Let’s not render Idaho’s domestic terrorism law useless

Idaho’s landmark Terrorist Control Act (TCA) will be rendered useless if the Idaho House of Representatives passes a bill approved by the Senate on January 25. Among other things, the TCA made it a serious felony for those who commit criminal acts that are “dangerous to human life” and intended to “intimidate or coerce” either the public or governmental policymakers. Senate Bill 1220 would decriminalize any such criminal acts that were not done in cooperation with a “foreign terrorist organization.” Violent acts of intimidation, like the bombings by the Aryan Nations hate group in northern Idaho in 1986, could no longer be prosecuted under the TCA if no foreigners were involved.

Aryan Nations members exploded a pipe bomb at Father Bill Wassmuth’s home in Coeur d’Alene on September 15, 1986, and set off three other bombs a few days later. Father Bill was shaken, but not physically injured, and there were no injuries sustained in the other blasts. The bombs were designed to intimidate and silence those like Father Bill who were exercising their constitutional right to speak out against the dangerous white supremacist group. Idaho law was not adequate at that time to deter and sufficiently punish such violent activity.

It was clear that Idaho needed to take action against violent domestic terrorists. As Idaho’s 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 agree on strong language for the TCA, which remains on our law books today. The NRA proposed adding language from the federal Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which primarily targeted violent conspiracies by KKK members to prevent freed slaves from voting, speaking out, holding office and exercising other constitutional rights. The KKK Act language significantly improved and strengthened the TCA.

Senate supporters of SB 1220 seemed to think that the TCA, as written, could be used to prosecute school patrons. It simply would not happen, unless the patrons committed criminal acts that were dangerous to human life and intended to intimidate or coerce the public or school board. The KKK Act has been on the federal books since 1871 and I’m unaware of any case where non-intimidating, non-conspiring, non-violent school patrons have faced federal charges under that law. No inappropriate charges have been filed in Idaho under the TCA. In fact, the entire purpose of the TCA is to protect the constitutional rights of all Idahoans from violent conspiracists.

The problem with SB 1220 is that it would require a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, even in an egregious situation like the Aryan Nation bombings in 1986, that the violent acts were “done in cooperation with any foreign terrorist organization.” Without that proof, the conspirators could not be held to account. The U.S. currently lists about 70 foreign terrorist organizations, including Hamas, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and ISIS-Mozambique. The chances that any of those groups would team up with conspirators in Idaho to commit the prohibited violent acts is almost nil. The foreign cooperation requirement essentially guts the Terrorist Control Act.

On the other hand, domestic terrorist incidents have increased dramatically in the United States in recent years. The Government Accountability Office reported last year that domestic terrorism-related cases increased 357% from 2013 to 2021. These are not cases involving foreign terrorist organizations.

The 1986 Coeur d’Alene 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. The TCA was enacted in response. With the growing threat of domestic terrorism in the U.S. and the consequent endangerment to the constitutional rights of Idaho citizens, this is not the time to neuter the TCA. That law was passed to rid our beautiful state of violent white supremacists. Let’s not welcome them back into the state.

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6 thoughts on “Let’s not render Idaho’s domestic terrorism law useless”

  1. As a resident of North Idaho I fully support the defeat of Senate Bill 1220. As the sponsor is purported to be level headed, I hope they can be convinced to withdraw this proposed change to Idaho’s Terrorist Control Act.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Richard. I’m working on trying to get the bill derailed. Letters to the editor up there could help. Jim

  2. Jim,

    Thanks for your efforts. My email to my D31 legislators:

    Truly baffling how Idaho state legislators could vote to require “cooperation with any foreign terrorist organization” in order to prosecute individuals engaged in domestic terrorism.
    The disinformation claim that it protects some school board meeting participant is truly beneath educated dialogue in our state and nation. This bill will give sanctuary to those who engage in domestic terrorism and harm the citizens of Idaho – those who you are elected by to protect them through wise, needed and well-thought out legislation.
    Please reconsider this bill and/or do not vote to pass this flawed “of the moment” culture war posturing reaction.

  3. S 1220 passed the Idaho Senate 27-8 and is now in the House Judiciary Committee. How someone could take an FBI memo simply offering assistance IF requested and blow this out of all proportion is beyond me. Our county elections staff, county commissioners, board members and others have received threats and meetings have been disrupted. These groups are organized. Their aim is to disrupt and to cause chaos. How can a bill based on misinformation pass? This legislature is not listening to us. Can the House come it its senses on this?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mary. It is not going to be easy to get this bill stopped in the House. All of us should try to raise the alarm in letters to editors, social media, in our churches and everywhere else. There is no reason to give domestic terrorists a free pass, no excuse to roll out the state welcome mat to the likes of the Proud Boys and other violent extremists. It will only give people of good faith just another reason to flee our state, along with the teachers, librarians and doctors who are escaping to more reasonable climes. It will attract even more of those who have come to believe that Idaho is a safe haven for white supremacists and their fellow travelers.

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