A week ago, FBI and state authorities arrested more than a dozen Michigan “Wolverine Watchmen” and other anti-government activists in a plot to kidnap and harm that state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who was quick to place the blame on President Donald Trump for enabling such a scheme.
She was barely done when news organizations published photos of some of the men, armed to the teeth, at a protest rally at the Lansing capitol last spring.
There are hundreds of these militia organizations across the country, the WSJ has reported. “The militia movement gained steam after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama and the financial crisis of the period, which energized right-wing fringes, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Three Percenters, a prominent wing of the militia movement, emerged in 2008 and supports the notion that “patriots” must protect Americans from government tyranny, according to the ADL” (WSJ, 10/10).
How’s that relevant to Idaho, you might ask? It should be, as one III Percent leader here, Eric Parker of Hailey, is running for a state senate seat in Blaine County. Another III Percenter, Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, is up for re-election to the House and at least three or four more “anti-tyranny” legislators have used just that term to wrongly describe Gov. Brad Little’s administration.
How these candidates do in the election will give close observers a good idea of the extent to which the militia movement has already come to Idaho. Idaho’s Lt. Gov., Janice McGeachin regularly appears with these fringe folks at “anti-tyranny” and anti-police rallies around the state, including one in Twin Falls this summer. (TN, Aug. 3, 30). How does this reflect the civil society we all say we want?
McGeachin could have become an important person in the Little years, but she’s too busy trying to cater to the rightists. Her accomplishments in her first two years are limited indeed. She communicates with Little by written pronouncement, though her office is right across the capitol hallway from his. It’s apparent she’s “out of the loop” in terms of state governance.
A group of these rightists, led by anti-government activist Ammon Bundy, broke glass in the House gallery and stormed a committee hearing, many of them armed, and withdrew only when Idaho State Police stepped between them and duly-elected legislators. Bundy and two others were arrested. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see these militia “soldiers” this fall, in the run-up to the election, at the front of protests elsewhere, including Minneapolis, Portland and Kenosha.
That’s what happens when civil order begins to break down. It seems Idaho needs to take another look at the “open carry” policy which currently allows any citizen to bring a firearm into the capitol and perhaps other state buildings.
Idaho law already law allocates control of the various floors to the Legislature and the Governor’s office. (IC 67-1602 and 67-1605).
What’s needed now is enforcement of a “no gun” rule for people entering the building except for law enforcement and other specific professions.
That’s the effect of the Heller decision (2008) where Justice Antonin Scalia upheld the right to carry a firearm, but specifically added that right was not absolute.
Today, people know you can’t just walk into a courthouse, jail, federal building or get on an airplane with a weapon. Why can’t that simple rule apply to Idaho’s capitol?
Now before liberal readers of this column (Are there any?), nod in approval, it would be good to consider how the rightist militia movement is a direct response to the liberal excesses of the past half century.
People now think “we’ve-had-enough” discord in American political life and they are very tired of seeing the country they love besmirched and defiled by punks and agitators, both right and left. We don’t need to survey the whole landscape here, as we’ve all lived through much of it.
Various “demand” groups rising out of identity “crises” inevitably pit one against another over issues like gender equity, race, religion and class.
Thus, conflict boils over into protests, then to peaceful “grievance” demonstrations, then to property destruction, then to violence.
We see that in Portland and other places; most recently, last week in Denver an ANTIFA-BLM crowd member shot and killed a patriot counter-protestor. How does that reflect an “angel of our better nature,” as Lincoln put it?
In some ways, it’s a good thing that Idaho is a “fly over” state, not much on national political radar or media. But that doesn’t make us immune from the buffeting of current issues, nor to the efforts of some to “drain the Boise swamp” as McGeachin puts it.
But sticking our heads in the sand while armed protestors swarm the capitol strikes many as not going far enough to keep civil order.
Better control of access to the capitol is something the governor and Legislature can fix, which they should do to benefit all citizens.
Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” This column was first published in www.idahopoliticsweekly.com. He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com
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