Montana’s real estate market has been burning red hot for well over a year. Some real estate agents have dubbed it a “land grab” as out-of-state buyers snap up properties, sending home prices to astronomical heights, particularly in Missoula, Bozeman and the Flathead Valley. 

But even in Montana’s more remote corners, property is selling quickly. Gail Enger, a longtime broker in Thompson Falls, said that a few years ago Sanders County — a remote community with about 11,400 residents pinned against the Idaho border — would have dozens of properties for sale at any given time. Now there might be fewer than 12.

And when a property is listed, it goes quickly. In 2019, a property would usually be on the market for more than 100 days before being sold. In October 2021, the average was 39 days on the market, according to the Montana Regional MLS.

For years, Enger said, many of the people who moved to Sanders County were retirees looking for a quieter place to enjoy their golden years. But another type of buyer has emerged from California, Washington and elsewhere looking to live in a more conservative community that matches their political values. Enger said that type of buyer has increased considerably since the election of President Joe Biden. 

“They want to be among like-minded people,” she said. 

The firm Enger works for doesn’t specifically market to buyers motivated by political considerations — its website highlights the scenic wonders, recreational opportunities and quietude on offer in that part of the state more than anything. But other real estate agents are catering to precisely the conservative demographic — specifically, people looking to relocate to what’s been dubbed “the American Redoubt.” 

‘SAFE HAVEN’ 

The term “American Redoubt” was coined by novelist and survivalist blogger James Wesley, Rawles (he added the comma) about a decade ago, but the idea of conservative-leaning separatist movements in the inland Northwest is older than that. 

More than a century ago, residents of eastern Washington and northern Idaho who felt ignored by state leaders farther west and south clamored for their own state. In recent years, some of those continuing movements have given the proposed new state names like “Lincoln” and “Liberty.” Over the last decade, Republicans in eastern Washington have put forth bills almost annually calling for citizens on the dry side of the Cascades to secede.  

But while the politically fringe backers of Lincoln or Liberty want to create a state they can call their own, the American Redoubt concept is more about the migration of people who believe the Inland Northwest might provide a safe haven for conservative-leaning Christians if society falls apart in the rest of the country. 

In a 2011 post on his website SurvivalBlog.com, Rawles wrote that the American Redoubt consists of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, collectively considered appealing for their combination of conservative politics and a fruitful landscape of natural resources. (Rawles notes that while Utah is a reliably conservative state, its desert climate doesn’t do it any favors when it comes to food production. North Dakota and South Dakota are also conservative, but flat, and thus difficult to defend from military invasion, Rawles writes.) 

Rawles writes that the American Redoubt is not about segregating races, but separating religions, apparently distancing himself from movements like “Pioneer Little Europe,” which about a decade ago encouraged white nationalists to move to the Flathead Valley.

“Clients of both my consulting firm and real estate firm simply want freedom. They generally have the same belief that this country is now being destroyed from within and choose to flee to a state where they can be free to live their lives, homeschool their children and not be disturbed.”

Todd Savage, American Redoubt real estate agent and relocation consultant

“People will brand me as a religious separatist. So be it. I am a separatist, but on religious lines, not racial ones,” Rawles wrote. “I have made it abundantly clear throughout the course of my writings that I am an anti-racist. Christians of all races are welcome to be my neighbors.”

In a preparation checklist, Rawles recommends that new arrivals to the American Redoubt sell or donate extravagances like jewelry and televisions, research the geography and microclimates of their new settlement, and “bring your guns.” 

In that 2011 post — which has been updated multiple times since — Rawles wrote that he was inspired to encourage “liberty-minded” people to move to the Inland Northwest by pastor Chuck Baldwin, who moved from Florida to the Flathead Valley in 2010 and started Liberty Fellowship, a congregation that frequently mixes politics and religion. Baldwin has been labeled a leader of the “anti-government Patriot movement” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In September 2010, Baldwin wrote, “We are going to Montana to fight! The Mountain States just might become The Alamo of the twenty-first century, with, hopefully, much better results. But if not, I would rather die fighting for Freedom with liberty-loving patriots by my side than be shuttled off to some FEMA camp.” Baldwin later praised Rawles’ post about American Redoubt on his own blog

Another prominent voice within the Redoubt movement is Jack Robertson, who under the alias John Jacob Schmidt has hosted a podcast called “Radio Free Redoubt” for more than a decade that encourages people to move to the area. Robertson was among the speakers at this summer’s Red Pill Festival in St. Regis, a gathering of far-right voices that was lent a sheen of establishment credibility by the presence of a number of state lawmakers, including Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton and Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell, who served as the master of ceremonies. During his speech at the festival, Robertson railed against socialism, gun control, the media, the prosecution of participants in the Jan. 6 riots in Washington, D.C., and other hot-button issues.

“We have to draw a line in the sand and we have to fight for our traditional American values right now,” he said. “[American Redoubt] is a defensible safe haven.” 

SELLING THE REDOUBT DREAM

Just how many people have been inspired to move to the Inland Northwest by Rawles, Baldwin and their supporters is unknown. What is clear is that a small group of realtors are aligning themselves to profit from the movement. Survival Realty, based in Post Falls, Idaho, is a real estate marketing platform that connects buyers with “rural, off-grid and self-sufficient properties” in the Inland Northwest and other rural areas around the country. Survival Realty did not respond to a request for an interview, nor did several other realtors who advertise specialties in American Redoubt real estate. 

Todd Savage of Sandpoint, Idaho-based Black Rifle Real Estate was willing to talk via email. Besides being a real estate agent licensed in Idaho and Montana, Savage calls himself a “strategic relocation consultant” who helps people interested in moving to the American Redoubt. Savage said his business has steadily increased over the last decade and has more than doubled over the last two years as a result of social and political unrest brought about in part by the COVID pandemic. Savage said he fields 30 to 50 inquiries a week about purchasing property in the American Redoubt and sometimes more, depending on the news. Not everyone follows through and relocates, but some do. 

A screenshot of a map on Black Rifle Real Estate’s website identifies part of northwestern Montana as “Mystical N/W Montana Prepper Havens!”

“Clients of both my consulting firm and real estate firm simply want freedom,” Savage wrote in an email. “They generally have the same belief that this country is now being destroyed from within and choose to flee to a state where they can be free to live their lives, homeschool their children and not be disturbed. They believe that the leftist tyrants that have destroyed so many of the sanctuary cities/states have the same right to live in the crime-infested disparity they created. Leftists are not welcome in the American Redoubt.”

Savage signals his distaste for liberals on his website, noting that while his company claims to follow all Fair Housing Act guidelines, it does “… discriminate based upon political and moral beliefs. Snowflakes, Liberals, Socialists, Marxists, Communists, and other Tyrants that hate our Constitutional Republic, the Bill of Rights and want to defund law enforcement are not allowed to engage our services.” The website later states, “The only snowflakes welcome here are from the clouds.”

The “About” page on the Black Rifle website features a photo of Savage standing in front of a map of the Yaak River area near Troy holding a rifle. The page features Savage’s explanation of how he and his family moved from California to northern Idaho in 2006.

“We didn’t quite ‘fit in’ with the changing landscape” in California, Savage told the Sandpoint Reader in a 2017 interview. “We were libertarian Christians who home-schooled, refused to poison our children through vaccinations, owned evil black rifles and supported what would one day be known as the Blue Lives Matter movement.”

Savage’s business offers firearms consulting and tactical training, as well as advice on how to prepare a property for hydro and solar electricity and large-scale agriculture production. The company offers to help people buy either a permanent residence in the American Redoubt or a “bug-out” property to escape to at a later date.

“Northwest Montana may well be one of the safest regions in the entire American Redoubt with hidden gems in tiny micro-locales. Mini Mico-locales such as the Yaak and West Kootenai are special places and provide the ultimate in remote and peaceful living both before and well after any major collapse event. You’ll probably never know the world has ended there!”

Todd Savage, American Redoubt real estate agent and relocation consultant

While the American Redoubt ostensibly includes a wide swath of the Inland Northwest, Savage is hyperfocused on selling what he calls “Islands of Refuge” in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana. One page of his website provides what he calls a Regional Threat Assessment analyzing which parts of the region are most safe from outside threats, including those he describes as emanating from Spokane, Seattle and Missoula. 

The islands described by Savage are split into two areas, one in the Idaho Panhandle north of Sandpoint, and the other in northwestern Montana. Savage’s Idaho map rates regions with a letter grade based on how safe from anti-liberty encroachment Savage believes they are. The area around Priest River, Idaho, gets a B- due to its proximity to Spokane, while the Moyie River Valley just south of the Canadian border gets a AAA rating. The Montana island doesn’t get a letter grade, but Savage notes that its remoteness makes it ideally defensible. 

“Northwest Montana may well be one of the safest regions in the entire American Redoubt with hidden gems in tiny micro-locales,” Savage writes. “Mini Mico-locales such as the Yaak and West Kootenai are special places and provide the ultimate in remote and peaceful living both before and well after any major collapse event. You’ll probably never know the world has ended there!”

The maps on Savage’s website also highlight bridges he says would need to be secured to block outsiders from infiltrating the area.

A screenshot of a map on Black Rifle Real Estate’s website highlights bridges a real estate agent says would need to be secured to block outsiders from infiltrating the area.

Savage’s beliefs bleed through to his real estate listings. A listing for a 10-acre plot near Sandpoint includes the line, “No Masks, No Vaccines, Just FREEDOM on this land.” Other listings state they are for “Liberty/Constitutional buyers ONLY” — a qualification that raised eyebrows at the Coeur d’Alene Multiple Listing Service this fall. An attorney for MLS sent Savage a letter asking that he modify the ad’s language, which MLS said could be interpreted as excluding non-Americans, which would violate the Fair Housing Act. Savage changed the language, saying he respected MLS’ right to protect itself from legal liability. He later told the conservative blog Gateway Pundit the episode was an “example of how the far left implements communist ideology thru Nazi-style Stasi tactics in all walks of life.”

In an email to Montana Free Press, Savage said such “tactics” in Idaho might only convince more people to move to Montana, where he said he’s never run up against similar issues. 

THE POLITICAL DIVIDE

Jim Elliott, a long-time Democratic former state legislator from Trout Creek, located in Sanders County just outside of the Idaho “island of refuge”, says the remote corners of northwestern Montana and the Inland Northwest have long been a haven for conservative politics, but that the arrival of new residents armed with acute distrust of the government concerns him. 

Elliott said that in decades past, opposing political persuasions could still come together to solve problems, but that such cooperation increasingly feels like a thing of the past. Elliott specifically pointed to the recent resignations of two Sanders County officials — a county commissioner and the public health officer — as examples of the area’s increasingly divisive politics. In a recent op-ed about the American Redoubt, Elliott wrote that such resignations might encourage even more people to relocate to the area if they believe they can “bully volunteer boards into submission.”

“This won’t go well,” he told MTFP recently. “Especially if people just stop talking to each other.” 

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Justin Franz is a freelance writer, photographer and editor based in Whitefish. Originally from Maine, he is a graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism and worked for the Flathead Beacon for nine years. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Seattle Times and New York Times. Find him at justinfranz.com or follow him on Twitter.