After posting anti-gay remarks on his Facebook page, a former Montana Tea Party president was ousted by the group’s board and expelled from the party on Sunday, but this move has angered some and has caused the group’s secretary to resign in protest.
Facebook Comments Spark Outrage
The Tea Party member in question, Tim Ravndal, the now-former president of Montana’s Big Sky Tea Party Association, took to Facebook on July 23 to comment on a Billings Gazette article regarding a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the state over the issue of gay marriage.
In a subsequent exchange with fellow Facebook users, Ravndal appears to make reference to the 1998 murder of gay Wyoming university student Matthew Shepard. This has been interpreted as Ravndal advocating violence toward the gay community.
The exchange started with Ravndal posting the following alongside a link to the aforementioned Billings Gazette article: “Marriage is Between a man and a woman period! By giving rights to those otherwise would be a violation of the Constitution and my rights.”
That post prompted a response from another Facebook user, who wrote: “I think fruits are decorative. Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions.”
To that, Ravndal responded: “Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?”
See a screencap of the Facebook exchange here.
Many of the respondents to Ravndal’s comments were less receptive of the tone the conversation had taken, with one commenter writing: “Gee, Tim, it’s getting to where a guy can’t casually joke about the brutal murder of a gay person without people thinking that you find the murder of gay people funny.”
On Friday, Ravndal posted a comment on the social networking site in which he tried to distance himself from the remarks.
From On Top Magazine:
“In sharing news about the ACLU suing Montana on the gay marriage issue, I made a mistake and commented on a post that implied that I condone violence against another human being. Nothing could be farther [sic] from the truth. Those that know me understand and that is all that matters!
However, it appears the Big Sky Tea Party board didn’t agree. In what has been described as an “emergency meeting” the board voted on Sunday to oust Ravndal 4-5 with one abstention.
From the Helena Independent Record:
Jim Walker, chairman of the Big Sky Tea Party Association board and an early founder of the anti-big-government group locally, said in a release that as soon as the board learned of Ravndal’s inflammatory comment, they called an emergency meeting to address the situation.
“We are extremely disappointed by Mr. Ravndal’s commentary,” wrote Walker, who could not be reached for this story. “The discussion in that Facebook conversation is entirely outside the position of the Big Sky Tea Party. Even though Mr. Ravndal was having a personal conversation and made no reference to our group, we felt strongly that swift and decisive action was required as we cannot accept that sort of behavior from within our membership, let alone from an officer of the corporation.
“We continually make it known that we will not tolerate bigoted dialog, behavior or messages at our functions, our meetings or within our ranks,” Walker continued. “If a person demonstrates bigotry relative to race, sex, ethnicity, etc. they are not welcome in our organization. The Tea Party movement is about standing up for individual freedom for everyone.”
Walker is also quoted as saying that he believes Ravndal that he “wasn’t even thinking about the tragedy that happened in Wyoming,” but that the board had to act.
In the same article, Roger Nummerdor, the former president and a current board member of the group, is said to have “implied” that because Ravndal’s comments were made before Ravndal became president of the chapter, this controversy unleashed by someone determined to undermine the party.
Regardless, the decision to remove Ravndal has caused friction within the group.
Secretary Resigns Over Ravndal Dismissal
The Helena Independent Record reports that Kristi Allen-Gailushas, the now former secretary of the Big Sky Tea Party Association who is also a Republican nominee for Montana House District 82 but has not received assistance from the party, has resigned her position over Ravndal’s expulsion.
She is quoted as saying: “They didn’t even listen to Tim and what he had to say. They were just worried about the [Montana] Human Rights Network and the ACLU and what they were going to say.”
Indeed, the Montana Human Rights Network had called for Ravndal’s dismissal. On Tuesday the group praised the board’s swift action and added that they hope the party will continue an unequivocal opposition to such rhetoric.
Blogger Robin Marty has a roundup of the latest happenings from the Tea Party including how one Tea Party member’s extreme views are causing divisions within the party.
UPDATE: With more Tea Party members backing Ravndal at a meeting Tuesday night, the Associated Press reports that there will be a vote to reinstate Ravndal’s membership, possibly as soon as Monday of next week. Roger Nummerdor, a former president and now board member, believes this will be divisive and is quoted as saying that he would resign his position if Ravndal was allowed to return. Find out more about what went on at the meeting here.