Idaho’s militant fringe is trying to build a private army

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

It’s been a bad run of years for a lot of reasons, but one particularly insidious trend has been eroding the substructures of civil society in Idaho since at least the mid-2010s. First it was normalization, then the legitimization, now the attempt at shielding extralegal, paramilitary organizations from the most critical threat to their existence: Calling them what they are, and that is, domestic terrorists.

None of us needs a refresher on the miasma of lethal absurdities that emanate from the Bundy family. We all remember the standoff at Bunkerville, Nev., in 2014 and the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon two years later — both animated by the political constipation of the Bundys. We also remember that precious few of the right-wing militants involved with those outrages ever felt the full measure of their legal transgressions, though one of them got himself shot.

Not only that, but we’ve tolerated these miscreants with increasing intensity ever since. Ammon Bundy — despite the evidence of his basic mental and political instability being blindingly obvious to any thinking person of good faith — has enjoyed years of post-terrorism prominence in Idaho’s cesspool of ultra-conservative wackadoodlery, which unfortunately is a mile wide and a mile deep, and getting deeper, wider and more noisome all the time.

In March 2019, I wrote a commentary for the Inlander titled “The Kooks Conquer Idaho,” which teed off on the then-controversial photo-op with then-Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and members of the Three Percenter militia group advocating for the release of Todd Engel, who was then in prison for taking part in the Bundy ranch standoff. (His charges were later dismissed amid a general collapse of the government’s case against the Bundyists on a number of prosecutorial failures. He then sued the federal government and ran for and lost a race to be one of our District 1 House members.)

“Here were people with little love for town halls standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the second-highest executive official in Idaho government. In the Capitol, no less,” I wrote, later getting to the point: “What I find particularly noxious about this whole situation is that it illustrates how deeply anti-government, militia-inspired kooks have penetrated mainstream Idaho politics.”

That was March 2019. In December 2019, I reported on the investigation commissioned by the Washington House of Representatives into the “domestic terrorism” activities of disgraced former-Washington Dist. 4 Rep. Matt Shea, in which our then-Idaho District 1A Rep. Heather Scott featured as many as 20 times as a “lieutenant” of Shea and stated that she helped drum up support for the 2016 Malheur occupation. The report concluded that the actions of the group to which she belonged “during the armed takeover and standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge constitute domestic terrorism.” 

Then followed a resounding shrug.

Fast forward to June 2, 2020, when a gaggle of armed men and women invaded downtown Sandpoint in the wake of the George Floyd killing and strutted around like an occupying force ginned up on fake threats of “outside agitators” swarming the town to riot (in fact, they were the “agitators”). Yet, our own police chief later called these people “patriots,” while Georgetown Law sent a letter to the city flatly stating that the militia activity that day broke the law. Again: a resounding shrug.

In February 2022, I wrote about House Bill 475, which would have lifted Idaho’s prohibition on paramilitary organizations “associat[ing] themselves together as a military company or organization, or parade in public with firearms in any city or town of this state.” That measure failed, but now we’re in even dicier territory with Senate Bill 1220 in the current legislative session.

We’ve gone from normalizing to legitimizing, now we’re in the shielding phase with SB 1220, which, in an outrage upon an outrage, was lobbied into existence by none other than Eric Parker, the Bundy ranch militant made famous for laying belly down on a highway bridge and aiming a rifle at federal authorities during the 2014 standoff. They call him the “Bundy Ranch Sniper,” and he’s aiming to strip the Idaho Terrorist Control Act of all its authority to label people like him domestic terrorists.

In one of the most cynical, despicable bills ever presented to the Idaho Legislature (which is saying a lot), SB 1220 would alter the state’s definition of “terrorism” to “apply only to those who commit violent acts who are associated with federally designated foreign terrorist organizations, like ISIS or Hamas, making it inert against actual homegrown domestic terrorists,” reporter Daniel Walters wrote in a Feb. 20 article on the bill, published by nonprofit regional news organization InvestigateWest. “That new definition of ‘domestic terrorism,’ notably, would exclude Parker and the other militants at the Bundy ranch.”

If that gives you pause, it should. Bills limiting reproductive rights, banning books, stripping health care for certain people based on sexual identity, funding religious schools with public money, eliminating protections for children in abusive homes, removing executive power in favor of legislative authority — all of that is odious policy, but the most odious of all would be if the people pushing for that legislation had a normalized, legitimized, legally shielded private army behind them. 

Which is what they’re aiming for.

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