576

Millions more in TIF was extracted from taxpayers to build the South Reserve Bridge. Mayor Engen and other TIF addicts claimed at the time that connecting the trails would relieve blight all along the bike trail; yet another excellent example of inappropriate abuse of the TIF statute through creative interpretation of the law.

When it comes to abusing the TIF statute, Urban Renewal District III really takes the cake. The Reserve Street pedestrian bridge that stands just a few short blocks away from the Southgate Mall, added an additional $5 million burden onto Missoula taxpayers, in an area of town that doesn’t seem “blighted” by any logical metric to thus justify TIF funding.

When asked how Larchmont Golf Course and a thriving industrial zone could possibly be considered “blighted”, MRA director Ellen Buchanan said at the time that the bridge “completed the trail, and people love to build on riverfront properties.” So even though the bridge didn’t eliminate blight in that specific area (URDIII), it apparently eliminated blight down the path, illustrating once again the desperate lengths these TIF addicts will go to justify their addiction.

This week, Councilman Jesse Ramos appeared on KGVO to elaborate:

“Urban Renewal District III, that’s the one the bridge is in … goes from the walking bridge, wraps all the way around Cabela’s, wraps back around 39th, wraps around the fairgrounds, wraps down through Bancroft, hits Mount, wraps all the way back around Reserve, and then comes around. It’s one square mile, so it’s a massive, massive district. It was created in the year 2000 because it was blighted, according to Montana Code Annotated.

urd3

Ramos continues:

As defined by Montana Code Annotated, “blighted property” is “an area that is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile deliquency, and crime.”

Ramos explains that the district had a $10 million tax base in 2000. When the tax revenue was divided roughly equally, a third went to the city, a third went to the county, and a third went to the schools. In 2000, TIF funding froze the process. The only tax revenue going to the city, county and Missoula schools was a part of the original $10 million tax base. Property taxes still increased, but any increase in the tax base was skimmed off of the top and went to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. TIF funding must be reinvested back in the same district; along with the pedestrian bridge construction, some of that TIF funding went towards the Missoula Mercantile, [to] construction at Southgate Mall, and [to] Stockman Bank.

“That TIF money is only supposed to be used for 15 years, so that district was created in 2000 and was supposed to sunset after 15 years,” Ramos explained. “But there’s a small provision within Montana Code Annotated which states that if you settle debt within the district, it extends the district out the length of the bond for a maximum of 40 years total. In September of 2015, the city council sold $5 million worth of bonds for that walking bridge built with TIF funds, and extended that district out until the year 2040. So, all the growth in that tax base is going to be skimmed off the top until the year 2040.”

And what company was it that helped “reimagine” Missoula’s Southgate Mall? The now notorious WGM Group; an organization with players working inside the Missoula City Council and other local government posts. The same organization now proposing the ludicrous commercial rezone that would bulldoze several historic buildings and displace Missoula locals to build luxury condos, blighting the skyline of Missoula and uprooting the fragile foundations of our community for all time. For once this spot zone is deemed legal, we open a Pandora’s Box of developments just like this all over Missoula in the form of precedent.

IMG_3745

And on top of it all, the MRA, headed by Ellen Buchanan, awarded $50,000 in TIF subsidies to Lucky’s Market itself. That’s $50,000 that Missoula taxpayers are told would come back to us as a “return on investment” through property taxes generated by Lucky’s. But it’s awful hard to collect property taxes from the business we’re subsidizing when those businesses go belly-up in their first 24 months.

lucky50

On top of it all, there’s the interest to think about, since TIF projects are bonded out, putting the city, and thus the taxpayers at its base, in astronomical debt. From a $7 million TIF we can expect at least an additional $5 million in interest to accrue, putting Missoula Taxpayers out by at least $12 million for a road to benefit a mall that is closing down like every other mall in America. And the trend indicates that’s exactly what’s happening. Because it isn’t just Lucky’s closing down shop.

Friday, Southgate Mall owners announced JCPenney’s would also close their doors, though the mall has indicated that it will announce plans for “redevelopment” of the JCPenney location soon; “redevelopment” that will likely involve even more TIF subsidies, awarded in vein to delay the inevitable sinking of Southgate.

Astonishingly, the city’s justification for these monies was to prevent “future blight” – a term that does not exist under state law, further illustrating the blatant misuse and abuses of the TIF statute.

It is not the job of the taxpayer to bail out private business, and if the mall is going to close we’re not going to stop it no matter how many tens of millions of taxpayer dollars we decide to throw at it.

When will Mayor Engen, the Missoula City Council, and the unelected TIF addicts working for the MRA, realize that they cannot take on Jeff Bezos and Amazon with taxpayer handouts?

We can’t reverse a nationwide economic trend with TIF subsidies!

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Gabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show. This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you. May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.

Heather Harp Claims Average Citizens Too Ignorant To Understand TIF Law

Every time the City Council vote “yes” on inappropriate TIF subsidies, they confirm that short-term gains are more important than long-term sustainability.

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The death of iconic local businesses like the Old Post American Legion Hall, Iza Asian Restaurant and now The Shack, Pita Pit and The Green Light, all within the space of three months, confirms that the heart and soul of Missoula is disappearing before our very eyes; the latest examples of a terrifying trend. Countless other Missoula staples have been forced to close in recent years, including institutions like Uptown Diner, the Red Bird, and Stage 112, just to name a few. Many displaced shopkeepers say they were forced to close down because their new landlords increased their rents by astronomical amounts, while others were obliged to vacate after property taxes suddenly multiplied. And the very same vice squeezing locals out of their business spaces is likewise pinching residents from affordable homes.

26% of Missoula’s work force must commute from outside of Missoula largely because they can’t afford to live in town anymore. A chilling parallel to the housing crisis currently playing out in California’s Bay Area, where housing prices have ballooned to such an absurd degree that an annual salary of $120,000 is now considered “low income.”

Considering that Missoula’s income disparity is now the 33rd highest in the nation, it would seem we’re not that far from experiencing Frisco’s affordable housing woes.

part zoo

Locals aren’t happy about this deadly trend, and they’re starting to become savvy to its causes. One cause increasingly stands out above the rest: the misuse and abuse of Tax Increment Financing (TIF). An elaborate taxpayer-giveaway scheme that causes property taxes to spike, in-turn causing rents to skyrocket, and in-turn displacing locals and gentrifying entire communities.

For those who say “correlation is not necessarily causation,” former defense attorney Kevin Hunt corroborates our worst suspicions:

“Although it was said that ‘general taxes in the community won’t be affected,’ we know that these TIF projects have, in fact, already drastically increased property taxes for some people in this city. The Missoulian has already written articles about what’s happened to people like Office Supply; people who are downtown. When we start bookending these projects around these locally owned businesses – icons – familiy businesses, who were presented with property tax bills that had suddenly tripled, and because of that, their landlords now are jacking up their rents and they don’t know if they’re going to remain in business. …

“What happens is a lot of times these people do go out of business, and then the buildings are snapped up. And they’re snapped up by people like Nick Checota. Not that he would do it. But others with the funds to do it, they snap them up at a discount. Often they then end up demolished because they’re declared “blighted” and then we use more TIF. And what do we do with the more TIF? We demolish these buildings. We maybe save a facade or two. And pretty soon Missoula doesn’t look like a western town anymore.”

Jesse

Countless subversive “lost cat” posters appearing all over town seem to signal a mobilization within the community, many of whom consider the current state of Missoula nothing short of an emergency situation. An emergency that officials are now attempting to ameliorate with its very causes: inappropriate TIF subsidies that set dangerous precedents for the further abuse of the TIF law.

Councilman Jesse Ramos posted the “lost cat” on facebook, adding:

These were found all over Missoula this weekend. It is time the council has a serious discussion about TIF.

Our streets are in disrepair, our police are understaffed, our citizens are being taxed out of their homes and now the city wants a sales tax to cover these basic services. Yet oftentimes when a wealthy developer comes to the city with their hand out they walk away with millions.

Not only does TIF cause the city tax rate to go up but it also puts upward pressure on the county and school district taxes.

The latest case in point is unfortunately the Missoula Food Bank – an organization about which I have nothing but positive things to say. It’s an indispensable lifeline that’s helped me and many of the people I know navigate difficult times. I’ve even volunteered there. But this TIF is blatantly inappropriate, highlighting the creative misuse of the law.

First and foremost TIFs are only supposed to be used for the “elimination of blight,” and the Missoula Food Bank currently resides in a brand new building. Can anyone really tell us with a straight face that a brand new building can be considered blighted?

Far from it.

The present director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) Ellen Buchanan showed up in the flesh on Monday night not only to double down on the misuse of TIF funding, but also to tell us that she’s not required to follow the common understanding of the law, leaning instead on its many possible interpretations:

“I think one thing that comes into play here is the fact that in order to create an urban renewal district, you have to make findings of blight. And the definition of blight is laid out in State Law and it includes, you know, a dozen or better different conditions and you have to meet so many of those in order to declare an area blighted. And I think what that’s translated into for a lot of people is that Tax Increment Financing dollars can only be used to address those specific things that are laid out in that definition of blight.”

MT definition of BLIGHT

Current standards for defining “blight” in the State of Montana. As the law is written, proposed projects that hope to make use of TIF funds are required to honor this provision. Unfortunately, it’s still an extremely low standard that allows for the abuse of TIF because virtually anything can be considered “blight” under such loose conditions.

Buchanan continues:

“But if you read the statute in its entirety, there are references all through the statute to things that really speak to this type of project. In the preliminary statement of policy it says that, it’s declared that blighted areas which constitute a serious and growing menace, injurious to the public health and safety and morale, that the existence of such areas constitutes an economic and social liability. There is reference to health and safety throughout the statutes. And there also is authorization in the statute to use TIF funds for the acquisition of real property, to provide land for public facilities. I would argue this is a public facility. By virtue of the relationship with the county and the nonprofit status and the community that it serves. And I’m not going to bore you with all of the references in the statute. But I was aware of the issues that Geoff Badenoch raised back in October. He raised those. The city attorney responded in almost exactly the same way that I have addressed this tonight.

“We’re going to buy that property. We’re going to buy a portion of that building. And it will be for a public use. That’s no different than using TIF funds to buy a piece of land, and building a public park for public use. So I don’t know how you make the argument that this is an inappropriate use of TIF funding. It’s throughout the statute. I think that State Law enables us to do this. This serves a public purpose, like almost all of the dollars that we spend do. So I’m happy to try to answer questions, but I would encourage you to read through the statute and find those references that are to something besides water and sewer and streets and sidewalks.”

Bryan von Lossberg: “Thanks for clarifying. So Mr. Badenoch’s comments were back in October?”

Ellen Buchanan: “They were.”

Actually, they weren’t.

At least not if they’re referring to Badenoch’s comments quoted earlier at that same meeting. Said comment does not come from October of 2019 at all, but appears rather in response to last week’s hit-piece by the Missoula Current: Despite Conservative Opposition, Missoula City Council Approves Funding for Health Clinic at Food Bank.

The article’s author, Martin Kidston, gaslights his readers by dishonestly characterizing Jesse Ramos and other TIF skeptics as “conservative” in order to portray all critics of TIF as classist snobs who hate poor people. After all, why else would anyone vote against this Food Bank/Partnership Health Center deal?

Geoff Badenoch explains exactly why:

“Let me say first off, I am all for helping public health clinics and food banks with public funds. Second, on most issues, I would not agree with Jesse Ramos. [But] on this issue of TIF funds, I think there is less daylight between our views. One does not have to be “conservative” or “liberal” to examine the purposes for which the Montana State Legislature empowered local governments to use TIF as a tool for redevelopment. It is essentially a tool meant to correct physical deficiencies that create social problems. Assemble and/or Clear land. Expand or relocate utilities. Plan. Build curbs, gutters, sidewalks and streets. Build parks. Missoula has used it to build other government or public facilities.

“I am concerned about this particular use because it has been the case all over the country that municipalities cannot resist the temptation to use TIF in ever more expansive ways and state legislatures have almost always responded by removing that tool from local governments.

“Anyone can go to mt.gov and look up the urban renewal statutes in the Montana Codes Annotated. Simply look in Title 7-15, Parts 42 and 43. Read it yourself and see if this issue as not as clear cut as it appears. I think we need to be terribly circumspective about these expansive uses of TIF. This particular use might even be worth referring to the State Attorney General for an opinion as to its legality.

“TIF is too important a tool to be used without serious and deep consideration, regardless of the good outcome that may come for the clients of the Partnership Health Center, a brilliant institution that itself does wonderful work.”

Geoff Tiger Prawn Badenoch

Fun fact about Geoff Badenoch: he worked Ellen Buchanan’s job as MRA director for 18 years, from 1985 to 2003. I’m betting he probably knows what he’s talking about.

This is not to suggest that Ellen Buchanan doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The above quote is a concise illustration of how the evolution of the TIF law since the 1970’s consistently results in wider and wider interpretations of the law, lending itself to misuse and abuse over time.

When TIF addicts hit the TIF pipe too much, they force legislators at the state level to take this “imperfect tool” away from municipalities. Historically this is invariably what occurs in every state where dependent municipalities inevitably fall victim to TIF addiction. Tax Increment Financing in California has driven several cities to declare bankruptcy, compelling California legislators to take away the TIF toys forever.

Buchanan declared that blighted areas constitute a serious and growing menace. But for many Missoulians, the only serious and growing menace that directly threatens the health and safety of their families is the prospect of raised rents that price them out of Missoula. Property owners are worried about the serious and growing menace of exploding property tax bills that force them to sell their property to speculators. And our fragile community is terrified about the serious and growing menace of gentrification.

As of this writing, Missoula housing prices have soared to a record high of $315k. As reported by David Erickson last week:

“Housing prices continue to behave like a runaway helium balloon in the Garden City, while wages behave like a child on the ground with hands toward the sky, watching as the gap gets larger. Missoula’s median home sales price soared to a record high of $315,000 in 2019, a jump of 8.62% from the 2018 price of $290,000. … Andrea Davis, the executive director of the nonprofit Homeword in Missoula… noted that a person or a family would need an income of around $100,000 a year to afford a median-priced home in Missoula.”

The constant abuse of taxpayer money through endless TIF results in runaway housing prices that in-turn cause property taxes to explode, thereby displacing entire generations out of the neighborhoods they grew up in but can no longer afford. Then those newly abandoned areas are declared “blighted” enabling subsequent waves of gentrification to violently uproot the last vestiges of formerly-strong communities.

As Ryan McMaken further authenticates:

“Tax Increment Financing (TIF) legislation is geared not toward low-cost housing, but toward new commercial development. Often, that development is built where “unsightly” (but affordable) housing once existed. Its destruction is encouraged by government policy.”

Missoula-born local Lily Elison identifies how everybody loses when communities become gentrified:

“It is the inner-woven lives of individuals which creates a community … If we do not hold space for our local people and historic places, we will lose what makes this city worth living in. We will see a serious loss of security in our streets as life-long neighbors and childhood friends are replaced with strangers who have no community ties or responsibility to this place.

“I don’t want to see our history bulldozed. I don’t want to see skyscrapers instead of mountains. And I definitely don’t want to see my people in tent villages, because that’s what’s happening in Portland right now, because of their gentrification, because they’re pushing people out.

“And just think. What if it was your home that they were asking you to leave? What if it was your home?”


YOU JUST DON’T LIKE IT BECAUSE YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND IT

A persistent myth elected officials use to justify these taxpayer giveaway schemes is that ordinary folks are just “too dumb” to understand TIF. Indeed, any TIF addict relies on this myth as their primary rebuttal to the concerns of locals. Earlier at Monday’s meeting, Missoula local and longtime TIF critic Robert Moore — a man who spent the bulk of his career as the Chief Financial Officer for Fortune 500 Companies — approached the lectern to dispel an awful myth:

“Here’s an article where some of the members of the City Council are saying that the reason we don’t agree with TIF is that we don’t understand it. Well let me tell you – I do understand it. And I think all of you all understand it. You’ve just got a different purpose in mind. You want to give ten-million-dollars to the shopping center; four-million-dollars to Stockman Bank, that’s got a balance sheet of 2 or 3 billion dollars, and a surplus of 300-million-dollars.

“Tax Increment Financing is something we all need to learn more about, but at the same time Mrs. Harp [deflects] question[s] about it by saying, ‘You just don’t like it because you don’t understand it.’

“I understand it very well. It’s nothing but taking taxpayer money and giving it to developers and builders, and calling it ‘investment’.

“I think TIF oughta be disbanded.”

HH

Councilwoman Heather Harp

When it was Heather Harp’s turn to speak to Mr. Moore’s comments, she reiterated the very myth he sought to dispel, suggesting once again that people just don’t understand the law:

“I think one of the things that has often eluded a lot of folks, and frankly I don’t blame you, is because you don’t necessarily have all the facts. And I think we have a long ways to go in this community in terms of being able to tell a compelling story about why TIF is good. We know it has been good for us for 40 years. But going forward how how can we reshape that, so that folks understand?

“We also face the fact that we only have one tool in our toolbox in terms of being able to actually remedy our economic decline in these certain neighborhoods.

“Jesse, from time to time we’ve gotten into conversations about the merits and the demerits of our one and only tool. And I come down to this point of view that you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is the only thing we have. And at this point in time we have 600 people that need services of all types.”

I’m sure that Mrs. Harp, like everyone supporting this project, thinks she’s doing the right thing. After all, how can you go wrong endorsing either the Food Bank or Partnership? There is no questioning the good these organizations do on a daily basis for the many people who depend on their services.

But that isn’t the issue at all.

Critics don’t dispute the merits of TIF, but the negative side effects that occur later as a direct result. Negative side effects that we can’t afford to ignore for much longer.


ENTER PRINZING JONES

Councilwoman Harp is not the only one gas-lighting citizens about TIF. She has a lot of help from her fellow ideologues – like Natasha Prinzing Jones.

As William Skink noted this January, “The Missoulian is launching a new quarterly publication focusing on doing PR for businesses called Missoula Business. This vapidly titled quarterly will feature a notable business person and other things … The first notable business person is a lawyer for the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the topic will be PR spin for Tax Increment Financing.”

Prinzing

Natasha Prinzing Jones is an un-elected MRA board member, married to a banker who works for a bank that benefited from TIF the same way Stockman Bank did, loaning us their own corporate handout and stiffing taxpayers with the interest payments. What’s more, Prinzing Jones happens to work in an office that itself benefited from TIF subsidies.

Natasha Prinzing Jones is also the attorney who underestimated Missoula’s Mountain Water legal fees by over $12 million!

So what does this “competitive spirit” have to say about citizen criticism regarding TIF?

“My observation is that many of the individuals who voice either concerns or opposition of TIF funding misunderstand its role and application,” she said. “Many individuals who are critics, I’ve never seen at a single (MRA board) meeting. Big picture, I think folks just don’t understand what’s going on. Their objections to the agency and the concept of TIF would benefit from a deeper review of what’s actually happening at those meetings.”

There you have it folks.

Once again, with painful predictability, there are NO specific responses whatsoever to either criticisms or concerns about TIF. The Missoulian had a whole cover story to do so. An entire centerfold’s worth of material, and only a few short paragraphs dedicated to beating Missoulians

Instead of responding to specific concerns, Prinzing Jones defaults to the same politically expedient tactic as all the other TIF addicts, claiming that Missoula’s citizens are just too brainless, too ignorant, and too stupid to understand how TIF works.

The reason that TIF addicts don’t debate the specific concerns is because they know they’ll lose if they argue the points before them. Critics don’t question the merits of TIF, but focus instead on it’s many unintended consequences.

TIF addicts seem to prefer employing STRAWMAN arguments: they substitute their opponent’s actual position with a distorted version that’s easy to dismiss. The debate is NOT about what TIF can do, but what it’s effects are. It’s about multi-million dollar taxpayer giveaways to banks, shopping centers and entertainment monopolies that unnecessarily and inappropriately increase everyone else’s property taxes to the point that locals are displaced completely by wealthy out-of-staters.

The Missoulian recently featured such a Strawman, quoting Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association. Not only does McCarthy claim that, despite all the businesses closing all around us, “Downtown Missoula is without question a thriving commercial and community hub today.” The strawman comes in the form of trying to show all the good that TIF has done for local businesses – something critics don’t usually dispute.

McCarthy

Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association


What TIF addicts don’t seem to realize is that by constantly using TIF to finance everything in the city from Lord Checota’s Ego-Dome to Stockman Bank’s Crony-Tower to Peter Lambros’ Shopping Maul to Andy Holloran’s Hotel Holocaust, what they’re actually doing is dooming Missoula to a fiscal death-by-a-thousand-cuts. And just like any addiction, the more they do it, the more they must continue doing it.

It doesn’t take that much time for these policies to produce negative side effects of increasing relative tax burdens for everyone, by artificially raising property values across the board.

TIF addicts claim that they’re trying to alleviate poverty, while actually helping to worsen the very conditions that exacerbate poverty in the first place: rising housing costs!

Mrs. Harp’s comment seems especially perplexing within the context of its timing. The previous week, on the 8th of January, she was stripped of her chairmanship on the Finance Committee, apparently because of her willingness to sincerely listen to citizen anxieties about TIF, and its constant overuse.

Her replacement, Gwen Jones, consistently displays an unapologetic contempt for citizens concerned about the effects of TIF, and was therefore the logical choice to Chair Missoula’s Finance Committee, at least from the point of view of wealthy developers, their cronies, and the useful idiots who go along to get along. Gwen’s cold, calculating indifference is further revealed by her recent declaration that “battle lines have been drawn.” Because apparently our community is nothing but a battlefield.

Those on the Council who helped unseat Mrs. Harp have sent a chilling message both to the people of Missoula as well as the rest of our elected representatives: don’t ever work with the people of your community, or you’ll lose what little authority we allow you to have.

I concede that at least this Food Bank/Partnership TIF is aimed at doing some good. Unlike the proposed $16.5 million TIF for Nick Checota’s LogJam Monopoly to further dominate Missoula’s entertainment scene with a giant monstrosity that they alone will have rights to operate for the next 75 years, all on the taxpayer dime.

As Missoula’s debt engines speed toward the cliff of bankruptcy, the TIF addicts are hitting the nitrous boosters while screaming, “Can’t this thing go any faster?” And the only operator who even discussed tapping the brakes was just pulled from the driver’s seat.

Jones isn’t merely a TIF addict; she’s a TIF dealer.

Under these circumstances, what possible benefit exists in continuing to patronize taxpayers with the same condescending claim that Tax Increment Financing is just too complicated a subject for ordinary folks to wrap their heads around?

john-holcroft-5-5d073d80139f9__700

Gabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you.
May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.

 

We Can’t Prevent War By Starting War

Trump has united Iran against America. The Pentagon’s unprovoked drone assassination of the Iranian general responsible for the defeat of ISIS should confuse most Americans. But the fact that General Soleimani was murdered while negotiating a peace deal signals that America ’s oligarchs are finally ready to ignite World War III. The attack corroborates General Wesley Clark’s revelation that the “War on Terror” involved invading and overthrowing seven Middle-Eastern countries in five years – finishing with Iran. Since the War on Terror began, America has surrounded Iran with over 40 military bases, mirroring the intentions set by the Brookings Institution’s 2009 regime change strategy guide: “Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy Toward Iran.” And ever since the Mossad’s ill-advised deployment of the STUXNET virus and the resulting cyber war that followed, Iran has proven capable of defending itself with a deterrent far more effective than nuclear arms.

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