COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — A long and dark streak of anti-government activism in northern Idaho has stymied efforts to fight a COVID-19 outbreak overwhelming hospitals in the deeply conservative region.
Tony Stewart said of those who refused vaccinations and wearing masks, “this is the most extremism I’ve ever seen.”
Stewart is a founding member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, which for decades fought the Aryan nations and helped bankrupt the neo-Nazi group. “I am almost speechless to see that so many people have lost concern for their fellow human beings.”
Officials said only 41% of Kootenai County’s 163,000 residents were fully vaccinated, lower than the state average of about 56%.
Anti-government sentiments are strong in northern Idaho.
State Representative Heather Scott, a Republican from Blanchard in the northern part of the state, declined an interview request, saying the journalists were liars. Scott promoted mask burning protests in northern Idaho and the rest of the state earlier this year. He is also among lawmakers who have often given false information about COVID-19 on Facebook.
Stewart called the fierce opponents of vaccines “an irrational segment of the population”.
But not everyone agrees that there is a problem.
David Hall, 53, who co-owns a restaurant in the crowded city of Coeur d’Alene, said Friday he serves “hundreds of customers a week and I’ve heard about someone being hospitalized.” have not heard.”
“Not a single person who worked for me got it,” Hall said of COVID-19. “I don’t know where (patients) are coming from.”
One thing Hall knows is that news of filled hospitals is bad for business, saying that his revenue has declined.
Don Cress, 65, of Coeur d’Alene, said he believed the city’s premier hospital, Cootenay Health, is overcrowded with patients.
“It has become such a political issue,” he said of COVID-19. “If you take politics out of it and let common sense prevail, people will get shot.”
Northern Idaho has had an anti-government segment of the population for decades. It was the site of a standoff on Ruby Ridge, north of downtown Sandpoint.
Randy Weaver moved his family to the region in the 1980s to avoid being viewed as a corrupt world. Over time, federal agents began investigating the military veteran for possible links to white supremacist and anti-government groups. Weaver was eventually suspected of selling two illegal saw-off shotguns to a government informant.
To avoid arrest, Weaver hid on his ground.
On August 21, 1992, a team of US marshals scouring the woods to find a suitable location to ambush and arrest is found in the woods by his friend, Kevin Harris, and Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Samuel. There was a gunfight. Samuel Weaver and Deputy US Marshal William Deegan were killed.
The next day, an FBI sniper shot and wounded Randy Weaver. As the group members ran back toward the house, the sniper fired a second shot, which went through wife Vicki Weaver’s head—which killed her—and wound Harris in the chest. The family surrendered on 31 August 1992.
The Aryan nation was not particularly anti-government, but it attracted many disaffected people to the region after white supremacist Richard Butler moved from California in 1973.
Four years after moving to rural Kootenai County, Butler – a former aeronautical engineer – started a campus. The 20-acre site north of Hayden Lake would become a racist camp that attracted people from across the country. The group held a parade in downtown Coeur d’Alene and held an annual summit on campus. By the 1990s, Aryan Nations had one of the first hate websites.
Aryan Nation’s premises and its contents were burned and bulldozed after a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2000 bankrupted the group.
Now COVID-19 has intensified conflicts in Coeur d’Alene, a booming resort and retirement community that embraces a namesake lakefront and attracts celebrities and the wealthy to grand lakefront homes. Upscale condos have replaced lumber mills near the lakefront, and great stores abound.
Last year, armed groups patrolled the city’s main town to protect them from non-existent Black Lives Matter protesters.
COVID-19 has flourished in this environment.
Kootnai Health has 200 beds for medical or surgical patients. On Wednesday, doctors and nurses from Kootenai Health were caring for 218 medical and surgical patients who were called to aid by military doctors and nurses.
On Friday, the hospital counted 101 COVID-19 patients, of whom 35 required critical care. The hospital normally has only 26 intensive care unit beds.
Janet Laster is executive director of the Institute for Human Rights Education, which was established in the wake of the rise of the Aryan nation in the region.
He cautioned that it is wrong to assume that the neo-Nazi philosophy of the Aryans is related to the anti-government sentiments that now dominate the political agenda.
The Aryan Nation was a white supremacist, anti-Semitic group, she said, while anti-government sentiments are rooted in the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.
“I don’t think much of our community is disgusting,” Laster said. “It’s more about constitutional rights.”
He said that mistrust of media and officials is also an issue.
“People are begging for accurate information,” Laster said. “There’s a lot of fear.”