COEUR D’ALENE (Idaho) — Northern Idaho is home to a long, deep history of anti-government activism. This has made it difficult for authorities to combat a COVID-19 epidemic that has overwhelmed hospitals in this deeply conservative region.
A fatal 1992 standoff with Canadian federal agents near the Canadian frontier sparked an increase in radical right-wing groups throughout the country. The region was long home to the Aryan Nations, whose leader envisaged a “White Homeland,” which would be located in the county now one of the worst affected by the coronavirus epidemic.
The hospitals in northern Idaho are so crowded with COVID-19 patients, authorities announced last week that they would allow rationing of health care.
Tony Stewart said that people who refuse to be vaccinated and don’t wear masks are extreme examples of extremism.
Stewart was a founder of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. This group, which fought the Aryan Nation for decades and helped to bankrupt the neo Nazi group, is now dead. “Seeing so many people lose concern for their fellow human beings is almost shocking to me.”
Officials said that 41% of 163,000 Kootenai County residents were not fully vaccinated. That’s a significant drop from the state average at 56%.
In northern Idaho, anti-government sentiments are strong.
Heather Scott, the Republican State Representative from Blanchard in northern Idaho, declined to be interviewed, saying that journalists were lying. Scott encouraged mask-burning protests throughout northern Idaho and the rest the state earlier in the year. She is also one of the legislators who has often promoted misinformation about COVID-19 via Facebook.
Stewart called vaccine opponents a “irrational segment” of the population.
However, not everyone agrees that there is a problem.
David Hall, 53 years old, co-owns a restaurant downtown Coeur d’Alene and said Friday that he serves hundreds of customers per week.
Hall claimed that not one person who worked for him got it. “I don’t know from where (patients) are.”
Hall knows that news about crowded hospitals is bad for business. He claims his revenues have plummeted.
Don Kress, 65 years old, from Coeur d’Alene stated that he believes Kootenai Health in the town’s main hospital is overflowing.
He said that COVID-19 has become a highly politicized topic. People will win if you remove politics from the issue and allow common sense to prevail.
Since decades, Northern Idaho has seen an anti-government portion of the population. It was also the scene of the standoff on Ruby Ridge, north from Sandpoint.
Randy Weaver brought his family to the region in the 1980s as a way to escape the corrupt world he perceived. Over time, federal agents started investigating Weaver’s connections to anti-government and white extremist groups. Weaver was ultimately suspected of selling an informant two illegal sawedoff shotguns.
Weaver was able to hide on his property in order to avoid arrest.
A team of U.S. marshals was searching the forest for suitable spots to ambush Weaver and his friend Kevin Harris. Weaver’s son Samuel, 14 years old, was also found in the woods. A gunfight broke out. Samuel Weaver, Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan was killed.
A sniper from the FBI shot and wounded Randy Weaver the next day. The sniper shot a second bullet and struck Vicki Weaver’s head, killing her. Harris was also wounded. The family surrendered to the police on August 31, 1992.
Although the Aryan Nations was not anti-government in nature, it attracted many disaffected people after Richard Butler, a white supremacist from California, moved there in 1973.
Butler, a former aeronautical engineer, established a compound four years after he moved to rural Kootenai County. The compound, located north of Hayden Lake on 20 acres, would be a racist camp that attracted people from all over the country. They held annual summits at their compound and parades in downtown Coeur d’Alene. The Aryan Nations was the first to have a hate website in the 1990s.
After a lawsuit brought in 2000 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Aryan Nation compound and its contents was destroyed and bulldozed.
COVID-19 is now causing conflict in Coeur d’Alene. This resort and retirement community, which hugs the shores of a lake named after it, draws celebrities and the wealthy to beautiful lakefront homes. Swanky shops and lumber mills are being replaced by high-rise condos.
In order to defend against Black Lives Matter protesters, armed groups patrolled downtown Chicago last year.
COVID-19 thrived within this environment.
Kootenai Health provides 200 beds for surgical or medical patients. On Wednesday, Kootenai Health’s nurses and doctors cared for 218 patients. They were assisted by military nurses and doctors.
The hospital saw 101 COVID-19-related patients on Friday. 35 of these patients required critical care. The hospital has 26 ICU beds.
Jeanette Laster is the executive director at the Human Rights Education Institute. It was established after the rise of the Aryan Nation.
She warned that it was incorrect to believe that the neo Nazi philosophy of Aryans is connected to anti-government sentiments which now dominate the political agenda.
According to her, the Aryan Nation was a white supremacist and antisemitic group. However, anti-government sentiments are rooted within freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.
Laster stated, “I don’t believe the majority of our community are hateful.” “This is more about constitutional right.”
She said that distrust of authorities and the media is another issue.
Laster stated that people are asking for precise information. “There is a lot fear.”