Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza came to Bigfork Saturday night.
His talk, organized by the Last Chance Patriots and the Flathead County Republican Central Committee, nearly filled the 435-seat Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts.
Audience members paid $100 per ticket to hear D’Souza’s take on politics, a topic he’s explored in 17 books and three films. Many guests picked up a signed copy of his latest volume, “The Big Lie,” which claims that the “Democratic left has an ideology virtually identical with fascism and routinely borrows tactics of intimidation and political terror from the Nazi Brownshirts.”
Stances like these have drawn criticism throughout D’Souza’s career and in the weeks leading up to his visit. But no protesters came to Bigfork on Saturday, and the event’s organizer, retired filmmaker Jerry Molen, kicked things off with a trenchant defense of D’Souza’s talk.
“We hear all too often that there are some individuals who have been barred from exercising their constitutional right to speak out,” he told the audience. “Tonight we’re going to give someone that distinct right.”
D’Souza used that right to address topics ranging from abortion to tariffs. But he focused on turning liberals’ common attacks against conservatives — that they were racist, prejudiced and borderline fascist — back against them.
He did so by focusing on the Civil War, seeing lessons for the present in the violence of the 1860s. “All hell broke loose in a different way then — secession — but you could argue that secession is more moderate what we are seeing today, which is some sort of attempt at a coup.”
While conventional wisdom holds that the Republican and Democratic parties traded positions on race in the 1960s, D’Souza argued that the latter had changed little since the mid-19th century, when it backed slavery.
He contrasted a statement from Lincoln — “I always thought that the man who made the corn should eat the corn” — with a maxim he claimed guided Democrats then and now: “You work, I eat.”
“Those could be the principles articulated in the 2016 Democratic and Republican conventions,” he ventured.
D’Souza digested Lincoln’s leadership into clear takeaways for President Donald Trump: compromise on the little issues while standing firm on the big ones; hold the people’s mandate; and fight in the cultural battlefield, not just the political one.
The audience gave him standing ovations at the beginning and end of his talk, but not everyone has been so enthused. On Tuesday, the Montana Human Rights Network released an eight-page briefing paper detailing his many controversial actions over the years, the most recent of which was tweeting “Adults 1, Kids 0” after Florida lawmakers declined to consider Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students’ demand for an assault weapons ban (he later apologized).
Love Lives Here’s Cherilyn DeVries took issue with the facism allegations in his latest book. “The Flathead Valley knows what it’s like to be attacked by actual Nazis,” she stated, “and rhetoric like the kind that Dinesh D’Souza regularly issues is an attempt to divide healthy communities that get along pretty well despite our differences.”
In his concluding remarks, Kalispell Mayor Mark Johnson exhorted them to tell others that “this was not hate speech. This was a lesson in history so we can move forward as a united country again.”
Organizers had placed restrictions on that message. Photography and audio and video recording were prohibited in the auditorium. While the Daily Inter Lake was permitted to cover D’Souza’s lecture, reporters with the Missoulian and Montana Public Radio could only speak with attendees outside.
But the evening was a can’t-miss event for many of Northwest Montana’s current and aspiring political leaders. State Reps. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, and Mark Noland, R-Bigfork, state Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, Montana House candidate Shawn Guymon, Flathead County Sheriff candidate Calvin Beringer, and U.S. Senate candidates Matt Rosendale, Troy Downing and Al Olszewski were all seen greeting guests in the center’s lobby beforehand. U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., came in just before the event.
In addition to these officials, Mayor Johnson thanked U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.; state Reps. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, and Randy Brodehl, R-Kalispell; state Sen. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork; and their respective spouses.
As guests lined up for their tickets, Downing said that he was “just supporting fellow conservatives.”
“I know there’s been a lot of controversial press” about the event. “We gotta stand together and stand our ground. I’m happy to be here.”
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 758-4407.