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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Other Papers Say: Idaho rife with far-right groups

By The (Boise) Idaho Statesman
Published: July 17, 2022, 6:01am

The following editorial originally appeared in The (Boise) Idaho Statesman:

On Tuesday, the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol held a hearing delving into the role of far-right paramilitary organizations in the attempt to stop certification of the 2020 presidential election.

Focusing on groups, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, who were involved in the 2021 insurrection, the hearings presented compelling evidence of significant coordination between these groups, as well as awareness within the Trump administration of their plans.

They didn’t just attack police or a building. They didn’t just disrupt elected officials. They assaulted the crucial principle of American democracy outlined by committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.: “We settle our differences at the ballot box.”

“This could have been the spark that started a new civil war,” testified former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove.

The danger of such violence around the country is high and has risen ever since Donald Trump was elected. The danger in Idaho is particularly acute.

Idaho was famously the home of the Aryan Nations. Then we kicked them out. But the same soil that allowed them to take root has allowed a resurgence of the far-right in Idaho. Examples abound.

  • Far-right lawmakers inviting lunatics to give unhinged, Islamophobic rants in Statehouse hearing rooms in 2016.
  • Three Percenters badgering lawmakers while armed in the state Capitol in 2018.
  • Proud Boys and members of the white nationalist Patriot Front showing up to intimidate gay Pride celebrants in June.

Far-right extremism has sometimes made successful inroads into the halls of the Idaho Legislature.

Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, still proudly lists his membership in the Oath Keepers — which Van Tatenhove called “a violent militia” — in his legislative biography.

Thankfully, GOP primary voters gave Christensen the boot this year. But members of the Legislature have stood ready to offer support for the cause, as when representatives traveled to the 2016 standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon staged by Ammon Bundy and miscreants.

With actions like these, it’s no surprise most people in the Mountain West expect further violence. A survey commissioned by the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University last year found that 59 percent of Idahoans expect to see more political violence similar to what happened on Jan. 6, 2021. And about one in six Idahoans said political violence is justified under certain circumstances.

This is a situation that can’t be allowed to persist, nationally or in Idaho. Idaho needs the same kind of work that led to the ouster of the Aryan Nations — the kind of work that many in Idaho are already undertaking to reaffirm the commitment to settling our differences at the ballot box.