It might be easy for rural or even suburban Americans to find solace in their geographical distance from the downtown areas of the nation’s major cities.
If the last six months have taught us anything, though, it is that the issues plaguing the country and the globe can strike close to home — even if home is a place of relative isolation.
The coronavirus pandemic, or more aptly, government’s response to it, has reminded us that those bigger issues have a way of finding their way to small communities across America.
Apparently such an assumption is wrong.
Hate can brew anywhere and manifest itself in violent ways, even in Big Sky Country.
A family living in the town of Three Forks, Montana, about a two-hour drive west of Billings on Interstate 90, experienced a level of hate that shocked them after they dared to show their public support for President Donald Trump.
Julia O’Rourke told KBZK-TV her family was targeted with vandalism and arson over a pair of Trump flags that were hung from the family’s front porch.
She and her husband, Robert, purchased the flags recently and proudly displayed them from the front of the house that same day.
Hours later, their home security camera caught a man tearing the flags down and setting them on fire just yards away from where their four children sleep.
O’Rourke told the outlet the family woke up the next morning to find the flags had been reduced to ashes.
“It’s insane. None of us knew. We woke up to a charred pile of the flag in our yard, and had no idea,” she said.
The mom was particularly concerned about the safety of her kids.
In a state that voted for Trump by 20 points in 2016, a small town such as Three Forks, with a population of roughly 2,000, is far away from the violence in Chicago, Minneapolis and other large cities.
But the hatred playing out in large cities apparently lives in the hearts of people everywhere.
“I felt violated,” Julia O’Rourke told KZBK. “I felt that my kids and my life and my husband’s life were in danger. It could have easily burned my house down.”
“There was a fire ban, and as close as it was to the house, it was very eerie,” she added.
The Montana Republican Party shared the report on Twitter and urged state residents to be vigilant.
“This Montana family had their #Trump2020 flags burned in their yard as their children slept,” it said. “The liberal mob isn’t just in cities across the country, it’s right here in Montana and it’s threatening the safety of freedom-loving Montanans.”
This Montana family had their #Trump2020 flags burned in their yard as their children slept.
— Montana Republican Party (@MTGOP) August 28, 2020
You would almost expect to see such a scene play out in New York, Boston, Chicago or Atlanta.
It might not even be a shock to find your property destroyed by vandals in suburbs near one of the country’s big cities.
But such an act of hate occurring in Montana, a sparsely populated state far away from urban America, is a reminder that those attempting to upend civility and free expression can reside anywhere.
The O’Rourke family turned their security footage over to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department, which arrested a man named Eric Herrera.
Herrera was charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief but could face more charges, KZBK reported.
The family, meanwhile, is just happy the fire didn’t spread and engulf their 107-year-old home.
An attack in rural Montana is a reminder for us all to remain vigilant with only two months until the most consequential election in recent memory.
CORRECTION, Sept. 3, 2020: An earlier version of this article said Three Forks was on Interstate 70 rather than Interstate 90. We apologize to our readers for any confusion we may have caused.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.