MISSOULA, Montana – A far-right pastor with a history of suspected harassment has further unrest.
His plan: to publicly shame those who report violations of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions to the government by posting their names and faces on notice boards. Or at least try.
“We know the names of a lot of these snitches,” Jordan “JD” Hall said in an interview with The Daily Beast, though he declined to reveal how he could have obtained them.
Hall – of Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney, a town of about 6,000 people in northeastern Montana – announced the “Bad Neighbors Project” days before the election through the Montana Daily Gazette. But the outlet is little more than its own far-right site, and the project appears to be led by Gideon Knox Group, an advisory group also led by Hall.
In other words, it all sounds like something between a questionable public relations program and a potentially huge risk to privacy in a state with one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the country.
The Passion Project, as it stands, emerged in response to an Oct. 23 directive issued by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. The order called for the state’s health department’s consumer complaint form – typically used to report foodborne illnesses like Salmonella – to be used by the public to report violations of state pandemic guidelines. , such as the requirement of an indoor mask for businesses and events.
In his announcement for Project Bad Neighbors, Hall called the mask order an “unconstitutional mandate that violates the basic human right to bodily autonomy” and claimed that the Department of Health’s consumer complaint form was a “Snitch portal”.
According to Hall, the plan was to use Freedom of Information Act requests – which only apply to federal agencies, although it presumably refers to state right to information law. – and documents obtained “one way or another” from local health services to collect the names of those who lodge consumer complaints.
The names and faces will then apparently be placed on notice boards across the state with the header: “These are bad neighbors who reported you for exercising your rights,” he said. .
But it’s far from clear that Hall will even be able to obtain such information from state authorities.
Montana Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Jon Ebelt told the Daily Beast that the department “condemns any threats against public health officials or members of the public.” And he added that “DPHHS has an obligation to protect personal health and other private information and performs thorough legal reviews in response to all requests for records.”
While Montana has strict public information transparency laws, the state’s constitution also enshrines a privacy right that trumps disclosure if individual privacy exceeds the public’s right to know. .
For his part, Hall said the consumer complaint process should be transparent and that just as businesses have the right to know “who is peeing on their toilet seats or shoplifting”, they should have the right to know. right to know who reports them for health violations. .
Hall also argued that the outgoing governor, who had just lost a candidacy for the US Senate, “was backing up the Montanans against the Montanans” after sheriffs in 38 of Montana’s 56 counties refused to enforce his mask directive. He said he had no problem with the consumer complaint form used for public health threats like Salmonella because health laws are set by the state legislature. But he claimed that Bullock’s pandemic directives – issued with the governor’s emergency powers under state emergency laws – “are not laws.”
The pastor was also skeptical of the real dangerousness of the pandemic despite many recent days with more than 1,000 deaths nationwide, and even denies that the state’s lack of intensive care beds in hospitals is anything. again.
“You have Governor Bullock showing them around like Kim Jong-un in a potato factory,” he told the Daily Beast.
Montana reported its first cases of COVID-19 on March 15, and Governor Bullock issued a stay-at-home order shutting all non-essential businesses as of March 28. The order expired on April 26, and according to The New York TimesMontana has seen the biggest percentage change in the average daily case count since any state reopened – 2,267 percent – in July.
A mask requirement for indoor and outdoor gatherings came up later in the month. However, restaurants, bars and some schools are still open, as the state has the fourth highest infection rate in the country and hospitals are overwhelmed.
Hall, meanwhile, is no stranger to controversy, having competed with other Christians for years through his Pulpit & Pen blog.
In 2017, Hall was dragged out of a church in North Dakota by worshipers after strongly protesting that a female pastor was allowed to speak, claiming that the scriptures did not allow women to preach. The following year, Hall withdrew his church from the Southern Baptist Conference, the world’s largest Protestant denomination, for “betraying the gospel in the name of political correctness at the SBC-sponsored MLK50 event.”
But Hall’s real claim of infamy came in 2014 for a public clash with fellow Baptist preacher Ergun Caner which escalated into Hall fighting with Caner Braxton’s teenage son on Twitter. Braxton died by suicide soon after, and Hall issued a letter of repentance.
Hall told the Daily Beast that Braxton’s suicide shouldn’t be held over his head and that he hopes the Bad Neighbors billboards invite shame, not violence.
Yet his reputation predated his last venture.
“He’s someone who really longs for power and authority,” said the former Sidney herald Editor-in-chief Amy Efta, whose presentation to Hall took place at a town hall meeting in January, where he called on local politicians to declare the county a sanctuary against abortion.
“He was really instilling a militia mentality at this meeting, and I find he’s such a dangerous person in that regard,” Efta said. “He created a sect around him.
Bullock’s health guidelines, as gentle as they are, may not last long. The conservative wing of the Montana Republican Party captured all federal and state offices in Tuesday’s election while also increasing their legislative majority, turning Montana from a purple state known for its bipartisan compromise into a deep red bastion.
The new Republican governor, Congressman Greg Gianforte, said in August that his response to the pandemic would put the blame on individuals rather than the state government. A leaked draft from the Montana GOP legislative program under Gianforte lists pandemic goals such as reducing emergency powers for governor and local governments and classifying all Montana workers as essential.
The new state attorney general, currently a county attorney near Sidney who opposes the mask’s warrant, told far-right-wing Northwest Liberty News outlet he “would be wrong on the freedom side” ‘he was forced to defend a mask warrant in court.
Until then, Hall had to pursue his plan, even half-baked.
“I guess it’s up to the citizens to control ourselves, and part of that policing is our display effort,” Hall said.
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