Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are investigating suspicious letters containing white powder sent to at least four members of Republican leadership in the Montana House of Representatives after similar mail was received by lawmakers in other states.
As of Monday, lawmakers who had received the envelopes included House Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, R-Billings, Speaker Pro Tempore Rhonda Knudsen, R-Culbertson, and House Majority Whip Neil Duram, R-Eureka.
Reached by phone Monday, Vinton said she received a letter that morning and immediately drove it to the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office. The Billings Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team later tested the white powder and identified it as flour, Vinton said, a detail Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder later confirmed to Montana Free Press.
Vinton said her letter was stamped with a Kansas City postmark and felt like it contained more than just a piece of paper. Those factors were red flags, she said, based on the information the Legislative Services Division provided to lawmakers after similar letters addressed to Knudsen and Duram were received on Friday. Regier’s letter was identified by legislative staff at his Capitol office Sunday and handed over to the Montana Highway Patrol, which handles Capitol security.
“It was really due to that advanced caution that I knew when I went to my post office box this morning that I knew exactly what it was,” Vinton said.
Lincoln County Sheriff Darren Short said Monday that his office had taken custody of Duram’s letter on Friday and that the white powder inside did not test positive for any “dangerous substances” but could not confirm that the material inside was flour. Short said his office turned over the envelope and its contents to the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service for further investigation.
In a statement Monday, an FBI spokesperson said officials are investigating three letters sent to public officials in Montana but did not mention the fourth letter received by Vinton. The bureau spokesperson did not respond to additional inquiries before publication about whether the white substance had been identified as flour.
“Law enforcement and public safety officials are working to determine how many letters were sent, the individual or individuals responsible for the letters, and the motive behind the letters,” the statement said. “As this is an ongoing matter, we will not be commenting further regarding our steps or methods, but the public can be assured that law enforcement will continue to keep the public’s safety as its top priority. The FBI would also like to remind everyone to exercise care in handling mail, especially from unrecognized senders.”
A photo of a letter received by a Kansas lawmaker published by CNN appears to match the document mailed to Duram, according to a photo published by Lee Newspapers. Both letters, typed in mixed fonts, contained obscure references, saying “I send to you a gift from the exclusive astruc baruch collection,” and “it is important not to choke on your ambition.” The letters appeared to be signed from “your secret despirer.”
In emailed statements, Montana lawmakers who had received the letters condemned the mail as acts of intimidation. House Speaker Regier said the letters were a “continuation of the threats and hate directed at legislators during the session,” but he did not explain a connection between various communications.
“Just as we stood firm during the session, we will not be threatened or distracted now. We are in tumultuous times and House leadership will continue our objective to protect Montanans’ freedom and safety no matter what cowardly threats are directed at us,” Regier said.
Legislative Democrats, whose caucus members have not reported receiving any similar letters, also spoke out against any threats to lawmakers.
“There is no place for violence or the threat of harm in our legislative process,” said House Minority Leader Kim Abbott in a Monday statement. “It’s wrong, and it only makes it harder for dedicated people to run for office and engage in democracy. Montana’s Democratic legislators condemn this behavior and call for it to stop immediately.”
A spokesperson for the Montana Attorney General’s Office said the agency’s Division of Criminal Investigation is also supporting local law enforcement who have taken custody of the suspicious envelopes.
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