The explosion of four bombs in the City of Coeur d’Alene on September 15, 1986, was somewhat of a turning point in the effort to rid Idaho of the malignant influence of the Aryan Nations white supremacist group. The gang had established a foothold in the Idaho Panhandle and was intent on making it a national bastion for supremacists. During the night, members of the group exploded a pipe bomb at the home of human rights icon, Father Bill Wassmuth, and set off three other bombs around town.
The bombings finally awakened the entire State to the serious threat the Aryans posed to the safety of those in the area and to the image of the Gem State as a whole. Out of concern for the economic impact on commerce, the Idaho business community rose up in opposition to the group and its poisonous agenda. That spurred a political response from the Republican political establishment, which had largely sat on the sidelines.
In response to concerned citizens and business leaders across the State, the Legislature got engaged in the effort to stop extremist intimidation and violence. As Attorney General, I proposed tough legislation in 1987, which failed in the House due to opposition from the National Rifle Association. I worked with the NRA and we were able to fashion the Terrorist Control Act (the Act), which remains on our law books today.
The ironic thing is that the NRA proposed the incorporation of provisions from the federal Ku Klux Klan Act, which significantly strengthened the legislation. An NRA willing to act reasonably is certainly a relic of the distant past, but it was helpful in 1987.
Among other things, the Act prohibits two or more people from conspiring to threaten or intimidate any citizen from enjoying any constitutional right by the use of violence. A violation is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $50,000.
The Act came back to mind when I was reading about a meeting hosted by extremist legislator Heather Scott in Sandpoint on April 28. An attendee sporting the nametag “DeadDog” appeared to mouth all of the elements necessary to constitute a crime under the Act. DeadDog is a member of the Panhandle Patriots Riding Club (the PP Riders), which apparently consists of gun-toting extremists.
DeadDog referred to the “Pride in the Park” (Pride) event scheduled for the Coeur d’Alene City Park on June 11, saying his group intended “to go head-to-head with these people….We say, ‘Damn the repercussions,’ Stand up, take it to the head. Go to the fight.” He mentioned that his group was holding a competing event called “Gun d’Alene.” Flyers for Gun d’Alene encouraged people to come armed, saying if the Pride participants “want to have a war, let it begin here.”
Comparing this rhetoric with the elements of the Act, DeadDog said he was planning, with others, to intimidate Pride participants from enjoying their constitutional rights to assembly, speech and demonstration by threats of violence. If violence is visited on any of the Pride folks at their event, DeadDog and other of the PP Riders could be facing serious time in an Idaho correctional facility. Other members of his group have tried to downplay or disassociate themselves from his remarks, but that may not be enough to save them if things get ugly at the event.
Idaho was able to rid itself of dangerous extremists in the last two decades of the 20th century, but we now find ourselves in much the same situation today. Idahoans need to once again rise up and make it clear that extremism does not define us: That we are better than the Heather Scotts, PP Riders and other Panhandle extremists would lead the rest of the country to believe. The Terrorist Control Act can play an instrumental part in that essential work, as other events of intimidation and threatened violence will assuredly arise in our State, given the highly charged political atmosphere.