Transcript: "America This Week" Ep. 21 with Walter Kirn and Matt Taibbi
On Walter’s apparent home in the heart of Christian Nationalism, the bizarre Biden papers episode, and the latest Twitter files kerfuffles
Matt: Welcome to America This Week. I’m Matt Taibbi.
Walter: And I’m Walter Kirn.
Matt: Now, Walter, you’re in New York right now. But you’re not where you usually are, which apparently is a hotbed of Christian nationalism. Is that right?
Walter: Well, that’s right. I woke up last week in Livingston Montana, my home, to find out courtesy of the New York Times Magazine in an early edition which usually comes out on Sunday, that I live in a near theocracy, hard-right, Christian nationalist state. Only recently Montana had a Democratic governor,
Matt: And a “ticket splitting tradition”, I think that was the word. They used a very strange construction it was, “long been one of the most politically independent states, and it has a tradition of ticket-splitting.”
Walter: Right. Well, we’ve got a Democratic senator. Jon Tester. We recently had a Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, who got term-limited out. Part of the argument in the piece is that we have added a Republican representative, but that’s because we used to only have one congressman in Montana until recently because of our low population. But having added population mostly from the East Coast and the West Coast, I might add, we got another representative who represents the eastern half of the state. His district was carved out of the eastern part of the state, a place of prairies, ranches, and so on, which has always been traditionally the most conservative part of the state.
So, the argument is somehow that having added a Republican representative, we’re taking a hard right turn. And having elected a Republican governor, we’ve had Republican governors. Now, let me add, I’ve lived here for 32 years, or lived there, I’m in New York right now, but we’ve had Republican governors for about half that time, and Democratic governors for about half that time. Apparently without me knowing it, because I haven’t looked outside recently, we have a near Taliban-like situation in Montana, which is really weird because as I say it’s millionaires from the coasts, and billionaires even, even people like MBS from Saudi Arabia who’s building a compound in Montana.
Matt: They mentioned somebody who sold a tech company and is worth 1.5 billion and has now moved to Montana.
Walter: I think that’s our governor Greg Gianforte. Part of the argumentation in this piece is that because our governor is an evangelical Christian we are now under a medieval state with a pope-like leader or something.
This piece put together artfully a bunch of quotes from an old Republican lady found at some gathering who said, “if you’re coming to Montana, you’d better be Christian” and a few ballot initiatives that had a conservative flavor and a few other comments to make it seem as though we’re being ruled by Jerry Falwell himself.
Matt: Is Jerry Falwell dead?
Walter: Yeah. I think he is. I think he is part of that generation of evangelicals that seems to have passed away pretty completely, but Montana’s going to give them a run for the money, apparently.
The funny thing is that having lived there for 32 years, this is now about the third cycle of ‘Montana as militia threat’ that I’ve watched in the press. In the nineties around the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, there was something called the Patriot movement and the militia movement. And it was usually located in Montana because, for readers of the New York Times, you can pretty much set any scary trend in Montana without anyone checking on it. It’s harder nowadays because there are direct flights to Bozeman and there didn’t use to be.
Matt: Don’t you think this is a classic example of how human interest stories make it into the pages of publications like The New York Times? It’s probably because there are rich people who either work at The Times or have friends at The Times who themselves have moved to Montana, for all of the obvious reasons, right? They want to get away from how crap New York is suddenly. And other cities that have issues these days. And so they’re fleeing to states like Montana. It was Idaho a while ago. Remember the nineties? The Great Migration of Rich Californians to Idaho?
Walter: Well, yeah. So there’s an even easier answer, Matt. It’s because of the show Yellowstone. The show Yellowstone was in the lead of this piece as though somehow this Kevin Costner’s soap opera can be quasi-related to this ostensible far-right move. So I think the answer to why they’re doing this is search engine optimization. They now have a quasi-legitimate link to Yellowstone, Kevin Costner, et cetera.
Matt: They even talk about the Costner character’s decision to run for governor as if it were a real political decision.
Walter: Oh my Lord. It’s like deciding that the universe is taking a far-right turn because of Darth Vader in the Star Wars trilogy.
Matt: Right. Yeah. Baron von Har Conan.
Walter: But accompanying the text of this piece, and even more damning in the eyes of the person who knows nothing about Montana, were a bunch of photographs that were absolutely completely manipulated and filtered in the way of like dystopian campaign ads. They put dark filtering on them, and they showed things like some kind of a Republican meeting in a hotel ballroom or something, but filtered so as to look like some satanic pageant.
Matt: There’s a photo of a flag that says “God guns and Trump” that I swear had to have two filters on it.
Remember the great journalism controversy of, what was it, 1996? When was it? Newsweek who darkened OJ on the cover? Wow. I forget which magazine it was that made OJ blacker on the cover.
Walter: Well, I’m going to come out and accuse them of racism for using darker filters to suggest evil.
Matt: Well, look they’re clearly trying to contrast with Yellowstone, which paints this incredibly attractive picture of what the landscape of Montana looks like. It reminds me of the scenes from the Oliver Stone movie Nixon, when he remembers his childhood, which was all in black and white. And it was him waiting for I think one of his relatives to die of TB. I can’t remember which one it was. But it’s so over the top, this piece and I’m guessing it doesn’t have too much to do with reality. But obviously, you tell me, you live there.
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