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Wednesday, April 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Racist robocaller now living in Montana, but harassment in Sandpoint continues

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 13, 2019, 9:53 a.m.

Scott D. Rhodes, left, speaks with Sandpoint police officers in an image captured by an officer’s body-camera on Dec. 1, 2017. Rhodes, the neo-Nazi who plagued several parts of the country last year with hate-filled robocalls from his home in Sandpoint, is now living in Libby, Montana. (Sandpoint Police Department)
Scott D. Rhodes, left, speaks with Sandpoint police officers in an image captured by an officer’s body-camera on Dec. 1, 2017. Rhodes, the neo-Nazi who plagued several parts of the country last year with hate-filled robocalls from his home in Sandpoint, is now living in Libby, Montana. (Sandpoint Police Department)

Scott D. Rhodes, the neo-Nazi who plagued several parts of the country last year with hate-filled robocalls from his home in Sandpoint, is now living in Libby, Montana.

But some people in Sandpoint continue to receive anonymous letters that reflect Rhodes’ brand of extremism and his disdain for the local newspaper that first exposed his activities.

Police identified Rhodes, 49, as the man who distributed racist propaganda at Sandpoint High School in 2017, a story first reported by the Sandpoint Reader. Rhodes later made a video podcast in which he advocated for a white supremacist takeover of the United States, and he’s been linked to thousands of racist and anti-Semitic robocalls in five states.

In recent weeks, residents of Bonner County, including a number of business owners who advertise in the Reader, have received letters targeting the paper’s publisher, Ben Olson.

“You are getting this because you are known to support Ben Olson at the Sandpoint Reader with your money,” the letters say.

The letters make vicious, baseless allegations against Olson and call him a “degenerate.” They also include attachments featuring photos of Olson, his business partner, Chris Bessler, and one of the paper’s biggest advertisers.

The letters also claim a private investigator is looking into Olson’s activities. Olson said several of his advertisers have received phone calls from a man claiming to be that investigator.

Olson and others linked to the Sandpoint Reader faced similar harassment in September, when copies of the weekly paper were stolen from grocery stores in town. The same day Olson noticed the thefts, an anonymous robocall went out to Sandpoint residents, accusing him of blackmail and calling him a “cancer” that “needs to be burned out.”

Later that week, a YouTube video sent to Reader advertisers played a similar anonymous message and appeared to show the missing papers set on fire.

“Just like the robocalls last fall, this is just another attempt to hurt my business and my reputation and the First Amendment, for that matter,” Olson said Tuesday, adding that the allegations in the letters were fabricated. “It’s a ridiculous attempt to smear me and my newspaper.”

Olson was careful not to name Rhodes, but he said he’s certain about the source of the harassment.

“I know who it is,” Olson said, “and anybody who’s following the story knows who it is.”

Rhodes did not respond to messages sent to three email addresses he has used in the past. A message left with a phone number associated with him was not returned.

Olson said he had reported the letters to the Sandpoint Police Department and the FBI. Sandpoint police Chief Corey Coon did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Capt. Tim Hemphill of the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office said his agency had received no reports of the recent letters. The sheriff’s office did look into the earlier harassment.

Rhodes appears to have moved to Sandpoint from California in 2015, the same year robocalls targeted Sandpoint’s mayor. In October – shortly after Florida residents received racist robocalls from Rhodes targeting a black gubernatorial candidate – KHQ-TV reported Rhodes had moved out of the home he rented in Sandpoint.

Local officials confirmed Rhodes resides in Libby, Montana, just across the Idaho border. The home he lives in was purchased in September by a limited liability company called Law Enforcement Support Network LLC.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Rhodes owns the company, or which state it’s registered in. Several companies with similar names are incorporated in Montana, but records for those entities do not list Rhodes as an owner or agent.

Libby police Chief Scott Kessel said his office was notified by other law enforcement agencies when Rhodes moved to town. But Rhodes has kept a low profile there.

“We don’t really know what he’s doing here,” Kessel said. “We’ve not had any of the flyers or anything.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, to reflect new information about limited liability companies registered in Montana.

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