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Racially motivated death threats leave Montana State University students rattled and scared

Posted at 8:15 AM, Mar 23, 2023

BOZEMAN — Students at Montana State University have recently received disturbing, racially motivated death threats. Now, students are asking how the university is going to protect students of color and other minorities on campus.

In February, the QSA club at MSU received two emails: one containing a threat on Feb. 16, and another containing what the University says is "reprehensible language" on Feb. 23. The threat was ultimately deemed not credible, although the case remains an open investigation, according to MSU.

“MSU has failed me and all other minority and marginalized students who rely on the university to keep us safe,” said one student at a recent Board of Regents meeting.

She is one of several MSU students who recently spoke during the public comment period at the Board of Regents meeting about the hate-motivated death threats.

“One of the recent threats sent to an MSU student organization stated that, ‘True Montanans will not stop until we expel all the groomers and colored people from our campus and great state,” the student added.

According to an attorney representing one of the victims, the death threats are graphic and filled with explicit, hateful language toward people of color and the LGBTQ community.

She says MSU police investigated two of the threats, but nothing ever came of the investigation.

"I had to learn about this threat not through MSU, not through any organization, but through a friend more than a week after the threat was sent to the university,” said another student. “My safety was at risk for over a week without me even knowing.”

Students are worried and concerned that the University has yet to address the threats, asking:

“What will MSU do to ensure my safety as I live and work on campus?”

“As a person of color and student at MSU I would like to know what policies are in place to protect our minority students from hate crimes.”

One student has reportedly left her home state of Montana, afraid the threats may become a reality.

In an email to MTN News, Vice President of University Communications Tracy Ellig wrote:

The QSA club at MSU received two emails from an email service based in Switzerland – protonmail.com -- that provides anonymity to its users and that is, for all practical measures, almost entirely beyond the reach of U.S. or other international law enforcement agencies. The first email, which contained a threat, was received on Feb. 16. A subsequent email, which contained reprehensible language, was received on Feb. 23.

The Feb. 16 email referenced a non-university event happening off campus. As soon as the university was aware of this email, campus police were notified, which notified Bozeman Police, as the event was in the jurisdiction of Bozeman Police. Bozeman Police met with the event organizers, who decided to continue the event, which continued without incident.

The analysis of University Police, Bozeman Police and the FBI is that the email regarding this off-campus, non-university event did not represent a credible threat of violence.

Through two key offices: the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Diversity and Inclusion Student Commons, the university immediately offered QSA members all of its support and safety services ranging from counseling to risk-mitigation training from the police department to an offer of emergency housing to some concerned members. Additionally, the university immediately added a secure card swipe to the Diversity and Inclusion Student Commons so only students could gain access. We continue to offer support the QSA through these offices and our many services. The university has taken action to support and protect these students through every office we have.

The threatening email received by QSA is still an open investigation. The QSA has not reported receiving any more threatening emails to the university or law enforcement. QSA events have been held since without incident.

Again, in the analysis of multiple law enforcement entities these emails did not pose a credible threat of violence. However, we activated all our support mechanism for these students that we have on campus.

Given that law enforcement did not identify a credible threat and that the author of these emails has such an incredibly low bar for sowing fear – writing a single, anonymous email -- we feel that issuing a statement would only reward and encourage this horrible behavior. The university has extended every tangible avenue of support to these students that we possess and will continue to do so.

Regarding [the student], we’ll continue to do what we can to help address her concerns and continue her education.