Welcome to Montanamo Bay: Hardin Montana continues its campaign to become Gitmo North

Two Rivers Detention Facility, Hardin MT (photo courtesy city of Hardin)
Give us your tortured, your cold,
Your huddled terrorists yearning for revenge,
The wretched refuse we ripped from your teeming shore.
Send these, the swarthy and foreign, the shadowy and tempest-tossed, to us:
We lift our lamp beside the golden door.
-inscription on the base of the Two Rivers Detention Facility, Hardin MT (ok, not really, but it could be)

Hardin, MT
Not since Ismay changed it’s name to Joe has an eastern Montana town generated so much media attention as Hardin, Montana with its campaign to become the new Guatanamo Bay. And oh has the national media eaten it up. In the past month, we’ve seen Time Magazine, CNN, Fox, NPR, and “Good Morning America.” And yesterday Al-Jazeera came to town.

Two Rivers Detention Facility, Hardin MT (photo courtesy city of Hardin)

Two Rivers Detention Facility, Hardin MT (photo courtesy city of Hardin)

Al-Jazeera? Yes, that network. The local news gave it all the shock-value of an invasion of the Taliban. In reality, the crew was two white dudes — one from D.C., one from Canada. It looked more like the invasion of the Nordic News Network. Not since Dick Cheney and a donor swooped down in a Blackhawk helicopter to fish the nearby Bighorn have two white dudes garnered so much attention in Hardin.

If You Build It They Will Come if Contractually Obligated.
Don’t know the backstory of the Hardin jail? Here’s the short version. Hardin’s broke. They financed a huge private prison with City bonds without securing any actual prison contracts before breaking ground. Thus, Hardin has a 464-bed, very empty, very new-ish prison which the State of Montana finds unfit to house prisoners because the “dormitory style” design is “insufficiently secure” and the determination that prison populations in Montana are dropping (“dormitory style” here means that prisoners are kept in “pods” of up to 24 inmates rather than cells of one or two). The result is that Hardin owes $27 million and they had to make their first payment of $200,000 in January. As of today, their loans are in default.

And it’s not like Hardin hasn’t been trying. First, they tried to get out-of-state prisoners, but the MT Attorney General ruled that would violate one statute or another. At this point someone on the Hardin City Council said “If we can’t house medium-security out-of-state prisoners, maybe they’ll let us house high-security, high-risk foreign terrorists.”

Two Rivers Detention Facility, Hardin MT (photo courtesy city of Hardin)

Two Rivers Detention Facility, Hardin MT (photo courtesy city of Hardin)

Crazy Talk You Say?
Not really. Hardin’s idea has some historical precedent. After all, the Federal Government housed German POWs during WWII in nearby Laurel, MT. And the Heart Mountain Japanese-American Internment Camp is nearby outside Powell, Wyoming. Hardin itself is a kind of gateway community to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations which are nothing if not a prototype of Guantanamo Bay in the sense of taking people the dominant culture views as dangerous and removes them to an isolated holding area.

We are a region with a long history of dubious internment; Hardin is smack dab in the center of a kind of historical Bermuda’s Triangle of federal internment projects. Perfect.

Max Baucus hates the idea. Our senior U.S. Senator told ABC News (and others): “we’re not going to bring Al-Qaeda to the Big Sky Country — no way, not on my watch.”

Whether you see Hardin’s case, like Joe/Ismay’s, as a cheap publicity or not, you gotta feel for towns like Hardin. Like many (most) towns its size, it’s dying. Unemployment rates are sky high, businesses are vanishing, the Post Office is shutting down many of their rural branches. The list is endless. Sorry folks, but Mayberry’s on life support. Politicians like Sarah Palin who (in)famously said “We grow good people in our small towns” pay only lip service to small towns and their presumed values while continuously sacrificing small towns on the alter of economic growth (read urban economic growth as the West, including Alaska is the more urban region in the nation—start here http://bit.ly/SZhBn for the figures: http://www.census.gov/ has all the figures ).

So when the residents of Hardin woke up this morning and read in the Billings Gazette about the enormous Cabela’s Superstore (80,000 square feet) that opens today in Billings, which will sit next to the state’s largest Sam’s Club (7.5 miles away from the Laurel Wal-Mart Superstore), you gotta give them some grace if the sound they hear isn’t the cheers from the non-stop raffles in the Cabela’s parking lot but the sound of another Hardin fly shot shuttering its doors, the sound of another van moving a neighboring family to “town.”

Sometimes when your back’s up against a wall, you either get busy growing bitter and clinging to guns and religion (to paraphrase Mr. Obama),[1] or you get busy figuring out a way to contain a group of people who have already are bitter and clinging to their guns and religion.

Methinks it’s a match made in heaven. Lock and load.

[1] Both of which may just be on sale at the new Cabela’s and at the Laurel Wal-Mart Superstore

Detention Triangle (Heart Mountain, Wyoming to the Laurel MT POW Camp to the Two Rivers Detention Facility, Hardin MT

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