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Former state GOP official warns Trump protesters: Montana is an ‘open carry state’

Violent political protests have erupted in New York and Portland recently, and former GOP official Will Deschamps Sr. worries that Missoula could be next.

President Trump will hold a rally in the Montana city Thursday evening, and the former state GOP chairman issued a vague warning and a taunt aimed at anyone seeking to protest it.

“For all the prospective attendees to the Trump event. Come early,” Deschamps, who chaired Republican state activities from 2009 to 2015, wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “Also all you protesters, show up as well. This is a concealed and open carry state and we know how to use em."

Deschamps, a Marine Corps veteran, signed off with “USMC trained,” an apparent reference to firearms expertise.

He said Thursday that the post was not to be taken as a directive for people to confront protesters or take weapons to the rally.

“I have genuine concern about what’s happening around the United States by these far, far-left antagonistic groups,” he told The Washington Post.

He was referring to antifascists, or antifa, who clashed with the far-right nationalist Proud Boys in Portland and New York. Both groups condone political violence and practice it with some regularity against opponents. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the Proud Boys an extremist group.

The Secret Service is aware of Deschamps’s post, spokesman Jeffrey Adams said Thursday, but he did not answer questions about whether the agency was investigating or whether it had changed its security posture to account for firearms or protesters ahead of the rally.

Neither police nor the Secret Service has contacted Deschamps over the post, he said.

In a follow-up post, he expressed concern that police would be unresponsive during future protests, recalling a sit-in at a GOP office in Missoula earlier this month. Police cited seven people for trespassing, the Associated Press reported.

By Thursday afternoon, the posts were no longer publicly visible after Deschamps adjusted his Facebook privacy settings, he said.

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There are few, if any, indications that Missoula will be rocked by violent protests ahead of the Trump rally, which the Missoulian reported could draw 6,000 to 8,000 people.

A “Love Trumps Hate” rally to counter Trump’s event will feature children’s yoga and a potluck, the radio station MTPR reported. Tootie Welker, of the Western Montana chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, told the Missoulian that members of the group opposed direct action against the Trump rally.

“We’re not going to play into his hand of being the mob-left like he’s wanting to label us right now,” Welker said.

Demonstrations aimed at the rally location, an airplane hangar, would be difficult. Attendees will be able to reach the grounds only by shuttle, the Missoulian reported, making any mobilization of protesters near the site a challenging operation.

But that has not allayed Deschamps’s concerns.

“I think we need to be aware there are folks out there that mean to do [Republicans] harm,” he said. Protests on both sides of the ideological spectrum have led to clashes, but he acknowledged that he was unaware of any conservatives killed in such violence.

Heather Heyer, one of the people protesting the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlotteville last year, was killed by a man with Nazi leanings after he allegedly plowed into demonstrators with a car. He was charged with a hate crime.

Erin Erickson, director of Missoula Rises, which organized the “Love Trumps Hate” rally, rebuked Deschamps’s post, the Missoulian reported.

“I think what he is doing is playing directly into the narrative that President Trump is creating, that the left is an angry mob,” Erickson told the paper. “There is no evidence of that in Missoula. I think he’s trying to further that narrative without any evidence.”

Deschamps conceded that his post may inflame tensions rather than subdue them, but he said that only “those who do harm” — meaning antifa — would be motivated to carry out violent acts.

“There is a different smell in the air right now, and I don’t know what’s feeding it,” he said.

Deschamps said that he was in talks with the Secret Service this week to coordinate a meeting with Trump and local veterans but that it fell through. For now, he said, he plans to be among a group of veterans standing behind Trump during the rally.

If he is not barred from the event over the posts, that is.

“I don’t know. I might not get in,” he said.

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