I try to avoid reading articles in the Idaho Statesman, even though I was one of its reporters from 2001-2005. But much like watching a train wreck, it’s hard to look away. Witness the paper’s most recent pseudo-journalistic offering in its July 22 edition, in which a trio of journalists try to paint conservative legislators as hate mongering extremists worthy of monitoring by federal authorities.
In the second part of a two-part series on “white nationalism and extremism” in Idaho, the newspaper says, “Counterterrorism experts and U.S. officials are watching the evolution of extremism in Idaho with alarm.”
The article is interspersed with photos of the Aryan Nations and their swastika flags marching down a Coeur d’Alene street 22 years ago alongside photos of modern conservative politicians and activists. The intent of the story is to paint a portrait of long vanquished racists reemerging in politics in order to advance a similarly subversive agenda.
But it’s simply not true. The article quotes from the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR), which claims there are two dozen Idaho lawmakers who “have joined far-right Facebook groups” as if that’s dispositive of anything. I’m not on Facebook that much and so I just looked at the groups of which I’m a member, many of which I don’t recall joining or know what they do, including Idahoans for the Liberty Amendments, Veterans for Idaho, Beach Bodies Fitness Meetup, and Nicole’s Makeup Bash.
For the record, I’m not a fan of amending the U.S. Constitution, not a veteran, try as I might I don’t have a beach body, and I’ve never attended whatever a makeup bash is.
In the case of the IREHR’s research, lawmakers are criticized for belonging to groups that advocate liberty and freedom. For example, several legislators are dinged just for belonging to the Facebook group operated by the Idaho Freedom Foundation. But some of the legislators listed aren’t even considered by most to be conservative, let alone “extremist” by the left’s definition. Leftist Republican Sen. Fred Martin, who was defeated in the May primary, was labeled an extremist because he’s a member of a Washington state III% group. Sen. Mary Souza, also not a conservative by any measure, is listed as an extremist because she’s a member of a North Idaho patriot group.
It’s also important to understand that IREHR considers pro-life, pro-school choice, and pro-health freedom legislation to be extremist. Legislation in support of the Second Amendment and opposing critical race theory is also extremist. The newspaper doesn’t expound on the substance of the IREHR research, except to immediately draw a tenuous connection between groups that “insist they’re peaceful,” the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and the Jan. 6 2021 protest at the U.S. Capitol.
The reader is supposed to walk away convinced that legislators who advance freedom and defend constitutionally-protected rights deserve to be lumped together with the goals and values of racists and violent actors. Consider that the Idaho Statesman’s Part One article on the topic tried to make hay out of how an alleged racist white guy moved to Idaho, and that’s somehow indicative of the direction of a state with 1.8 million people.
If I were a reporter covering this story, I’d be immediately curious how 24 Idaho lawmakers could be tagged as extremist for rather mainstream positions or for simply belonging to an organization’s Facebook page. I might also interview some of them to get their opinions on the matter, because they’ve obviously been portrayed unfairly. That didn’t happen because doing so doesn’t serve the reporters’ agenda.
This is why I avoid the usually vacuous Idaho Statesman if I can. It’s a useless vessel for mindless activism pretending to be journalism, and readers will often find they know a lot less about an issue after they’ve read one of the newspaper’s articles than they did before they bothered.