It's Republican versus Republican in this week's primary elections, but will voters choose old-school Idaho moderates or the farther-right to lead the Gem State?

click to enlarge Incumbent Gov. Brad Little personifies the traditional Idaho Republican who doesn't quite know what to do in the face of an intra-party insurgency. His solution? Lay low until Election Day. Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin's explanation for speaking before a white nationalist audience? "I have one staff member in my office... I don't have time to go check out who all's going to be speaking."
Incumbent Gov. Brad Little personifies the traditional Idaho Republican who doesn't quite know what to do in the face of an intra-party insurgency. His solution? Lay low until Election Day. Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin's explanation for speaking before a white nationalist audience? "I have one staff member in my office... I don't have time to go check out who all's going to be speaking."

Compared with the historical examples of ambitious leaders addressing crowds of white nationalists, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin's video broadcast at the America First Political Action Conference in February wasn't particularly rousing. She sits on a bright yellow chair against a vivid blue background, staring straight ahead, and speaks haltingly, pausing in odd places. Her prerecorded video crashes. ("Fire the intern!" someone in the crowd yells.) It restarts, first without any sound, then with a kind of fluorescent-bulb feedback buzz humming in the background as she talks.

Still, McGeachin gets her message out, telling the alt-right crowd to "keep up the good work fighting for our country," and that she's busy "battling the establishment in both parties." She even wins a cheer when she talks about her executive orders — made acting as the governor while Gov. Brad Little was out of town — that banned mask and vaccine mandates in Idaho. She condemns Little for reversing them. She highlights how Donald Trump himself had endorsed her primary challenge against Little for governor.

At the end, she calls the audience to join her struggle.

"I need freedom fighters all over this country that are willing to stand up and fight... even when that means fighting within our own ranks," McGeachin says. "We are literally in the fight for our lives... Together we will fight to make Idaho great again."

By April, she's sick of explaining how exactly her video ended up on a screen for a gathering of alt-right trolls put together by Nick Fuentes, the most prominent white nationalist in America.

"I've said over and over and over again," she tells me at an April 28 Moscow event with lieutenant governor candidate Priscilla Giddings and other right-wing candidates, "I was invited by [right-wing columnist] Michelle Malkin to make a video for the conference." Malkin, despite being Filipino-American herself, has increasingly embraced white nationalist rhetoric — touting Fuentes as the future of the conservative movement.

McGeachin adds that she's made a statement condemning racism and insists she didn't know who Fuentes was. Why not research the event before she attends it?

"I don't have time to answer those kinds of questions. I have one staff member in my office," McGeachin responds. "I trust people. I don't have time to go check out who all's going to be speaking."

McGeachin tells me that it frustrates her that some people label her an extremist. But if she had Googled "Nick Fuentes," she could have seen Fuentes saying Trump was "awesome because he was racist" or a smirking Fuentes denying the Holocaust using a grotesque analogy featuring Cookie Monster trying to bake six million cookies. She could have seen a 2017 Inlander story where we witnessed Fuentes mocking a woman who'd recorded him calling race-mixing "degenerate."

But when I ask if, knowing what she knows now, she would speak at the conference again, she doesn't say no.

"I'm always open to go talk to people who are sharing the same ideals of supporting America First policies," McGeachin says. "They're young conservatives. Thousands of them around the country."

This was a crowd that roared with cheers when a speaker said he'd been called the "biggest racist in the country" and that chanted "Putin! Putin!" when Fuentes asks for a round of applause for Russia at the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

McGeachin isn't expected to win the May 17 Idaho primary to become governor, but there's something deeper at stake. As Republicans charge aggressively deeper into the culture war, rallying against abortion, gay rights and critical race theory, they've also been fighting an internal battle. It's about identity as much as power — about who gets to call themselves a "true conservative" and who gets exiled for being too liberal or too dangerous.

It's about where Idaho conservatives will draw their bright red line.

click to enlarge Panhandle Patriot biker Justin "The Judge" Allen (right) speaks with Michael "Viper" Birdsong at LYFE Coffee Roasters & Public House last month. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
Daniel Walters photo
Panhandle Patriot biker Justin "The Judge" Allen (right) speaks with Michael "Viper" Birdsong at LYFE Coffee Roasters & Public House last month.

GUNS AND COFFEE

They have nicknames like Viper, Wildman and Deaddog. They have tattoos on their arms — snakes, guns, a Holy Bible, a broken heart. The designs on their leather jackets vary — a skeletal hand raising a red-white-and-blue middle finger, a logo for the far-right Three Percenter group — but they all have one design in common: an American-flag patterned "Punisher" skull beside the silhouette of an AR-15-type rifle, the patch of the Panhandle Patriots Motorcycle Club.

McGeachin and Giddings yard signs rest on the back wall of a conference room in a Coeur d'Alene coffee shop, as the Panhandle Patriots pass around the room the manifestation of the threat they're fighting against: a children's book. There's a colorful drawing of a smiling girl on the cover.

"We take this very personally, some of the stuff that they're trying to put in our libraries," says the Panhandle Patriots founder, Michael "Viper" Birdsong. "Here, thumb through this, you see that?"

The book's called I am Jazz, written by a transgender YouTuber Jazz Jennings, and it's one of the many books that has come under fire from the right in the last few months for teaching children about gender identity.

At some moments, the Panhandle Patriots forum feels indistinguishable from a Rotary Club meeting. Three political candidates are here, answering a battery of tough questions from bikers and others in the audience, ranging from whether they think the 2020 election was stolen ("Yes," is the answer they're looking for) to how Idaho should discourage Washington state visitors (if not a wall, one audience member jokes, why not a toll?).

Often it's shadowy conservative groups full of out-of-state cash that get blamed for a state's hard-right turns in state politics. Not in Idaho, says Devin Burghart, an extremism researcher at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.

"There's not a lot of evidence that activism is astroturfed in any way," Burghart says. "These are local efforts, by and large funded by local individuals who don't have deep pockets."

In other words, the Panhandle Patriots is the kind of grassroots activism that pundits like to romanticize. And these bikers hawk tickets on the club's website for a meet and greet with Priscilla Giddings. ("Great to meet so many Panhandle Patriots at Cruisers this afternoon!" Giddings writes.) They call on fellow Patriots to go door-knocking for McGeachin. They provided security for a trucker convoy and former Washington state Rep. Matt Shea at an anti-vaccine rally.

But firearms can change the tone of grassroots activism. Two years ago, this place was Calypso's Roasters, one of the few businesses to complain about the impact of the squads of armed counter-protesters who had come to downtown Coeur d'Alene to meet Black Lives Matter protesters and, they claimed, deter looters and rumored van loads of Antifa. The Black Lives Matter protesters, one of the coffee shop managers wrote, "felt scared, intimidated and in some cases harassed" by the presence of firearms.

The Panhandle Patriots refer to that day reverently, almost as a legend. They call it "Gun d'Alene."

Since then Calypso closed — the backlash to criticizing the armed counter-protesters was only one of several factors — and the building sold and became LYFE Coffee Roasters & Public House, an acronym for "Live Your Freedom Everyday."

This year, they're planning a heavily armed celebration of the second anniversary of "Gun d'Alene" to intentionally coincide with "Pride in the Park," Coeur d'Alene's annual gay rights festival.

The Revolutionary War quote, "...if they want to have a war, let it begin here," is on their flyer. The Panhandle Patriots are planning some sort of "peaceful" showdown with Pride in the Park. ("Didja get that, Inlander?" Birdsong says, emphasizing that the speaker used the word "peaceful.")

Justin "The Judge" Allen is standing up, resting his hands on the conference table. He looks up, eyes blazing with purpose. He says he doesn't care if you're gay or if you wanna marry a fencepost, as long as you leave children alone.

"You already ruined Seattle. You ruined Portland. You ruined parts of California. You want to live that way and go do your gay stuff in the streets? Go live there," Allen says. "Because you're a small margin of society. Why do we have to accept what we do not believe is right for our kids, for our community?"

He's drawing his own red line: The Pride event being held at a park where children could be.

"Unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable," Allen says. "I am not a violent man. But I am not a peaceful man, either."

CALIFORNIA STATE OF MIND

Across the nation, liberals have increasingly dominated the urban centers and the coasts, while the rural areas and Middle America have become a haven for conservatives. The left moved left, the right moved right. The ideological distinctions between Democrats and Republicans have grown sharp enough to draw blood.

Idaho became filled, increasingly, by conservative Californians who fled the Hollywood values of the Golden State to the promised land of North Idaho. Post-apocalyptic fiction author James Wesley Rawles even gave the region an explicit name in 2011: The Redoubt. It was billed as a sanctuary for conservative Christians, a bulwark against liberal persecution, and a regional fortress in the event of governmental collapse.

That same year, Idaho election law changed to only allow registered Republicans to vote in the Republican primary. Politics jolted even more rightward.

A slick Kootenai County Republican Central Committee ad, released last week, starts with eerie music over news clips about how Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the nation, before shifting into a building montage of horrors, timed to a driving percussive soundtrack like a Fast and Furious trailer.

Opioids and overdoses. Gay rights marches and transgender awareness days. Drag queens reading story books. Heroic citizens standing with guns armed against the threat of looters. A guy holding a "Muslims are rad" sign silhouetted against a background of flame. Thugs smashing windows. Cue the cascade of one-word-at-a-time flashes of black-and-white text. "Don't. Let. Idaho. Turn. Into. California." Swoosh to the Kootenai County Republican elephant logo flickering to life.

It's an age-old political ad formula, but for once the villain isn't Portland or Seattle. It's the place so many Idaho conservatives came from to escape. It's California, playing both hero and villain. What's the source flooding Idaho with deeply conservative voters? California. What represents the future that Idaho conservatives fear? California.

You might think a Republican state becoming more Republican — where winning was ever-more-assured — would make it calmer, a place where everyone could finally get along. But that's not what happened.

Some Republicans started looking for new territory to conquer, new infidels to vanquish.

"The grassroots, ultraconservative Republicans have figured out that the real power is not in party politics or even the elected positions, the real power is on the nonpartisan boards" like the board of North Idaho College, says Bjorn Handeen, Region 1 chairman of the Idaho GOP. "We're actually threatening the swamp now."

"They're actually spending party money to campaign against Republicans. Tens of thousands of dollars to tell Republicans to vote against other Republicans."

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And in the midst of such battles, Coeur d'Alene City Councilman Dan Gookin, a libertarian who achieved a minor kind of celebrity long ago for penning the first few For Dummies series of books, says that parts of the right in North Idaho have increasingly become a kind of echo chamber, feeding their own frenzy.

"They're actually spending party money to campaign against Republicans," Gookin says of the Kootenai County Republicans. "Tens of thousands of dollars to tell Republicans to vote against other Republicans."

Meanwhile, Kootenai County Republican Central Committee Chairman Brent Regan says the party has a methodical process designed to separate the real Republicans from the phonies.

"Voters were complaining that people who were carrying the Republican banner really didn't believe in the platform," says Regan. "They weren't really Republican."

They have standards. They endorsed McGeachin, not Little. But Gookin argues the kind of purity demanded by local conservative activists is absurd.

"They praised me for my stance on guns. My stance on masks. Density. Growth. 'Oh my god, you are my hero,'" Gookin says.

But the moment he steps out of line?

"Then I'm Satan," Gookin says. "I'm the outcast, I'm Darth Vader."

YOUR OWN PRIVATE BUBBLE

A certain type of orthodoxy isn't just enforced by the local party or right-wing activist organizations like Idaho Freedom Foundation (Regan is the chair of that board, too), but by a whole explosion of local alternative right-wing media.

As a minor example, after Gookin wrote a fiery Coeur d'Alene Press editorial condemning the Kootenai County GOP, local John Birch Society member Erin Barnard shared a photoshop of Gookin's face pasted onto a parody book cover titled Turncoats and Traitors for Dummies.

Barnard runs a local right-wing news site called the Kootenai County Spectator that mixes community updates, posts about meetings and live blogs. She's part of the North Idaho Freedom Fighters, which puts on regular events to raise funds for, among other things, creating "newspaper, online news sites, podcasts, documentaries, music and fictional material to win the cultural narrative."

Last month, the Freedom Fighters put on a "Live Your Freedom Gala" featuring the comic stylings of Owen Benjamin, an anti-vaccine, Holocaust-denying comedian who's been kicked off most major social media platforms.

Idaho has podcasts like Idaho Speaks, websites like the Idaho Dispatch, and far-right blogs like Redoubt News. In Kootenai County, there's the People's Pen, a print publication with, for example, a cover with heavily armed men and women — including a brawny mustached dude who looks like a stylized version of Regan — standing at the corner of Fourth and Sherman.

Then there's a particularly aggressive news website, the Idaho Tribune — not to be confused with the Idaho Press Tribune — which popped up after an incident last year where a swastika was drawn on a campaign sign that included the name Dave Reilly, a Post Falls school board candidate with an extensive prior record of anti-semitic and anti-gay tweets.

Along with pieces slamming the Coeur d'Alene Press and Ukraine — and an interview with Birdsong from the Panhandle Patriots — it's filled with headline phrases like "Janice McGeachin: The Donald Trump of Idaho," "Antifa in Idaho Openly Recruiting for Brad Little" and "Triple-Vaccinated Californian Reporter Attempts 'Hit-Piece' on Idaho Freedom Foundation," all under the byline, Samantha Collins.

But there's no "Samantha Collins" registered to vote in Idaho, and a Chrome app designed to spot AI-generated images determined with 99.2 percent certainty the profile picture was a fake. Idahofreedomfighters.org, a defunct site built from the same Squarespace account as Reilly's campaign page, now directs to the Idaho Tribune site. Directly after denying to the Inlander he was involved with a different news site, Reilly refused to respond when we asked about his involvement with the Tribune.

Lately, Idaho Republicans — and activist groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation — have more frequently refused to talk to traditional media outlets, or even participate in debates.

"There is a much higher degree of hostility to local media than there was in the past, because they have these other outlets they can turn to," says Burghart of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. (McGeachin, to her credit, spoke to the Inlander for a few minutes after her campaign event; Gov. Little's campaign did not answer repeated attempts to schedule an interview.)

Yet a partisan echo chamber not only strengthens your own bubble, it makes the other side feel all the more sinister and threatening: Sites like Twitter elevate the other sides' most outlandish opinions about race and gender. Sure, sure, you're against censorship, but have you seen the stuff the other guys are saying?

So while McGeachin tells the Inlander her support for "free speech" is one reason she gets unfairly labeled an "extremist," she appointed Giddings to a "Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education Based on Critical Race Theory, Socialism, Communism, and Marxism."

No matter how high and strong you build your fortress, the barbarians are always at the gate, always ready to end civilization.

"We are the number one on the radical left target list," Giddings says in her speech in Moscow. "People have headquarters, they have journalists, they have lawyers, they have everything. They stand up fake news organizations, literally, to attack us and to flip our state."

But trust the alternative outlets enough, and politicians can get in major trouble. Last year, Giddings was brought up on ethics charges for sharing a Redoubt News article that not only named the former intern accusing Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape, but mocked her, scoffed at her story and photoshopped her high-school photo. Von Ehlinger was convicted of rape last month.

Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, running against Giddings for lieutenant governor, is blunt and brutal.

"When the rapist was up on ethics charges in the House, she was the voice that tried to excuse and rationalize his behavior," Bedke says.

click to enlarge At an event in Moscow, Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin promises she will "end all medical tyranny" and "eliminate all this nonsense Common Core, all this teaching of Marxist theory" in schools if she's elected governor. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
Daniel Walters photo
At an event in Moscow, Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin promises she will "end all medical tyranny" and "eliminate all this nonsense Common Core, all this teaching of Marxist theory" in schools if she's elected governor.

THE ROAD TO RADICAL

McGeachin tells the Inlander she really hasn't changed her views much since 2012, when she served in the state legislature. But people who knew McGeachin when she represented Idaho Falls in the Boise statehouse from 2002 to 2012 say she has changed. A lot.

"She was, as far as I was concerned, a good representative. She didn't draw any undue attention to herself," says Speaker of the House Bedke. "Certainly not the firebrand and political opportunist that we see now."

Cole LeFavour, who served as Idaho's first openly gay legislator until 2012 and came out as non-binary two years ago, didn't have a problem with McGeachin either.

"I found her fairly reasonable," LeFavour says.

But something shifted.

"I suspect that she must have just found a political path, kind of a Sarah Palin route she planned to take to rise," LeFavour says.

It's tough to draw a clear political lesson from McGeachin's first victory as lieutenant governor. Facing four other opponents, she won less than 30 percent of the vote to become the GOP nominee in 2018.

Yes, an Idaho Falls Post Register reporter spotted one of McGeachin's bodyguards with a Three Percenter tattoo, but she didn't necessarily win that race by being the most extreme candidate — in fact, she distinguished herself from one of her opponents by clearly stipulating that she wouldn't seek the death penalty for women who got abortions.

"I suspect that [McGeachin] must have just found a political path, kind of a Sarah Palin route she planned to take to rise."

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But once in office, she very visibly latched on to so-called "Patriot Movement" groups like the Three Percenters and Ammon Bundy, the far-right figure who led the Malheur wildlife standoff. (Bundy, however, had his own ambitions to run for governor.)

Then 2020 hit. It was an Avengers moment, uniting far-right groups across the spectrum. A global pandemic. Cities burning, racial tension increasing. Claims about a stolen election. Want a reason to get radicalized? Pick one.

McGeachin made her stand on the pandemic, playing a rebellious Goofus to Little's uptight Gallant. Little encourages mask wearing; McGeachin burns masks she got at Winco at a far-right rally. Little pleads with Idahoans to get vaccinated; McGeachin tries to ban vaccine mandates while Little's out of town. She promises from the campaign trail she will "end all medical tyranny," and argues that the damage Little's policies did to the state during the pandemic are still lingering.

"I've talked to people all the time that are making decisions between being able to buy food and medications," she tells the Inlander. "The pandemic and the way it was managed just really was very destructive."

But Bedke looks at the way Idaho's economy took off from the pandemic as proof that McGeachin and Giddings' dire assessment is wrong. Like the Kootenai County Republicans' ads, Bedke points to Idaho's status as the fastest-growing state in the nation. But to him it's not something to fear; it's proof of how successful Idaho's leadership has been.

"Idaho is very, very successful," says Bedke. "We didn't fall to the top of the pile. We worked our way to the top of the pile, implementing pragmatic, conservative principles. I don't think we're in a precarious position at all."

THE MODERATES STRIKE BACK

For all the grief McGeachin got about attending the White nationalist-packed "America First" conference, she has simply doubled down. Her rally last Wednesday in Meridian involved no fewer than three speakers — Malkin, Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers and vaccine conspiracy theorist Stew Peters — who also spoke at the America First conference with Fuentes and McGeachin.

"The regular Republicans are just silent," says Emily Walton, co-founder of Idaho 97, a group intended to counter the Idaho far-right. "There's a huge vacuum there, where the far-right is very loud. That makes themselves appear much bigger than they actually are."

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad, running as a Democratic write-in candidate for governor, hammers Little for taking three whole days to issue a statement condemning McGeachin's appearance at the America First conference.

"They may walk and talk like a moderate, but at the end of the day they don't have the strength and the will to stand up to the movement," Rognstad says of Little and Bedke.

But now, it seems, some moderates are standing up to the movement.

Jack Riggs was once a lieutenant governor like McGeachin. His wife, Sandy Patano, was once vice-chair of the state Republican Party. And they've watched uneasily what's happened in the past decade — a lot of traditional conservatives weren't even defeated in elections so much as they gave up because it was so exhausting.

"One by one, less of them would run, because it's such an unpleasant experience," Riggs says.

The situation at North Idaho College, where the chaos introduced by Kootenai Republican-endorsed board members has put the college's accreditation at risk, was the final straw: Last month, they joined with almost 100 former officials to form the North Idaho Republicans, a counterweight to the local party.

"A lot of the people in our group are conservative, but they know that we live in a society where, you know, you do have to make some compromises," Riggs says.

They're not the only group. A slew of retired law enforcement officers, including former Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger, joined together with "Defend and Protect Idaho," a political action committee dedicated to defeating political extremism, pointing to McGeachin's associations in particular. Then there's Take Back Idaho, developed as a moderate counter in recent years to the powerful Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Adding to their electoral strength are Democrats like Walton, who registered as a Republican to vote against far-right candidates in the primary, "because we're getting so close to the edge," Walton says.

Over 12,000 Idahoans who voted as Democrats in the 2020 Idaho primary are now registered as Republicans. Walton is one of them.

Indeed, there are a whole lot of the policies that Idaho progressives hate that can't be blamed on McGeachin or Giddings, but trace to Little and Bedke.

Bedke points to the Texas-style abortion restriction bill that the legislature passed this year and Little signed into a law as an example of a major accomplishment this year. Giddings voted against it.

"Quite simply, results over rhetoric," Bedke says. "To the extent that some of the Republican Party has moved away from common sense, pragmatic, conservative solutions, that's on them, certainly not me."

Cole LeFavour, the former Idaho legislator, is horrified by these kinds of laws, but sees the alternative to Bedke and Little as a lot worse.

"I may wish Little's line were in a different place. But at least I believe the man has a line."

But if McGeachin became governor of Idaho? "I don't feel like there would be any line."

CONVERGENCE

None of this happens in isolation. Local tensions can be inflamed by national media frenzies.

Take the Florida bill banning K-3 teachers from "instruction" about "sexual orientation" or "gender identity." Supporters of the bill started wildly accusing anyone who opposed the bill of being a "groomer" — essentially, a pedophile.

Soon you see that word "groomer" pop up everywhere. It's on TikTok. It's in internet comments. It's a meme. Then versions of the latest hysteria show up in candidate stump speeches.

"We need to do better for our kids," gubernatorial candidate Janice McGeachin said in her recent speech in Moscow. "We need to protect them from the scourge of pornography and the sexually explicit materials that are coming into our schools and our libraries."

On Gab, an alt-right social media site, alt-right video-streamer Vincent James — who moved to Coeur d'Alene last year — posts a photo of a poster in a clothing store promoting an April drag show for the Gender and Sexuality Association at North Idaho Community College.

"Groomers are planning a drag show in North Idaho," he writes.

He also posts the store's phone number. Someone in the comments says it would be "a shame" if the clothing store burns down. The clothing store is hit with a trio of angry, insulting phone calls.

When he posts the ad for Coeur d'Alene's annual Pride in the Park event, he includes a modified image, with lines in the poster drawn together to resemble a lopsided Star of David. He also posts a spreadsheet with the name of every sponsor on the list.

At a Panhandle Patriots' gathering, an audience member in the back sporting a "Let's Go Brandon" t-shirt, claims he's seen "groomers — that's the only word for it" secretly hand out condoms to little kids at the Fourth of July parade.

"We're going to be going after the groomers," Michael "Viper" Birdsong tells the group. His own daughter died a decade ago. Car accident.

"I lost my kid," Birdsong tells the Inlander later. "But there's a lot of kids out there who don't have a dad. We will fill in."

So the rumor that some people are trying to "groom" kids can carry a lot of weight with Birdsong, just like the idea that the 2020 election was stolen.

"The threats haven't been this bad in quite some time. I do think this could be like one of the more aggressive years for the far right."

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You could see Birdsong in the footage of the Capitol Riot on January 6 last year — Panhandle Patriots jacket on his torso, "Don't Tread on Me" patch on his chest, pieces of chest protector stuck to plywood and strapped to his left arm to create jury-rigged armor to deflect potential knife blows. He thrusts his finger at Capitol Police officers, yelling at them, grabs at one of the barricades and pulls it aside. He doesn't go into the Capitol — he's not stupid, he says — he didn't get violent, and he hasn't been charged with anything.

"Violence is the last thing we'd ever want to bring. But it doesn't mean we're not incredibly good at it," Birdsong tells the gathering in the Idaho coffee shop. "Mess around with a kid and find out."

But combine armed protesters with baseless "groomer" charges flying around, and even if there's no violence, supporters of Pride worry innocent people can be intimidated and pushed away.

"The threats haven't been this bad in quite some time," says Joey Pugmire, vice-president of the North Idaho Pride Alliance. "I do think this could be like one of the more aggressive years for the far right."

He says the planners of Pride in the Park are well aware of what's happening. And no, he says, they do not give sexual paraphernalia like condoms to children at Pride.

"There's not a history of children going to a Pride festival and being abducted and groomed. That's just ridiculous."

He says their board is developing a safety plan and that one of their board members is even a state trooper. He says they've removed the list of sponsors on their website to shield them from some of the blowback.

"If people are going to try to threaten us, that's their prerogative," Pugmire says. "That's on their conscience, but we're going to try to ignore the fear-mongering as best we can."

If they're doing anything for children, Pugmire says, they're trying to prevent them from killing themselves.

"If you're growing up your entire life being told that your mere existence is a mistake and a mess up," Pugmire says, "it's not going to be a happy existence for anybody." ♦

CORRECTION: The original version of this article misstated columnist Michelle Malkin's race.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article mistakenly said there were no mask mandates in Idaho due to an editing error.


ALT-RIGHT TOURISM

The Redoubt — and the associated "Patriot Movement" of Three Percenters and the Oathkeeepers — is usually distinct from the alt-right. With some exceptions, it's about guns, land rights and "prepping," with a big dose of conspiracy about government tyranny, not about race.

But there's an older version of a similar concept, called the Northwest Territorial Imperative, the kind championed by the Aryan Nations, the presence that once haunted Idaho's national image.

"We got rid of that image, and thankfully, a return to potatoes and tourism and the good things about Idaho," says former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney. "It's really damaging our reputation."

That national reputation appears to be at risk again, as a new cadre of alt-right figures — many relatively new to Idaho — are trying to influence North Idaho Republican party politics and shape the state's image. And it's not subtle.

On a 2021 BitChute video, alt-right videostreamer Vince James is broadcasting in front of an image of a Google Map route between Southern California and Coeur d'Alene.

In the bubble of the young trollish far-right, Vince is a celebrity. "Vince! Vince! Vince! Vince!" the crowd chanted when he spoke at white nationalist Nick Fuentes' America First Political Action conference. He's a holocaust-denier who refers to "anti-white propaganda" as a "declaration of war." And now he's moved to Coeur d'Alene.

"North Idaho is a utopia," James says. "Utopia!"

Gorgeous scenery. No masks. A ton of conservatives. Great gun laws.

"I want to live in a place that's white, obviously," James adds on the stream. In North Idaho, even the landscapers and gardeners and fry cooks and hotel workers are white, he enthuses.

He says he plans to connect with people in Coeur d'Alene and eventually get into politics.

"A lot of the people that you guys know of are living up there," James tells his alt-right audience. "I can't say who, but many of them."

Forget voting for Ammon Bundy for Governor, James tells his followers in another video.

"We don't have any connections to him, we can't push him, we can't influence him," he says. But Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin? He claims to have influence on her. You can see Vince James in a selfie with McGeachin and another politician named Dave Reilly.

Reilly resigned from his Pennsylvania radio host job after his coverage of the 2017 Charlottesville protests, including a string of tweets that seemed to be cheering on the alt-right. But he would never apologize, he declared in a 2020 tweet.

"The idea that one can be contaminated by an association is Jewish," he wrote.

Reilly deleted his old tweets from 2019 and 2020, but anyone who knows how to use the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine can find dozens of his anti-Semitic and anti-gay posts. You can see him call Fuentes and Vincent James his friends. You can see him cheer on the alt-right during the "Groyper Wars" — where Fuentes's followers packed conservative events to ask trollish questions about Israel and gay people.

When Reilly tried to run for the Post Falls school board, the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee endorsed him. Even as some of his old tweets emerged, the Kootenai County Republicans stuck by him. Reilly lost anyway.

Today, Kootenai County Republican Chair Brent Regan offers a number of reasons why they didn't unendorse. That there's a lengthy process for undoing endorsements. That tweets "lack context." That "you get in a fight, things get heated." That "I sat down and had a discussion with him and I was satisfied." That "Twitter is a sewer." And what about that time D-list actor Kathy Griffin took a picture "standing there with Trump's severed head?"

In March, the Coeur d'Alene Press revealed a recording of a plot by some local Republicans to try to take control of the local Democratic Party and install Reilly as chair. Ironically, that's exactly the sort of plan the alt-right has explicitly laid out for the GOP

"We can fight an insurgency within the GOP to replace it from the inside with people who are America First," Fuentes wrote on Twitter in 2020. "This is our mission."

Reilly retweeted it.

— DANIEL WALTERS

About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...

Spokane Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade @ Downtown Spokane

Sat., May 21, 7:45 p.m.
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