Michael McDaniel is a very busy man. While his work is important for Wyoming, it’s to the state’s shame that he must do it at all.
McDaniel runs Wyoming Hate Watch, which tracks instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and other biases in the “Equality State.” Everything he posts on his Facebook page is public, discovered on either mainstream or social media.
His feed is a wretched assortment of hate. Scrolling through the page, a reader encounters actions, comments, photos and memes that are twisted and disturbing.
I read five months of posts and found a litany of startling content debasing and dehumanizing women, ethnicities and minority groups. These include claims that transgender individuals are subhuman, white supremacy and Nazism are admirable, Muslims are evil and anyone who doesn’t speak English isn’t really an American.
Hate, of course, is no stranger to Wyoming. The murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998 became an infamous stain on the state. The crime spurred LGBTQ groups and individuals to convince Congress to pass civil rights legislation that gives federal protection to people based on sexual orientation.
Throughout its history, Wyoming has seen lynchings, Ku Klux Klan rallies, and countless assaults on minorities. Before federal civil rights laws were enacted, many Wyoming restaurants would not serve African-Americans.
Today, Wyoming is one of only four states that do not have a hate crime law on their books. It also has a low incidence of such crimes, according to state and federal data. Only four crimes where hatred of the victim’s identity was listed as a major factor have been counted in Wyoming in 2019. James Simmons, former head of the Casper NCAAP chapter, said the lack of a bias crimes law means police and prosecutors usually categorize them as assaults and “suspicious behavior.”
As Wyoming Hate Watch demonstrates, though, that doesn’t mean there aren’t terrible examples of hatred occurring throughout the state, from small communities to the largest cities. Fortunately, the website also shows there are many people who denounce incidents of hate and violence and offer support to victims.
Testifying at a recent hearing conducted by the Wyoming Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Casper, McDaniel stressed that his group doesn’t attempt to “out” people who secretly act on hate-filled beliefs. Instead, he said, the people and groups that wind up on Wyoming Hate Watch are open and usually proud of their actions.
“In Wyoming, it is often difficult to spot a racist because many of them until recently have been relatively closeted,” McDaniel wrote in a July post that featured a Gillette man who regularly displays white supremacist material on his public Facebook page.
A family portrait the man posted shows a Nazi flag and a framed photo of Adolph Hitler in his living room. He doesn’t hide his hate at all, but he and his wife were upset that he was outed by Hate Watch. The man lost his job at a local hotel after irate readers called his employer.
“I have a recording in which his significant other called myself, thinking she was talking to a National Socialists Movement of Natrona County top official, in which she confirmed she wanted NSM to kill me,” McDaniel wrote.
While the vast majority of commenters express disgust, racist offenders also have supporters who say they should be left alone.
Another post shows a man purportedly from Douglas with a chest full of swastika tattoos, standing next to a boy wearing a “white pride” T-shirt. In the comments, a woman wrote, “You don’t even know the man! OMG this make me sick!”
Wyoming Hate Watch responded, “While we are all for equality, Nazi ideology does not espouse the belief [of] equal treatment of minority populations, hence, we do not see the issue here.”
McDaniel’s Facebook group also regularly spotlights officials and office seekers who express bigoted views, so they can be held accountable by voters. As an observer of Wyoming politics, I view this as a community service. Many people don’t read candidates’ campaign literature or closely follow their remarks in news stories. The public needs to know about these beliefs and behaviors.
Many of the people who appear on Wyoming Hate Watch’s page find they don’t like the attention, and their views quickly disappear from Facebook.
A frequent target of Wyoming Hate Watch is another public Facebook group, “Keep Wyoming Free.” The latter’s page routinely features hate-filled articles, comments and memes aimed at the LGBTQ community, Muslims, immigrants and native Americans. Many of its most recent posts fixate on the allegation that pedophile Jeffrey Epstein didn’t commit suicide but was killed by Democrats.
Last week the white nationalist group Patriot Front, which was created by perpetrators of violence at the infamous 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, rally, papered downtown Cheyenne with racist, anti-immigrant posters. Both Facebook groups posted the story, including Gov. Mark Gordon’s denunciation of the act as reprehensible. “Wyoming is not a place where bigotry and hatred is tolerated,” the governor declared.
Followers of Keep Wyoming Free, though, did not seem bothered by the white supremacist message. Commenters personally attacked Gordon and a state legislator who praised his response. I won’t repeat those slurs here.
Wyoming Hate Watch also called out the Republican Women of Sheridan County for having Tom Trento, a prolific writer for the anti-Muslim jihadwatch.org, as its featured Reagan Day Dinner speaker. The group noted that Trento spreads false information, such as his claim that 80% of mosques in the U.S. “teach sedition.”
“Wyoming Republican support for Trento is a clear affront to the very small Muslim population within the state and is clear support for white nationalism,” McDaniel wrote.
I don’t get on Facebook as much as I used to. I use it to keep in touch with friends, wish people happy birthday and occasionally post a music video I like. Mundane stuff, but it helps keep me relatively sane. I don’t waste much time reading political manifestos, mostly because they’re usually boring.
But I will return regularly to Wyoming Hate Watch. I’m glad to see that the group is sticking up for minorities in the state who need our support, protection and love in the face of such sickening hatred.
I’ll probably look for something calm and entertaining after perusing the page, though. Now I understand why all those cute kitten videos are popular. Mentally, they are a much-needed respite.
We can’t cure all the ills in the world like racism and hate, but we should do what we can to call attention to them.