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Threats of domestic terrorism and political violence expected to increase ahead of Election Day

The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center released a joint bulletin on Oct. 28 warning state and local officials of the increased threat of domestic violence extremists before, during and after midterm elections.

According to the bulletin, perceptions of voter fraud and dissatisfaction with election results may catalyze political violence from extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. Potential targets include ideological opponents, candidates running for office, election workers, elected officials, and racial and religious minorities.

Extremists won’t just target people. They will also target certain places hoping to influence voter opinion, undermine perceptions of election legitimacy or provoke a reaction from the government.

According to the bulletin, “We assess some (domestic violence extremists) motivated by election-related grievances would likely view election-related infrastructure, personnel and voters involved in the election process as attractive targets, including at publicly accessible locations like polling places, ballot drop-box locations, voter registration sites, campaign events and political party offices.”

The main motive of these extremists outlined in the bulletin would be to prevent the widespread fraud that occurred in the 2020 presidential election — a claim that has been widely debunked — from happening again. The bulletin highlighted the persistent nature of such claims, which contributed to several attacks or planned violent plots, and how those claims are evolving to surround the midterm elections.

Attack on Paul Pelosi

Paul Pelosi (right), was released from the hospital Nov. 3 after being attacked in his home with a hammer.
Paul Pelosi (right), was released from the hospital Nov. 3 after being attacked in his home with a hammer. Photo credit: Drew Altizer photography

The bulletin said that domestic violence extremists identified the electoral system to be under attack and that it threatened violence against politicians.

Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was attacked with a hammer in his San Francisco home the same day the bulletin was released. Nancy Pelosi and her security detail were in Washington at the time of the attack.

David Depape, the suspect arrested and charged with attempted murder, residential burglary, elder abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment of an elder and threatening family members of public officials, sought to interrogate Nancy Pelosi on an undefined political matter.

According to an interview with police officers, if she told the “truth” on the political matter, he would let her go, but if she “lied,” Depape intended to “break her kneecaps,” forcing her to be wheeled into Congress as a lesson to other Democrats.

President Joe Biden denounced this type of political violence at a Pennsylvania Democratic Party reception.

“Every person of good conscience needs to clearly and unambiguously stand up against the violence in our politics regardless of what your politics are,” Biden said.

The attack against Paul Pelosi is reflective of a larger trend of increased violence toward politicians.

According to a study by The Covid States Projects in January, nearly one-quarter (23%) of Americans say it is “definitely” or “probably” justified to ever engage in violent protest against the government.

However, there are demographic differences between Republicans and Democrats in their views of threats and other forms of violence toward the opposite party.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in February 2021, 25% of Republicans and 17% of Democrats felt threats against the other party’s leaders were justifiable. 19% of Republicans and 10% of Democrats believed it was justified to harass ordinary members of the other party.

Political extremism and domestic terrorism in Idaho

While increased levels of political extremism and domestic terrorism have risen throughout the United States, Idaho has a long history of right-wing extremists, white supremacists and anti-LGBTQ groups. Their political influence has only grown in recent years as they have aligned themselves with Republicans and other conservatives in the state.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Idaho had bipartisan support in taking down Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group based in Northern Idaho. The founder, Richard Butler, saw Hayden Lake, Idaho, as a whites-only homeland in the Pacific Northwest.

The group began to fracture in the 2000s after a lawsuit from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Butler’s death.

The relationship between extremist groups and the Idaho government has changed since the 1990s. Janice McGeachin, Idaho’s current lieutenant governor, appeared by video at the America First Political Action Conference in Florida, organized by Nick Fuentes — a white supremacist. McGeachin evaded the question when Brian Holmes, a Boise journalist, asked why she attended the event.

The following interaction is from an interview on KTVB.

Holmes: “Are you familiar with who puts this event on, like Nick Fuentes?”

McGeachin: “I don’t know who he is. I’ve never met him. I don’t know who he is.”

Holmes: “Did you not look into it before you decided to say, ‘Ok’? Like to find out — his name is on it.”

McGeachin: “Well, you know what, Nick Fuentes, as I said, I don’t know him. He’s never — I’ve never met him. I don’t know … everything that he says or doesn’t say does not reflect on who I am or who the thousands of others that are participating in this movement.”

Holmes: “You didn’t bother to look up his name or anything?”

McGeachin: “I didn’t say that.”

Holmes: “You did look him up?”

McGeachin: “That’s not the question that you asked me.”

Holmes: “Did you look up who Nick Fuentes was and what he’s talked about? Like, things he has said?”

McGeachin: “I have since. … The mainstream media — you do this to conservatives all the time, but you don’t do it to yourself. That every time — any time there’s any kind of affiliation with anybody at any time on any stage, that we are all guilty by association. And it’s not appropriate.”

Some conservatives, like Ashley Aven, are concerned about the future of the Republican Party if they continue to yield to right-wing extremists. Aven oversees the vote to determine leaders of the Republican Convention held every two years.

“As a party, these more right-wing types don’t reflect the actual values of the party, and they don’t reflect the actual values of the greater Republican community, and they have so isolated those who are fiscally conservative and maybe not so much socially conservative,” Aven said in an Idaho Capital Sun article. “They’re going to completely cut off that support. I think it will push many people away, and I think (far-right activists) would say ‘That’s good, they’re RINOs (Republicans In Name Only),’ and that’s really not true.”

Combatting Extremism in Idaho

Three main organizations spearhead fighting against extremists in the Gem State: The Idaho 97 Project, Western States Center, and Defend and Protect Idaho.

The mission of the Idaho 97 Project is to “support the democratic process in Idaho, counter disinformation and extremism through proactive, fact-based action and media messaging, and protect free expression and good governance for the public and public officials alike.”

They represent Idaho’s 97% not belonging to extremist groups.

Western States Center defends democracy by battling bigotry.

According to the organization’s website, Western States Center works nationwide to build a future where all people can live, love, worship and work free from bigotry and fear, which has resulted in more inclusive policy and institutional change.

For example, they helped expel Mike Nearman from the Oregon House of Representatives who helped plan an armed incursion in the state Capitol and organize Oregonians Together for Inclusive Democracy.

Defend and Protect Idaho is a political action committee (PAC) created earlier this year by retired Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney to prevent the election of extremist candidates to government positions in Idaho. The PAC consists of law enforcement and the military, small business owners, faith leaders, farmers and ranchers dedicated to combating political extremism in Idaho.

According to a release from Defend and Protect Idaho in May, “Janice McGeachin, Ammon Bundy, and their followers manipulate Republican values like liberty and independence as weapons against police officers, ignoring the rule of law that keeps us safe. Targeting the family homes of police officers, judges and civil servants does not reflect Idaho values. Using the threat of violence to shut down hospitals and emergency rooms in order to score political points is un-American. Trying to appeal to white nationalists, Holocaust deniers, and convicted criminals in order to intimidate and bully true conservatives to their extremist point of view is bad for officers of the law, public servants, and ultimately, our society.”

Ammon Bundy is running for governor on Nov. 8 as an independent.

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