[Update: Please notice the update at the end of this article]
Montana is ordinarily known for our liberating wide-open spaces and feeling of unparalleled freedom in our mountainous frontier. But thanks to coronavirus, which has so far taken less lives over the course of the epidemic than Montana’s Planned Parenthood clinics take in a few days, that liberty is gradually being removed.
Emboldened by Governor Bullock’s lock-down orders that better mirrors densely-populated blue states than most of our neighboring states, local municipalities are getting tough on those thumbing their nose at government orders.
Yellowstone County Attorney, Scott Twito, said in a press conference yesterday, “I don’t want to prosecute any of my fellow residents for any of these violations. But I took an oath to follow the law, and I will.”
Of course, laws are something passed by legislatures. Twito was referring to an executive order by Governor Bullock, which falls short of the standard of “law.” Twito was referring to his new commitment to prosecute those who are standing too close to one another.
Yellowstone County health officer John Felton, said promised to give jail-time to those who weren’t “sheltering in place.” This comes at a time when the state is desperately trying to vacate jails to save inmates from coronavirus. Apparently, they now have room for people who leave their homes without ‘traveling papers.’
The National Guard will be patrolling airports and train stations to take temperatures of residents, which ordinarily would not be allowed under law due to the fourth amendment, apparently suspended by Governor Bullock.
Seventy-three Guardsmen will be deployed to 17 locations in 11 cities as a part of the governor’s COVID-19 task force. Guard members will also be at commercial and even private airports in Billings, Butte, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula and at also at Amtrak train stations in Whitefish, Havre, Shelby and Wolf Point.
It is unknown what measures they will go to in order to ensure compliance, but their military-issued M-4s will probably not be scoffed at.
Helena is promising to fine businesses that don’t close down $500, even if they disagree about whether or not they are “essential business.” Additionally, Missoula Police have issued a memo warning citizens to obey the government orders, which is an odd order considering they have previously stated they will not arrest those guilty of non-violent offenses during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Montana residents may still visit forest trails, trailheads and dispersed camping sites (campgrounds with amenities are closed), so long as they don’t get too close to one another. That will be enforced by various law enforcement, who plan to patrol the areas to ensure compliance.
UPDATE: We were contaced by a representative of the Montana National Guard who made the following statement to serve as a correction to this article:
“Local Montana National Guardsmen are stationed at local travel locations to aid in health screening of consenting individuals who are traveling in from out of state. These soldiers are not armed and are assisting local health officials. This is a group effort of Montanan’s helping Montanans stay safe and all participation by citizens is voluntary.”