The apotheosis of this transformation is the recent takeover of the state Republican Party apparatus by far-right “Patriot” extremists, who swept out every incumbent in leadership positions at the recent GOP convention, replacing them with radical ideologues. The new GOP chair, a legislator with John Birch Society credentials named Dorothy Moon, crowed: “We have to make sure with the Democrats coming at us with full force that we have our barriers up, our guns loaded and ready to keep this state free.”
Most of the new Idaho GOP leadership features transplants who came to Idaho from other places like Missouri (Moon), Arkansas, and California. Their politics are from the extreme right: no-exception abortion bans, COVID denialism, Trumpist election conspiracism, and antigovernment paranoia. And the nexus of their organizing is a pair of entwined entities: the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee in Coeur d’Alene, and the paleo-libertarian Idaho Freedom Foundation, both overseen by the same man: California transplant Brent Regan.
They represent the political vanguard of the tide of right-wing newcomers to Idaho who have moved there over the past two decades and longer, most of them seeking refuge from nonwhites in their native states and the company of likeminded conservatives. This tide has become a flood in recent years, as Idaho has led the country in population growth, with a large majority arriving from the suburbs of California cities.
The attitudes they bring with them reflect the image of Idaho that was first promulgated in the 1980s by the Aryan Nations: a wholesome place dominated by conservative whites, a means of escaping the demographic and cultural changes—particularly the influx of nonwhite immigrants—occurring elsewhere.
A homeland for hate
The neo-Nazi strategy of creating a “white homeland” in the Pacific Northwest was first elucidated in the early 1970s by a Michigan-based Ku Klux Klan organizer named Robert Miles, who in 1971 had been convicted of plotting to bomb school buses in Pontiac. After his prison term, he began peddling the strategy to his fellow racist organizers, calling it the “Northwest Imperative.”
He outlined the logic of the plan in a 1989 interview:
If, for instance, 31 million people move to the Northwest—simply pack up, call up the United Van Lines and move up to Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington—and buy a house there or rent a house there, that’s not a violent movement.
A cohort promoting the idea told a gathering at Miles’ farm in Michigan: “Once we establish this as a nation, if we show ourselves as being true, the rest will follow in, and it’ll all be ours.”
One of the neo-Nazi leaders who decided to act on Miles’ plan—dubbed the “Northwest Territorial Imperative”—was Richard Butler, who in 1976 purchased a parcel of land near Hayden Lake, about 10 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, and moved his Christian Identity church there from its original home in Lancaster, California. He built a number of buildings, including a churchhouse, and dubbed the property the Aryan Nations.
It soon became a major convocation site for the American racist right, drawing hundreds of fellow white supremacists for their annual Aryan Congress gatherings, which included neofascist parades through downtown Coeur d’Alene, and inevitably concluded with a nighttime cross-burning, with full press coverage.
Miles was a guest speaker at the 1986 Congress, where he explained how the press exposure would help their project to create a white homeland: “And okay, so we get condemned by most people," said Miles. "But if one in a thousand viewers says, ‘Hey, right on, what a neat idea—let's turn the Pacific Northwest into an Aryan homeland and declare war on these Jew-lovers in Washington,’ then that's just fine. That's 10,000 new supporters—more money, more noise, more likelihood we'll win. Television is just playing right into our hands."
The “Northwest Imperative” would be realized, he explained, by drawing in people who might not be explicit white supremacists like themselves, but were sympathetic with their goals. But it key to the plan was inmigration "by White nationalists moving to the area, buying land together or adjacent to each other, and having families consisting of five or ten children. ... We will win the Northwest by out-breeding our opponents and keeping our children away from the insane and destructive values of the Establishment."
This meant that a number of the people being drawn to the Northwest were radical extremists with a willingness to use violence, many of them with criminal backgrounds. The most notorious of these was the neo-Nazi gang The Order—led by an Arizona transplant named Robert Mathews—who embarked on a multi-state robbery and assassination rampage in 1984 that included the murder of Denver radio talk-show host Alan Berg, culminating in a fiery confrontation with the FBI in which Mathews died.
Among the people drawn to the Aryan Nations who were not dedicated racists, however, were people like Randy and Vicki Weaver, a survivalist couple from Iowa who moved to the Panhandle to prepare for the end of the world, and were drawn to Butler’s church by its apocalypticism and paranoia. In 1992, after Weaver refused to become an informant against someone he had befriended at the Aryan Nations, he got into a gunfight with federal marshals that turned into a lethal standoff with the FBI at his home on Ruby Ridge, in rural Boundary County. That standoff is credited with inspiring right-wing ideologues to found and promote the antigovernment “Patriot” militia movement.
Butler’s operation was put out of business by a Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit in 2000, and Butler himself died two years later. But the trends he had helped set into motion kept on going.
‘I’m no racist’
Just as Miles had predicted, the national news coverage of the Aryan Nations had implanted an image of Idaho as a predominantly white place congenial to far-right politics in the broader public imagination so that, by the 1990s, an increasing number of newcomers began arriving from other states looking for those conditions.
Idaho only became a deep-red Republican state in the past two decades. Prior to that, it was a classic “purple” state, electing a mix of Democrats and Republicans; famous Democrats such as Senator Frank Church and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus were elected statewide then, largely on the back of sturdy support in northern Idaho.
Idaho’s shift began in earnest in the 1990s when “white flight” from California and elsewhere brought hordes of authoritarian conservatives fleeing the brown people. It transformed the region, including eastern Washington State and Utah. A 1996 Washington Post piece explained the political ramifications:
Much the same process can be seen in the Intermountain West, where a once thriving two-party system has given way to almost total domination by conservative Republicans. States like Idaho used to occasionally elect liberal Democrats. But liberals from the state have far worse prospects today. Newcomers to Spokane, Wash.—both from the Puget Sound region and California—played a critical role in defeating House Speaker Tom Foley in his re-election bid last year, though liberal Democrat Ron Wyden did manage later to squeak into Bob Packwood's old seat.
The largest influx of such voters came from California:
Between 1991 and 1993, a reported 28,202 Californians moved to Idaho, making up nearly 27% of the state’s 98,446 new residents. In the same period, 5,315 of those California transplants moved to Kootenai County, nearly 40% of its newcomers.
California provides more than twice as many emigres to Idaho as second-place Washington state. And even many of the latter, according to Idaho state transportation officials who tally newcomer origins through auto license plate transfers, are once-removed Californians who moved on after finding the growing congestion of Seattle and Puget Sound too much like home.
One of them, a former Thousand Oaks stockbroker, hated the cultural conditions and traffic of Southern California, as he told the Los Angeles Times: “I’m no racist, but I just got tired of being a minority in Los Angeles, tired of explaining English to 7-Eleven clerks and counting their change for them.”
The most prominent contingent was cops. Over 500 California police officers moved to northern Idaho by the end of the ’90s, leading locals to dub the Panhandle region “LAPD North.” One officer told the Los Angeles Times that he fled California because “the narrow roads got wider, orange groves became tract homes, and street gangs became too numerous to count.”
The most prominent of these departing cops was Mark Fuhrman, the LAPD detective who committed perjury about his use of racist epithets during the O.J. Simpson trial and who had been exposed as a flaming bigot (one ex-girlfriend testified that he had told her, “The only good n-----r is a dead n------r”). Fuhrman moved to Sandpoint in 1995 after retiring from the force, and his fellow ex-California cops living in the region angrily defended him: “I don’t attach any significance to the fact Fuhrman might be looking to retire up here,” one said. “It’s only natural to want to retire someplace that is less intense and reflects more genuine American values.”
Idaho’s inmigration trend slowed somewhat during the first decade of the 2000s, but in the past decade has intensified to tsunami levels. And with that tide, not only has the number and percentage of Republicans expanded, but the levels of right-wing extremists among them have risen to previously unseen levels.
A 2017 survey of political attitudes among Idaho newcomers found that 60% of them identified as Republicans, while only 25% were Democrats, compared to 54% of native Idahoans who identified with the GOP. It also noted that while liberal states like California and Washington were the top contributors to the migration, those newcomers were far more likely to be conservative than liberal.
But a more recent survey by Boise State University, published in January, found that these right-wing newcomers believed themselves to have even more conservative beliefs than longtime residents. Some 53% of newcomers identified as conservative, while 49% of residents who had lived in Idaho for more than 10 years did the same. Some 19.1% of those who had not lived in Idaho all their lives identified as “very conservative” compared to 16.2% of those who had, while 51.9% of non-natives identified as some kind of conservative, compared to 46.3% of natives.
The data demolishes a popular myth in Idaho that all the people moving to the state are going to turn the state liberal—a legend that was given fresh legs recently by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who claimed that this supposed transformation was part of Democrats’ nefarious campaign to “replace” conservative white voters.
However, as KTVB-TV news staff found when it examined the data from the previous four election cycles, the reality is precisely the opposite: the inmigration was turning Idaho even farther to the right politically. It noted that, indeed, “Idaho is seeing more Democrats become registered voters in recent years, about 52,600 more over a six-year span. But Republicans have seen their number of registered voters grow by nearly 200,000 during that same time.”
Extremism in the real world
At the same time and more broadly, movement conservatism under Donald Trump has become host to an overlapping array of conspiracy theorists, white and Christian nationalists, and anti-democratic authoritarians, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the aftermath of Trump’s 2020 electoral defeat. In Idaho, that has translated into a surge of far-right politics both within the halls of power and among the general populace.
It’s not uncommon to see yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flags—or big “Fuck Joe Biden” and “Let’s Go Brandon” and “Trump 2024” banners—flying from poles attached to a big pickup bed
They all generically call themselves “Patriots,” but they share a broad range of political worldviews, not all of them extremist. Stephen Piggott, a researcher who studies right-wing extremism with the Western States Center, told the Idaho Statesman that extremists in recent years have blurred the former lines of demarcation with groups, particularly mainstream Republicans, who may not share all of their views.
Allowing these extremists to participate in mainstream circles without being shunned, he said, becomes an invitation to spread their ideology. “Neo-Nazis and other folks like that are really kind of looking to take advantage of this moment of people questioning and trying to radicalize these folks even further, which is really, really troubling,” Piggott said.
The process of radicalization is manifesting itself on the ground in a running litany of incidents involving the insurgent radical right in the state—all of them people who had moved there from elsewhere:
- A band of neo-Nazi terrorists who moved to Idaho in 2020—mostly ex-Marines who had met at boot camp in North Carolina—planned to target electrical infrastructure (mainly transformer stations) in the Pacific Northwest in order to knock out power to targeted regions where they hoped to use the distraction to carry out political assassinations of leading leftist figure in the region. The men even conducted paramilitary training sessions in the Idaho desert to prepare. The FBI arrested them in October 2020.
In their online chats, the men shared their grand strategy for moving to Idaho. "First order of business is knocking down The System, mounting it and smashing [its] face until it has been beaten past the point of death … eventually we will have to bring the rifles out and go to work,” one of them wrote.
“Second order of business ... is the seizing of territory and the Balkanization of North America. Buying property in remote areas that are already predominantly white and right-leaning, networking with locals, training, farming, and stockpiling.
“Start buying property now in the types of regions mentioned above and get to work on building your own group … As time goes on in this conflict, we will expand our territories and slowly take back the land that is rightfully ours ... As we build our forces and our numbers, we will move into the urban areas and clear them out. This will be a ground war very reminiscent of Iraq as we will essentially be facing an insurgent force made up of criminals and gang members.”
- Ammon Bundy, the notorious leader of the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff—who had moved to Emmett from Nevada in 2015—led a protest outside a Boise hospital claiming that local authorities had “kidnapped” one of the children of his cohorts, a 10-month-old infant who was found to be suffering from malnutrition. Bundy was arrested for trespassing—only the latest of several publicity-stunt arrests in Idaho for the “constitutionalist” figure.
After the arrest, Bundy’s massive network of online supporters descended on the players in the controversy, doxxing health care, social workers, and police officers involved in the case—which in turn was spread even farther by Republican legislators, Priscilla Giddings of White Bird and Karey Hanks of St. Anthony. Janice McGeachin, Idaho’s militia-friendly lieutenant governor, tried to weigh in on the controversy, posting a video complaining that when she had tried to inquire about the case, state Child Protective Services officials would not share any information (likely citing federal HIPAA health privacy laws).
- At an October 2021 Turning Point USA event hosted by Charlie Kirk at the Nampa Civic Center, one of the audience members—later identified as a California transplant—asked Kirk: “At this point, we’re living under a corporate and medical fascism. This is tyranny. When do we get to use the guns?”
The crowd whooped, and he continued: “No, and I’m not, that’s not a joke, I’m not saying it like that. I mean literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they gonna steal before we kill these people?”
The crowd seemed mostly supportive of this view, so Kirk tried to calm them down—but purely for tactical reasons: “I know that people get fired up. We are living under fascism,” he said. “We are living under this tyranny. But if you think for a second they’re not wanting you to all of a sudden get to that next level, where all of a sudden they’re going to say, ‘We need Patriot Act 2.0.’ If you think that Waco was bad, wait till you see what they want to do next.”
When the video hit social media and went viral, most Idaho Republicans were silent—except for the local Republican legislator from Nampa, Rep. Ben Adams, who tweeted that it was a reasonable question: “Our Republic would not exist without this kind of rhetoric. The question is fair, but Charlie Kirk probably isn't the person to ask.” (Adams is also a transplant who was born in Florida.)
- In late April, a group of far-right bikers called the Panhandle Patriots, spouting right-wing “groomer” rhetoric, announced their intention to “confront” the annual Pride in the Park event in Coeur d’Alene with a counter-event that would emphasize guns, then later backed off to rebrand it as a “day of prayer.” When the event arrived on June 11, a number of gun-toting Christian nationalists showed up to mill around on the event’s periphery.
The scene reached its climax when a group of 31 masked men from the neofascist Patriot Front organization tried to invade the park by arriving en masse in a rented U-Haul truck, but were arrested just outside the park by Coeur d’Alene police. Inside the vehicle, investigators found a detailed plan for starting the riot in the park and then expanding the violence into the city’s downtown.
One of the key planners of the invasion attempt was a Patriot Front member from Idaho, while other key participants lived in the nearby Spokane, Washington, area. But their plans attracted other members of the group from as far away as Texas and Alabama.
- Notorious Proud Boys figure Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman moved to Idaho in September 2020 and bought two properties in Boise, but then was arrested in Boise in late 2021 following a Nov. 11 assault on a health care worker. Authorities said that Chapman was hospitalized at St. Alphonsus Regional Hospital in early November with pneumonia and was intubated. He became abusive toward the nurse in charge of his care.
He reportedly complained constantly about the care and medications he was being administered, and used both racist and sexist slurs in his verbal abuse. It all came to a head on Nov. 11, when he grabbed the nurse, who called police. After being charged with assault on Dec. 7, he reportedly also went back to the hospital in an attempt to contact the nurse.
At his arraignment, Chapman—who sports a rap sheet, including multiple convictions for assault, as long as your leg—told Judge Kibodeuax that his violent past was behind him, and that “I’m not that person anymore.”
The Idaho Statesman’s Nicole Blanchard culled through Chapman’s social-media record and found that, in fact, Chapman is very much still that person. Moreover, he had become ardent in promoting Idaho as a refuge for his fellow extremists and escape from minorities.
“Some cry ‘ETHNOSTATE!! I say ‘Idaho,’” Chapman posted on a Telegram channel he created and hosted.
His messages promoting Idaho to the group date back to 2020, when he told his cohorts he was getting out of the Bay Area, where he worked as a commercial diver. “I’ve been researching this move for almost a decade,” Chapman wrote. “Idaho is the best location in the country to weather the storm and lobby for secession. Ethnic enclave. Fight the battle from higher ground.”
His posts to the Telegram group encouraged people to move to Idaho to get away from minorities, using racist and homophobic slurs to describe them. He also promoted the interior West (including Montana, Utah, and Wyoming) as places for his fellow white nationalists to seek out, with white, right-wing demographics that would be a friendly environment for people with more explicitly bigoted beliefs.
“We take over that state’s capitol, small towns, and local politics,” Chapman wrote. “Institute laws that benefit us and eventually vie for secession.”
Boise resident Cherie Buckner-Webb—an African American, as well as a fourth-generation Idahoan—observed to the Statesman: “There’s a critical mass that is no longer doing this in the shadows,” Buckner-Webb said. “Crosses used to get burned in your yard in the dark of night, or you covered your face. These people are bold. They’re emboldened.“
Next: The extremist GOP takeover