Federal prosecutors are imposing accountability for Jan. 6. Idaho hasn’t measured up | Opinion

This week, Boisean Yvonne St Cyr was found guilty of two felonies and four misdemeanors for her participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, attempted insurrection.

This comes after fellow Boiseans Josiah Colt and Pam Hemphill pleaded guilty to offenses related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. In all, eight people have been arrested in Idaho on a variety of offenses tied to the attempt to overturn the election with violence.

None of these people were anything resembling a central figure that day at the U.S. Capitol — someone akin to Oathkeepers leader Stewart Rhodes. They could easily have had their actions overlooked by federal prosecutors.

But federal prosecutors have decided to be comprehensive. Well over 1,000 indictments have been issued so far, and more are expected to come for months or years into the future.

This stands in stark contrast to Idaho’s recently sad record of dealing with extremism.

Months before the attempted insurrection, Idaho had its own Jan. 6-like incident when protesters shattered doors to the Capitol in August 2020. They never faced any consequences at all. Their behavior was rewarded, when they were given exactly what they wanted: the right to sit in the gallery without observing mask rules.

Even before that, meetings of the Southwestern Health District had to be canceled because Ammon Bundy and allied extremists physically forced their way, unmasked, into the building where the meeting was being held. Again, there were no consequences.

This behavior later escalated into intimidation outside private homes.

There was at least an effort to push back against that. Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, who was targeted outside his home by protesters who hung him in effigy for his children to see, teamed up with Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, in an attempt to ban picketing outside private homes. Again, the Legislature failed to act.

In the following election, Chaney was defeated by now-Sen. Chris Trakel, R-Caldwell, whose behavior has at times resembled that of the mobs that targeted Chaney.

Now in response to the ever-more-common sight of AR-15s at protests, lawmakers seem poised to revoke a century-old prohibition on private military groups and armed parades.

This persistent failure of Idaho to impose accountability on extremists who cross the line into intimidation and violence is leaving an indelible mark on Idaho.

“It’s just a welcome mat. It’s a big green light,” said author David Neiwert, who has spent a long career following the far-right in the Northwest, in a recent episode of Lunch with the Idaho Way.

The current trend is frightening. Neiwert, who has watched the evolution of the far-right from the John Birch Society in the Idaho Falls of his youth to the rise of the Aryan Nations and The Order in North Idaho, has never seen a more dangerous time than today.

When the Aryan Nations first moved to Hayden Lake, preaching the notion of turning Idaho into a homeland for the white race, where extremists could form the majority, Neiwert laughed it off. He was then an editor at a North Idaho newspaper, and he and his publisher decided not to cover Richard Butler and his rag-tag group of neo-Nazis.

Don’t give them oxygen, and they’ll fade away, they thought. Neiwert said it wasn’t long at all before they realized that was impossible. But as visible as the Aryan Nations were, they were shunned.

When Neiwert looks at Idaho today, the picture he sees is even more disturbing than it was in the ’70s and ’80s.

“Back then, it was a fringe thing, and I don’t think we really anticipated that Butler’s vision would ever come true,” he said. “But it’s coming true.”

It’s up to us to stop it. And stopping it means working to impose accountability, something Idaho government has not yet even tried to do.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser.