After filing my story and blog post about the inflammatory Facebook comments made by the now former president of the Big Sky Tea Party Association, I promptly left town on vacation.
In case you missed it, a lot has happened in the days since we first reported Tim Ravndal’s comments in the Tribune.
In the interest of keeping Lowdown readers up to speed on developments in what has turned out to be a story of national interest, here’s a quick timeline of events for those who have been living under a rock (or in my case, the Wilderness) for the past few days:
Thursday, Sept. 2: Blogger D Gregory Smith first posts a screen shot of this shocking exchange between Big Sky Tea Party Association President Tim Ravndal and Facebook user Dennis Scranton (who has since removed most of the content from his Facebook page).
Friday, Sept. 3: The above comments are brought to Tribune’s attention late in the afternoon. The Montana Human Rights Network demands that the BSTPA board remove Ravndal as president. Ravndal, when contacted by the Tribune capital bureau, apologizes for the comment, saying he “never made the connection” between Scranton’s comments and the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old college student whose gruesome death became a national symbol of hate crimes against gays. Scranton, reached at his home, declines to comment, telling the reporter “F*** you!” before hanging up.
Saturday, Sept. 4: The report about Ravndal’s comment and the backlash surrounding it runs in the Great Falls Tribune.
Sunday, Sept. 5: Jim Walker, chairman of the Big Sky Tea Party Association, issues the following statement announcing that the board voted unanimously to remove Ravndal as president and member of the non-profit organization because of unacceptable comments made on his personal Facebook account:
“Our Board learned about the situation from an article in the Great Falls Tribune on Saturday. We immediately called an emergency meeting for the following morning. We are extremely disappointed by Mr. Ravndal’s commentary. The discussion in that Facebook conversation is entirely outside the position of the Big Sky Tea Party. Even though Mr. Ravndal was having a personal conversation and made no reference to our group, we felt strongly that swift and decisive action was required as we can not accept that sort of behavior from within our membership, let alone from an officer of the corporation. We continually make it known that we will not tolerate bigoted dialog, behavior or messages at our functions, our meetings or within our ranks. If a person demonstrates bigotry relative to race, sex, ethnicity, etc they are not welcome in our organization. The Tea Party movement is about standing up for individual freedom for everyone.
I do believe Mr. Ravndal when he explained that he was in no way intending to promote violence and that he was not thinking about nor condoning the murder of an innocent victim in Wyoming in 1998 when he responded to some very disturbing comments made by another individual. However, no matter how we considered the commentary, it was clear to us that he was participating in conversation which was overtly bigoted and we cannot have an officer of our corporation engaging in such behavior.”
Monday, Sept. 6: While standing atop Stuart Peak in the Rattlesnake Wilderness, my new “smart” phone buzzes. I see that I have an e-mail from the Big Sky Tea Party Association and I read Walker’s statement. I immediately forward the e-mail to the Tribune newsroom before my phone’s battery dies. I continue hiking. Political blogger MTCowgirl.com reports that Big Sky Tea Party Association secretary and Helena-area GOP legislative candidate Kristi Allen-Gailushas declared “war” on the gay community on her Facebook page.
Tuesday, Sept. 7: News of Ravndal’s ouster makes front page headlines across the state. Allen-Gailushas quits the group, telling the Helena Independent Record that the organization’s board members…
“…didn’t even listen to Tim and what he had to say. They were just worried about the [Montana] Human Rights Network and the ACLU and what they were going to say.”
According to the Helena IR, several tea party members protest Ravndal’s ouster and defend their former president at a meeting of the Big Sky Tea Party Association. Acting board chairman Roger Nummerdor says board members will meet soon to consider reinstating Ravndal’s membership in the group, but he doesn’t set a date for the meeting. Board members Tom Baird, Bobette Madonna, and Bob Connor backtrack from Walker’s statement that the board “felt strongly that swift and decisive action was required as we can not accept that sort of behavior from within our membership, let alone from an officer of the corporation.”
From the Helena IR:
“What happened to Tim is cruel, it’s unnecessary,” said Madonna. “They’re making a fool of people who are responsible and decent.”
Board member Bob Conner cast one of the votes for Ravndal’s dismissal, but said he did so reluctantly and now favored reconsideration.
Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg, a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, issues a statement through an aide in support of the Big Sky Tea Party Association’s decision to dismiss Ravndal.
That pretty much brings us up to speed on this saga. There will undoubtedly be more to come.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of discussion about Mr. Ravndal’s comments out there in the Internet ether.