BIGFORK — A steady stream of area residents filed into the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts Saturday evening to listen to author, filmmaker and conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza at the Flathead County Republican Central Committee’s primary fundraising event.
The event was expected to include “a special talk about the future of conservatism in Trump’s America” by D’Souza, according to the Flathead Republicans' Facebook page. However, reporters for the Missoulian and Montana Public Radio were escorted out of the event’s lobby after they identified themselves to organizers at the event.
Initially, one of the event organizers, Dee Kirk-Boon, said their insurance required that everyone — including volunteers and members of the press — had to purchase tickets to the event. Saturday evening, she said the event was sold out, but Derek Skees, who also is a member of the central committee, later said that tickets for the $100 per person event were available but that the Missoulian reporter wouldn’t be allowed to purchase one.
“It’s a private event, and we decide who gets to buy them,” said Skees, a Republican representative who is running again for House District 11. “We made a deal with our committee to allow one press person into the event. The press slants the news so much to the left we’re almost positive no good stories will come from them. We prefer you suffer the market impacts.”
The committee offered a complimentary ticket to the event to a reporter from the Daily Interlake.
D’Souza has written 20 books, including 1995’s “The End of Racism” that argued against affirmative action. It was hailed by The New York Review of Books as a “thorough, intelligent, and well-informed presentation of the case against liberal race policies.”
His newest book is “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left.” In it, he writes “how the racist and genocidal acts of early Democrats inspired Adolf Hitler’s campaign of death” and “how today’s anti-free speech, anti-capitalist, anti-religious liberty, pro-violence Democratic Party is a frightening” image or representation of the Nazi Party, according to his website.
Troy Downing and Al Olszewski, both U.S. Senate candidates, came outside the venue to talk about D’Souza and his message about how to move President Trump’s agenda forward. While some people have called D’Souza’s comments inflammatory, Olszewski said that was merely a communication tool some people use to make their voice stand out.
“He may have a dissenting view, but that doesn’t mean it’s controversial,” Olszewski said. “They’re sensationalizing their remarks because it works for Trump. I understand it’s a way of trying to get attention, but it’s important to drill down to the message.”
Downing said that he was interested in listening to a fellow conservative. He said that while he personally has no problem talking to the press, he understands that it’s the Republican party’s prerogative to decide whom to let into a private event.
“It’s not fun keeping the press out, but at private events things can get crazy. In many cases, when they start allowing other people in, they can’t get their message out,” Downing said.
Last week, the Montana Human Rights Network and its Flathead-area affiliate Love Lives Here issued a statement calling the Flathead County Republicans’ decision to sponsor the presentation by D’Souza an “insult to the community’s values,” and called him a “right-wing conspiracy theorist.”
“The Flathead Valley knows what it’s like to be attacked by actual Nazis, 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,” Cherilyn DeVries of Love Lives Here said in Wednesday's statement. “He’s trying to stir up controversy in communities so he can sell books, and we will not sell out the Flathead Valley and Montana to his agenda.”
Rachel Carroll Rivas with the Human Rights Network called for the Flathead Republicans and the Last Chance Patriots to “strive to make our communities better places” instead of “promoting fear mongering and divisiveness.”
The Montana Republican Party didn’t respond to an email seeking comments on the invitation.
Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, noted that the party was holding its annual fundraiser on the same night and that it, too, had a guest speaker: former Vice President Joe Biden.
"That contrast speaks for itself," she said.
D’Souza came to national attention while still in college, being seen as a conservative intellectual and rising star. Yet he’s fallen out of favor in some circles in recent years, with conservative critics blasting his 2007 book, “The Enemy at Home,” in which he explored the idea that Islamic terrorism was a justified response to American moral decadence. His 2012 film, “2016: Obama’s America,” was panned by conservative critics, although he said it was the second-highest grossing political documentary.
D’Souza was convicted in 2014 in New York on one count of felony campaign finance fraud for “willfully and knowingly” directing others to donate $20,000 — which D’Souza then reimbursed — to the unsuccessful Senate campaign of Wendy Long.
Earlier this month, the Fulshear Area Chamber of Commerce in Texas, canceled an event featuring D’Souza, apparently over tweets he issued on Feb. 20 critical of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students after the Feb. 14 shooting there. D’Souza wrote that their responses to failed gun control legislation were “phony and inauthentic,” and that their reaction was the “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.”
He added: “Adults 1, kids 0.”
The Conservative Political Action Conference called the remarks “indefensible,” and on Feb. 21 D’Souza apologized.
D’Souza also has suggested a Charlottesville, Virginia white-supremacist rally where one person died was a staged event, meant to cast aspersions on the right. In addition, he tweeted that Hitler was not anti-gay, despite sending as many as 15,000 homosexual men to concentration camps; instead, D’Souza said Hitler “refused to purge gay Brownshirts from Nazi ranks, saying he had no problem as long as they were good fighters.”