I found some grim humor in this headline from the Washington Post on Thursday, June 4th: “Armed white residents lined Idaho streets amid ‘antifa’ protest fears. The leftist incursion was an online myth.” The article came with a photo of three militia-types decorated in flag paraphernalia on Sherman Ave in Coeur d’Alene. (It’s worth clicking on the article just to see the photo.) The caption read: ” ‘We are not counterprotesters. We’re just going to make sure Coeur d’Alene is safe,’ said Conrad Nelsen, shown holding a flag during a protest Tuesday.” But, according to the Spokesman, “many Idaho protesters don’t feel safer with armed civilians showing up.” The whole scene would be laughable, except that these people actually have convinced themselves (or been convinced) they are addressing a real threat to the community. (see P.S. below)
The previous Sunday evening, May 31st, Spokane County Sherriff Ozzie Knezovich quickly labelled the window breakers and rioters in Spokane as outsiders and “antifa socialists,” echoing Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr. Unaccountable electronic media (of dubious backing), like North Idaho News on Facebook (which seems to have one young video-producing talking head) fanned the flames of rumor with breathless posts like this one on Tuesday, June 2, “This evening’s protests in Downtown Coeur d’Alene. Peaceful so far. Black Lives Matter is peacefully protesting and the armed presence of locals are [sic] ensuring no one infiltrates the protest and turns it into a riot.” This self-appointed, self-aggrandizing, unaccountable right wing news geek would be risible if he weren’t firing up the fears and self-importance of militiamen toting enough firepower to mow down a whole parade in a few minutes.
Sandpoint, Idaho, (pop. around 10,000) was not mentioned in the Washington Post article, but the fears of imminent rioting activated the militias from around Sandpoint, too. That prompted a surreal and disturbing scene on the Long Bridge where several hundred mostly young people, most wearing masks, and demonstrating in support of Black Lives Matter were followed closely by a cadre of older white men in camo with assault rifles and cartridge belts, claiming to “protect” the protesters. These riled-up militiamen have the endorsement of two of the three Bonner County Commissioners (Dan MacDonald and Pastor Bradford)* and Idaho State Rep. Heather Scott (a fellow traveler of Washington State Rep. Matt Shea).
Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon in a Facebook Live presentationthrough the Sandpoint City Council on Friday, June 5th, avoided taking sides. Describing an encounter he had with a group of armed men at City Beach park Chief Coon said they told him, when he inquired of their intent, that if they saw anything suspicious on their patrol they would “call 911.” (“Shh. Be wery, wery quiet. I’m hunting wabbits,” to quote Elmer Fudd.) Chief Coon did not ask what the purpose was of all that weaponry if their plan was only to notify the police emergency number.
The Bonner County Daily Bee reported “a conversation” around the presence of armed militiamen “protecting the protesters,” a conversation that roiled the Sandpoint City Council meeting on Wednesday, June 3. One resident said the armed men were “fear mongers,” but I think that only captures part of it. They are not only “fear mongers” but they have, themselves, been “fear mongered,” that is, these men have been riled up by sources in their information echo chambers bent both on hyping an imagined threat and puffing up their sense of self importance. That’s a dangerous mix. All that’s missing to make this tragic is a struck match, an itchy trigger-finger.
Shelby Rognstad, the mayor of Sandpoint, said it best at the City Council meeting, as he was quoted in the Bee article:
“The difference is that our police officers are accountable to us. They are accountable to the city, to this elected body, to you as citizens. If they mess up, we know who they are, what they did, what they did wrong, there is accountability there. There is a process we can improve so maybe there was something wrong with the protocol. Vigilantes are not accountable … The law doesn’t support them taking law into their own hands.”
These heavily armed men seem universally thrilled with Mr. Trump as POTUS. Chillingly, Trump and Barr’s posting of Bureau of Prisons riot police in D.C. without identification of their unit or their names suffers the same worrisome defect of accountability to civilian society as Mayor Shelby pointed out of the militia presence in Sandpoint.
We live in dangerous times. Open carry of assault weaponry by strutting militiamen on our streets isn’t helping. They may feel, in their self-importance, that they are “protecting,” but their effect is to intimidate those they profess to protect. Their response to the phony threat of antifa-agitated riots should make them the subject of laughter and derision, not praise, but it is hard to point that out to a man with an echo-chamber-instilled ideology brandishing an assault rifle.
Keep to the high ground,
*These Bonner County Commissioners are the same ones spending time, effort, and the taxpayers’ money on a lawsuit against the City of Sandpoint over a prohibition against carrying guns into the Festival at Sandpoint (even though the prohibition is by the privately run Festival–which rents the grounds from the City and brings millions of dollars to businesses in Sandpoint each summer).
P.S. The media echo chamber of the militia folk proclaims they performed a great service in “saving” the City of Coeur d’Alene from the grave threat. “Hey, they didn’t show up because they were scared of us (not because the whole threat was bogus, of course).” Check out one of their webpages, The MAC, the “Media Accountability Collective”‘s article “COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO STANDS UP…ANTIFA STANDS DOWN!” Note that the MAC “consists of individuals around the world”–but no one actually identifiably accountable. Wow. For all the reader knows these articles by “Daniella Cross” could have been written in St. Petersburg, Russia.