HELENA - Something from social media has recently moved offline and taken a dark turn in the Helena area.
Scroll through social media, and you will likely come across memes, posts and jokes about out-of-staters in Montana.
That sentiment has moved into real-life, with nasty notes left on cars with out-of-state license plates in the Helena-area.
A Carroll College student got one of these notes, and the message shook her sense of safety in a city she has grown to love.
She spoke with MTN, but asked to remain anonymous for her safety.
“It is just terrible to take away someone’s sense of safety,” the student said.
She found the note on her car, parked near her home in a lightly-trafficked part of Helena.
She said her first thought was that someone followed her home from the store.
The note’s contents were also concerning. It read, “go back to WA you (expletive) scum, you are not welcome here.”
“That was definitely way too aggressive to be any sort of joking tone,” the student said.
The Carroll College student reported the note to the Helena Police Department.
She’s not alone in her experience.
“We are aware if reports of people leaving notes on cars saying they’re from ‘Montanans,’ telling people to leave the state,” Helena Police Department Capt. Randy Ranalli said.
Others have posted on Facebook about receiving mean notes, including one woman who said she got a nasty note and her car keyed in the parking lot of Walmart.
There is a line between free speech and illegal activity, and some of the reported actions could cross that line.
“If it becomes threatening to a person verbally or in writing, that can cross the line of speech not being protected and disorderly conduct,” Ranalli said. “Also, if you damage somebody’s property by keying their vehicle or doing something to somebody else’s property, that’s when it becomes criminal and is criminal mischief.”
Out-of-staters are not uncommon in Montana.
According to the Montana Department of Commerce, tourism is one of the state’s leading industries, supporting almost 48,000 Montana jobs. In 2021, non-resident spending contributed an estimated $7.56 billion to the state economy.
More local to Helena, more than half of undergraduates at Carroll College are from out of state.
“I have really grown to love the community here, so it made me feel sad about people feeling harsh feelings about people from out of state,” the Carroll College student MTN spoke with said.
Report nasty notes to law enforcement, they may cross the line into illegal behavior.