As Air Force One descended into Boise on Monday for President Joe Biden’s first visit to Idaho as POTUS, hundreds of protesters were gathered north of the tarmac, expressing their anger with chants and flags laden with expletives.
Idahoans from as far away as Coeur d’Alene gathered just to the north of the Boise Airport near the National Interagency Fire Center. Some protesters cited the recent COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending America’s so-called forever war, as their reason for attending.
Numerous people flew flags, including the Confederate flag and some reading “F—- Biden,” and broke out in chants using that same expletive. Some carried signs or wore clothing supporting former President Donald Trump.
The gathering came just a few days after Biden announced that businesses with more than 100 employees would be required to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or test their workers weekly. Idaho and Boise have not announced vaccine requirements, and many Republican governors, including Idaho’s Brad Little, have said they will pursue legal avenues against the mandate.
Christi Bergen said she drove from Rupert with her eight children to protest vaccines. Her family was wearing matching anti-vaccine T-shirts, which included fake COVID-19 vaccination cards.
“I would quit my job if they forced me to take a vaccine,” she said.
Various elected officials also made an appearance at the protest, including Ada County Commissioner Ryan Davidson, a vocal opponent of masks, vaccine mandates and other health safety measures. He said he did not like Biden’s executive order and said he didn’t believe it was constitutional. He said Ada County is still evaluating whether county employees are subject to the order.
When asked his thoughts on Idaho’s deadly surge in COVID-19 cases — with 613 people hospitalized as of Friday, according to state data, and case counts skyrocketing — Davidson said he thought people needed to modify their behavior, but stopped short of advocating for mandates.
“People need to reevaluate their decisions in light of the new data coming in from the delta variant,” he said.
He said he personally has not modified his behavior, because he already had COVID-19.
William McNabb, of Nampa, attended to protest the recent withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Many protesters said they blamed Biden after a suicide bomber killed 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops in Kabul on Aug. 26.
McNabb arrived with a mobile display honoring fallen U.S. soldiers, which he said he takes to different events around the state. The display included a leather jacket and names of dozens of fallen soldiers adorning the display. He said it’s normally not a political statement, but that it was for the protest.
“That’s kind of what made this political — we lost 13 (soldiers) we shouldn’t have,” he said.
Few Biden supporters appeared at the protest. Billy Martinez, of Boise, waved a Black Lives Matter flag and walked into the middle of the protest yelling “Trump lost” on a megaphone.
“I’m here to support our president,” Martinez said. “I’m just glad he’s coming to Idaho.”
A video taken by Martinez’s boyfriend, Leonardo González, shows anti-Biden protesters surrounding them and attempting to disconnect the megaphone. Another video, provided to the Idaho Statesman, shows protesters saying homophobic slurs and “trans lives don’t matter.”
A later video captured by the Statesman showed a woman wearing a Trump T-shirt grabbing Martinez’s flag.
Hundreds were gathered near a gate to NIFC, where Biden was meeting with officials to discuss the disastrous wildfire season in the West. Boise police officers set up a boundary near the gate. Among the crowd were at least two people federally charged in connection with the pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6: Boise residents Yvonne St Cyr and Pamela Hemphill.
Haley Williams, a spokesperson for the Boise Police Department, told the Statesman that police estimated the crowd at nearly 1,000 people. As of Monday afternoon, Williams said there were no reported incidents at the gathering.
“Overall, we were able to handle the crowd without any major issues and we are not aware of any reported assaults,” Williams said in an email.
Those at the event had only brief glimpses of the presidential visit, as Air Force One was seen on its descent. Numerous firetrucks blocked much of the view onto the tarmac. Minutes later, flashes of Biden’s motorcade drove east off the tarmac and toward the NIFC building. Both occurrences prompted boos and curse-laden chants. A handful of people yelled sexist expletives about Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, who was on hand to welcome the president.
Most of the crowd left shortly after Biden’s arrival.