Season 2, Ep. 1: Political feuds don’t take vacations
In the summer of 2021, Livingston residents Kascie and Dan were preparing for a wilderness float trip in Idaho. Before heading to the river and leaving cell service behind, they stocked up on supplies at Dan Bailey’s, an outdoor gear shop. What happened there was caught on video and viewed millions of times. It ignited a political firestorm across the country. That conflict just kept spiraling, providing one example of how today’s political disagreements can have far-flung consequences.
Follow Prof. Jessi Bennion on Twitter @JessiBennion.
Pew Research’s Political Typology Quiz can be found here.
Nick Mott It's summer 2021, and Kascie Herron and Dan Bailey, a couple from Livingston, are about halfway through this weeklong Wilderness River trip in Idaho. They're stopped at this little dot of private land with a sliver of Wi-Fi, and one of the people who lives there is waiting for them with some news from Kascie and Dan's friends.
Kascie Herron "You fit the description of these people we received an email about. There's been an emergency."
Nick Mott That's Kascie. With that little smidge of service there, she said Dan was able to call the person who'd been trying to reach them. So Dan gets on the phone-
Kascie Herron And I'm just looking at his face and he's just like, "What? Wait, what?" And I'm like, "What is it?"
Nick Mott From that call, she finds out that they've gotten into some major trouble back in the real world. A few days earlier, they'd had what seemed like a small political confrontation with somebody back in Livingston. When they put in for the trip, they basically put that out of their mind. Now, with days left to go on the river, their friend is telling them that the whole situation has gotten totally out of hand.
Kascie Herron They said that there were all of these death threats out against us and that we should be really worried.
Nick Mott Welcome to Season 2 of Shared State, a podcast from Montana Public Radio, Yellowstone Public Radio and Montana Free Press. I'm Nick Mott.
Mara Silvers And I'm Mara Silvers. This season we have stories about Montanans and whole communities navigating deep political divides and trying to figure out how to move through them.
Nick Mott Montanans like Kascie and Dan, who got caught up in a tornado of political strife and animosity, one that's actually affecting most of the country right now. Even today, months later, they're still trying to understand what happened.
Mara Silvers OK, Nick, I'm pretty intrigued. How did Kascie and Dan end up in this position where they're learning about death threats against them while they're out in the middle of nowhere?
Nick Mott Well, that story starts in the heat of last summer. Kascie and Dan are about to get out of Livingston and go on this little adventure. Like I said, it's a weeklong wilderness river trip. It's on the middle fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.
Kascie Herron We just ran into town to get a couple of last-minute supplies, and that was like, headlight batteries and like two dehydrated meals.
Nick Mott And to get those last minute supplies, they go to this outdoor store that's like a Livingston institution called Dan Bailey's.
Mara Silvers Wait, wait, wait. Dan Bailey?
Nick Mott Yep, same name as Dan, but there's actually no relation. Kascie and Dan grab their stuff there, and they get in line to pay.
Kascie Herron Dan basically grabs my hand and he's like, "Oh my god. Tucker Carlson just walked into the fly shop."
Mara Silvers Tucker Carlson? In Livingston?
Nick Mott Yeah. Tucker later said on Fox News he was here for a family fishing trip. And Tucker Carlson, if you haven't heard of him:
Tucker Carlson Good evening and welcome to Tucker Carlson... [bite fades]
Nick Mott He's this mega famous Fox News anchor who gets more than three million viewers a night, so he's like a real deal celebrity. And he's also super controversial.
Tucker Carlson White supremacy; that's the problem. This is a hoax. Just like the Russia hoax, it's a conspiracy theory used to divide the country-
Nick Mott Because of his views on race and immigration and COVID and basically every other political issue that polarizes people these days. Kascie says she and Dan are both Democrats, but she's not a staunch party-line kind of person. She says she votes for some Republicans in local elections. But Dan sees Tucker, and he turns to Kascie.
Kascie Herron He says to me, "I have to say something to him, I can't just not like, stand here and not approach him and give him a piece of my mind."
Nick Mott Kascie said Dan seemed really bothered in particular by the way Tucker's rhetoric around COVID had split the country in two, specifically the way he spread misinformation about the effectiveness of vaccines. And Dan isn't a guy that's afraid to speak his mind.
Mara Silvers So what does Kascie do?
Nick Mott Kascie was like, "You do you, I'll do me."
Kascie Herron So I said, "All right, dear, well, you figure this out. I'm going to go look at bathing suits."
Nick Mott Then she hears Dan's voice and she looks back over, and there he is, talking to Tucker. So Kascie whips out her cell phone to take a video. She's actually a film student, so this sort of comes naturally to her.
Kascie Herron I mean, for no reason other than, well, he's a famous guy, and Dan's talking to him. I mean, who wouldn't want to like, have that?
Nick Mott Here's the video she made. It's less than 30 seconds long.
Mara Silvers OK, so they're talking to each other. They're pretty close to each other's faces.
Dan Bailey I don't care, man. Look, you are one of the worst human beings known to mankind.
Mara Silvers And they're both kind of smiling, but it definitely doesn't seem nice.
Nick Mott Tucker looks at the camera.
Dan Bailey I don't care that your daughter's here. What you've done to people's families, what you have done to everybody else?
Tucker Carlson Settle down, son-
Dan Bailey Don't call me son, for one.
Nick Mott I don't know if you can hear it, but Dan says, "you are the worst human being." And Tucker calls him "son" and he says, "Don't call me son."
Mara Silvers OK, so Kascie takes this 30-second video. What happens when she actually turns the camera off?
Nick Mott I mean, they just leave the store. They go home; they keep getting ready for the trip. Dan does post the video on Instagram. He thinks some friends would get a kick out of it, but Kascie says they never thought that video would get too much attention.
Kascie Herron I mean, we're nobodies, and Dan has like 200 friends.
Nick Mott Among some other strong language in that post, Dan's caption said, "This man has killed more people with vaccine misinformation. He has supported extreme racism. He's a fascist and does more to rip this country apart than anyone that calls themselves an American."
Mara Silvers Oof, that is ... spicy.
Nick Mott And he also added some major names with that, like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and the left-leaning podcast Pod Save America.
Mara Silvers OK, so it sounds like he was going on a bit of a rant, little bit of a tirade. But like Kascie said, he doesn't have a big social media following, so maybe he just didn't think it was that big of a deal?
Nick Mott Totally. I mean, he notices the video does start to get some more views the normal, but it's nothing major. And as they're getting on this little puddle jumper of a plane to take them out of cell service and into the wilderness, Dan makes one more post.
Kascie Herron That was just like, "Hey, peace out. We're heading into the, you know, River [of] no Return wilderness. See you in seven days." Then we shut our phones off.
Mara Silvers And then they just start floating the river like normal?
Nick Mott Exactly. And on that trip through a wilderness area actually called the River of No Return, there's no service. But off the river, back in the world of Wi-Fi and 24-hour cable news cycles and social media, major news outlets all over the country and the world pick up that video of Dan and Tucker.
Dan Lemon OK, everyone sit down and watch this.
David Pakman Man confronts Tucker Carlson at Montana store.
Dan Lemon Dan Bailey's the guy's name, posting his confrontation with TV host-
Nick Mott The Associated Press, CNN, ABC, NBC:
Whoopi Goldberg The question is, should he have approached Carlson like that, Joy?
Nick Mott Major daytime shows like The View:
Joy Behar Well, I'm against public confrontations like that [fades]
Ben Shapiro Hey, disagreeing with somebody's political point of view is not the same thing as what you're seeing here. It's an authoritarian mindset. You can't have a country-
Nick Mott It's on the far right outlet Breitbart.
Young Turks It is cathartic to watch someone like Tucker Carlson, who has no problem-
Nick Mott It's on the progressive YouTube show The Young Turks. Donald Trump Jr. tweets about it.
Mara Silvers OK, when you get coverage like that, social media is probably also going off the rails.
Nick Mott Oh, it's nuts. Views of the video are racking up.
Doobie Duke Sims Watch Montana man Dan Bailey confronts Tucker Carlson. Instagram video goes viral.
Nick Mott #MontanaMan was trending on Twitter.
Unidentified So I just wanted to comment real quick.
Nick Mott There are conspiracy theories about Dan being a CIA plant.
Mara Silvers What?
Anthony Brian Logan All right. So you have the A.J. Foundation, CIA, cameraman, Dan Bailey, Dan Bailey fish shop. What are the odds of this happening?
Nick Mott YouTubers are having a field day.
Majority Report Let's watch this and experience orgasmic schadenfreude.
Matt Walsh -and all the leftists cheering it on. They have no respect for him.
Nick Mott And among the most vocal and angry of those social media folks, it seems like there are two camps.
Matt Walsh I say confrontation. Really, Tucker Carlson was being accosted [fades].
Tom Cridland I think it's pretty bigoted and fascist to walk up to a man in a fishing shop who's [fades]
Nick Mott Some people are furious at Dan for confronting Tucker the way he did because they disagree with his politics or because they say he violated Tucker's privacy, and others think Dan is this sort of folk hero.
Minority Report It is enjoyable to see Tucker Carlson notice that he's being berated on camera.
Waldorf Nation Opportunity knocks only once in a lifetime, man.
Mara Silvers Because he went up to Tucker in the middle of a fly shop?
Nick Mott Yeah, he spoke truth to power. He gave him a piece of his mind.
Mara Silvers Hmm.
CNN 1 But he has a right to be in a space and not be accosted and not be ambushed.
CNN 2 You know what, if you're going to dish it, you better be able to take it.
CNN 3 Well, I agree it was an ambush. I thought Tucker handled it.
Matt Walsh I can tell you, this is such a breach in fishing protocol.
Ben Shapiro It's about performing for the left.
Majority Report There's journalists, and then there's Tucker Carlson.
David Pakman But the Dan Bailey who did the confrontation has nothing to do with Dan Bailey's fly shop. He has stood up to [indistinguishable] incredible detail that just adds to the entire insanity of it.
Ben Shapiro -really is this mentality that is endangering their [indistinguishable]. Not what Tucker said.
Mara Silvers So how does Tucker feel about all of this?
Nick Mott I reached out to Tucker multiple times for comment and never heard back, but Fox News put out a statement at the time saying Dan's behavior was inexcusable and nobody should be "personally accosted." And Tucker himself talked about it on a radio show with comedian Adam Corolla.
Adam Corolla Some guy confronts you at a tackle shop.
Nick Mott Tucker said he takes his family on a fishing trip to Montana every year, and he happened to be in the store with his daughter, though Kascie says his daughter had left the store when Dan confronted Tucker.
Tucker Carlson I mean, I'm just being honest. I was rattled by it because it was just so crazy. And I thought, Oh, man, I wish I had a gun. Because, you know, I mean, that's how I felt. I mean, I would've shot the guy. I'm not defending that. I'm just saying that's how I felt. I mean, you're attacking me in front of my daughter in a fly shop.
Mara Silvers Wait, wait, wait. Tucker said that he wishes he had been carrying a gun?
Nick Mott I mean, he backed out of that statement later. He said he's a peace-loving guy. But his point is it was deeply unsettling for him to be confronted that way.
Mara Silvers I guess I could see how if you're a Tucker Carlson fan and you hear him saying something like that, you're also going to be pretty mad on his behalf.
Nick Mott Something about what went down in that video just seized what's happening in this political moment. It seems kind of like -- this is really nerdy, but like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter, where like you look into it and you see what you want; and that's what everybody saw, and it was all some version of this rage that's just pent up everywhere now on both sides of the political aisle. The fallout went beyond just Kascie and Dan, too. While those two were on the river, that blowback starts to land somewhere else: at Dan Bailey's, the fly shop, where the whole thing went down.
Dale Sexton You know, it was such a strange coincidence. A person named Dan Bailey in our store, which is also named Dan Bailey.
Nick Mott That's the owner of the store, Dale Sexton.
Dale Sexton [laughs] How do you align the planets like that?
Nick Mott He told me the place was so busy nobody even realized the confrontation happened until the next day when it started getting attention online. That's when he first heard about it and started to think:
Dale Sexton This could get a little crazy. And in fact, it did. Crazy beyond anybody's imagination.
Nick Mott First, there was the sort of positive stuff. Supporters of Dan, the people who thought he was something of a folk hero, wanted something with his name on it.
Dale Sexton You know, I don't know how many Dan Bailey T-shirts and hats we sold, like, a couple thousand dollars worth within the first 12 hours of this story hitting the airwaves, so to speak.
Nick Mott But then things take a darker turn. If you Google Dan Bailey, Livingston, Montana, you get this store, not the human Dan in the video. So the phone number for the fly shop became something like a hotline for that video's most enraged viewers.
Mara Silvers Oh my God.
Nick Mott Yeah. Dale said the phone rang every couple of minutes. Nearly every caller started off just screaming, assuming Dan was affiliated with the shop. Even though, like I said earlier, there's absolutely no relation there.
Dale Sexton Until you actually experience it yourself, it's hard to understand what it actually feels like and how offensive, and, you know, how hurtful it feels. It was fairly traumatic.
Mara Silvers So what kind of things were they hearing?
Nick Mott Dale said it was things like,
Dale Sexton "I'm going to come down there and teach Dan Bailey a lesson. Me and my friends are going to be down there in an hour." How do you respond to that?
Mara Silvers Hearing him say that kind of gives me goose bumps; like, it really does sound scary.
Nick Mott I mean, they didn't know what was going to happen at the store; they called the police just in case something materialized there. Luckily, it never did. But Dale said they were taking this hate from actually both sides. Some people were Tucker Carlson supporters that were just furious at Dan, and others were angry that the store had let Tucker Carlson in in the first place.
Mara Silvers Wow. So they're really hearing from these, like you said, these two camps.
Nick Mott Yeah, and it gets so bad they end up putting out a public statement about everything.
ABC Montana This person has no affiliation with the business other than sharing a name with the founder who passed away back in 1982. Dan Bailey's outdoor [fades]
Nick Mott Saying the whole thing was just one big coincidence. They're just an outdoor store trying to do right by their customers. But in the end, they get these thousands of calls, thousands of emails, hundreds of negative reviews posted online. It was all part of this like vortex of hate that's just spinning and spinning and heading right for Kascie and Dan.
Unidentified Dan Bailey.
Megan McCain I thought he was being a total jack [censored].
Tom Cridland I think this guy's a total [censored].
Mara Silvers What exactly was waiting for Kascie and Dan further down the river after a quick break?
Mara Silvers Welcome back to Shared State. When we left off, Kascie Herron had taken a video of her husband, Dan Bailey, confronting Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson. And it went viral, but Kascie and Dan had no idea. They were out of service on a river trip. Nick, how did that trip go for them?
Nick Mott Kascie says the trip started off a blast. They're hitting rapids in their green raft, enjoying being unplugged. On the third day, they get to this private ranch and a person walks up to them and says,
Kascie Herron "Hey, do you guys have a green raft?" And jokingly, Dan goes, "Yeah, why is it floating away?"
Nick Mott And the woman says, "No, there's been an emergency." Kascie assumed the worst.
Kascie Herron You don't contact your friends or family deep in the wilderness unless something really bad has happened.
Nick Mott They have that tiny bit of service, so Dan calls the person who'd emailed the ranch owner.
Kascie Herron And he looks and he goes, "The video that I posted. It went viral."
Mara Silvers So that's how they find out that the video blew up and that they're getting all these death threats?
Nick Mott Exactly. And specifically, what they hear is:
Kascie Herron Apparently there was a group of people in Idaho that were going to like band together and come greet us at the take out and, you know, treat us the way apparently we treated Tucker Carlson. And that we should be really worried.
Mara Silvers So what do they do? That's pretty scary.
Nick Mott They did the only thing they could. The river just goes one way, so they put back in and they kept on floating. Once again, they're totally out of touch with no connection to the outside world. They tried to enjoy the trip as best they could, but Kascie says,
Kascie Herron We still probably talked about it three or four times every day.
Nick Mott Near the end of their journey, they start floating next to a road. Kascie notices there's this big black SUV. It's stopping and starting as they go down the river, and she's starting to feel like it's following them.
Mara Silvers Oh my God.
Nick Mott Yeah. She's worrying that it's this greeting squad that they've been warned about. When they do get to that take out, sure enough, there's that car. The people that are in it walk up to them. It's not angry Tucker Carlson fans at all. They're actually reporters from the Daily Mail, a British tabloid that want comment on the video from Dan.
Mara Silvers Oh my God.
Nick Mott They'd been following them for days.
Mara Silvers A British tabloid?
Nick Mott Yeah! Just shows, this had global implications.
Kascie Herron At least they were not wielding weapons, just pencils.
Mara Silvers I guess that's a better scenario than the one that they were expecting, but it sounds like they're starting to get a sense of how massive the fallout actually was from this one video. And now they have to go back to Livingston and deal with that mess.
Nick Mott Yeah. As soon as they get back to service, their phones are flooded with messages from friends and family checking in and also messages from strangers. Kascie said some of the stuff they got was vile and disgusting.
Kascie Herron People found out where we lived and sent us hate mail.
Nick Mott Kascie says some of it was scary and like, really, really far reaching. Some people online were trying to get Dan fired from his job, reaching out to his employer. Dan didn't want to talk with me at all for this story because he just wanted to put the whole thing behind him. He thought talking about it with a journalist would only stir the pot. But Kascie also told me that so far, all that hate hasn't physically shown up in Livingston.
Kascie Herron That has been encouraging, in that, you know, the tap on the shoulder has been, "Hey, you're that guy, I want to buy you a beer." We're definitely worried about the day when the tap on the shoulder is a fist. But so far, that hasn't happened.
Mara Silvers You know, what's striking to me about this whole thing is that these two camps are so clear about their version of what happened and what they see in that video. And that seems so reductive, like just falling into this kind of black or white thinking. And if I'm being cynical, it's also not that surprising to me, just knowing how partisan everything is right now.
Nick Mott Yeah, I wanted to go to a person who could help me zoom out and actually get some perspective on this whole thing.
Jessi Bennion I'll admit I'm not a huge Tucker Carlson fan.
Nick Mott Jessi Bennion teaches political science at Montana State University and Carroll College.
Jessi Bennion But my initial reaction to that is I feel very uncomfortable with that sort of conflict playing out in a public place like that. I don't necessarily know if that really heals any divide that we have.
Nick Mott Jessi said the bigger picture there is that the video points to this central fact of where we're at in politics today.
Jessi Bennion You know, we're really, really polarized. It's no question; we can probably all see it in our daily lives. Maybe we can see it within our own families. People are very connected more than ever to political parties.
Nick Mott Jessi says polling data shows that over the last several decades, we've been getting more and more divided in this country. People increasingly exist in these bubbles of media and communication. They don't understand the beliefs of the other party or really even try to. I mean, here's an example of how bad it's getting. For the first time ever, that data shows that people by and large hate the other party more than they love their own; like, the sheer scale of this hatred and vitriol lots of scholars say is new on the political scene and really a defining feature of our politics today. And Jessi says the fallout from Dan's video reflects all that anger and that partisanship, and also just how frustrated people are with how divided we've become.
Mara Silvers That response and analysis makes sense to me from a national level, for sure. Like, that people are that divided about these topics, but I've also kind of seen Montana as being unique or different from that.
Nick Mott Jessi said that for a long time at least, that way of thinking about Montana -- that it's a purple state, that it prides itself on being a place where people vote for candidates over parties and people reach across the aisle and compromise -- she said that way of thinking about Montana was true for a super, super long time, but recently a lot of that's changed.
Jessi Bennion The 2020 election really highlighted that we really can't call ourselves a purple state anymore if you're just looking at the electoral outcome. It was a red wave. It signaled to me as an observer of politics and elections that we are kind of headed into a new era.
Mara Silvers What does all that mean for how we, I don't know, live with each other?
Nick Mott I asked Jessi exactly that question.
Jessi Bennion As far as democracy goes, where you're trying to, you know, have this pluralistic society with all these different backgrounds come together to govern itself, it's going to be quite difficult. So yeah, that that question keeps political scientists up at night. It really does.
Nick Mott Jessi's just as perplexed about our path forward as the rest of us. But she said every time she starts a new class, she has this suggestion for her students to try to approach politics with some humility.
Jessi Bennion Just to be curious, to be able to learn new things from each other, even if we don't agree. That's really the goal of the class. And I think that we can kind of take that same approach in the politics of our everyday life as well.
Nick Mott She knows her students are part of the next generation of public officials figuring out how to navigate this weird, partisan time. And seeing her students learn from each other and exchange ideas in the classroom, she finds hope. And in that same vein, she said people showing humility and curiosity in their day-to-day lives outside of that national context -- that can help bridge divides. It's there, at the local level, where people are often forced to see each other eye to eye. That's where things get complicated and gray. And Jessi said that's a good thing
Jessi Bennion To approach stories, to approach politics at the more local level, at the more nuanced level. I think that that is actually a remedy for a lot of what we're seeing.
Mara Silvers So she's saying, like, if you start talking to real people about real things that are happening in their direct lives, it's harder for everything to be so black and white. And I think that that makes sense, right? Like, it's not like tensions and disagreements don't exist at all. But maybe people feel more open to learning about each other when it gets a little bit closer to the personal.
Nick Mott I want to bring us back to Livingston and back to how Dan Bailey, that fly shop, dealt with all this, because I think it really attests to how things look on the ground. Dale Sexton, the guy who owns that fly shop, he said that at the same time that hate was just flooding into the store over the phone and online, the community was deeply supportive and the whole thing felt totally different on that ground level.
Dale Sexton Just to emphasize the number of people who [said], "Hey, what can we do? Can we come answer your phones? Let's go have a beer. Let's talk about this. We've got your back. Whatever we can do to help." I really feel like the community was there because it was, yeah, it was a big profile thing and it was so crazy. It's like, how do you come to terms with it? And a lot of people could really empathize with our scenario.
Nick Mott Dale said the store still gets a message or two about the video a week, and he says they may never totally get past it.
Dale Sexton You don't really forget something like that. It's really fascinating and interesting and fun and tragic, all at the same time.
Nick Mott The store was reluctant to go on record with me at all. They were worried about rekindling that fire that had sent all that hate in the first place. But I told Dale about this season of the show, that we're telling stories of Montanans working through these kinds of divides.
Dale Sexton You're acknowledging a divide that exists and acknowledging an issue. I mean, how do you deal with an issue without first coming to terms with it, right?
Mara Silvers Acknowledging a divide and dealing with it. For the rest of the season, we're going to be exploring exactly how Montanans are doing that.
Nick Mott We asked reporters to bring us their stories from all over the state and they delivered.
Mara Silvers And Nick, I just have to say I'm so excited to hear all of these. We have stories about land conservation outside of Glacier National Park.
Nick Mott Local health professionals figuring out how to keep people healthy without driving communities apart.
Mara Silvers The mess that is affordability in the Flathead and in Bozeman. Every episode, reporters are just taking us to people and communities who are dealing with these real problems that are messy and gray and not at all black and white.
Nick Mott Binge listen to Shared State on your favorite podcast app or on your Montana-based NPR station, where it'll be playing every week. You can also find Shared State online, where you can go deeper into these stories and find extras.
Mara Silvers Like those polls Nick mentioned about political polarization. We hope you stick with us. Give us feedback.
Nick Mott Tell your friends about it. Leave us some reviews. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Mara Silvers And keep listening.
Nick Mott Shared State is made by Montana Free Press, Montana Public Radio and Yellowstone Public Radio. This episode was reported by me, Nick Mott.
Mara Silvers And hosted by me, Mara Silvers. It was edited and produced by Nicky Ouellet.
Nick Mott We had editorial assistance from Corin Cates-Carney, Brad Tyer and Nadya Faulx.
Mara Silvers Fact checking by Jess Sheldahl, and our sound designer is Gabe Sweeney.