In response to the resurgence of white supremacism in the 1980s, Ken Toole helped found the Montana Human Rights Network. Under his guidance the MHRN has become a highly effective grassroots organization with 1300 members and 8 local chapters and a national leader in the struggle to expose and resist the far right and promote democratic values and human rights.
More than a decade ago, Montana had become a center for the growing militia movement in the United States. White supremacist groups like the Aryan Nation, Posse Comitatus and Freemen were entrenched across the state – intimidating elected officials, singling out minorities for attack and promoting a climate of racism and intolerance. In such a hostile atmosphere, most citizens were understandably afraid to speak out. Recognizing the growing threat to fundamental principles of democracy, Ken Toole felt compelled to leave the security of his government job to launch a statewide campaign to educate and mobilize the citizens of Montana.
Through community meetings, regularly published reports, training and lobbying efforts, MHRN has grown in numbers and effectiveness ever since. Almost a full year before the Oklahoma City bombing, Ken and his staff published the first report in the country warning of the dangers of the militia movement. Recognizing that groups like the Freemen and Militia of Montana are only the most bizarre manifestation of the anti-democratic impulses which are widespread in our society, MHRN believes that public policy is critical to advancing human rights. In November 2000, Ken won a seat on the Montana state senate campaigning on a broad human rights platform.
A consummate organizer, Ken has built a network of people and organizations who understand the connection between the political mainstream and the forces on the far right and who are prepared to take action. Though his community meetings are often marked by intimidation and hostile exchanges with white supremacists, militia members or those on the religious right, Ken remains undaunted by the dangers of confronting haters on their own turf.
MHRN’s grassroots efforts helped to establish a state holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. It successfully pushed for legislation that increased the penalties for threatening public officials – a common practice on the radical right – and for committing hate crimes. Its greatest triumph has been to educate and empower an informed citizenry in Montana sensitive to issues of bigotry and discrimination, knowledgeable about their constitutional rights and determined to promote tolerance in their communities. By raising his own powerful voice, Ken Toole has helped countless others find theirs.
Ken has made a sustained effort to combat the anti-Indian movement in Montana. He wrote and published the first in-depth expose chronicling the decades-long effort by extremists in Montana to overturn federally guaranteed Indian treaty rights and other human rights violations of Native Americans and he helped to found Voices of Indian Communities on Education, a group of parents from the reservations who are working to improve local schools.
A devoted husband and father of three teenagers, Ken has had a remarkable impact in Montana and beyond. He has risked much to stand up to the forces of evil and violence in his own back yard. In so doing, he has stirred in all of us a renewed determination to protect the dignity and freedom of every citizen.