Kirk Siegler / NPR
At first glance, the beautiful resort town of Sandpoint, Idaho, on the shores of Lake Pendoriel, feels like an escape from all the problems of 2020.
That is, until you talk to the front-line workers who interact with the general public in this almost rural, pristine forest and beauty area near the Canadian border.
At Bonner General Health, Dr. Morgan Morton recently talks about a patient who wanted to wait until after November to schedule the necessary steps.
“I don’t want to have a COVID test,” she said, and I said, “What do you mean, why choose after November?” I was completely unaware. “
Morton, head of medical staff at a small hospital, told her that the patient would end all this, the pandemic, after the election.
“And I was … like being touched,” Morton says.
This is the latest example of a widespread and unfounded conspiracy theory that has rapidly spread to evergreen forest mountains and the almost conservative and liberal small town of Panhandle.
False rumors spread that Antifa instigators would come to Sandpoint and nearby Coderlane for riot and looting business as Black Lives Matter’s protests began to heat up in the northwest this spring. I did.
In an unremoved YouTube video, an unidentified heavily armed man boasts a clear security effort aimed at protecting the town from “trash cans.”
The far left stirrer never appeared. What actually happened in Coderlane was a tense night of armed vigilantes and supporters of Article 2 of the Constitutional Amendment gathering in the quaint downtown of the city.
It is legal to bring Idaho openly. But again, some were wary of being considered a threat in one of the most conservative states in the United States.
“These were AR-15, people in full camouflage uniforms with multiple clips,” said Shelby Logunstad, Mayor of Sandpoint. “These people were separated from the streets of Afghanistan and seemed ready for war.”
Rognstad says he is a small protest organized by a group of high school students at Sandpoint who wanted paramilitary organizations and other armed citizens to demonstrate against systematic racism. He said he was overwhelmed immediately.
For many years the locals had this feeling. I will go here again.
Did you move past the ugly past?
Recent militia arrests in Michigan have echoed loudly in Idaho, which has long been synonymous with violent right-wing extremism. However, after the fallout from the rebel standoffs in the Ruby Ridge chilled and the proceedings disbanded the infamous Aryan Nations, some long-time locals thought they had finally passed the ugly past.
“Some people have guns that come out of the hill every time they whistle,” says Mary Lou Reed.
Democrat Reed represented the region in the state legislature in the 1990s. It was during a standoff at nearby Ruby Ridge, when Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and another group of white supremacists publicly pledged to turn Panhandle into a white supremacist shelter. did.
Reed sees similarities in 2020. For one thing, some of those same people are still around. But today’s far-right extremism is more complicated. Some extremist groups are not white supremacists, and in fact have colored races as prominent members.
“Maybe it’s more sophisticated and scary,” Reed says. “But it still involves separation, hatred and ugliness.”
Northern Idaho, as it is locally called, is one of the fastest growing regions in the country. It is also one of the whitest and hometowns of the far-right political movement, encouraging Christians to flee the city for such rural areas who are progan and libertarian on issues such as homeschooling and vaccines. There is.
According to demographers, the region is experiencing a third wave of almost white, conservative transplants migrating from California. This trend was particularly notorious in the 1990s, when Southern California police officers retired after the Rodney King scandal. Today, it’s not uncommon to hear commercial radio stations advertising abortion therapy groups. The flag of Trump 2020 flying in the yard next to the yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” banner is also the flagship.
“I now call this the South of the North, because I have never seen so many Confederate flags in my life,” says Sean Keenan.
It caused trauma to Keenan and his family when an armed far-right group began appearing on Sherman Avenue in Coderlane in June. Keenan says they were on the same street as the white supremacist procession was taking place every July 4th, whether they knew it or not.
“All the horror from the Aryan Nations parade at the time was immediately flooded,” says Keenan.
This is because in 1998, Keenan’s aunt Native American and his cousin were shot by Aryan Nations guards, fled the road, and pointed at a gun. The Southern Poverty Law Center represented Keenans in a federal proceeding to bankrupt the compound.
Kirk Siegler / NPR
Coderlane has launched a Civil Rights Education Center. The Human Rights Task Force was formed by the police, which still exist today. People felt like they got over it.
Keenan says they were happy.
“What we have now is this new iteration of hatred that seems to be boiling in our community,” he says. “It’s scary to see again”
No injuries have been reported during that tense week last spring, or since then, at other armed rallies and events in the area. Even if you are nervous, things remain peaceful.
The Kodarane City Council nodded when it issued a statement that it remained neutral. “We recognize that the eyesight of heavily armed individuals is anxious for some citizens, but reassuring for others,” they wrote.
In an email to NPR, Mayor Steve Widmier added: “I do not agree with the position that these individuals in Coderlane are part of the militia. They were individuals exercising the second amendment. They obeyed all the laws given to them. In Idaho. . ”
Widmyer pointed out violence and property damage in other cities across the country, saying that in his city all sides were peaceful and local police were closely monitoring the situation for illegal activity. ..
Private promotion of civil rights
Shelby Logunstad, Mayor of Sandpoint, said the elected civil servants are in a difficult situation.
On the far right is well organized, with a large group of people armed and appearing at a public conference in his town protesting the proposed mask obligations and more.
“In general, I think elected civil servants are timid to actually take any kind of action or any kind of stance that challenges these groups,” Logstadt said.
However, some local businesses here are not so timid and are worried about the already volatile reputation of their area. Signs from the local civil rights organization “Love Lives Here” are prominently posted in several storefronts on the main street. And in response to the June controversy, 12 large employers have formed a human rights consortium.
“Without this, each employer has a kind of uniqueness,” said Jon Ness, CEO of Kootenai Health. “So it brings us all together and all of them are safe.”
Kootenai Health is the largest hospital and employer in the region and has recently stated that it has problems recruiting doctors and other staff, especially people of color. After asking what the hospital is doing to support human rights after George Floyd’s death, Ness said the action-prompting phrases came primarily from his staff.
The consortium is still in its infancy, but he said he hopes to invite civil rights speakers, among other initiatives, to set up unified practices for more comprehensive employment. ..
“The important part is not what happened, but what is important now is what happens,” Ness said.
Still, consortium organizers recognize that the fight against hatred today is a difficult one. Anyway, in North Idaho, conspiracy theories did not spread immediately online, which may be more difficult than in the 1990s, when mainstream elected officials did not openly bring the far-right group to trial.