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Montana judge grants petition to change offensive lake name

Last Updated Oct 28, 2020 at 2:44 pm MST

KALISPELL, Mont. — A Montana judge has granted a petition to rename a small lake near Whitefish because its name includes an offensive term referring to a Black person.

District Judge Dan Wilson approved the petition Tuesday to change the name of “Lost Coon Lake” to “Lost Loon Lake,” the Flathead Beacon reported.

The city of Whitefish filed the petition in August on behalf of residents who live around the lake. The city is known as the part-time home of white nationalist Richard Spencer and has dealt with racist issues. The renaming effort comes during a national reckoning over racism.

It’s not clear when the Montana lake got its name; previously its name included the N-word, residents have said.

“We literally cannot find out who requested the name change or who established the (current) name,” Whitefish City Council member Frank Sweeney, who owns property on the lake, said in August. He said he has seen a printed map with the previous name.

“I don’t think there was any (racist) intent” in the current name, Sweeney said.

However, it has offended some visitors who then found a Wikipedia page that said the racial epithet was in the lake’s previous name and that its current moniker was some sort of compromise.

“People have taken huge offence,” Whitefish City Attorney Angela Jacobs said in August. “We’ve had several citizens, several visitors, complain to us that this information is out there. I guess whether it’s accurate or not, people are truly offended.”

Under state law, the lake’s name change will become official in January. The lake covers one-tenth of a square mile (one-quarter of a square kilometre) on the southern edge of Whitefish.

Whitefish has dealt with racism in the recent past.

A Black woman participating in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in June, following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, was confronted by a white man who yelled in her face. The confrontation, in which she lifted her sunglasses and stared him in the face, was captured on video. Samantha Francine said her late father told her to confront antagonists by looking them directly in the eye “so they know you’re human.”

Another issue began when Spencer made a speech at his white supremacy think-tank the National Policy Institute in November 2016 during which he mentioned Whitefish and declared: “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”

His mother, Sherry Spencer, faced backlash in Whitefish over his speech and told media outlets she might be forced to sell a commercial building.

A Jewish real estate agent in Whitefish was subjected to a “troll storm” advocated by Andrew Anglin’s neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer after Sherry Spencer accused the agent of threatening and harassing her into selling her property, court records said.

Anglin published the phone numbers, email addresses and social media profiles of the woman, her husband and their 12-year-old son.

A federal judge ordered Anglin to pay $14 million in damages to the agent and her family after they received hundreds of threatening emails, letters, texts and phone calls from December 2016 to April 2017. Anglin did not appear in court to defend himself against the family’s lawsuit. Attorneys for the agent have said Anglin has not paid the judgment.

The Associated Press