UNITED STATES NEWS

Suspect in Montana vehicle assault said religious group she targeted was being racist, witness says

Dec 11, 2023, 4:21 PM | Updated: 5:12 pm

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A woman who police said repeatedly drove through a group of religious demonstrators, wounding one person in Montana’s largest city, allegedly told a clerk at a nearby convenience store that she was upset members of the group were expressing racist views against white people, the clerk said.

The demonstrators targeted in the weekend assault in Billings are members of Israel United in Christ, according to police. The group has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “an extreme and antisemitic sect of Black Hebrew Israelites” based in the Bronx, New York.

Members of the group were standing on a sidewalk, holding signs and speaking through an amplifier when the woman drove at or through them several times, said Billings police spokesperson Lt. Matt Lennick. A 45-year-old man who was struck suffered minor injuries, police said.

Genevienne Rancuret, 55, was arrested hours later and jailed on suspicion of eight counts of felony assault with a weapon — the vehicle — along with felony criminal mischief and driving under the influence. She is also being held on a motion to revoke a suspended or deferred sentence.

Moments before the alleged assault, the suspect had complained about the demonstrators to Sarah Gebhardt, who works in a convenience store across the street from where the group of about 10 people had assembled, Gebhardt told The Associated Press. The demonstrators were wearing purple T-shirts and speaking through a loudspeaker.

“She thought they were being racist against white people. She didn’t appreciate their interpretation of the Bible,” Gebhardt said. “She made the comment, ‘While I’m in a Jeep, I should just run them over.’ I did not think she was serious and then she went to the exit and it was pretty obvious she was very serious.”

Gebhardt said the woman had been very emotional and crying while in the store and appeared intoxicated. When the woman drove at the group, she ran over their belongings and sent people scattering, Gebhardt said. The woman then circled around the block repeatedly and drove through or at the group each time, said Gebhardt, who said she did not see anyone get hit.

Representatives of Israel United in Christ said in an emailed statement that its members were acting peacefully and had exchanged no words with the suspect prior to the alleged assault. The statement denounced the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations for advancing a “false narrative” about the group that can “lead to acts of violence.”

“We are teaching our people they are the lost sheep of the true nation of Israel,” the statement said.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the leadership of Israel United in Christ has allegedly referred to Jews as the devil. Followers believe that Judaism is a false religion and Black people, Hispanics and Native Americans are the true descendants of the tribes of Israel, according to the league.

The FBI is reviewing the case and the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office is considering whether state bias-related criminal charges should be filed. FBI spokesperson Sandra Yi Barker said the agency would get involved if the investigation by local authorities reveals a potential violation of federal law.

Rancuret remained jailed Monday with bond set at $885. Her case had not yet shown up on local court dockets and it was unknown if she had a lawyer representing her. Attorneys with the state public defender’s office did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

A woman who answered a phone number listed for Rancuret declined to speak to a reporter.

In September 2021, Rancuret pleaded guilty to felony assault with a weapon after threatening someone with a bread knife, according to court records. She was given a seven-year deferred sentence and placed on probation.

____

Hanson reported from Helena, Mont. Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this story.

United States News

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Suspect in Montana vehicle assault said religious group she targeted was being racist, witness says