The president of the Big Sky Tea Party Association has been removed from his position and booted from the party after coming under fire for a post he made on his Facebook profile that implied he condones violence against homosexuals.
Tim Ravndal was removed as president of the local chapter Sunday after the group’s board of directors learned of his volatile post on the online social networking site, according to Roger Nummerdor, the former president and a current board member of the group. Nummerdor also said Ravndal is no longer welcome in the party.
“He’s out,” he said.
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.”
Ravndal, a prominent but antagonistic figure since the Big Sky chapter’s inception, made the comment July 23 on his Facebook page in regard to a Billings Gazette article about an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit over rights for same-sex couples.
The comments have since been removed, but the Independent Record obtained a photo of Ravndal’s page with the comments.
Tim Ravndal: “Marriage is between a man and a woman period! By giving rights to those otherwise would be a violation of the constitution and my own rights”
Keith Baker: “How dare you exercise your First Amendment Rights?”
Dennis Scranton: “I think fruits are decorative. Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions.”
Tim Ravndal: “@Kieth, OOPS I forgot this aint America no more! @Dennis, Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?”
Dennis Scranton: “Should be able to get info Gazette archives. Maybe even an illustration. Go back a bit over ten years.”
The comments by Ravndal and Scranton appear to reference the 1998 slaying of 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten, tied to a fence post and left for dead. Witnesses testified during the trial that Shepard was targeted because he was gay.
The comment elicited a stern response from the Montana Human Rights Network, but Ravndal said last week that his comments were unrelated to Shepard’s murder.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the tragedy that happened in Wyoming,” Ravndal told The Great Falls Tribune. “I made a mistake and I apologize to anyone I offended. I do not condone violence to any human being.”
A telephone message left for Ravndal was not returned Monday.
In a telephone interview with the Independent Record from his Helena home, Nummerdor said the comments were unfortunate, and that he hoped they don’t reflect on the Big Sky Tea Party Association as a whole.
“We’re hoping it
doesn’t reflect on us at all because we don’t condone that type of comment,” he said. “It’s just not the way we think. We try to keep ourselves on task and only do a very limited mission statement. With those statements that Tim had made it kind of really put him out there in left field from us. We had to do something.”
Four of the five board members voted to remove Ravndal as president, while one person abstained from voting, Nummerdor said. The board consists of Walker, Nummerdor, Bobbette Madonna, Bill Conner and Tom Baird. Nummerdor would not say who abstained.
However, Nummerdor implied that because Ravndal’s comment was made on July 23, before he was appointed party president, that someone had found it and held it to use as ammunition against the party.
“I’m quite sure people were sitting on those to make a statement, and it’s quite unfortunate,” he said. “It’s going to probably adversely affect us some.”
But the comment was “so far out in left field from the Tea Party, I don’t see how they can put it against the Tea Party,” Nummerdor added. “He wasn’t speaking on behalf of the Tea Party. It was his own personal Facebook page.”
Ravndal, who boasts 230 friends on his Facebook page and displays a profile photo of him hoisting American and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags with a holstered gun, has been a central figure in the Tea Party movement locally. He’s written several letters to the editor of this newspaper, and recently appeared alongside Kristi Allen-Gailushas, who filed a lawsuit in District Court Aug. 20 claiming the proposed Helena School District health enhancement curriculum would do her children “irreparable harm.”
Allen-Gailushas, a Republican candidate for the Montana House in District 82 who is listed as secretary on the Big Sky Tea Party Association website, also has come under fire in many online blogs. Her lawsuit, which claims the Office of Public Instruction is violating the Montana Constitution by not stopping the health curriculum process, has no merit constitutionally. She also has controversial content on a social network site — her MySpace page shows her holding a handgun in her right hand with a black shirt and white letters that read “Jihad this.”
Ravndal participated in many, if not all, of the Tea Party rallies at the Capitol, often waving large American flags or buzzing through logs symbolic of the federal budget with a chain saw.
In his written press release, Walker continued to distance the party from Ravndal’s Facebook comment.
“I do believe Mr. Ravndal when he explained that he was in no way intending to promote violence and that he was not thinking about nor condoning the murder of an innocent victim in Wyoming in 1998 when he responded to some very disturbing comments made by another individual,” Walker wrote. “However, no matter how we considered the commentary, it was clear to us that he was participating in conversation which was overtly bigoted and we cannot have an officer of our corporation engaging in such behavior.”
In Ravndal’s most recent Facebook post, made Friday at 11:07 a.m., he calls his comment a “mistake” and says, “Those that know me understand and that is all that matters!”
Nearly all 221 responses are extremely critical and are, ironically, themselves filled with inflammatory rhetoric aginst Ravndal.
Editor John Doran: 447-4072 or email@example.com