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Astroturf group targets conservatives in Idaho

Astroturf group targets conservatives in Idaho

Brian Almon
May 8, 2023

Corporate media has generated numerous news stories over the past few weeks about a purported new group aiming to combat "extremism" in Idaho. “Idaho Leaders United looks to root out extremism,” wrote Teddy Feinberg at the Idaho Press. However, these stories presented the group's statements at face value, neglecting the contextual analysis they would typically provide if the organization were conservative.

In the absence of responsible journalism from the corporate media, it is up to us to delve deeper into the story.

The individuals showcased in the group's promotional video are portrayed as ordinary Idahoans weary of political extremism. However, a cursory examination reveals that they are the same political actors who have long been striving to shift Idaho's political landscape to the left.

The first person featured in the "Leaders United" promo video is Doug Gross, CEO of Gross Farms in Wilder. Campaign finance records from the Secretary of State reveal that Gross has made donations to figures such as Patti Anne Lodge, Scott Syme, Brad Little, Scott Bedke, Britt Raybould, and Lawrence Wasden.

Odette Bolano, the President and CEO of St. Alphonsus Health System, donated to Lauren McLean last November and has contributed thousands of dollars to the Idaho Hospital Association PAC. The PAC, in turn, has supported a range of candidates, from far-left Democrats like Ilana Rubel, Lauren Necochea, and Steve Berch to left-leaning Republicans such as Megan Blanksma, Debbie Critchfield, and Lori McCann.

Bill Shawver co-founded a political PR firm called Atlas Strategic Communications. In addition to some in-kind work for Boise School District trustee Beth Oppenheimer, Atlas charged moderate Republican senate candidate Laurie Lickley nearly $25,000 for advertising and operations in December 2022.

Sara Young, a retired Idaho National Guard sergeant, was not randomly included in the video, either. Last year, she joined a group called Defend and Protect Idaho, which featured military and law enforcement personnel using their service to tar Janice McGeachin and Ammon Bundy as "extremists."

Defend and Protect Idaho was founded by former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney who is also one of the leaders of Leaders United. His track record of opposing freedom is well-documented. In 2015, he broke ranks with fellow Idaho sheriffs and denounced efforts to pass constitutional carry legislation, which eventually succeeded in 2020. After leaving the sheriff's office, Raney spent his time attacking conservatives on social media, ridiculing anyone critical of Governor Little's lockdowns and mask mandates.

Speaking of attacks on conservatives, Tommy Ahlquist is also involved in the launch of Leaders United. Ahlquist played a spoiler role in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, enabling Brad Little to secure a narrow victory over Raúl Labrador. Since then, he has utilized his platform to target conservatives while using his financial resources to support establishment candidates, including the far-left Boise mayor Lauren McLean.

These are not random Idahoans who have recently become concerned about political rhetoric. Rather, they are seasoned political operatives who have been battling conservatives for many years. Together with their media allies, they attempt to link conservative lawmakers to militias and white supremacists instead of engaging in substantive debate on their ideas. They seek to convince you that protecting children from genital mutilation and pornography is "extreme."

"Leaders United" is merely the latest astroturfed vehicle employed by the usual suspects to silence anyone to their right while pushing Idaho further to the left. The fact that the corporate media presents them with favorable coverage only confirms this reality.

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