The people of Idaho (well, it says “men,” but presumably women were meant too) are “free and equal,” the state constitution says in its opening article. Let’s test that equality principle.
In 2014 and 2015 the group Add the Words, which was seeking to add anti-discriminatory language to Idaho law, held a series of sit-in protests at the Idaho Statehouse during legislative sessions. The events were peaceful, without violence or property damage. On several occasions protesters were situated where they blocked access, in at least one case to legislative rooms. Mainly on the basis of that, over the course of those protests more than 100 people were arrested, including one former legislator. One protester recalled, “we were shackled in belly chains, linked together via wrists and ankles and sent up to Ada County Jail.”
The Idaho Legislature just wrapped a special session, this one too marked by arrests. It took more this time to get to that point.
The session was called by Governor Brad Little to consider expanding voting places and safety for the November general election, and limiting legal liability for organizations that expose people to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the real action, not in the call and therefore surely invalid, concerned an effort to overturn the governor’s health safety orders relating to the pandemic.
Support for that idea roared forward. Robert Jones of Nampa expressed the sensibility: “We are allowed to get sick if we want. We are allowed to do whatever we want as long as we’re not harming anybody else, but you guys have forgotten that.” He seems to have forgotten that he has no right to harm other people by making them sick, in the process of doing “whatever we want”; and that Idaho is a Covid-19 hotspot with more than 30,000 cases reported, and still growing fast.
A crowd of pro-Covid protesters, led by celebrity provocateur Ammon Bundy, poured into the Statehouse, pushed their way past guards and law enforcement and smashed a glass door to get into the Idaho House, as one of them brandished an assault-style rifle as legislators looked on. Some social distancing had been required; that was abandoned. The legislature originally required social distancing in the galleries; that was done away with to accommodate the protesters. The protesters packed committee meetings and shouted and yelled there, too.
They shouted and yelled during the proceedings. Representative Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, whose husband is in fragile health - as she pointed out - said she was concerned that people there wear masks and behave to help keep people healthy. You might not have thought this would be a controversial statement, but no: She was booed.
Judiciary Committee Chair Greg Chaney remarked, “I'm not sure precisely what their goal is, but I'm absolutely sure that the two individuals whom I asked to leave were intending to create a scene. At times in the last 24 to 36 hours, this building has descended into complete chaos, and the only way to make sure that all citizens feel comfortable coming here to be heard is to make sure that we don't allow rule deviations in general.”
A tweet from Representative Ilana Rubel, D-Boise: “This special session may be the worst super-spreader event since COVID hit Idaho. Hundreds packing into closed spaces with no masks. How will we ever get our kids back to school if our government actively makes community spread worse?”
It took a while. The chaos continued through the first day. Finally, on the second chaotic day, Bundy and a few others were arrested. He had returned to the Statehouse after arrest 1 and again, breaking the rules of the place, was arrested and this time ordered not to return for a year.
Do you think that will stop him from returning next session?
It’s hard to see why it would. He successfully turned the place upside down for a couple of days before being thrown out. His crew delivered far more disruption and damage than any outside group probably ever has at the Idaho Statehouse, vastly more than the protesters of 2014 and 2015, and paid little price for it.
Simply, the standards were different for them than for the protesters of a half-dozen years ago. Were they helped by showing up armed? (Did they succeed in intimidating the Idaho state government?) Or were their politics of the preferred sort? Any other reasons for different treatment come to mind?