Far-Right Republicans Rise Up in Idaho, Immersing State in Political Civil War

Far-right Republicans have become more prominent in Idaho, placing the state in a political "civil war" that mirrors national tensions within the party. Some worry that it may lead to a rise in extremist violence.

The tension is perhaps most evident in the recent disagreement between the state's Republican Governor Brad Little and its Republican Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin.

Even though Idaho doesn't have a statewide mask mandate, on May 27, McGeachin banned any school districts and municipalities from requiring masks. McGeachin did this when Little was out of town. She had been deputized in his absence.

Little, who has encouraged state residents to wear masks to slow COVID-19's spread, repealed McGeachin's ban the very next day. He called her ban "irresponsible" and a "self-serving political stunt." In mid-May, McGeachin announced her run for governor against Little, a first-term incumbent. She began mentioning Little's repeal of her executive order in her fundraising efforts.

McGeachin has supported protests against COVID-19 lockdowns and masks. On March 6, she spoke at a mask-burning demonstration on the steps of the state Capitol. She has also maintained ties to the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia. The militia views the American Government as a tyrannical intrusion into citizen's lives, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

McGeachin Three Percenters Idaho miitia far-right Republicans
Far-right Republicans and militia members have begun emerging in Idaho, leading some to worry about a political "civil war" that mirrors national tensions within the GOP. In this photo, Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin speaks during a mask burning event at the Idaho Statehouse on March 6, 2021 in Boise, Idaho. Nathan Howard/Getty

A member of McGeachin's security detail during her election campaign had a Three Percenters tattoo. In 2019, she posted a Facebook image of herself with the group's members. She also once led "an impromptu oath which appeared to be intended to swear [Three Percenters] in as state militia," The Guardian reported.

At least five people with connections to the Three Percenters have been arrested for participating in the January 6 Capitol insurrection, VICE News reported.

McGeachin has also claimed the federal government doesn't rightfully own any public lands in Idaho. She made her claim on the podcast of an anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim activist, David Horowitz. Horowitz has called the Black Lives Matter (BLM) racial justice movement a terrorist hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

McGeachin's claim echoes that of Ammon Bundy, the former militia leader who led an anti-federal standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.

Bundy was among a group of far-right militia and anti-vaccine protesters arrested for smashing their way into the state House in August 2020. The group invaded the House to oppose a bill allowing schools, businesses and individuals to be sued for not following COVID-19 prevention guidelines.

Bundy, McGeachin and other far-right Republicans see COVID-19 prevention measures as a form of "government overreach" that violates personal freedoms. Like McGeachin, Bundy has filed to run for state governor.

In a statement against Bundy's candidacy, the state's Republican Party Chairman Tom Luna pointed out that Bundy supports BLM.

"Bundy is currently not registered to vote in Idaho, and he is not even registered as a Republican," Luna wrote. "Furthermore, we do not support his antics or his chaotic political theater. That is not the Idaho Republican Party, and we will not turn a blind eye to his behaviors."

Despite the state GOP's disavowal, experts worry that the rise of far-right and militia members could result in violence.

Amy Herzfeld-Copple, who tracks extremist groups for the progressive non-profit the Western States Center, told The Guardian that armed members of the far-right have united in Idaho and elsewhere during 2020. They have joined forces at demonstrations against BLM, COVID-19 measures, and the baseless claim that an unprecedented nationwide voter fraud conspiracy "stole" the 2020 election from Republican former President Donald Trump.

"Both Bundy and McGeachin have exploited pandemic anxiety and instability over the last year to build political power and attract attention for disrupting democratic norms," Herzfeld-Copple wrote. "They each have long histories of engaging with paramilitaries, encouraging political violence, courting bigoted groups...There's a real danger that their campaigns will embolden extremist movements."

The state's emergence of the far-right has also mirrored GOP tensions on the national level. Idaho's Republican Senator Mike Crapo was one of 35 Senate Republicans who voted against the creation of a commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol insurrection. Since January 6, the U.S. military has begun a campaign to root out extremists among its own ranks.

Republican Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has said that there is a Republican "civil war" happening within the national GOP as well. The war has pro-Trump supporters who believe his baseless election fraud claims on one side. Those who reject Trump's claims as dangerous and anti-democratic are on the other side.

Newsweek contacted McGeachin's office for comment but did not hear back as of publication time.