Monday's panel featured Eric Ward (left) and local community activists

HELENA – On Monday as part of MLK Day, members of the Helena community gathered to figure out ways to combat hate groups and white nationalism in Montana and across the nation.

The Montana Human Rights Network organized a forum called “Know Thy Enemy Unite for Justice”.

Presenters, including keynote speaker Eric Ward with the Western States Center, say states like Montana, Idaho and Oregon that are comparatively more Caucasian have an opportunity to unite together to create a more inclusive society.

The group pointed to hateful incidents in Whitefish, Portland, Ore. and the violent events in Charlottesville, Va. as evidence that something needs to be done.

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That’s why local community activists were also at Monday’s event, asking what they can do to create a more inclusive society. Panel members included Sanjay Talwani, Pastor Dave Anderson and Jenn Battles. Talwani asked Ward what western states should do to make a positive impact. Ward flipped the question back to the group, suggesting he was curious to hear their ideas as people who live in the region.

Ward said when it comes down to it, most Montanans have the same goal in mind.

“At the end of the day, the majority of Montanans want to live, love and work free from fear and bigotry. It’s really critical for the rest of us in the community to stand up and use our voices to ensure that can happen,” Ward said.

Ward said his passion for the subject arose after he saw the impact hate groups had in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s and was inspired to step up and do something.

To read more about the work that the Western States Center does, click here.