Martin Kidston’s Litigious Threats Have No Legal Standing

We fail to see what Martin “Gomer” Kidston thinks might provide him with sufficient grounds to sue Missoula’s college radio station, KBGA.

It’s true that the Outer Limits have described his Current as inaccurate and at times even referred to his writing as a “fabrication.”

And yes, we also pinned the word “liar” on “Gomer.” What (among other elemental deficiencies) short-circuits any purported pathway to a successful libel action, is the inclusion of the William Skink excerpt in which Mr. Skink’s colloquy with “Gomer,” concerning “Gomer’s” inaccurate reporting of Mr. Wardell’s Monday Council allocution, is recounted.

“Gomer” as much as admits that he made up the Mr. Wardell quotes when he explains that Mr. Wardell’s citizen comment remarks were, in his view, “rambling and incoherent at best”. He just made up what he sort of thought maybe he remembered what Wardell might have said.

He published that deliberate falsehood – as fact.

Sounds like a lie to us.

And one who lies, is after all, a liar.

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It is truly appalling that anyone such as “Gomer,” who holds himself out as a journalist, would be so lazy and reckless as to fabricate quotes made to government officials or a government body, particularly when the guess involves transforming the citizen’s pledge of nonviolence into an admission of making terrorist threats against City officials.

Given the highly publicized detention and felony prosecution of SSgt. Bryant on allegation of making terrorist threats  – like Mr. Wardell, a weekly City Council attendee who commented in opposition to misuse of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) – “Gomer’s” gross lack of due diligence and false description of Mr. Wardell’s City Council comments certainly seems likely to damage Mr. Wardell’s community reputation, among those who know of him by sight.

All “Gomer'” had to do, in order to get it right, was to view the video of the meeting readily accessible on demand at no charge to anyone with internet access. Additionally, many readers of the Current regularly notice the factually anemic, personally opinionated and derogatory character of “Gomer’s” articles regarding TIF opponents and other matters. To call the Current a “newspaper” is quite generous indeed.

As we’ve pointed out, it was an incredible lapse in journalistic method, editorial review, and faculty adviser oversight for the Hellgate Lance to publish an article about its lockdown accompanying Mayor Engan’s imposition of Martial Law, in which the student reporter without attribution or minimal investigation, reported as fact the facially false assertion that the rooftop snipers and armored personnel carrier were a defensive reaction to SSgt. Brandon Bryant (USAF, ret.) firing shots at a police car downtown.

In reality, as the Outer Limits reported following examination of publicly-accessible official City emails, SSgt. Bryant was jailed the day before the lockdown, after correspondence between Missoula City Council President Bryan von Lossberg and City Procurator Jim Nugent, for allegedly threatening words uttered by SSgt. Bryant in a Youtube video provided to von Lossberg by a cyberstalker of SSgt. Bryant known as Maj. Richard Rynearson (USAF, ret.).

The film in question, that was sent to the Council was a cut-and-paste collage that was not assembled by the accused, and not sent to the Council by the accused. Nevertheless, local media have recklessly and repeatedly made reference to the “Pick Your Battles” Youtube channel as belonging to Ssgt. Bryant, despite evidence to the contrary, including the address of Bryant’s actual Youtube channel.

But there is at least the mitigating and comforting knowledge that the Lance’s historically inconsistent and catastrophically embarrassing mistakes were the errors of a teenager. In the case of “Gomer'” Kidston, a grown adult, there is no readily apparent excuse. In both episodes, the errors are the results of failures of writers to exercise reasonable due diligence.

Given the youth of the Lance writer, the fact that the writer was personally locked down inside Hellgate High School, and the public confusion and conflation of facts in rumors arising from the persecution of SSgt. Bryant and the commands issued to armed forces the next day from the Emergency Operations Center directed by Mayor Engen, it’s difficult to ascribe more than gross negligence to the Lance reporter’s lack of due diligence.

But in “Gomer” Kidston’s case, we’re dealing with a grown adult who publishes a newsprint and electronic rag that, as we have noted, was deemed bona fide enough to quash a legal challenge to The Missoulian’s acquisition of The Missoula Independent alleging the establishment of a newspaper monopoly in Missoula. The Current reports on all manner of happenings and civic affairs.

If not libeled, Mr. Wardell was certainly held out in a false light by “Gomer’s” lack of due diligence. The omission of his name from Gomer’s article is perhaps the sole circumstance that significantly impedes legal action by Mr. Wardell, though his frequent attendance and citizen comments reduce that impediment by making it more likely that others surmised who the alleged public threat propagator was.

As journalists familiar with New York Times vs. Sullivan, if Mr. Wardell’s City Council commentaries on Monday evenings in Council Chambers broadcast live on Missoula Community Access Television (MCAT) make him a sort of public figure, in order for him to sustain a libel action he would need to prove that the defendant’s allegedly defamatory statement was not merely false, but also was published with actual malice, that is, with knowledge of its falsity and an intent to injure, or with reckless disregard for the truth.

The Outer Limits offers no opinion as to whether Mr. Wardell is a public figure. But one must admit that based on “Gomer’s” admissions to William Skink, “Gomer’s” appalling lack of due diligence certainly emits an odor resembling, at minimum, reckless disregard for the truth.


Turning now to our commentary regarding Kidston that led the paragon of pulp journalism to burst through the KBGA boardroom door like a moronic ghoul from ‘Night of the Living Dead’, virtually every swipe taken at “Gomer” was obvious opinion; items asserted as fact were either matters of public record, or written or oral statements by “Gomer” himself.

Finally, there was lampooning of Mr. Kidston who – by publishing a newspaper featuring his own bylined articles replete with factual, grammatical, and stylistic errors exemplifying editorial incompetence – has by foisting his puppy training aid upon the public, invited the public’s praise or ridicule, depending upon one’s intellectual and political sophistication.

Other statements of opinion (and lampooning) include bestowing the honorific title “useful idiot” onto Mr. Kidston. But who isn’t flattered to be described as useful?

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As for the nickname “Gomer” which we’ve affixed to Current writer-publisher Kidston, it’s our understanding that Mr. Kidston alleges to have served in the Marines. Every Boomer raised in a family possessing an idiot box is no doubt familiar with the affable, optimistic, smiling, vociferous Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., the lead character in a multi-season sit-com of the same name, featuring the late Jim Nabors in the role of Private Pyle, the goofy but lovable daily headache of hothead Sgt. Carter.

From the imagery of our description of “Gomer” Kidston bursting into the KBGA board meeting, yelling and ranting and threatening attendees, it seems that the “Gomer” nickname for the useful idiot indeed made us guilty of propagating a misnomer, for such brash, churlish, unhinged conduct is the behavioral signature not of Gomer Pyle, but of Sgt. Carter. Perhaps that is at the root of Kidston’s rabid mania, which is certainly understandable. But as mentioned, our focus deviated to Kubrick’s adaptation of Gomer Pyle, since Kidston now bears the responsibility of being exposed for smuggling the metaphorical jelly doughnut of outright libel into the footlocker of his Missoula Current; in this case, the lies and obfuscations he and his advertisers hope nobody else will notice.

But nobody could have predicted the bizarre response from KBGA staff to “Gomer’s” storming of the board meeting. The response by any experienced faculty advisor to a foaming-at-the-mouth bombast making editorial demands and threatening to sue, would be on the order of:

“Your constructive criticism is greatly appreciated. Good day, sir.”

That’s standard response from all editors and publishers of newspapers that adhere to good journalistic practice, such that the editors and publishers unequivocally back up reporters and columnists.

cribbageWhy did the KBGA board members not respond to “Gomer” with “Call tomorrow, make an appointment, and until then get the Hell out of here before we call campus police!”?

Unless the station is totally independent from the University of Montana, the directive to first avoid discussing the Brandon Bryant affair on the air, then to avoid important local issues for two weeks (during the station donation drive), in combination with the “Gomer” boardroom invasion that resulted in the preemptive axing of the Outer Limits broadcast, seems gravely concerning.

As a state entity, the Montana University System is “The State” with respect to the First Amendment and the Montana Constitution’s guarantee of free expression. That is not to say that format is not subject to station management prerogatives, but if the station management is in the hands of university personnel or officials, content-based censorship other than of obscenity or libelous material, raises the specter of constitutional violations. Of course, if a community radio station is a mere tenant of a university campus, the university has the right to decline to renew a lease, etc.

But from a purely journalistic standpoint, what in the actual fuck is going on here? Doesn’t the station administration have a lawyer available to advise whether content is libelous or not? Why is the station administration so sensitive to the complaints of a hack who disparages citizen activists, makes up direct quotes, and can’t handle criticism?

The reference in the letter from station administration referring to complaints from “listeners” is a brazen insult to intelligence. Who exactly are these complaining “listeners?” The listener base of the Outer Limits is, by all accounts, a loyal cult of Missoulians who share the cynicism of the show’s producers and adore the show’s creative satire. Recently, we’ve heard that Nick Checota tunes in as well, and we might easily imagine that the growing listenership might include “Gomer” Kidston, City Council President von Lossberg, legal eagle Jim Nugent, and perhaps even Mayor Engen himself.

Are these the “listeners” who are complaining? It would make sense, since they’re accustomed to the adulation of the many oligarch-serving propaganda outlets posing as news organizations in Missoula.


“HE IS A CONGENITAL LIAR”

If the station is in fact an appendage of the university, it’s possible that the university’s institutional memory still smarts from a libel suit brought 36 years ago against the university, its student newspaper The Montana Kaimin, and its then-editor Carey Yunker.

In an October 8, 1974 editorial, Yunker labeled Madison, the director of the UM print shop, as an incompetent “congenital liar:”

“One of the memos is from Al Madison. His position, director of the University print shop, alone makes anything he would say on the matter suspect. As well, he is a congenital liar, an incompetent whose own operation has lost $103,914.89 in the last four years.”

SINCE1898Madison sued Yunker, The Kaimin, and UM for libel, seeking special, general, and punitive or exemplary damages in the aggregate amount of $102,000.  Madison alleged that defendant Yunker, acting in her capacity as editor of the Montana Kaimin, deliberately and maliciously libeled him by publishing false defamatory statements. Former 64-203, R.C.M. 1947, defined libel, in relevant part, as follows:

“Libel is a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing * * * which exposes any persons to hatred, contempt, ridicule,  or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.”

The defendants moved to dismiss on grounds that Madison had not complied with a Montana statute then in effect that required a person alleging defamation, as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit, to first demand a retraction, and permitting the filing of a lawsuit only in the event no retraction complying with the statute was forthcoming. The statute, former section 64-207.1, R.C.M. 1947, provided as follows:

“Before any civil action shall be commenced on account of any libelous or defamatory publication in any newspaper, magazine, periodical, radio or television station, or cable television system, the libeled person shall first give those alleged to be responsible or liable for the publication a reasonable opportunity to correct the libelous or defamatory matter. Such opportunity shall be given by notice in writing specifying the article and the statements therein which are claimed to be false and defamatory and a statement of what are claimed to be the true facts. The notice may also state the sources, if any, from which the true facts may be ascertained with definiteness and certainty. The first issue of a newspaper, magazine or periodical published after the expiration of one week from the receipt of such notice shall be within a reasonable time for correction. In the case of radio and television stations and cable television systems a broadcast made at the same time of day as the broadcast complained of and of at least equal duration, which is made within seven (7) days following receipt of such notice shall be within a reasonable time for correction. To the extent that the true facts are, with reasonable diligence, ascertainable with definiteness and certainty, only a retraction shall constitute a correction; otherwise the publication of the libeled person’s statement of the true facts, of so much thereof as shall not be libelous or another, scurrilous, or otherwise improper for publication, published as his statement, shall constitute a correction within the meaning of this section. If it shall appear upon trial that the publication was made under honest mistake or misapprehension, then a correction, timely published, without comment, in a position and type as prominent as the alleged libel, or in a broadcast made at the same time of day as the broadcast complained of and of at least equal duration, shall constitute a defense against the recovery of any damages except actual damages, as well as being competent and material in mitigation of actual damages to the extent the correction published does so mitigate them.” (Emphasis added.)

Madison countered that the retraction statute conflicted with the provision of the Montana Constitution, Article II, section 16, guaranteeing every person a speedy and adequate remedy at law for ever injury to person, property or character.

The District Court granted Yunker’s and the other defendants’ motions to dismiss based on Madison’s failure to demand a retraction, and upheld the constitutionality of the retraction statute. Madison appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.

The Montana Supreme Court, in Madison v. Yunker (1978), 180 Mont. 54, 67, 589 P.2d 126, 133, struck down the statute requiring a retraction demand prior to filing a defamation action case, agreeing that it violated the  Montana Constitutional guarantee of a right to speedy judicial remedy for every injury to person, property or character.

Of more relevance, the Montana Supreme Court, realizing that the New York Times v. Sullivan decision of the Supreme Court of the United States imposed certain limitations on defamation  lawsuits under the First Amendment, chose to outline the parameters within which the case was to be adjudicated on remand to the District Court. In so doing, the Montana Supreme Court adopted the defamation standard set forth in New York Times v. Sullivan, and its progeny up to that time, as being required under the Montana Constitution’s free speech, press and expression provision, Article II, section 7, independently from the First Amendment.

One of the principles established in New York Times v. Sullivan is that truth is an absolute defense. Another is that a public official or public figure may not be awarded judgment for defamation absent proof that the defendant published injurious falsehoods deliberately or did so with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity.

Rather than paraphrase or summarize that portion of the Montana Supreme Court’s opinion in Yunker v. Madison, we reproduce it here:

“Having determined that the statute which brought about the dismissal of plaintiff’s suit is unconstitutional, we must send this cause back for further proceedings. In doing so, however, we are obliged to state, for guidance of the District Court, certain restrictions on libel suits and the damages obtainable therein which now apply. In doing so, we can perhaps obviate, or at lease ease, the fears which will rise in the breasts of publishers, editors, and broadcasters upon publication of this opinion.

“Although the United States Supreme Court has recognized that a state may provide for libel suits (Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., supra), there has been a substantial development in cases from that court which is in itself a protection to publishers because it limits the right to damages. These restrictions on damages are in themselves a deterrent to the barrage of libel suits that publishers might otherwise fear.

“The development begins with New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686, 95 ALR 1912. There, the United States Supreme Court found that the dissemination of news was so important that news media should be protected from libel judgments, and should also be shielded from their own “self-censorship” brought about by fear of libel suits. The Supreme Court held that a public official could not recover on a claim for defamation unless “actual malice” had been present. Implied or presumed malice was out. “Malice” meant publication of the defaming material with a “knowledge that it was false, or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not”. The burden of proof was on the plaintiff to prove that kind of malice with convincing clarity. The court found that the First Amendment permitted, on public issues, vehement, caustic and some and sometimes sharp attacks on public officials.

“In Garrison v. Louisiana (1964), 379 U.S. 64, 85 S.Ct. 209, 13 L.Ed.2d 125, the New York Times rule was extended to a public official’s private reputation, as well as his public reputation.

“In Curtis Publishing Company v. Butts, and Associated Press v. Walker (1967), reported together in 388 U.S. 130, 87 S.Ct. 1975, 18 L.Ed.2d 1094, reh. den. 389 U.S. 889, 88 S.Ct. 11, 19 L.Ed.2d 197 (1967), the court extended the New York Times rule to public figures. “Public figures” are defined in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., supra:

‘For the most part those who attain this status have assumed roles of especial prominence in the affairs of society. Some occupy positions of such persuasive power and influence that they are deemed public figures for all purposes. More commonly, those classed as public figures have thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved. In either event, they invite attention and comment.’ 418 U.S. at 345, 94 S.Ct. At 3009.

“Finally, in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., supra, the Supreme Court, while allowing states to provide for libel suits, erected a fence around the amount of damages recoverable:

‘We would not, of course, invalidate state law simply because we doubt its wisdom, but here we are attempting to reconcile state law with a competing interest grounded in the constitutional command of the First Amendment. It is therefore appropriate to require that state remedies for defamatory falsehood reach no farther than is necessary to protect the legitimate interest involved. It is necessary to restrict defamation plaintiffs who do not prove knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth to compensation for actual injury. We need not define “actual injury,” as trial courts have wide experience in framing appropriate jury instructions in tort actions. Suffice it to say that actual injury is not limited to out-of-pocket loss. Indeed, the more customary types of actual harm inflicted by defamatory falsehood include impairment of reputation and standing in the community, personal humiliation, and mental anguish and suffering. Of course, juries must be limited by appropriate instructions, and all awards must be supported by competent  evidence concerning the injury, although there need be no evidence which assigns an actual dollar value to the injury.

‘We also find no justification for allowing awards of punitive damages against publishers and broadcasters held liable under state-defined standards of liability for defamation. In most jurisdictions jury discretion over the amounts awarded is limited only by the gentle rule that they not be excessive. Consequently, juries assess punitive damages in wholly unpredictable amounts bearing no necessary relation to the actual harm caused. And they remain free to use their discretion selectively to punish expressions of unpopular views. Like the doctrine of presumed damages, jury discretion to award punitive damages unnecessarily exacerbates the danger of media self-censorship, but, unlike the former rule, punitive damages are wholly irrelevant to the state interest that justifies a negligence standard for private defamation actions. They are not compensation for injury. Instead, they are private fines levied by civil juries to punish reprehensible conduct and to deter its future occurrence. In short, the private defamation plaintiff who establishes liability under a less demanding standard than that stated by New York Times may recover only such damages as are sufficient to compensate him for actual injury.’ 418 U.S. at 349, 350, 94 S.Ct. At 3012.

“In this case, defendants have constantly referred to Madison as a “public official”, apparently to bring this case under the umbrella of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra. We are skeptical that the director of the print shop at the University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, is indeed a “public official”. In Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., supra, it was held that a lawyer was not a public official, although he had taken on a prominent case and was by virtue of his profession an officer of the court. Likewise, it may be contended in the retrial that Madison is a “public figure”. Whatever his status, it is a question for the jury to determine, because of the constitutional provision that the jury under the instructions of the court is the judge of both law and fact. Article II, Section 7, 1972 Montana Constitution. With appropriate instructions,  the jury can determine these matters and their status in any trial, unless otherwise stipulated.

“In this case, therefore, applying the rationale of the cases of the United States Supreme Court on damages for libel, if Madison is considered to be a private person, he must prove: (1) that the published material was false; (2) that defendants are chargeable with fault in the publication; and (3) that actual injury to him ensued, for which he may recover his actual damages. Moreover, (4) if he proves that the publication was made by defendants with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard for the truth or falsities thereof, he may recover punitive damages for such malice, but such malice does not include hatred, personal spite, ill-will, or a desire to injure. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra; Letter Carriers v. Austin (1974), 418 U.S. 264, 94 S.Ct. 2770, 41 L.Ed.2d 745.

“If Madison is a public official or public figure, he may recover only if he proves the threshold fact that the publication was made with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for its truth or falsity. He could then recover his actual and punitive damages.

“We now, therefore, reverse the judgment and order of dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint by the District Court and remand the cause to the District Court for further proceedings, consonant with this opinion. Costs to the plaintiff.”

So, from that, you can see that if a jury determined that “Gomer” was indeed a liar, that would result in a judgment for the defense and Kidston would take nothing, because truth is a defense to libel.

If the defense of truth was not deemed established by a jury, the next issue involves whether “Gomer” legally qualifies as a public official or public figure. There is nothing to suggest that he is a public official, so the public figure question would be pondered.

It seems inappropriate for us to provide opinions as to whether Kidston likely does or does not qualify as a public figure based upon his actions and publications. But if he were deemed a public figure by the jury, then he would, in order to prevail, have to convince the jury by clear and convincing evidence – a higher standard than a preponderance of evidence (meaning it’s more likely than not), but lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt – that the defendants published the offensive content with actual malice; that is, deliberately published false matter, or published false matter with reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.

“Reckless disregard for the truth” means substantial doubt as to its truth. “Clear and convincing” means that the proposition is “highly probable.” A determination whether actual malice existed would have to be made within the narrow guidelines that the First Amendment and Article II, section 7 of the Montana Constitution permit, on public issues, “vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on public officials and public figures.”

Kidston would then have to prove that he was damaged in his public or private reputation. His life would become something of an open book and witnesses regarding his reputation in the community and/or their personal opinions of his character could be called by both sides. Witnesses testifying to his previously pristine reputation could be asked by the defendants on cross examination questions such as “Have you heard that ___________” (relating some embarrassing event in the plaintiff’s past”). If the witness says “Yes,” it tends to undermine the witness’s credibility, and the same if asked “would you have the same opinion if you knew that ________?” Evidence of the embarrassing past event must be presented.

Assuming that “Gomer” cleared all of those hurdles, and established that he had been damaged, he could seek to recover both actual and punitive damages.

If a jury decided that “Gomer” was not a public figure, then mere negligence would be adequate to find a defendant liable for defamation, but he still could not collect punitive damages unless he proved actual malice (deliberate publication of a defamatory falsehood, or publication of such a falsehood with reckless disregard of its truth or falsity).


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Cornell University Law School weighs in on the subject of defamation. Note in particular the narrowed definition of “public figure”:

“…One of the most seminal shifts in constitutional jurisprudence occurred in 1964 with the Court’s decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. The Times had published a paid advertisement by a civil rights organization criticizing the response of a Southern community to demonstrations led by Dr. Martin Luther King, and containing several factual errors. The plaintiff, a city commissioner in charge of the police department, claimed that the advertisement had libeled him even though he was not referred to by name or title and even though several of the incidents described had occurred prior to his assumption of office. Unanimously, the Court reversed the lower court’s judgment for the plaintiff. To the contention that the First Amendment did not protect libelous publications, the Court replied that constitutional scrutiny could not be foreclosed by the ‘label’ attached to something. ‘Like . . . the various other formulae for the repression of expression that have been challenged in this Court, libel can claim no talismanic immunity from constitutional limitations. It must be measured by standards that satisfy the First Amendment.’ ‘The general proposition,’ the Court continued, ‘that freedom of expression upon public questions is secured by the First Amendment has long been settled by our decisions . . . . [W]e consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.’ Because the advertisement was ‘an expression of grievance and protest on one of the major public issues of our time, [it] would seem clearly to qualify for the constitutional protection . . . [unless] it forfeits that protection by the falsity of some of its factual statements and by its alleged defamation of respondent.’

“Erroneous statement is protected, the Court asserted, there being no exception ‘for any test of truth.’ Error is inevitable in any free debate and to place liability upon that score, and especially to place on the speaker the burden of proving truth, would introduce self-censorship and stifle the free expression which the First Amendment protects. Nor would injury to official reputation afford a warrant for repressing otherwise free speech. Public officials are subject to public scrutiny and ‘[c]riticism of their official conduct does not lose its constitutional protection merely because it is effective criticism and hence diminishes their official reputation.’ That neither factual error nor defamatory content could penetrate the protective circle of the First Amendment was the ‘lesson’ to be drawn from the great debate over the Sedition Act of 1798, which the Court reviewed in some detail to discern the ‘central meaning of the First Amendment.’ Thus, it appears, the libel law under consideration failed the test of constitutionality because of its kinship with seditious libel, which violated the “central meaning of the First Amendment.’ The constitutional guarantees require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with “actual malice”—that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.’

“In the wake of the Times ruling, the Court decided two cases involving the type of criminal libel statute upon which Justice Frankfurter had relied in analogy to uphold the group libel law in Beauharnais. In neither case did the Court apply the concept of Times to void them altogether. Garrison v. Louisiana held that a statute that did not incorporate the Times rule of ‘actual malice’ was invalid, while in Ashton v. Kentucky a common-law definition of criminal libel as ‘any writing calculated to create disturbances of the peace, corrupt the public morals or lead to any act, which, when done, is indictable’ was too vague to be constitutional.

“The teaching of Times and the cases following it is that expression on matters of public interest is protected by the First Amendment. Within that area of protection is commentary about the public actions of individuals. The fact that expression contains falsehoods does not deprive it of protection, because otherwise such expression in the public interest would be deterred by monetary judgments and self-censorship imposed for fear of judgments. But, over the years, the Court has developed an increasingly complex set of standards governing who is protected to what degree with respect to which matters of public and private interest.

“Individuals to whom the Times rule applies presented one of the first issues for determination. At times, the Court has keyed it to the importance of the position held. ‘There is, first, a strong interest in debate on public issues, and, second, a strong interest in debate about those persons who are in a position significantly to influence the resolution of those issues. Criticism of government is at the very center of the constitutionally protected area of free discussion. Criticism of those responsible for government operations must be free, lest criticism of government itself be penalized. It is clear, therefore, that the “public official” designation applies at the very least to those among the hierarchy of government employees who have, or appear to the public to have, substantial responsibility for or control over the conduct of governmental affairs.’ But this focus seems to have become diffused and the concept of ‘public official’ has appeared to take on overtones of anyone holding public elective or appointive office. Moreover, candidates for public office were subject to the Times rule and comment on their character or past conduct, public or private, insofar as it touches upon their fitness for office, is protected.

“Thus, a wide range of reporting about both public officials and candidates is protected. Certainly, the conduct of official duties by public officials is subject to the widest scrutiny and criticism. But the Court has held as well that criticism that reflects generally upon an official’s integrity and honesty is protected. Candidates for public office, the Court has said, place their whole lives before the public, and it is difficult to see what criticisms could not be related to their fitness.

“For a time, the Court’s decisional process threatened to expand the Times privilege so as to obliterate the distinction between private and public figures. First, the Court created a subcategory of ‘public figure,’ which included those otherwise private individuals who have attained some prominence, either through their own efforts or because it was thrust upon them, with respect to a matter of public interest, or, in Chief Justice Warren’s words, those persons who are ‘intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions or, by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large.’ Later, the Court curtailed the definition of ‘public figure’ by playing down the matter of public interest and emphasizing the voluntariness of the assumption of a role in public affairs that will make of one a ‘public figure.’

“Second, in a fragmented ruling, the Court applied the Times standard to private citizens who had simply been involved in events of public interest, usually, though not invariably, not through their own choosing. But, in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. the Court set off on a new path of limiting recovery for defamation by private persons. Henceforth, persons who are neither public officials nor public figures may recover for the publication of defamatory falsehoods so long as state defamation law establishes a standard higher than strict liability, such as negligence; damages may not be presumed, however, but must be proved, and punitive damages will be recoverable only upon the Times showing of ‘actual malice.’

“The Court’s opinion by Justice Powell established competing constitutional considerations. On the one hand, imposition upon the press of liability for every misstatement would deter not only false speech but much truth as well; the possibility that the press might have to prove everything it prints would lead to self-censorship and the consequent deprivation of the public of access to information. On the other hand, there is a legitimate state interest in compensating individuals for the harm inflicted on them by defamatory falsehoods. An individual’s right to the protection of his own good name is, at bottom, but a reflection of our society’s concept of the worth of the individual. Therefore, an accommodation must be reached. The Times rule had been a proper accommodation when public officials or public figures were concerned, inasmuch as by their own efforts they had brought themselves into the public eye, had created a need in the public for information about them, and had at the same time attained an ability to counter defamatory falsehoods published about them. Private individuals are not in the same position and need greater protection. ‘We hold that, so long as they do not impose liability without fault, the States may define for themselves the appropriate standard of liability for a publisher or broadcaster of defamatory falsehood injurious to a private individual.’ Thus, some degree of fault must be shown.

“Generally, juries may award substantial damages in tort for presumed injury to reputation merely upon a showing of publication. But this discretion of juries had the potential to inhibit the exercise of freedom of the press, and moreover permitted juries to penalize unpopular opinion through the awarding of damages. Therefore, defamation plaintiffs who do not prove actual malice—that is, knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth—will be limited to compensation for actual provable injuries, such as out-of-pocket loss, impairment of reputation and standing, personal humiliation, and mental anguish and suffering. A plaintiff who proves actual malice will be entitled as well to collect punitive damages. …”

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All opinions herein are the opinions of Gabrielle Lafayette, not professional legal opinions. To procure legal advice upon which to rely in making decisions in these matters, one must obtain legal advice from a lawyer actively licensed to practice in Montana, who possesses defamation law competence.

By providing recitation of some general principle and references to, and excerpts from, United States Supreme Court and Montana Supreme Court decisions concerning the law of defamation as shaped by the Montana and Federal Constitutions and a Cornell scholarly article, we’ve simply steered the reader to authorities likely encountered should further review and research on this topic be performed.

Martin Kidston Is Montana’s Gomer Pyle

The eyes of the world have fixed upon Missoula, Montana. A procedural squabble over the otherwise boring municipal business of Tax Increment Financing has spiraled out of control, resulting in a global outcry against the continued detention of a world-renowned US military whistleblower. Staff Sergeant Brandon Bryant remains in the Missoula County Detention Facility on $100,000 bond, charged with “Threats and undue influence in official and political matters”. As the story dominates local news coverage and citizen dialogue, Missoula officials desperately scramble to control the narrative through their enthusiastic mouthpiece, the Missoula Current, headed by former Marine and useful idiot Martin Kidston. The Current has long been something of a punchline in Missoula’s local journalism scene, but this most recent storm of events has provoked Kidston to release a flurry of articles, showcasing a flabbergasting abandonment of journalistic ethics in favor of blatant fear-mongering and propaganda. He supports his pro-elite, anti-citizen rhetoric with an ever more absurd slew of false facts and authentic conspiracy theories. Kidston’s coverage has become so bad it is no longer hyperbolic to acknowledge that readers of the Missoula Current are actually less informed than those who know nothing.

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Downtown Missoula has become a confusing, dangerous place

Bryant’s lawyers have appeared twice in Missoula District court to defend their client against a politically motivated prosecution. At Bryant’s arraignment his public defender Robin Hammond asserted that her client’s detention and prosecution violates his rights under four separate constitutional amendments, including, but not limited to, his right of free speech, right to peaceable assembly, right to equal protection under the law, right against cruel and unusual punishment and right against excessive bail.

The free speech argument in Bryant’s case will be obvious to even the most casual of observers. The other violations of his constitutional rights are somewhat more nuanced but all can be plainly understood even by those who don’t speak the truth-obfuscating language of legalese. Importantly, at this moment where his $100,000 bail has been upheld by Judge Shane Vanetta three weeks in a row, the maximum fine for the crime Brandon is charged with is $50,000. His bail is double the amount of the maximum fine allowable under the law.

defenseDeputy County Attorney Matt Jennings insists that the $100,000 bail must be maintained to protect the safety of the Missoula City Council whom Sergeant Bryant is charged with threatening. The monkey wrench in the works of Jennings’ argument however is the inconvenient fact that four members of the Council have publicly stated that they do not consider Brandon Bryant a threat and have explicitly called for him to be released and his charges dropped. One council member, Heather Harp, read a heartfelt letter to Brandon Bryant at the last Council Meeting on 24 February. Before everyone who attended the meeting Mrs. Harp pleaded for Bryant’s release and called for the charges against him to be dismissed. Four days later, three more members of the City Council (the anti-TIF voting block collectively referred to as “Team Liberty”) released their own letter, demanding Brandon’s release and accusing their Council colleagues of encouraging Bryant’s draconian prosecution in order to stifle the growing local outcry against the use and abuse of Tax Increment Financing.

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City Council member Jesse Ramos was present in the courtroom during Brandon Bryant’s omnibus hearing on Thursday, 27 February. He informed Bryant’s lawyers that he was there in support of Brandon, a fact highlighted by public defender Jake Coolidge who presented Team Liberty’s letter to the Court. Every soul in the courtroom sat in silence for a few tense moments as Judge Shane Vanetta silently read the letter, which had been written and delivered to Bryant’s lawyers that same morning.

At this time the Court is still awaiting the prosecution’s response to a 28 page motion to dismiss the charges. While every hearing so far has been packed to the gills with precedent-backed arguments against Brandon’s excessive bail, Judge Vanetta has, thus far, been unmovable and inscrutable, maintaining the $100,000 bail pending a mental health evaluation. However, public defender Robin Hammond made several arguments, citing US Supreme Court precedent, that the court cannot legally compel a mental health evaluation, referencing Bryant’s right to privacy and right against self-incrimination.

Bryant’s mother started a go-fund-me campaign: “Freedom For Brandon Bryant” two weeks ago in an attempt to raise the money for her son’s bail. His lawyers argue that the excessively high bail explicitly violates his 8th Amendment right against excessive bail.

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A cursory perusal of the headlines from local media outlets might seem to indicate that Brandon Bryant’s landmark legal case is not the only news story in Missoula. But a closer reading of the headlines reveals that many of the most shocking news items published recently by local media connect themselves to the Brandon Bryant affair in some way. These items include the ongoing contention over a $16.5 million dollar taxpayer giveaway to Wisconsin millionaire Nick Checota, a highly controversial round of public comment to the City Council on 24 February, and the terrifyingly bizarre lockdown of the downtown area by militarized police originally purported as the result of an armed attack on Missoula Police Officers. The Missoula Police Department have since admitted that their response to the spontaneous shattering of a patrol car’s rear window may have been an overreaction.

On President’s Day 2020, immediately following the publication of our report, “Brandon Bryant Is A Political Prisoner”, Missoula’s local entrepreneurial organization the City Club hosted a luncheon featuring a keynote speech and Q&A with Nick Checota of Logjam Presents, and Jim McLeod of The Farran Group. Checota and McLeod are the chief developers of the proposed downtown “Riverfront Triangle”, and the recipients of the $16.5 million dollar taxpayer giveaway that sparked off the Missoula TIF controversy ultimately resulting in Brandon’s arrest and detention. At the City Club forum, Checota and McLeod gave a presentation detailing their plans for Checota’s “Drift” project, a hotel and condominium tower with attached convention center. Controversy surrounds this project as it constitutes the largest TIF giveaway in Montana State history.

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During the presentation Checota mentioned that the construction of the convention center would not have been possible without the inclusion of TIF funds. He stated that despite the runaway success of his entertainment empire, that the financial numbers for the convention center simply didn’t “pencil out”. He essentially acknowledged that a convention center of this sort was unlikely to be a profitable venture, and so the decision to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to build such an unprofitable enterprise seems like a poor choice for the City. It is, however, an extremely favorable deal for Checota. He will own the attached hotel and condo tower but the convention center will be owned by the City, with Checota receiving a lucrative deal that gives him exclusive rights to book events there for the next 75 years. The way Checota’s lease agreement is structured with the City, his property taxes for this building will NOT go towards the increased use of police, roads, fire services, etc., but will be instead paying for a conference center over which Logjam and only Logjam will enjoy exclusive booking rights for 75 years. Wouldn’t it be sweet if your property taxes paid for your own mortgage? That’s essentially the deal that Checota has cunningly negotiated with the City, determining where his tax dollars go. Said tax dollars will pay for his conference center; money that would otherwise go toward paying for the government services his project will require.

jamminThis is one of the most blatant examples of privatized gains and socialized losses. As a private business leasing the conference center from the City, Logjam stands to profit handsomely off of its events, but since the City owns it, should it be rendered useless or underutilized as the result of an economic downturn, Checota will be insulated from loss.

The City Club forum is a staple of the Missoula business community, bringing local business people together in one room to hear a keynote speech and then ask questions of a highly successful entrepreneur. However, 2020’s February City Club forum at the Double Tree started off on a particularly discordant note. After introducing the keynote speakers and event protocol, City Club Vice Chair Susan Hay Patrick delivered a stern warning to the audience, alluding to provocateurs who had apparently threatened to disrupt the event:

“You may note the presence of law enforcement today. That’s because we’ve been told that there are some people determined to disrupt today’s forum at any cost. So if that’s your purpose, this isn’t the place for you. And I just want to give you a heads up that if you’re here to disrupt or insult our speakers, we just can’t tolerate that. So if you become disruptive, you’ll be asked first to leave, by me because we paid to rent this space, then by Double Tree staff representing the property owners, and should you refuse to do so, you will be escorted from the room by law enforcement and likely charged with Criminal Trespassing. That’s not the outcome we want, but it is an outcome we are prepared to enforce.”

A palpable fear coursed through the room, populated primarily by affluent business owners, many of whom were previously insulated from the growing local tensions. Susan Patrick has an outstanding reputation in Missoula and she obviously intended to diffuse and minimize potential interruptions to keep the event flowing in good order. But the opening statements had the opposite effect, pouring lots of unintended gasoline on a rapidly spreading fire of indignation and apprehension. Throughout the luncheon, these bizarre threats of arrest hung over the guests, all of whom had paid to attend. Many tables in the crowded convention hall murmured to themselves, escalating tensions and sparking further rumors and speculation by the community; a community where rumors spread quickly according to Mayor John Engen.

Under this cloud of oppressive fear the forum continued almost as-normal. Checota and McLeod presented their plans for the future of the Riverfront Triangle project in the most detailed terms yet. Checota even dedicated the final third of his presentation to addressing “the TIF aspect” of the project which he acknowledged was a highly contentious issue. This basic acknowledgement of the controversy reflects the degree to which the anti-TIF activists have been successful in bringing it into the public narrative. Tax Increment Financing has been heavily used by the City Council and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) for years, but in 2020 it has been pushed to the forefront of every municipal debate.

As anti-TIF rabble-rousing escalated following the announcement of Checota’s $16.5 million dollar TIF giveaway, some citizens warned against their contemporaries getting “too myopic about TIF”, advising instead that the underlying principle of income inequality was more important and that the City’s use of TIF was only one aspect of that struggle. However as TIF debate comes more and more into the limelight, the heavy proponents of its use seem ever more reluctant to discuss it. Multiple local media personalities have discussed a frustrating track of events, when TIF dealers like MRA Director Ellen Buchanan are questioned about TIF, their first tactic is to condescend, telling citizens and journalists alike that they just don’t understand the issue.

ellenSometimes active TIF proponents like Ellen Buchanan and Council Vice President Gwen Jones will offer to explain the workings of Tax Increment Financing, but as the debate becomes more and more heated, MRA director Buchanan has become more and more hostile to discussion of her favorite imperfect tool. When approached for an interview about TIF she first expressed frustration, saying she didn’t want to explain it again. When clarified that she didn’t need to explain it, that instead she would be asked to field detailed, educated questions about the use of TIF, she clammed up entirely. It is becoming more obvious with every passing day that those within the City behind the expanding use of TIF just don’t want to talk about it, especially not with anyone who is informed and engaged.

On the topic of informed and engaged citizen attention in city affairs, the 24 February City Council meeting was once again a showcase of the tensions currently gripping the Garden City. It was the first City Council meeting since Brandon Bryant’s arrest on 11 February, and the brief but intense round of public comment spurred yet another controversy in local media coverage, the results of which are still unfolding. A key figure in this round of public comment was one Matthew Wardell. He is one of the many citizens who has been speaking out regularly at Council meetings against the City’s misadventures with TIF, and was prominently featured in a recent NBC Montana piece highlighting the role citizens have had in bringing the issue to the forefront of discussion.

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Wardell is a personal friend of Brandon Bryant, and in the Council meeting prior to Bryant’s arrest he spoke passionately about the injustice inherent in banning Bryant from Council meetings. The source of widespread local outrage comes from the unscrupulous behavior of the aforementioned Missoula Current, a local news publication of little note outside of their recent bombastic attacks on anti-TIF activists, as well as the publication cited in the anti-trust suit that allowed newspaper conglomerate Lee Enterprises to buy up both of Missoula’s main newspapers, the Missoulian, and the Missoula Independent, prior to the shutdown of the Independent. The existence of the Missoula Current was cited as the reasoning for ruling that Lee Enterprises’ ownership of both the Missoulian and the Independent did not constitute a monopoly.

At the 24 February Council meeting (again, the first meeting since Bryant’s arrest) Wardell again spoke with great personal passion. He shared some personal details about his own struggles with chronic illness and the accompanying struggles he’s had with addiction. He said he shared these openly in order to prevent these facts from being used against him, as anti-whistleblower activist Rick Rynearson had been in contact with Wardell and others discussing the issue on social media. Rynearson operates the Youtube channel that hosts the video that led to Brandon Bryant’s arrest.

He has faced numerous accusations for cyberstalking and online harassment. Wardell used his brief three minutes of public comment to publicly and unequivocally state that nothing he has said or will say to the Council should be construed as a call to violence. He went on to share with the Council some of the consequences to members of the community based on their attacks on Sergeant Bryant in local media and Bryant’s resulting arrest.

Wardell concluded his brief comments by reminding the Council of comments made by Council Vice President Gwen Jones who chaired the 10 February meeting. At that meeting, Councilwoman Jones responded to a member of the public who beseeched the Council to help Bryant rather than punish him, assuring the man that “efforts are being made” to connect Bryant with services. As Wardell pointed out, less than 24 hours later Brandon Bryant was in jail, facing a charge that essentially amounts to terrorism.

“Looking to exact undue influence with fear in a political matter,” said Wardell. “The textbook definition of terrorism.” Wardell stared directly at Councilwoman Jones, stating plainly that he and many others are now afraid of the kind of “help” the City Council seems all-too-willing to supply. He concluded his statements with the phrase “we’re afraid of you”.

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Matt Wardell on 24 February 2020

Before Matt had even taken his seat, Council Vice President Bryan von Lossberg loudly interjected. “Point of order! Not gonna take the personal attacks on Council members or the inaccuracies around this. So…”

The meeting continued without any attempt by von Lossberg to elaborate what “inaccuracies” he might be referring to. Wardell is unquestionably afraid, as evidenced by his body language and the quiver in his voice. Asserting to a member of the public that plainly stating their own emotional state is an “inaccuracy” would be a stretch even for the out-of-touch leadership of the Missoula City Council, so what other “inaccuracies” might von Lossberg be referring to? To be fair, Gwen Jones did, in fact, claim that efforts were being made to help Brandon Bryant, as seen in the video archived on the City website (start @ 12 minutes).

Point of Order, President von Lossberg: If you are going to accuse your constituents of “inaccuracies” in their public comment, it might be helpful to elaborate. It has seemed abundantly clear for months now that the ordinary practice of the City Council is to habitually ignore public comment, routinely prioritizing procedural norms over public good. In this case, the Council President breaking protocol seems detrimental both to procedural norms and to public good. The public comment portion of the meeting is explicitly set aside for comment by the public. It is a time for them to lend their voice to the proceedings.

The time for general Council comment doesn’t come until the end of the meeting. Emotionally unstable responses from Council that are critical of the public’s right to speak during the time period specifically allotted to them have a chilling effect on the public’s faith in their right to participation that is guaranteed under the law. But considering his other public statements about the detrimental effect that Brandon Bryant’s emotional outbursts have had on proceedings at these meetings, President von Lossberg’s emotional outburst appeared powerfully hypocritical.

No part of Wardell’s comments seem particularly vulnerable to von Lossberg’s accusations of “inaccuracy,” rooted as they are either in statements about his own personal history and mental state, or in recalling and highlighting the words of Council Vice President Gwen Jones at the previous council meeting. So moving beyond Mr. von Lossberg’s unsupported complaint about “inaccuracies,” what, pray tell, are these personal attacks that the Council President must break protocol to defend against?

Does Wardell’s confession that “we’re afraid of you” somehow warrant accusations of personal attack? Clearly Wardell is using his three minutes of procedurally protected public comment to communicate how he feels personally attacked by the actions of the City Council. Has Bryan von Lossberg reduced himself to victim blaming?

Perhaps when President von Lossberg says he “won’t take the personal attacks” he means that he doesn’t want you to personally attack the Council’s ability to throw citizens in jail on politically motivated charges.

In an attempt to refute the widely-held public perception that the City Council provoked Brandon Bryant’s arrest, Councilwoman Stacie Anderson stated:

“It’s really important the public knows that we had absolutely nothing to do with putting anyone behind bars. We don’t have that authority.”

Stacie Anderson’s attempt at obfuscation must be one of the false facts and inaccuracies that Martin Kidston and Bryan von Lossberg seem to be so upset about. After all, Bryant’s trespass order from the Missoula City Council chambers was originally imposed following an Email exchange between Council President Bryan von Lossberg to City Attorney Jim Nugent. This is direct evidence that the Council indeed had something to do with Brandon’s prosecution and arrest, in spite of vociferous deflection to the contrary.

As reported by ABC FOX Montana Thursday:

Indeed, it was Council President Bryan von Lossberg who directed the YouTube video to police, according to court documents.

Earlier this week, von Lossberg told the Missoulian he believed any official involvement in Bryant’s legal process should be left to the county prosecutor’s office.

Council President von Lossberg sent an Email regarding Brandon Bryant to the City Attorney, directly resulting in Bryant’s trespass from Council chambers enforced by arrest should he ever attend Council meetings again.

Matt Wardell’s statements in the City Council chambers that night ruffled feathers outside the City government. By early the next morning a sensationalist article in the Missoula Current was raising eyebrows across the city (at least it would have been if the Missoula Current had anything approximating citywide readership).

A few keen observers noticed a particularly egregious error in the Missoula Current’s coverage of the 24 February Council meeting. Missoula Current editor and reporter-in-chief Martin Kidston tacked a quick smear of Wardell and other anti-TIF activists onto the end of an article about the Council making a non-decision and sending a proposal for a River street warehouse back to committee.

What follows is the original, pre-correction text that appeared in the Missoula Current on 25 February 2020:

Current PRE-Redaction

Monday night’s meeting got off to a rocky start, prompted by public comment rooted in false facts and conspiracy theories, including those surrounding the arrest of a Brandon Bryant – a man who threatened to murder members of the City Council and others.

One of those speakers, who has protested during public comment several times in recent weeks, admitted that he too has made a threatening video. Like Bryant, he also contends his video was taken out of context by what he described as a digital stalker.

He accused the council of trying to make an example of Bryant. But council members unanimously disputed the accusation, saying the Missoula County Attorney alone made the decision to arrest Bryant for threats of murder and intimidation against public officials, as permitted under Montana law.

Those who were physically present for the 24 February Council meeting found it an extremely suspicious assertion that yet another TIF activist made yet another threatening video. The Missoula Current article never mentioned Wardell by name (a libel suit would likely have followed if it had), but based on the other context provided in the article there can be little doubt that Wardell was the next citizen the Current was attempting to implicate for “threats and undue influence in official and political matters”. Seeing as the last person to make a “threatening” video directed at the City Council was currently in jail, this accusation no doubt made Wardell uneasy.

Given this, it seems entirely plausible that writer-in-chief Martin Kidston may be unfamiliar with the concept of irony; a concept explained perfectly by legendary comedian and linguist George Carlin:

Irony is “a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result. For instance: if a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.

Wardell set out from the beginning of his comments to establish publicly that he had not and would not make any calls to violence or threats. He expressed his fear that his sincere attempts to protect his town from income-inequality producing fiscal policy would result in political retribution against him just as it had against his friend. And in turn, a publication ostensibly dedicated to journalism literally put words in his mouth in an attempt to paint him as someone calling for or threatening violence against the City Council. The Missoula Current’s response to Wardell’s impassioned confession of fear of political retribution involved fabricating comments and attributing them to him in order to expose him to political retribution. Thus, Kidston’s attempt to change Wardell’s comments into an incriminating confession conforms beautifully to Carlin’s explanation of irony.

To say that the Missoula Current distorted Wardell’s words would be inaccurate. The Missoula Current’s coverage of Wardell’s speech was an outright fabrication.

At no point did he say anything that could remotely be construed as a confession to having made a threatening video of his own. Martin Kidston and the Missoula Current have officially gone over to the dark side, abandoning all pretense of journalism and instead embracing their role as propagandists and stenographers for the powerful. This might not actually be so offensive if Kidston’s approach to the whole thing weren’t so ham-handed.

A quick tip in inculcation for you Kidston: you’re supposed to twist the narrative, not make it up outright. That’s propaganda. And when people inevitably see through it, you make both yourself, and the oligarchs you’re trying so hard to serve, appear foolish.

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The irony only grows deeper when one considers the intended affect of Kidston’s lies as compared with their actual result. Since the Brandon Bryant case started generating headlines Kidston’s coverage has been aggressively pro-government. He took hours of citizen comment describing the day-to-day difficulties and indignities of living in a city with the 33rd highest income inequality in the nation, flippantly describing citizens as people who express “disdain over development” and “struggle to find meaningful work”.

As Missoula burns, Martin Kidston fiddles with the narrative. Whatever his intention, the actual affect of his yellow-bellied journalism has only been to isolate and alienate his masters from the subjects they seek to rule. As Council Vice President Gwen Jones prophetically observed months ago “battle lines are being drawn”, and as the City of Missoula marches to war against their own informed and engaged citizenry, the elites are literally calling in the Marines to control the “battleground”. Much of what most people know about the United States Marine Corps comes from movies like Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Full Metal Jacket. And in the City of Missoula’s war on whistleblowers, Martin Kidston distinguishes himself as Missoula’s Gomer Pyle, subjecting his neighbors and peers to the unintended consequences of his own thoughtless bumbling.

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There’s one in every platoon…

But what makes Kidston and Rynearson’s behavior particularly disturbing is the fact  that they themselves are both veterans, cheefully betraying and mocking a fellow veteran who continues to struggle with the blood of our imperialist wars on his hands. This brand of social friendly fire is precisely why many potential whistleblowers remain silent despite acknowledging moral dilemmas and ethical quandaries related to the often questionable necessity of America’s continued military adventurism throughout the world.

Semper Fidelis, Kidston. Perhaps you should remain faithful to the facts next time.

Kidston’s articles have consistently shown a clear dereliction of journalistic integrity and impartiality, omitting even the simple fact that Brandon Bryant is merely accused of a crime, declaring him guilty until proven innocent. The desired affect of Martin Kidston’s coverage has been to smear anti-TIF activists, protect and promote the interests of the Mayor and Council Leadership and sway public opinion against Brandon Bryant.

In effect Kidston aimed to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. Getting carried away in the current of his own fear narrative, the actual result has further discredited the already shaky reputation of the Missoula Current. Rather than ingratiating himself to his masters in the City government, Kidston has instead spread the taint of his abysmal reputation to those he intended to support. To call Martin Kidston a hack would be an unfair besmirchment to the likes of Kenny Bania.

Kenny Bania

“And what’s the deal with TIF activists? That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!”

After an immediate and appalled response by the community, Kidston has edited his article to remove the fabrication about another citizen producing a threatening video directed at the City Council. However, the fact that the correction had to take place to begin with confirms the warnings of many anti-TIF activists that their fears of systematic and predictable political retaliations are absolutely substantiated. Indeed, Kidston’s coverage of the Brandon Bryant case and the anti-TIF movement has led some Missoula residents to call for a boycott of the Missoula Current’s sponsors, as what remains of the article, post correction, maintains its original tone.


Kidston’s fabrications masquerading as news have actually already made news in Missoula when his blunder was reported on by local poet and political blogger William Skink.

Skink broke the story about Kidston’s fabrication and other conspicuous omissions in the Missoula Current’s 25 February article.

In addition to impassioned public comment, the topic of Brandon Bryant’s detention came up again at the end of the 24 February meeting. During this time Ward 3 councilwoman Heather Harp read a letter to Brandon Bryant that she had painstakingly drafted. In the letter she implores the City to practice compassion and foster understanding and additionally she said that she does not consider Brandon Bryant a threat and called for his immediate release and for charges against him to be dismissed.

Councilwoman Harp has an interesting recent history on the City Council. She was one of the first council members to reach out to the growing community of anti-TIF activists. For her part she has spoken frequently in defense of the City’s use of TIF, but she has distinguished herself from some of her Council colleagues in her willingness to reach out and listen to displeased citizens, attempting to set an example for her peers by engaging in active discourse with citizens who oppose the Council’s agenda.

Unfortunately, her contemporaries have followed a different path. In fact, Councilwoman Harp was recently stripped of her position as Chair of the Administration and Finance Committee. As a career fiduciary, Harp is extremely qualified for this position, as mentioned by fellow supporters, but she was replaced by Council Vice President Gwen Jones. In a rare exercise of candor, Council leadership nominated Jones because of her superior “experience, strategic judgement and collaboration”. They also noted that the Administration and Finance committee is the body that largely oversees decisions regarding TIF funds, and that Council desired someone more capable of “heavy lifting” be the only ones managing the complexities of this highly controversial issue.

 

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Ward 3 Councilwoman Heather Harp

Despite the Missoula Current’s consistent interest in reporting on the Brandon Bryant case, Councilwoman Harp’s letter received no mention in Kidston’s article on the 24 February meeting, a full third of which dedicated itself to attacking members of the public speaking in favor of Brandon Bryant. But nowhere does Kidston see fit to spill a single word describing the actions of a member of the City Council who stood with those members of the public.

The dry description of the procedural non-event that makes up the first two-thirds of the article has been quickly forgotten by readers and seemingly by Kidston himself as the narrative of a sensational fabrication in the Missoula Current’s reporting and its hasty redaction spun beyond Kidston’s control. As reported by William Skink, when asked for comment on the change in question, Kidston replied:

The comment made at City Council was rambling and incoherent at best, moving between first, second and third person points of view. We simply clarified the graph after the gentleman in question called with concerns over how his comments were reflected in the story as a matter of courtesy. His comments were ultimately rebutted by City Council, and we stand by that reporting. Thanks for reaching out.

Skink’s response and the resulting exchange cannot be improved upon, so it is reproduced here:

Seeing this response I wondered why a “rambling, incoherent” public comment was worth including in the story about storage units, while Heather Harp’s letter stating her opinion that charges against Bryant should be dismissed was not included. So I asked Kidston why the rambling comment was more newsworthy than Harp’s letter, and this is his reply:

“We were there to cover the hearing on the storage project. The only reason the issue of the gentleman’s comment was included in the story was because it received sharp criticism from council members and a short dispute over decorum when it came to voting on claims, as it set a negative tone for much of the meeting.”

While Kidston was busy altering his article before the litigious thoughts of the aggrieved commenter got too far, the Missoulian did run an article on this story, and it’s a good article I encourage everyone to read. Here’s an excerpt

Tuesday, Harp shared the reason she wanted to write the letter. She said she was not defending Bryant’s actions but wanted to treat him fairly.

“When we talk about better outcomes for criminal justice reform — especially for a defendant with mental health issues — it requires a paradigm shift in approach,” Harp said. “I advocate for the most vulnerable amongst us to be treated with compassion and fairness.”

At the meeting, Harp said that although Bryant’s actions caused “fear and intimidation,” she does not believe Bryant is a violent person based on time she has spent with him. But she said “there are times when you say violent things, and that scares people. As a City, we have to respond. We have to act to ensure the safety of our citizens. But we must also act with compassion and fairness.”

Heather Harp’s statements seems newsworthy. I hope Martin Kidston can get around to covering this important development in this, a historically significant case that threatens not only to put a well-known whistleblower behind bars for a decade if he is found guilty, but thereby creating dangerous precedent for 1st Amendment rights down the line.

Skink’s eloquence here stretches back to prophetic statements he made back in early December regarding political retaliations, but there was no way to know that local officials would stoop as far as jailing Missoulians who speak out against the interests of the Engen Regime. Perhaps an important detail of the chronology is the fact that four days prior to Bryant’s arrest the Outer Limits published documents leaked by Brandon Bryant which had been given to him as part of a dossier of documents allegedly proving systemic corruption by the Mayor and his cronies. This dossier was given to Brandon by an anonymous source who claimed to be part of the Mayor’s inner circle.

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Jailed Drone Whistleblower Turned Anti-TIF Activist, Brandon Bryant

As media coverage of the Brandon Bryant affair becomes ever more nuanced, coverage in the Missoula Current has instead doubled down on the attacks, targeting citizens opposed to the runaway TIF train and to the politically motivated prosecution of a prominent anti-TIF activist, painting them all with a broad brush as criminals and lunatics. While Kidston’s incredulous smears can be described as ludicrous, unethical and dangerous, they are perhaps connected to the wider attitude of fear and mistrust that injected itself into the veins of this once-quiet riverfront community.

Tensions in the Garden City have been on the rise as quickly as income inequality, and many residents cannot help but see the obvious connection. As the community of artists and free-thinkers that made Missoula great see an autocratic mayoral regime attempting to sell their very homes off to the highest bidder, the citizenry is fighting back, attempting to protect the town they built from an invading army of developers and gentrifiers chomping at the bit to exploit Missoula’s pristine mountains and rivers, rubbing their sweaty palms together as the dollar signs rise into their eyes.


One notable victory for the citizens in the ongoing battle for the soul of Missoula comes in the welcome and surprising news that Missoula’s recently-confirmed new director of development services won’t be taking the job after all. Early in January 2020 the Missoula City council confirmed Josh Martin as their new head of Development Services. Martin was set to make his way up to Missoula from sunny Palm Beach Florida where he planned to smear his gospel of “New Urbanism” all over the face of this riverfront community. Amidst Mayor Engen’s glowing praise heaped on his history of accomplishment in gentrification, Martin promised to streamline the process by which developers would seek approval for large construction projects in the City’s planning bureaucracy. Martin’s tone-deaf promise that under his leadership the City Council approval process would “lead with yes” was met with a less-than-enthusiastic response by those who are skeptical of the City’s development fever. In fact the City Council Committee meeting where Martin was confirmed as director of development services received extensive public comment, all of it opposed to Martin’s appointment.

Public comment was, characteristically, ignored. Martin was appointed to the job and the fight seemed lost, but as reported by William Skink on 26 February, Martin apparently changed his mind. Skink posted this quote from 20 February in the Palm Beach Daily News:

“Two weeks ago the town parted ways with Josh Martin, who resigned as zoning director Feb. 7 after accepting a job in Montana. But Martin, it turns out, isn’t leaving town. He declined the job as development director in Missoula, Mont., he said, and will be working as a consultant, mainly to developer Todd Michael Glaser, on projects in Palm Beach, Miami Beach and elsewhere in South Florida”

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Master of the Municipal Switch-a-roo, Josh Martin

As mentioned, tensions in Missoula over runaway development have never been higher than they are right now. It seems that New Urbanism apostle Josh Martin would rather stay in South Florida than move up to Montana. Perhaps it’s just too hot for him up here…

Thank you William Skink for your diligence and eloquence.

 

Nowhere have the elevated tensions in Missoula been displayed more prominently than in the dramatic downtown lockdown of 12 February 2020. Following a report by a Missoula Police Department officer that his back window had been shot out during a traffic stop on the 400 block of Woody street in the heart of downtown Missoula, the City’s law enforcement infrastructure sprung into action, blocking roads and sealing off the downtown for over 7 hours as they searched for an armed assailant for which they had no physical description and no physical evidence.

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Indeed the de-facto state of Marshal Law throughout downtown Missoula fueled intense speculation, generating suspicion about the stated reason for the lockdown from the very start. And the total absence of any kind of evidence that might corroborate the Missoula Police Department’s original story only intensified the scrutiny. Over two weeks after the incident took place, the MPD finally acknowledged this week what has always been the most likely narrative: that the glass in the patrol car’s back window spontaneously shattered. Thorough examinations including two X-rays of the car found no bullets and no bullet fragments. Many Missoula residents, upon hearing the MPD’s active shooter narrative noted that sometimes auto glass shatters with no discernible cause. Research on the topic reveals plentiful anecdotal evidence of the phenomenon, as reflected in this story from ABC affiliate KTRK Houston:

“All of a sudden we heard a big bang and the glass shattered and we stopped. [I] got out to look to see if anything had hit us and nothing. There [were] no marks, no anything, just shattered glass.”

The Missoula Police Department maintain that their investigation is ongoing, declining to state conclusively that there was no shooter. They have not provided any picture or video of the damaged police car. Many Missoula citizens questioned whether the entire episode might have been an elaborate contrivance, an exercise where the Mayor tested the capabilities of his security infrastructure. It is not inaccurate or disparaging to describe this narrative as a conspiracy theory. It is literally a theory about an elaborate conspiracy. In this case the oft-used moniker is accurate. But if we lived in a world completely free of sinister conspiracies we wouldn’t really need whistleblowers. The fact that whistleblowers exist and that they are so often targets for elimination by the powerful is evidence that SOME conspiracy theories can prove accurate. The point is that the City has thus far been exceptionally tight-lipped regarding all of their shifting theories surrounding the Downtown Occupation, and speculation will continue until evidence is provided to lay those rumors to rest.

One Missoula resident has attempted to secure that evidence directly and legally. J. Kevin Hunt is among the Missoulians openly opposing the city’s highly questionable TIF dealings.

11526558-largeKevin, who grew up in Missoula and attended Rattlesnake Grade School (’72), Hellgate High School (’76) and University of Montana (cum laude, Political Science ’80), was formerly a highly-rated  criminal defense and constitutional lawyer who practiced in Oregon for three decades after graduating from law school there in 1984. Hunt’s practice quickly gained a reputation for representing the defenseless and oppressed, devoting much of his career to representing persons facing the death penalty, in both trial and appellate courts including the Supreme Court of the United States. Every death sentence he challenged was vacated and one client was even freed after five years on death row. Having returned to Missoula in 2018, he intends to be admitted to the Montana Bar by motion within the next year, after reinstating active Oregon Bar membership.

While in Oregon, Kevin co-organized  a citizen group that exposed corruption and abuse in Oregon City’s misuse of Tax Increment Financing (TIF). With former Oregon City Mayor John Williams, Kevin was co-Chief Petitioner for a city initiative drive vigorously opposed by the town oligarchs as well as their Mayor and City Commission minions. His efforts culminated in amendment of the city charter to prohibit bonded indebtedness for urban renewal without voter approval. An unheard of eclectic right/left coalition of Green Party and Americans for Prosperity activists promoted the ballot measure, which brought socialism for the rich to a halt in Oregon City.

Throughout his career, Kevin has been a frequent target of spurious attacks, false indictment and retribution for his justice-seeking activities. He learned the risks of whistleblowing when less than six months after passing the Oregon Bar, he provided classified information to a Congressman regarding fraud against taxpayers being committed by Kevin’s then-employer, a government contractor. Kevin was promptly fired, followed, wiretapped, and falsely accused, by complaint to the Oregon State Bar, of various ridiculous criminal offenses by the international law firm representing the contractor in an effort to set aside the successful unionization drive Kevin also spearheaded. A few months after Kevin beat the law firm in the National Labor Relations Board and was exonerated by the Oregon Bar of the contractor’s serious allegations (in part due to the Congressman writing to the Bar that Kevin’s provision of the confidential evidence of fraud was consistent with his obligation under federal law to “expose corruption wherever found”) the contractor pled guilty to defrauding the federal  government.

Twenty years later, Kevin was a background source for investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who was at the time writing his best-seller “Chain of Command” exposing the U.S. military’s torture of innocent civilians held captive at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq; the same government contractor was involved in the torture.

Here in Missoula’s present moment, Kevin has sent a number of letters to high-ranking City officials following Bryant’s arrest. One such letter is addressed to Mayor John Engen, Council President von Lossberg, Council Vice President Jones, and Alderpersons. In the letter, Hunt cites Article II, section 9 of the Montana Constitution. The Montana Constitution asserts the public’s “Right to know”, stating that:

“No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.”

Hunt argues that:

“[The] inadequately explained show of paramilitary force, the official justification for which contains assertions by Missoula Police contradicted by citizen photographic evidence and contemporaneous reporting of a Missoulian journalist’s personal on-scene observations, have had a chilling affect on the people’s exercise of two other fundamental rights enshrined in Article II of our 1972 state Constitution”

Hunt’s letter clearly and formally requests information from the Mayor, City Council leadership and newly assigned Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White (who will officially take over the job starting on the first of March). He concludes with the following list of actions that are demanded not by Hunt, but by the Montana State Constitution:

1. Mr. Von Lossberg, Mayor Engen and all Alderpersons: disclose the totality of circumstances under which you became aware of You Tube videos featuring edited allocutions by internationally acclaimed drone war crimes whistleblower, PTSD-afflicted veteran and Missoula TIF abuse opponent Ret. Sgt. (USAF) Brandon Bryant. Specifically, publicly disclose and release the entirety of all communications among you, and between any of you and ex-Air Force drone warrior, Ret. Maj. (USAF) Rick Rynearson, producer of You Tube channel “Pick Your Battles,” said to be a weapon of continuous intimidation of Mr. Bryant casting him in a false light, by featuring out-of-context, edited clips cherry-picked from Mr. Bryant’s personal therapeutic vlog.

2. Mayor Engen, Missoula Police Chief White: disclose the full truth and totality of circumstances surrounding the unprecedented 12 February imposition of de facto Martial Law, including any and all communications evidencing planning of a Feb. 12 exercise, execution of such an exercise under pretense, coordination with Lake County officials regard such an exercise, and any allusion therein to a nexus between the aforementioned Brandon Bryant affair and the referenced events of 12 February.

The inclusion of the connection to Brandon Bryant’s situation will prove significant, not only for Bryant who is still incarcerated and undergoing legal proceedings relating to his charge of “threats and undue influence in official and political matters”. Only time will tell if these legal demands will be addressed adequately or at all. Anyone who has given public comment before the City Council knows how easy it seems to be for them to ignore public comment. Mr. Hunt will soon find out if they think they can ignore formal legal demands with the same impunity.

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The chilling images of police snipers perched atop the courthouse roof and SWAT teams in armored vehicles rolling down the streets give silent testimony to the shock-and-awe power that can and will be brought to bare against those who attack the City’s armed enforcers. Monopoly of force is a reliable, time-tested tactic of the powerful to assert dominance. But TIF activists who now feel vulnerable in Missoula’s tense atmosphere have never fought with the weapons of war that were employed by law enforcement during the February lockdown.

TIF activists have only ever fought with their words, satire and art. Now that the MPD has essentially acknowledged that their militarized takeover of the downtown was predicated upon an overreaction, since no armed attack on police ever took place, the fact that the whole fiasco was perpetrated ostensibly to protect Missoulians from a non-existent attacker is cold comfort.

Also troubling to attentive Missoula residents is the considerable price tag for this downtown war game. The overwhelming tactical response unfortunately didn’t come cheap, and between the seven-hour lockdown and the citywide increased police presence that followed, the City racked up a bill estimated at a whopping $1.5 million.

Emergency operations of this magnitude can run a minimum of $100,000 for costs associated with the Fire Department alone, and that’s a conservative projection. Estimated cumulatively, the coordinated response by City, County, State and Federal agencies can cost up to $250,000 per agency depending on the many hidden charges associated with these kinds of logistical concentrations, such as the costs associated with mobilizing and maintaining armored personnel carriers including the activation of special and expensive insurance policies; hazard pay for the paramilitary forces deployed; overtime pay for first responders who were called up from their days off and regularly scheduled shift breaks. Adding all these factors together under the uncertain cloud cast by the City’s opaque bookkeeping, we feel confident that a total cost of $1.5 million is a conservative estimate.

Where else have we seen Missoula drop that kind of money on an oppressive downtown eyesore? None other than the income-inequality generating engine that is Stockman Bank! An institution that received $1.5 million in Tax Increment Financing dollars, buying it’s own bonds and charging the City 4% interest; loaning us their own corporate handout at interest. The downtown lockdown of 12 February 2020 spent a Stockman Bank’s worth of City tax dollars in a single day.

cdffa23f-a7a0-4da6-829c-32d4d4571b5c-large16x9_stockman2Speaking of Stockman Bank, they’ve been grabbing headlines again recently, this time not for their highly irregular $1.5 million dollar TIF handout, but for an unrelated outrage, which is objectively too terrible to be made up. As reported by the Associated Press last month:

“A former commercial loan assistant at Stockman Bank has been sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the accounts of two customers, including a mentally incompetent elderly man.”

Shawn Al Logan, 31, of Shepherd, pleaded guilty to theft, embezzlement, aggravated identity theft and other charges in October. District Judge Susan Watters sentenced him Thursday to four years and nine months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release.


The emperor’s new clothes are on full display for all to see. The rulers are exposed, and look more and more silly with every new attempt to sweep the inconvenient facts under the rug. The MPD in particular have received extensive criticism over the extreme nature of their response, as well as it’s unintended consequences, which are still unfolding. But when questioned if the lockdown was an appropriate reaction to the perceived threat, Missoula interim police chief Mike Colyer said that he had no regrets about deploying fully armed tactical teams downtown.

“It is all about ensuring safety at that point. The safety, first and foremost, of any uninvolved third party in the area; the safety of our officers to have the right people there with the right training and equipment to handle that mission.”

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I don’t know about you, but when I think of snipers, the first thing that comes to mind is safety. Consider how this event has triggered many Missoula area veterans.  The urban center of our home temporarily resembled horrors witnessed abroad. As a result, many Missoula veterans are reporting increased nightmares, increased anxiety attacks, and increased PTSD symptoms.

What is certain is that all parties involved, both citizen and first responder alike, both civilian and veteran alike, agree this unfortunate overreaction has hurt local morale and regret that circumstances forced this unprecedented mobilization as a necessary procedure. Spontaneous window shatterings are spooky indeed, and could understandably cause a worst-case-scenario reaction in an official trained to deal with such situations.

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A Missoula Police car being towed away from its downtown location. As yet the City has not released any photos of the rear window of the police car that was allegedly damaged. Photo credit: Edward O’Brien / Montana Public Radio

While Colyer and the MPD have, after long delay, been somewhat forthcoming about the complete lack of evidence to support their active shooter narrative, their positions dictate they play the hand they were dealt. One can hardly expect the interim police chief to state publicly that their armed takeover of the city center violated the civil rights of the public they are sworn to protect, or to throw the Mayor under the bus and pass the blame for such an extreme response.

But Mayor Engen’s role in the management of the downtown occupation should not be ignored. Local media reported in the aftermath of the lockdown that Mayor Engen oversaw the entire response from a fortified command center where he called in City, County, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies, including the MPD, Missoula County Sheriffs, Montana Highway Patrol, FBI, US Marshalls, Department of Interior and even Fish Wildlife and Parks.

With very few exceptions, most movie buffs loudly decry sequels as inherently inferior to originals. One prominent exception is the classic second installment of the Star Wars Trilogy: The Empire Strikes Back. Just over eight years after the October 2011 citizen movement of Occupy Missoula created an enduring presence on the courthouse lawn in protest of systemic income inequality, Missoula has finally debuted a blockbuster sequel: Occupy Missoula II: The Engen Regime Strikes Back.

bvlAs discussed in a previous Outer Limits article, it seems naïve to believe that the Brandon Bryant affair played no role in the intensity of this response, taking place as it did less than 24 hours after Bryant’s arrest. Most Missoulians, including many City officials were unaware that Bryant was already in custody at the Missoula County Detention Facility, allowing speculation to run wild among both citizens and City officials alike that it was Brandon responsible for the “shooting”. The few people in a position to refute these rumors did what they could to quell runaway conjecture, but such a tense and dramatic situation added fuel to the fire that had already been kindled by Council President Bryan von Lossberg and others in their statements about the threatening nature of Bryant’s presence at City Council meetings.

The line between rumors and deliberate obfuscation of the facts became even cloudier when The Hellgate Lance actually put into print that Bryant was indeed the assailant responsible for shooting out the rear window of a police squad car:

 

HELLGATE LANCE 12 FEB 2020

“Brandon Bryant, the cause of all of the chaos this past Wed. was arrested and taken into custody on Thurs., Feb. 13… Bryant reportedly shot out the back glass of a police patrol car, fired shots outside of City Hall, and posted a video where he said that he would, “hunt people and exterminate them.”

This piece’s author, Maggie Vann, is still a high school student at Hellgate High. She’s young and inexperienced as a journalist, but already picking up bad habits from the wrong crowd. How any editorial board – even at a high school newspaper – could make such damning and egregious errors is already astonishing. But Martin Kidston, a grown man, intentionally fueling the fires of misinformation and adding to the confusion with deliberate propaganda, seems to be the real offender in all of this.

The connection between Bryant and the downtown lockdown persists only in the minds of lazy thinkers. The parallel may have seemed apropos since the events happened more or less simultaneously; Bryant was arrested on 11 FEB and the city went on lockdown on 12 FEB. Even those in the MPD aware of the facts of Bryant’s arrest and detention seemed rather quick to preemptively assume that Wednesday’s apparent “attack” on the Missoula Police Department was armed retribution against Bryant’s arrest, possibly by one of his friends or supporters, possibly even by some of the other anti-TIF activists who spoke alongside him at City Council meetings.

As reported by Montana Public Radio, “Interim Police Chief Mike Colyer said he erred on the side of public safety, even if that meant inconveniencing the public for a while”.

For Missoula’s countless residents who value freedom and safety (or who are simply wary of jumpy soldiers with assault rifles searching door-to-door for an armed assailant for whom they have no physical description) the downtown lockdown likely felt like something more than a mere “inconvenience”. And for those citizens who enthusiastically exercise their right to participate in local government and spoke out against the City’s pro-development agenda, the armed occupation of downtown Missoula felt anything but safe to them.

Part of the City Council’s justification for banning Brandon Bryant from Council meetings in the first place was that angry outbursts like the one he displayed on 18 November 2019 could have the effect of making citizens afraid to come down to Council meetings to voice their opinions. In the wake of Bryant’s arrest and vigorous prosecution, the fear many citizens now have of continuing to raise their voices is more than just a theory. They’ve looked on as public comment regulars stopped showing up to meetings. And on top of it all, Council leadership have been explicitly informed that the citizens feel afraid of them.

Council President Bryan von Lossberg broke protocol during public comment, decrying a clear communication of the fear they have inspired in the public, as a “personal attack”. Where is Councilman von Lossberg’s outrage over the violation of the public trust inherent in an armed occupation of downtown? Where is Councilman von Lossberg’s outrage over the silencing of a decorated veteran who dedicated himself to “eliminating” the grim specter of cronyism from his hometown’s local government? Where is Councilman von Lossberg’s outrage over the dramatic erosion of public trust in the democratic process? One can hardly expect Bryan von Lossberg to feel the sting of these oh-so-personal attacks on the citizenry. After all, he is one of the cadre of despots behind those attacks on the community.

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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.

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 four 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. In fact, charges were formally filed by the County Attorney’s Office the SAME DAY these documents were published.

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”.

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:

 

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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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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.

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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.

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 Pita Pit, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.