LAT: ‘How a Montana county became a stage for the national debate over refugees’

Los Angeles Times article:

To him, being a Presbyterian meant a life of public service and openness to other cultures. Back in Long Island, he sat on a refugee council at his church and once housed a Vietnamese refugee and her two sons. He joined churchgoers for a trip to refugee camps in the Middle East, and his church hosted a Coptic Christian priest from Egypt and a pastor from Syria.

But in Whitefish, the Presbyterian churches he visited were more interested in the Bible than the wider world and didn’t share his passion for women’s or gay rights.

LeBleu finally found a spiritual home alongside other liberal transplants at the Whitefish United Methodist Church. It was already working internationally to pay the salaries of Christian pastors in Angolan villages.

Its motto — “open hearts, open minds, open doors” — was prominently displayed on its website. To LeBleu, those were words to live by.

He saw an opportunity early last year after a photograph of a drowned Syrian boy went viral and a group of mothers in Missoula, a university town 130 miles down the interstate, were so moved that they launched an effort to take in refugees. Their plan to bring refugees to Montana for the first time in decades ignited a statewide debate and a string of demonstrations on both sides of the issue.

LeBleu’s response was to try to bring refugees to Whitefish.

He put out a call in church for volunteers. There were enough like-minded residents — the town had voted for Hillary Clinton — that he had no trouble finding support.

But it was a different story 17 miles south in the county seat of Kalispell, a blue-collar town of 20,000 known for its gun manufacturers and conservative churches.

Kalispell quickly became a hub of opposition to resettlement — and, on a rainy March morning last year, the site of a tense standoff.

LeBleu and about 70 pro-refugee activists, many from out of town, gathered in a park there with signs reading “Friendship not fear!” and “Stability, opportunity, peace for ALL.” Across the city’s main drag, a dozen or so Kalispell residents stood with their own placards warning of the problems they believed Muslims would bring: “Europe’s murder and rape epidemic is REAL, not ‘fear’” and “Kalispell NEEDS SHARIA LAW.”

Some of the men carried guns.

LeBleu was encouraged by the competing rallies. His side was bigger.

But letters to the local newspaper, the Daily Inter Lake, turned out to be a better indicator of public sentiment.

“Once those refugees are here, all we can do to protect ourselves is hope and pray they do not harbor sympathy for Islamic terror ideals. Beyond that, we are at their mercy,” one Kalispell resident wrote in a letter to the editor.

“Many of the refugees are being planted as representatives of Islamic terrorism. Europe is proof of this,” wrote another.

The Flathead County commissioners took sides last spring, sending a letter to the U.S. Department of State saying they could not “support the relocation of refugees without a legitimate vetting process and an analysis of refugee impacts to our local community.”

A friend says:

The big question is (1) Le Bleu moved from Long Island because he was drawn to the natural beauty and slower pace of life. What is the part that he doesn’t get about coming to some place because he finds it attractive, and then once he is there trying to change its character.

Was he rejected as a newcomer? He was delighted that people would talk to you on the street and ask how you were doing.

He came from a mainline Protestant denomination Presbyterianism which although originally a very severe fundamentalist branch of Christianity (Scottish Presbyterians wouldn’t save someone drowning on the Sabbath) is now another progressive liberal mainstream protestant sect that has seen its numbers drop off over the past three decades as it became more focused on social activism.

The article suggests that the social activism and not the religious part is the main part of being a Presbyterian. The author Jaweed Kaleem probably knows nothing other than whatever Le Bleu told him.

The article does mention that some Congolese refugees (although it is not clear what they were fleeing from ) have moved to Missoula which is a college town and a liberal spot in Montana about 100 miles south of Whitefish. And the father got a job as a greeter at Walmart. Way to import folks with special skills.

Whitefish is also the place that a Jewish real estate agent tried to drive Richard Spencer’s mother out of business (and she may have succeeded) Whitefish is a very affluent town. LeBleu could not have moved there if he didn’t have bucks (although if he owned his home on Long Island he could have used the proceeds to buy a place in Whitefish) the airport at Kalispell is thick with private jets belonging to the rich folks who have second homes in Whitefish.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in America, Immigration. Bookmark the permalink.