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Residents seek to change offensive name of Montana lake

August 31, 2020 GMT
This Aug. 19, 2020 photo shows Lost Coon Lake south of Whitefish, Mont. Residents who live around the small lake in northwestern Montana are asking to rename it because its name includes an offensive term referring to a Black person. (Hunter D'Antuono/Flathead Beacon via AP)
This Aug. 19, 2020 photo shows Lost Coon Lake south of Whitefish, Mont. Residents who live around the small lake in northwestern Montana are asking to rename it because its name includes an offensive term referring to a Black person. (Hunter D'Antuono/Flathead Beacon via AP)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Residents who live around a small lake in northwestern Montana are asking to rename it because its name includes an offensive term for a Black person.

The city of Whitefish filed a petition in state District Court in mid-August on behalf of property owners around Lost Coon Lake to change its name to Lost Loon Lake. The lake covers one-tenth of a square mile (one-quarter of a square kilometer) on the southern edge of Whitefish.

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.

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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,” said Whitefish City Council member Frank Sweeney, who owns property on the lake. 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 Monday.

However, it’s 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 offense,” Whitefish City Attorney Angela Jacobs said. “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.”

A 1962 U.S. Geological Survey map of the area does not include a name for the lake, while a 1997 USGS map has it labeled with its current name, said Eve Byron, a spokeswoman for the Montana Historical Society.

A nearby golf course is already using Lost Loon Lake on its maps, the court filing notes.

District Judge Dan Wilson scheduled an Oct. 27 hearing to take testimony on the proposed name change. If the judge approves the application, the secretary of state will receive the name change order in January.

Whitefish has dealt with racism in the recent past. 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.

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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.

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