Montana shock jock stokes the fires of fear

Environmentalists face 'hate propaganda'

  • FLAMETHROWER: Radio host John Stokes lights a swastika during an Earth Day rally against what he calls the "Green Nazi movement"

    Robin Loznak, Daily Inter Lake
 

KALISPELL, Mont. - "Don't be fooled by the word 'conservationist.' It stands for 'green Nazi' ... People are getting fed up with the green Nazis, the green businesses, and the bureaucracy that goes with it ... The (green Nazi movement) is something that is vile and evil and we need to eradicate it from the community."

Invective of this type is making environmentalists in Northwest Montana nervous, especially since it is being broadcast from a radio station in this mercantile center of about 16,000 residents, located about 30 miles west of Glacier National Park. The quotes are from the morning talk show of John Stokes, 49, a real estate broker and developer, and the owner of AM radio station KGEZ.

Over the past year, Stokes has supported listeners calling for a boycott of businesses that contribute money to environmental causes, and has promoted a movement to dismantle locked gates on Forest Service roads. He encourages people to fight federal regulations that restrict snowmobiles, Jet Skis and off-road vehicles from some public lands. In the same breath, he sympathizes with local loggers and other workers who have lost jobs, blaming it all on the environmental movement, which he refers to as "the Fourth Reich."

In this part of Montana, environmentalists are a common foil of conservative Republicans, never mind talk show hosts. Former Gov. Marc Racicot even blamed them for the forest fires last season. But Stokes goes much further. He has depicted blacks as whiners, told a holocaust survivor to "use both hands to take his head out of his butt" and to take responsibility for the rise of Hitler, and sarcastically promoted a convention in Kalispell planned by PRIDE, a gay and lesbian organization.

When Montana Gov. Judy Martz canceled an interview due to a scheduling conflict, Stokes said, "Someone should call in a bomb threat - in order to get her out of the meeting ... No, no, I'm just joking." The governor has since refused to be on any future broadcasts.

Stokes, a veteran property-rights activist who moved to the Flathead Valley seven years ago from Washington state, says he is merely providing a forum for free speech. But many liberals who monitor the show say he is making the Flathead Valley an unfriendly place to live (see story page 1).

"It's a battle zone," says Cesar Hernandez, a field worker with the Montana Wilderness Society, a group that Stokes targets frequently.

There have been reports of vandalism to cars sporting environmentalist bumper stickers. Green swastikas have been pasted on environmentalists' doors, while the word "hater" was painted on the side of Stokes' business. Periodically, a war of words erupts across the editorial page of the local paper.

Keith Hammer, of the nonprofit Swan View Coalition, reports receiving "death threats ... directed at myself and others. We are indeed faced with hate propaganda ... with the clearly stated intent of eliminating conservation-minded and peaceable citizens."

Ripe conditions

Conflict between people making a living off the land and those wishing to protect natural resources has existed in Montana since the creation of the national forest system. Many locals once held well-paying jobs in the wood-products industry, but overlogging, imports of cheap Canadian lumber, stricter environmental laws and industrial mechanization have contributed to a decrease in logging on public lands and the closure of local sawmills.

The state Legislature didn't help the economic situation when it deregulated the electricity industry two years ago. Now caught in a regional power crunch, the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co., one of Flathead County's largest employers, is shutting down.

Meanwhile, big trophy homes are chewing up the magnificent landscape. Over the last decade, Flathead County's population increased by more than 25 percent.

"Small-town Montanans are being hit really bad," says Jim Hurst, owner of Owen and Hurst Lumber Company, which recently laid off 40 workers in Eureka, Mont., population 1,000.

Sixty-five percent of the county voted for George Bush and there are plenty of opportunities to join conservative groups like the Constitution Party and Montanans for Multiple Use. Many who lean to the right have found an ally in Stokes.

In the 1980s, he became a spokesman for a movement to split Washington's Snohomish County in two - with the rural northern half to be named "Freedom County." The Washington Legislature refused to address the request.

Shortly after moving to Ferndale, Mont., in 1994, Stokes worked to defeat a proposed Flathead County zoning plan that would have reined in unchecked growth (HCN, 12/26/94: Land-use plan is disemboweled). In 1998, he lost the Republican primary for state senator, running on a platform that included abolishing all taxes except income taxes, terminating Indian reservations, and selling the state university system.

Last spring, Stokes bought KGEZ for $550,000, changed the music format from vintage rock to alternative rock to attract a younger audience, and began enticing older listeners to anonymously air complaints in public that they might otherwise restrict to trusted friends.

"I'm just talking about news that's not brought into this area - without censorship," he says. "And I'm letting people express their opinions."

The radio show's subject matter ranges from local elections to school board issues. And, of course, the environmental movement - which he claims is trying to control the nation's natural resources. "And don't think they want to preserve it," he says. "The moment it goes up in price, they'll sell it."

Stokes, who labels himself "a male lesbian," says he could not care less about a person's sexual orientation, and his best friend is black. He's frustrated that people label his show "hate radio." "There are people out there that get consumed with hate and want to focus on someone else," he says. "I go after political ideas. I'm not Republican or Democrat, I'm just anti-stupid. People have their lost common sense."

Or civility, some of Stokes' critics add. "He's like a rabid dog," says Leisa Baldwin, a local businesswoman. "If he'd tone it down, he'd get more people to listen to his ideas."

Klaus Stern, a Nazi holocaust survivor who recently spoke in Kalispell, took issue with Stokes' use of the Nazi label to describe environmentalists. "To me, 'Nazi' means killing and abusing 6 million Jews and 5 million Christians, and handicapped people. How can anyone call good people Nazis just because they don't agree with him?"

After the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell reported Stern's comments, Stokes responded: "I'm sick of these pathetic people out there that somehow say, 'I'm a black person, so I'm a victim. You should feel sorry for me. Everything I do, I should be excused for.' ... And that goes for Jewish holocaust victims, too. I'm sorry you went through that. I'm sorry you gave up your guns. I'm sorry you let the Third Reich gain power ... But too bad, so sad, get over it."

It's talk like this that disturbs many Kalispell residents. "We don't want to be known as another Hayden Lake (former Idaho base of the Aryan Nation)," says sculptor Kate Hunt. "We're not closing our eyes to this. We're fighting back."

But other Montanans resent the increasing criticism of Stokes and are beginning to paint him a warrior of freedom. "If a particular viewpoint is squelched, any viewpoint can be squelched," says Fran Tabor, who advertises her vacuum cleaner business over KGEZ.

 

Mark Matthews writes from Missoula, Montana.

YOU CAN CONTACT ...

  • KGEZ, 406/752-2600;
  • Montana Human Rights Network, 406/442-5506.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Mark Matthews