The clock had just passed 11:00 p.m. on May 11, 2022, and Jordan Daniel Hall, the Baptist preacher, website publisher, and self-appointed enforcer of religious and political purity was driving through his adopted home of Sidney, Montana with two guns, a fixed-blade knife around his neck, another in his boot, and a baggie full of prescription pills when police sirens lit up behind him.

It was a bad night in a bad year for J.D. Hall. 

Hall had already been forced to settle a libel lawsuit brought by a trans woman lobbyist he’d accused of intimidating a lawmaker in a story he wrote and published on his website, Montana Daily Gazette. Facing sanctions and mounting legal fees, he’d declared bankruptcy.

And on May 11, a day after he’d promised on Twitter that he and his “boys” would control the microphones at the upcoming annual meeting in Anaheim, California, of the Southern Baptist Convention, one of Hall’s primary theological targets, announcing “rebuke is on the agenda,” he was about to be hit with a drug charge. 

A police officer who had been following his car that night saw him swerving and pulled him over. Though a test showed no alcohol in his system, he appeared inebriated, according to court documents. He failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving under the influence. 

Hall pleaded not guilty, blaming his erratic driving on a vitamin D deficiency. Even so, he offered to resign his 15-year post as pastor of Sidney’s Fellowship Baptist Church, but church elders declined, insisting that he take a three-month sabbatical to address his health issues, which Hall, 40, said were numerous. Aside from the vitamin D deficiency, he claimed to be experiencing seizures, esophageal strictures and uncontrolled weight loss.

“Some have asked why I tendered my resignation if I am not guilty,” Hall later wrote on his polemics blog, Protestia. “The answer is shame and failure.”

In late June, the Richland County Attorney’s Office revealed for the first time that police had found a clear plastic bag containing numerous unlabeled white pills, another bag with white residue, and a prescription bottle containing an unidentified liquid in Hall’s car during the traffic stop. A toxicology report would later show Xanax in Hall’s system. In July, the county charged Hall with felony possession of a dangerous drug without a valid prescription, along with misdemeanor charges of driving and carrying a concealed weapon — a Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 Shield — while under the influence. Hall has maintained he took Xanax for anxiety in accordance with his prescription.

Credit: Photo-illustration by Melissa McFarlin / MTFP

This time, instead of waiting for a resignation offer, church leadership removed Hall as pastor. Hall, according to the church, had shown up to Sunday service on June 5 visibly disoriented, and not for the first time. Though he had previously blamed a vitamin deficiency for his behavior, he now admitted to taking the addictive anti-anxiety medication, the church said in a statement. Several people had suspected his drug use, the church said, but had kept quiet for fear of stirring conflict. Hall was subsequently removed from Protestia, which he had founded to comment on conflicts within the church.

In July, church leaders announced that Hall’s wife of more than 20 years, Mandy, had presented them with allegations of domestic violence that church leaders found credible, and removed Hall as a member of the church entirely. Fellowship Baptist filed two police reports: one concerning partner/family member assault, and another claiming Hall had embezzled church funds. The details on the reports are heavily redacted in the copies acquired by Montana Free Press, and no charges have yet been filed. 

The libel lawsuit — brought by activist Adrian Jawort and Democrat-aligned lawyer Raph Graybill — made it easy for Hall to paint himself as a victim: the liberal legal establishment and LGBTQ+ mafia were out to get him. The new allegations were more difficult to reframe. 

So in the middle of a criminal case, ongoing police investigations and the cumulative scrutiny of numerous public controversies, the pastor who built a persona on never fearing to speak out, who for years pursued a position as a kingmaker within the religious right, a holy warrior who took it upon himself to discern true conservatives from fakes and genuine Christians from heretics, fell silent. 

“I don’t like the man. And I’m just tickled to death that he got his comeuppance.”

Walt McNutt, former Sidney-area lawmaker

The cell phone number associated with Hall’s political and business activities is disconnected. Contacting him via email generates an auto-response saying the email is inactive and directing the sender, perhaps facetiously, to contact Carole Baskin, of “Tiger King” fame. Hall’s current contact information is known only to a small number of people, according to a post by editors at Protestia, none of whom MTFP was able to track down. Attempts to reach Hall through the attorney representing him in his criminal case were also unsuccessful.

Some people who’ve dealt with Hall over the years are pleased at his retreat from public life. 

“I don’t like the man,” said Walt McNutt, a former Republican lawmaker and one of Hall’s political opponents in Richland County. “And I’m just tickled to death that he got his comeuppance.”

HALL OF POWER

Over the course of his time in Sidney, Hall built a small empire that included the church, Montana Daily Gazette, Protestia, related radio shows and podcasts, a political action committee, leadership and precinct positions on the Richland County Republican Central Committee and a gun dealership. He helped organize campaigns to oust moderate Republican lawmakers and local precinct officials. In a January Facebook post, he described befriending “the most influential statewide Republican leaders” and taking several as clients for his political consulting work. He appeared smiling in photographs next to U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and congressman Matt Rosendale, describing the latter as “a great pal” who “loves our news organization.”

“He definitely tried to create this image as a kingmaker,” said Travis McAdam, with the Montana Human Rights Network, which studies extremist movements (and was frequently a target of Hall’s ire in MDG). “Did that help some candidates? I’m sure it did — a lot of the power that people perceived he had and claimed to have was power that other people gave him.”

J.D. Hall, right, with U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, center, and James White of Northwest Liberty News, left, at the 2021 Republican state officer convention. Credit: Twitter @GideonKnox2

His endorsement of current state Supreme Court candidate James Brown, who is vying to oust Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Gustafson, appeared on Brown’s website — at least until endorsements were removed from the site entirely in June. 

In recent years, Hall’s establishment of a John Birch Society chapter in Richland County, opposition to COVID-19 prevention measures and embrace of election denialism dovetailed neatly with positions gaining traction within the GOP, positioning Hall to exploit developing schisms in the party. 

Hall founded Montana Daily Gazette in early 2020, during the lead-up to a red wave election that saw the GOP carry all statewide offices, creating space for a purity-parsing platform with which Hall and his stable of writers could curry and broker favor with high-profile members of Montana Republicans’ right-most wing, including state GOP Treasurer Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, and Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci, among others.

“The problem is not politics, the solution is not politics. The problem is sin, and the answer is Jesus.” 

J.D. Hall 

“Hall was able to engage with right-wing Republicans in primaries and have some success, but he also had these [media] entities that existed outside the party that could constantly engage the party and say, ‘You’re not conservative enough, you’re not conservative enough,’” McAdam said.

In both his church and his politics, according to former church members, elected officials and political observers, he used dogma as a cudgel, demanding compliance of those who call themselves conservatives, or Christians, and working to oust anyone who threatened to stray from either flock. To give ground to moderation is to surrender to Democrats, and to do that is to lose “a battle between religions,” as Hall has framed it. 

“The problem is not politics, the solution is not politics,” Hall often says. “The problem is sin, and the answer is Jesus.” 

THE FALL

By the time Hall was arrested, cracks in his empire’s foundation had already started to show. 

In September 2021, Jawort sued Hall for libel after Hall had written and published a story in Montana Daily Gazette titled “Who’s the Gothic Transvestite Haunting the Halls of the Montana Capitol?” that accused Jawort of cornering and physically intimidating Sen. Bruce Gillespie, R-Ethridge. 

Hall expressed special antipathy for trans people, vociferously denying trans identity. He framed the broader LGBTQ+ rights movement as an infringement on his own beliefs. 

Three months before the Jawort suit, Hall was temporarily banned from all Town Pumps in Montana after telling a trans woman working as a cashier in East Helena she was a man living in sin. Hall responded on MDG by publicly calling for a boycott of the business. His attorney sent a letter arguing that Hall’s free speech rights were being violated. The ban was eventually lifted.

“We see this desire to become like God,” he said of trans people in an interview with Jon Harris, host of a YouTube channel called “Conversations That Matter,” in March. “God introduced himself as, ‘I am the creator.’ If you would want to steal for yourself the attributes of God, you would start with assigning gender.”

“I’m not playing along anymore,” he said in the same interview. “There was something in me that broke and said, ‘I’m tired, I’m tired of being pushed upon.”

Jordan “J.D.” Hall, right, leads a small group of people including Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci, to Hall’s right, in prayer in the state Capitol rotunda on Jan. 6, 2022. Credit: Thom Bridge / Independent Record

In January, at Jawort’s request, the case was moved from Richland County to a court in Cascade County under Judge Elizabeth Best. Jawort claimed that Hall’s repeated inflammatory comments about the case had tainted the local jury pool. Hall decried the switch as a tactic to try him in front of a hostile jury, and attacked Best as liberal in his speeches, going so far as to hold an event in Cascade County, in the middle of his litigation, titled “Judicial reform, Judge Best and removing bad judges from the state of Montana.” Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter and Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci, whom Hall has called the “hardest working man in Helena,” attended. 

The plaintiffs asked Best for sanctions after Hall repeatedly made winking threats online, for instance, posting on Twitter a picture of Graybill’s name in line with a series of taxidermied trophy mounts, or a photo of Hall holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher with the caption, “Democrat lawyers go after JD Hall — JD Hall goes on statewide tour going after them back.” 

Hall posted on Twitter a picture of attorney Raph Graybill’s name in line with a series of trophy mounts (Twitter) Credit: Via Twitter @GideonKnox2

And on a statewide tour he went. He made several appearances at Republican events, pachyderm clubs and churches. The tour’s stated purpose was twofold. One: ask for tax-deductible donations to his church’s “religious liberty fund,” which Hall would use to pay at least a portion of his legal fees. And two: warn of an encroaching wave of liberals, gays, atheists and communists looking to take over the state from their perches of power in Missoula, Bozeman and Helena.

Many of the events were held in western Montana centers of Republican power like the Flathead and Bitterroot valleys. 

“In eastern Montana, we can’t get people to organize,” Hall said last year at an event held in a horse arena owned by Manzella. His speech was titled “Keeping the Blue Dots at Bay.”

“We do not feel pressed upon like you do here,” he told the assembled. “We don’t have Black Lives Matter, Antifa, the LGBTQ mafia. We haven’t yet figured out it’s time to fight back.”

A fellow pastor at Fellowship Baptist put out a statement in response to the trial saying the church rejoiced “in our pastor’s persecution and suffering for the sake of our Lord, Christ. And we, as a congregation, stand behind him 100%, as has already been established by the unanimous, united voice of our congregation.”

Whatever money Hall raised, it wasn’t enough.

Hall posted a photo to Twitter of himself holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher with the caption, “Democrat lawyers go after JD Hall — JD Hall goes on statewide tour going after them back.” (Twitter) Credit: Via Twitter @GideonKnox2

In February, a day before facing possible sanctions from Judge Best for his threats, Hall declared bankruptcy, stalling the trial. 

In May, with the bankruptcy proceeding underway, Hall settled with Jawort. As part of the settlement, Hall, who has long publicly refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of trans identity because, he’s said, he can only speak what he calls objective truth, was forced to post a public apology on MDG’s homepage, admitting the story was false.

Not that Hall was really repentant. The title of the post, “Hall Apologizes to Adrian Jawort,” is encompassed by quotation marks. And in a separate statement posted on Protestia, Hall said the apology was written by Jawort’s attorneys, and that he had no legal choice but to publish it. 

The bankruptcy also opened a window into Hall’s otherwise opaque financial world. In documents filed with the court, he reported ownership of Gideon Knox, the umbrella company behind Hall’s business ventures, and “various websites,” a 10% stake in Real Montana News LLC, and total ownership of a federally licensed, appointment-only arms dealer called Black Robe Rifles. He reported owning more than a dozen guns, four cars, an ATV and two trailers. His assets totaled $190,969, against $533,144 in reported liabilities. Fellowship Baptist Church, which owned part of his house in Sidney, paid him a gross salary of $4,250 monthly. Mandy Hall, who works at the Sidney Health Center, earns a gross income of about $7,400 monthly. 

Credit: Photo-illustration by Melissa McFarlin / MTFP

Hall was discharged from bankruptcy on June 8, according to the trustee, attorney Joe Womack. He purchased his estate back for $40,000, though the house that Hall co-owned with the church — which is now recorded as fully owned by his wife — is now listed for sale at $325,000. Womack says he doesn’t know how Hall came up with the money, but says Hall claimed he had no access to the religious liberty fund. The pastor reported just $24 in cash assets. Jawort, as part of the settlement, is entitled to a portion of the proceeds, according to her attorney.

“I don’t think he had independent funds hidden away anywhere,” Womack said. “My recollection is that he indicated he had friends or other sources of money.”

The case allowed Hall to drum up support from his political network and further boost his profile. On Facebook, for example, Manzella lauded Hall’s bravery and solicited support on his behalf, both financial and prayer-based. It was a tactic that had worked for him before, in the Town Pump conflict and numerous other controversies.

“He would do something that would cause a reaction, and when there was a reaction, he would talk about how he was persecuted,” McAdam said. “And he tries to raise money on it.”

But the loss in court showed that his bravado could be beaten. The DUI charge, to which Hall pleaded not guilty, only added to an increasing atmosphere of ill repute. And as other legal allegations stacked up, including violence against his family, supporters who had previously rushed to his defense have gone, like Hall himself, conspicuously quiet.

THE BOOK OF JORDAN

According to a recorded April sermon delivered in Sidney, Hall is from Missouri, the child of God-fearing government employees. His southern drawl sometimes emerges — or he plays it up — during particularly emotional sermons. He has an older brother, Joshua, who also became a pastor. 

“My father made a covenant with the Lord, between him and God, that if the Lord would watch over my brother and I, that he would promise that we would be in church every time the doors were open,” he said in the sermon. “I always say that if there was ever a time as a child where I would have asked my parents on a Saturday night, ‘Are we going to church tomorrow?,’ they would have checked my temperature, like, ‘That’s a dumb question, of course we’re going to church tomorrow. Why would you ever have to ask that?’”

In a video of the sermon posted to YouTube, Hall looks gaunt, swallowed by a dark suit made for a bigger man. He wears horn-rimmed glasses and a gray beard. He is not sporting the wide-brimmed felt hat he’s made a sartorial signature. He speaks slowly, not always clearly, and fumbles over some words.

He describes himself as a poor student who thrived in classes where he felt his teachers were passionate. He found a particular affinity for debate.

“The term we would use when we would win hands-down [is] we would say we ‘crucified’ our opponent,” Hall said. “I excelled in that.”

According to an early version of MDG’s “About” page, Hall attended Williams Baptist University in Arkansas, was ordained to preach by 19, and married his wife, Mandy, at 20. 

Williams Baptist, by Hall’s standards, was too liberal. 

“For example, I was raised to be King James only, and I noticed that every liberal that I ever met, every theological liberal, used something besides the King James, so that’s what I insisted on using,” he said. 

Hall speaks at an event titled “Keeping the Blue Dots at Bay” hosted by state Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, in 2021. Credit: Screenshot via YouTube

“One time, the professor, just to get back at me for bringing the King James bible to class, said, ‘I’m going to award points — the quiz is to bring a newer version of the bible,’” Hall continued. “So I went to the library and checked out the Book of Mormon and brought it, which he didn’t think was funny at all. I still have that Book of Mormon, it’s started many a fire in my fireplace.”

After college, J.D. and Mandy had the first of their five children. J.D. went into sales to support his growing family, and claimed to be quite successful. After a few years, he said, he felt the absence of God in his life and returned to preaching, landing at a church in Missouri.

It was there, he said, that he discovered the process of biblical church discipline laid out in Matthew 18: If your brother sins against you, first tell him of his fault alone; if he persists, take one or two witnesses with you; if still he persists, tell the church, and if still he sins, “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” — in other words, rebuked and ostracized. 

“So at this church, there were these women who were just gossiping hens, who wouldn’t shut up,” Hall told the congregation. “It wasn’t even about me. It was about a deacon in the church they just couldn’t end a grudge with, so I went and I talked to them and asked them to quit gossiping. 

“They wouldn’t,” he continued. “I took the deacons with me and we went and followed Matthew 18 step two. They wouldn’t listen to me. And I said, ‘if I deal with this again I’m calling you out.’ And they did it again.”

Church elders warned him that publicly rebuking the women would be frowned upon. But Hall was on a mission.

“So I walked down that pulpit like a gunslinger, with a little bit of swagger, like if I’m gonna get fired, we’ll go out blasting,” he said. “So I said, ‘I rebuke you, and I rebuke you, and I rebuke you and I rebuke you, you are gossiping sinners, you have no repentance and God hates a gossip.’”

This approach to church discipline and a fixation on gossip would characterize much of Hall’s tenure after he arrived in Sidney 15 years ago, where criticism of his demeanor or attitude was met with strict reprimand.

“He just had a way about him to where he made you scared of your salvation, so to speak, if you do not toe the line with him,” said one former FBC member, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect relationships within the church community. 

“He was a very aggressive person,” said Tanya Rost, a Hall ally and former Fellowship Baptist Church member who until recently chaired the Richland County GOP Central Committee.

After rebuking the Missouri congregants, Hall said, he showed up to church one Sunday to find nobody there. His congregation had abandoned him. With no reason to stay in Missouri and an aversion to the more populous cities of the East, Hall cast his glance toward the West, and found Sidney, a place where he judged most people to be as conservative as he is.

“The term we would use when we would win hands-down [is] we would say we ‘crucified’ our opponent. I excelled in that.”

J.D. Hall

“I wanted to move to the Rocky Mountain West, but I didn’t want to move just anywhere,” he said at the event hosted by Manzella last year. 

“So we looked county by county for one of the most conservative counties in Montana. We wanted to move to the mountains — we missed them by five hours.”

That was in 2008, giving him plenty of time to become a fixture transcending the booms and busts of the Bakken-adjacent oil town. Shortly after arriving, he got involved with the Richland County Republican Central Committee, quickly ascending to chair, he told the crowd.

As leader of a Republican county committee in an already deeply conservative county, Hall focused inward.

He was especially animated by the 2012 House District 37 primary between Tami Christensen and David Halvorson. Christensen, the daughter of longtime moderate Republican lawmaker Walt McNutt and “heir apparent” to his seat, was in Hall’s eyes insufficiently opposed to abortion. 

“We went after her hard,” Hall said. “We went after her on guns, we went after her on the unborn. I don’t know, we probably went after her on her makeup application. We wrote letters to the editor, we knocked doors. I said, ‘I will not have a pro-choice candidate in my district. Period.’”

Christensen lost to Halvorson by more than 400 votes, a 30-point split in the small district. 

“Their direction was all right-wing religious,” McNutt told MTFP in August. “He was brutal to candidates. If you weren’t the chosen one, look out. It was really, really ugly.”

But Hall said he became disenchanted with Republican politics in an era dominated nationally by figures like Mitt Romney and John McCain. At the state level, Republicans had a dominating majority in the Montana House, but hardliners were constrained by a Democratic governor and a relatively moderate Republican caucus.

“I’m like, if this is conservatism, I don’t want anything to do with this,” Hall said.

After the race, he focused more on his pastoral duties, especially through Pulpit and Pen, later called Protestia, a Baptist news site and “discernment” ministry that picked fights in a variety of internecine conflicts within the church, often attacking the mainstream Southern Baptist Convention for a perceived embrace of liberal politics. 

“I’m buried in my office reading my Bible, and I’m seeing all these commands about people who claim to be Christians and are not actually Christians,” he said. “They sneak in privily, they sneak in subversively. And I began to see a little bit of this in my denomination. People claiming to be conservative that are not that conservative. So I put together a website, a blog.”

The world of discernment ministry — pastors and theologians dedicated to calling out wolves in sheep’s clothing within the church — is an artifact of a Baptist convention wrestling with intense internal debate. 

“This whole evangelical realm is huge,” says Micah Hershberger, a Sidney resident who grew up in Savage, left the area, and eventually returned for a job in the oil fields in 2017. He and fellow eastern Montanan (and former FBC attendee) Garrett Ashley Mullet run a blog that discusses Christian theology and conservative politics — and frequently criticizes Hall.  

“It’s got a large number of different denominations, and they’re all arguing over their differences, essentially. The discernment ministry, it’s a more conservative element of the evangelical world going toe to toe with the more liberal element. That’s kind of where that dividing line is.”

J.D. Hall, left, with U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, center, and James White of Northwest Liberty News, right, at the 2021 Republican state officer convention. Credit: Twitter @GideonKnox2

Even Hall’s brother, Joshua, was not immune to crossfire in the fight. In 2021, Hall tweeted that he was disowning his brother for taking the “liberal side of the SBC.”

Dustin Germain, a Montana Daily Gazette contributor and Protestia’s current managing editor, described the site’s mission as comparing “what people are saying in the name of God to the word of God, cataloging theological mischief-makers along the way.”

“He was cutting when he needed to be, and pastoral when the situation called for it,” Germain said of Hall, by email. “His ability to turn a phrase and vividly make a point is second to none, as is his foresight to see the newest theological threat coming down the pike and then sound the clarion call.”

Hall’s aggressive response to perceived threats often led to trouble.

Hall’s blog and social media posts frequently targeted Ergun Caner, a Swedish-born Baptist minister and former president of Brewton-Parker College, a Baptist school in Georgia. Caner had created a career as a public theologian in post-9/11 America on the strength of a story that he was raised Muslim and trained as a terrorist in Turkey but found Christianity as a young man. Hall and many others in the Baptist world were skeptical, pointing to discrepancies in Caner’s story

In July 2014, Hall expanded his critique to Caner’s son, Braxton, deploying a series of posts on Twitter to question why the 15-year-old boy was “posting make-out pics and profanity” on social media. A month later, Braxton Caner took his own life. 

Hall initially defended his actions as revelatory of how Ergun Caner led his family and home, but later apologized. According to Baptist News, he told his congregation that he would step back from denominational spats and focus more on his ministry in Sidney — a promise that didn’t stick. 

In 2017, Hall and FBC member Kyle Small were “dragged out” of a church service in Dickinson, North Dakota, and briefly detained by police after protesting that one of the church’s pastors, LaShawn Bedsole, should not be able to serve in that capacity since she’s a woman. The Sidney Herald, one of Richland County’s two newspapers, retired Hall’s religion column after the incident.

His fundamentalist views on gender, especially in the arenas of civic life, are a through-line in Hall’s story, from the church to his vitriol toward transgender people. 

“He had problems with women speaking their minds,” says Kristin Larson, a member of the county Republican central committee who frequently squared off with Hall.

In May, he retweeted an excerpt from a recent article that reads: “Women pastors are basically spiritual lesbians. They’re trans-pastors. Ie: not real pastors, but some garbled, cobbled together monstrosity, possessing approximations of biblical appendages and authority, but never the real thing.”

‘THE PROBLEM IS SIN’  

In religious and political contexts both, Hall positioned himself to enforce a strict standard of belief and conduct. Between politics and polemics, Hall told one interviewer, “to me, there’s very little difference.”

In no venue is that more evident than the Montana Daily Gazette, which became not only a mouthpiece for Hall and his allies but also a fawning platform for an ascendant hard-right movement in Montana.

The site was founded amid a play by Hall to once again take over the Richland County Central Committee. Several years after the Halvorson-Christensen race, Hall’s influence on the committee had waned. Joel Krautter, a Sidney attorney, had taken over as chair and was mounting a run for the state Legislature. 

Krautter won, beating Tanya Rost, a Hall ally, and quickly established a track record as a bipartisan who rankled the hardline with Democrat-allied votes on issues like Medicaid expansion and abortion. Hall made it his mission to kneecap Krautter’s political career in Sidney.

“Now in Richland County, the rule generally has been whoever’s at the courthouse gets to sign up as a precinct captain,” he said at Manzella’s horse arena. “It’s been the rule, an unspoken rule. So I take my church members that live all over the county in different precincts and I have them go sign up. Now who has control of the central committee?”

He founded a PAC, Conservatives United for Richland County, in March 2020, to support his chosen candidates in precinct races. Hall’s crew successfully forced Krautter out of his chairmanship, and Rost defeated Krautter’s vice-chair, Larson, in the subsequent leadership race. 

Almost overnight, Hall controlled the county GOP, Larson says. When Krautter was up for re-election, Hall backed a church member and fencing company owner named Brandon Ler over Krautter in the race for Sidney’s House District 35. Ler’s father, Brian, was running to oust McNutt from the county committee. Both succeeded. 

“He personifies what I call the religious right’s inside-outside game,” McAdam says. “It was created as a political movement to build power within the right wing of the party. That meant that, in addition to going to whatever your church was, you joined the local Republican central committee, you ran for office, you engaged the party’s structure.”

To galvanize energy for the race, Hall decided Richland County should be a sanctuary for gun rights and the unborn. In January, 2020, Hall held a town hall to rally support for the idea, demanding that local Republicans show up. All county commissioners, the sheriff and other conservative figures — including then-candidate for Montana attorney general Austin Knudsen — attended. Hall lobbied local commissioners to pass commensurate measures, and later turned on them when they didn’t, writing on Facebook two years later that they should be replaced for their “refusal to stand for the unborn beyond mere words.”

“He was holding pictures of bloodied fetuses, people were yelling in the audience, ‘It’s murder, it’s murder!,’” Amy Efta, editor of the Sidney Herald at the time, recalled of the town hall. “It was really alarming to me, being in that room. I grew up in eastern Montana, I’m no stranger to being around conservative eastern Montana men, but it was startling, the pumping up of those egos.”

Efta wrote a column about the meeting, excoriating Hall and comparing the gathering’s energy to that of a militia forming. Hall, angered by the column, founded Montana Daily Gazette in response, pledging that it would one day be larger than all Montana’s “legacy media” combined.

Krautter has remained a frequent MDG target, even after the end of his legislative tenure. “A Documented Timeline of Rep. Joel Krautter’s Service to the Democratic Party,” reads one headline. “‘Republican’ Rep. Joel Krautter Refuses to Attend Republican Town Hall Forum,” says another.

Krautter declined to comment on the record for this story.

“I feel like he would like to take on a godly form and make all the decisions on whether you’re godly enough, whether you’re Republican enough. That’s the persona he gives off to people,” Larson says. 

With Krautter’s loss, Hall’s attention broadened.

“I feel like he would like to take on a godly form and make all the decisions on whether you’re godly enough, whether you’re Republican enough. That’s the persona he gives off to people.” 

former Richland County Republican Central Committee Vice Chair Kristin Larson

By 2021, the Montana GOP controlled every state office and, effectively, the Legislature. After years legislating under threat of a Democratic governor’s veto pen, parts of the party were lurching to the right on abortion and LGBTQ issues, exposing a divide in the caucus between a mostly newer class of hard-right, Trump-era Republicans and established comparative moderates accustomed to working with Democratic governors. 

The divide presented Hall, and MDG, an opportunity to trumpet the candidates and causes he supported. 

As election fraud became an insistent — though still fringe — narrative in the state Republican Party, Hall called on his PAC’s Facebook page for candidates to primary the Richland County clerk and recorder, who oversees county elections. The current occupant, he said, would not allow “independent surveyors” and legislators to examine voting tabulators. When the anniversary of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection came around, Hall led supporters in prayer at the Capitol to support those who’d been imprisoned for rioting.

The wedge issues helped Hall push the party to the right. He repeatedly hammered the same line: Jesus is the answer to sin. The Democratic platform, he often said, is a 10-point refutation of the 10 Commandments. 

“There is an intersection between religion and politics that a pastor is not allowed to ignore,” Hall said in the interview with Jon Harris. “The 6th Commandment says thou shall not murder. That includes abortion.”

He cultivated a symbiotic relationship with the state’s right-of-right wing, lending a theological justification to its political project and attacking rivals. When Manzella took on prominent Solutions Caucus member Nancy Ballance for Montana Senate District 44, Hall wrote a letter to the editor calling Ballance a “legendary” leftist within the GOP.

“He was a very effective voice for myself and others in some campaign situations,” Manzella told MTFP in September.

In MDG, Hall battered Ryan Zinke, the Republican nominee for Montana’s western U.S. House district, for his part-time residence in California, his ethical entanglements, and a voting record during his previous tenure in the Legislature that was more moderate than his rhetoric would suggest. U.S. Sen. Steve Daines was put under similar suspicion for his work on the CSKT water compact, a target of ire among some conservatives.

The COVID-19 pandemic was especially animating for Hall. Masks, vaccines and mandates all looked, to Hall, like the government trying to play God. He regularly invoked a battle of religions in his rhetoric — on one side, those who looked to the bible, to natural law; on the other, those who looked to the state for succor. 

In 2020, Gideon Knox Group announced that it would publish the names and photos of anyone who filed complaints about local businesses violating mask mandates and other COVID-19 precautions. 

Hall delivers “testimony of his life, ministry, salvation, and calling” in 2022 at Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney. Credit: Screenshot via YouTube

Hall’s criticism of the state’s approach to COVID continued even after Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock left office. While Hall applauded Gov. Greg Gianforte’s signing of a bill banning transgender student athletes from joining teams corresponding to their gender, he’s also ridiculed the governor — himself a deeply religious conservative — for promoting “fake,” “toxic” and “unethical” vaccinations.

Last November, Hall hosted an event protesting Sidney Health Center’s compliance with a vaccine mandate for health care providers that receive federal funding. Knudsen, Manzella and other officials attended. 

“That’s why they’re so frustrated that the vaccines aren’t working, that’s why they’re so frustrated that [the vaccines] took so slow coming out, that’s why they’re so frustrated with Anthony Fauci,” Hall said on a podcast. “They’re so frustrated we can’t stop this with masks because they look to a government to do everything, including cure the common cold. It’s their God.”

As Republicans pushed an agenda in the 2021 legislative session to restrict abortion, ban gender-affirming health care for minors, and overhaul elections and the judiciary, Hall used his platform to go after the opposition and urge party leadership in his preferred direction — circulating, for example, a petition to recall House Speaker Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale, after Galt appointed Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, de facto chief of the Solutions Caucus, as chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. In one article, Hall compared Jones to the Norwegian Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling. 

The Republican Party is still rife with the internal debates that Hall regularly exploited. But the party faithful have increasingly embraced Hall’s point of view. At its most recent platform convention, the party endorsed a total abortion ban, mandatory hand-counting of ballots, opposition to policies addressing climate change and a litany of other proposals, including one brought by frequent Hall-endorsee Skees attempting to ensure that the party’s elected officials vote in strict accordance with the platform. Republicans who publicly resisted at the convention were rebuked by the majority of their party cohort. 

“As elections became less competitive at the general level and more competitive at the primary level — and that’s been happening on the Republican side for 20 or 30 years — that sets in motion the need to judge the real Republican from the fake Republican,” says Lee Banville, a political analyst and dean of the University of Montana journalism school. “There is a desire to have that sort of litmus test. What’s interesting is Hall is also a religious figure. This is not just playing politics to him. This is a calling that he has, and he feels like this is part of his religious mission.”

THE HOLY GHOST

After his arrest on the possession charges, Hall skipped his initial court appearance and was re-arrested. He posted $5,000 bail and was released, according to court documents. 

“I think what’s done damage, his damage is predominantly confined to his own life and family,” Manzella told MTFP in September. “I believe that they’re going to get through it together.”

Manzella said she was not aware of Hall’s previous controversies regarding Braxton Caner and the Dickinson church.

Both the embezzlement and domestic violence allegations are under police investigation, according to the department. The exact sequence by which Hall’s church became aware of the alleged violence is hazy. 

On June 27, when the church announced that Hall would no longer be its pastor, it referenced a non-specific incident on June 5. Over the next month, as the allegations of violence became public, the church faced questions about whether the June 5 incident was related. 

In a July 25 statement announcing Hall’s dismissal from the congregation entirely, the church said the referenced incident was Hall’s intoxicated state at church. A family member had come to church leaders with the claims, the statement said. The church reviewed its legal options and decided that, despite Mandy Hall’s pleas to not report the abuse, it was compelled to go to the police, according to the statement. 

“I think what’s done damage, his damage is predominantly confined to his own life and family. I believe that they’re going to get through it together.”

State sen. theresa manzella, R-Hamilton

“Our petition to the Lord has been and continues to be that Jordan will humbly take responsibility for his actions, cease his attempts at undermining the integrity of the people he sinned against, and commit himself fully to whatever is necessary to rebuild trust among those that he has deceived and abused,” FBC’s statement said. 

The domestic violence police report lists two offenses: assault with a knife or cutting instrument, and strangulation of a partner or family member. It says the incidents occurred on June 5. They weren’t reported until June 23. The church said in its statement it had initially intended to keep the allegations private to protect the victims. The underlying allegations in the embezzlement report are entirely redacted, and the church has not said publicly what or how Hall stole, and has declined to comment further. 

“I think he has that darkness,” said Efta, the former Sidney Herald editor. “After I wrote that column, I had local judges calling me, attorneys walking into the newspaper office and shaking my hand. But I also had the same kind of professional, respected people in the community tell me to be really careful.”

A former assistant of Hall’s said she could not comment on the embezzlement allegation with the investigation ongoing. Part of the religious liberty fund was used for Hall’s and other legal battles, and the remainder is in the church’s possession, the assistant said.

“That whole scenario with J.D. Hall has been very difficult for the community,” Rost says. “Jordan is a difficult human being. A lot of people want to say that he has a ton of influence locally, but locally he’s kind of rubbed everybody’s fur the wrong way.”

Under the terms of Hall’s release, he must remain in Richland County unless given approval to leave by a judge. Locals in Sidney have recently reported seeing U-Haul trucks in front of the former parsonage, but no evidence of Hall himself, whom some believe to have sought refuge in Missouri. 

The most recent stories on the Montana Daily Gazette criticize a Libby pharmacy for selling “Chirpeez” flavored cricket snacks (“Say no to bugs, bug flour and anything with the word ‘sustainable’ attached to it”) and note the temporary unavailability of Wilcoxson’s ice cream in Livingston. 

“I don’t think he’s gonna hold any weight in this upcoming election,” said Brandon Ler, the current Sidney-area House representative who Hall backed against Krautter. 

But Hall has repeatedly shown an ability to reinvent and reappear when the opportunity presents itself.

“I wouldn’t count him out yet,” Banville, the professor, said.

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Raised in Arizona, Arren is no stranger to the issues impacting Western states, having a keen interest in the politics of land, transportation and housing. Prior to moving to Montana, Arren was a statehouse reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times and covered agricultural and trade policy for Politico in Washington, D.C. In Montana, he has carved out a niche in shoe-leather heavy muckraking based on public documents and deep sourcing that keeps elected officials uncomfortable and the public better informed.