Idahoans of vastly different points of view have a long tradition of disagreeing—strongly, vehemently, emotionally, civilly and honorably.
Physical threats and brute force have had no place in Idaho politics since the early 20th century when a disgruntled union miner-turned-killer assassinated Gov. Frank Steunenberg in 1905.
Fast forward to 2020.
On Monday, an anti-government activist and a mob of his pals, some of whom reportedly were armed, stormed the gallery of the House of Representatives during a special session of the Legislature.
They broke the window of a glass entrance door and took control of the space by force of numbers and intimidation. Lawmakers working in the area retreated and crowded the House floor below, ending social distancing intended to keep them from pumping the pandemic by spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the well-known activist and two others, who don’t deserve to be named, refused to leave a hearing room for hours after lawmakers were forced to depart behind a wall of state troopers after losing control of the meeting. Protestors had shouted them down and forced their way into an area reserved for the press.
Hours after the hearing ended, the three defied orders to leave the building and state troopers arrested them for trespassing, a misdemeanor. The activist refused to walk and troopers dragged him out in a swivel chair. He was charged with another misdemeanor for resisting and obstructing officers.
On Wednesday, the activist ignored a one-year no-trespass order for the Capitol and sat down in the Senate gallery that overlooks the floor where lawmakers convene. State troopers immediately removed him and charged him—again.
The activist and his protesting sidekicks aren’t happy about what it’s going to take to end
the onslaught of COVID-19 including masks, social distancing, online schooling and bar closures—all threats to freedom in their view.
The protestors performed their uncivil circus in front of legislators generally friendly to their cause. Legislators ostensibly were endeavoring to keep government and businesses free of liability lawsuits that could result from the spread of the coronavirus. In anti-government pique, protestors opposed this as well.
The protestors were there and free to intimidate legislators because the same legislators enabled them to do so.
In July 2019, a law went into effect that allows law-abiding adults to tote weapons nearly wherever and whenever they wish—no training and no permit required. Colleges, universities and the floor of the Idaho Legislature are no exceptions.
The Legislature enacted the law in the name of freedom and the right to bag an elk with no thought given to the stomach-churning discomfort of debating with armed opponents.
The enabling didn’t stop there. Many legislators made no secret of their displeasure with Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s spring stay-at-home order that shut down businesses, curtailed travel and put limits on the size of gatherings to curb the spread of the coronavirus. So inconvenient.
An interim legislative committee recently voted to strip public health district officials of the power to close schools and order citizens to wear masks.
Legislators ended their special session with a Senate resolution and a House bill to end the governor’s pandemic-driven state of emergency and the health orders that flowed from it.
The messages were loud and clear. The protesting Idahoans who packed pistols and rifles simply put exclamation points on them.
Any legislators surprised to find themselves at the mercy of shouting, pushing-and-shoving armed mobs should look up the 1972 Pogo cartoon character who said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”