Vincent James (l) Brent Regan (c) David Reilly (r)

Gregory Johnston/Shutterstock The Red Elephants - Vincent James/YouTube Idaho Dispatch/YouTube (Licensed)

‘You have to take the little towns first’: White nationalism infiltrates Idaho Republicans, where the ‘Christian Taliban’ is gaining influence

'A weird mix of like Nazis and granola hippies.'

 

Claire Goforth

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Posted on Jan 16, 2024   Updated on Jan 18, 2024, 9:44 am CST

“So this place is Satan’s temple,” Dan Gookin said ironically. The cozy confines of the pub in downtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho don’t bear any resemblance to a place for worshiping anything but a cold pint or bangers and mash.

Gookin explained that they used to have a poster for “Menstruatin’ with Satan,” a fundraiser for menstrual supplies organized by the Satanic Temple of Idaho. The Satanic Temple is a non-theistic organization that encourages benevolence and empathy, rejects tyranny, and advocates for bodily autonomy. In recent years, it’s become best known for fighting for reproductive freedom. Members don’t worship or even believe in Satan.

Nevertheless, it drives conservative Christians wild.

Gookin has a frank manner and strong, clear voice. He tends to speak quickly with a serious delivery belied by the occasional flash of a dry wit. On an evening in late November, he said the poster convinced some local right-wingers that the pub is affiliated with the dark lord, a ridiculous, inaccurate assumption that’s also convenient for his purposes. They won’t step foot in the place.

“We had campaign meetings here because we knew that there would be no spies,” Gookin said. “…See, we can talk freely in here because we know there will never be a wacko anywhere near us.”

The “whackos” are the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee (KCRCC) and their allies. Gookin, a conservative best known nationally for creating the For Dummies books, is a longtime city councilman and KCRCC member. These days he’s persona non grata with the committee, not that he seems to mind.

“They didn’t count on me calling them out,” Gookin said on a recent episode of his YouTube show, Kootenai Rants.

Idaho Republicans are in the midst of a civil war between the far-right wing and relative moderates like Gookin. In recent years, far-right extremists have moved to the heavily white and conservative state as part of an ideological migration that accelerated during the pandemic. Far-right comedian Owen Benjamin now lives about an hour-and-a-half north of Coeur d’Alene.

Rather than reject the extremists, some powerful Republicans have embraced the Holocaust deniers and white nationalists who’ve made Idaho their home. This outrages many longtime locals of the county that famously defeated the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations decades ago. Gookin and other conservatives are fighting back in the press, election booth, and courts.

It’s an uphill battle; the opposition is well-funded, organized, and willing to get its hands dirty. It even has a network of print and online publications steadily pumping propaganda into the information ecosystem.

This story is part of a series exploring far-right figures’ and groups’ impact on communities they’ve relocated to in Idaho, West Virginia, Florida, and Maine; and what, if anything, those communities are doing about it. The Daily Dot spent the last several months visiting these communities, talking to locals, consulting historic and public records, and interviewing experts on extremism.

As the 2024 election approaches, the far-right will become more visible and vocal.

Former President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory emboldened the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who coalesced at the deadly Unite the Right rally. His 2020 defeat inspired militias, conspiracy theorists, and hate groups to attack democracy. Both corresponded with increases in hate, antisemitism, and white supremacy that came screaming from the internet into the real world.

They may have failed on Jan. 6, 2021, but they’re back, mobilized, and ready to fight. Seizing control of places like Coeur d’Alene is one of the ways they’re plotting their comeback.

Gookin isn’t cowed. “We need to fight this.”

White supremacy in the Pacific Northwest

The week after Thanksgiving, Coeur d’Alene was decked out in 1.5 million holiday lights sparkling off the lake and into the darkness beyond. Business was in full swing in the town of 55,000. Each night sold-out boats took excited children to see Santa Claus while adults packed into warm bars and restaurants for a bite and a bit to take the edge off.

Washington is less than an hour west and in another political world compared to Idaho, one of the most consistently Republican states in America. More Idahoans voted for Trump in 2020 than 2016. The state hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson, and it chose Richard Nixon (R) over John F. Kennedy (D) in the election before that.

It’s also a longtime harbor for racists.

From the mid-1970s to the turn of the century, the white supremacist Aryan Nations had a 20-acre compound in Kootenai County, which encompasses Coeur d’Alene. Aryan Nations declared bankruptcy following a $6.3 million verdict against it in a case brought by a mother and son who were shot at and beaten by its security guards.

Fluffy white snow blanketed Coeur d’Alene as Kate Bitz, 38, recalled hearing stories about all-ages punk shows turning into brawls when skinheads showed up and seeing news coverage of white supremacists marching down Sherman Avenue when she was growing up just across the border in Washington. On outings to Farragut State Park, they’d sometimes have to “make a snap decision if the guys with the white power tattoos are showing up, do we leave and give them the whole beach, or stay.“

Idaho white supremacists
Claire Goforth

Growing up in a hotbed of extremism led Bitz to a career opposing it. She works for the advocacy nonprofit Western States Center.

Bitz isn’t surprised that the far-right is resurging. Idaho is the longtime home of a variety of extremists, ranging from evangelicals to neo-Nazis. “People forget how multifaceted it was,” she said, adding, “This has all happened before in a different form.”

Extremist groups have been active in Idaho for decades, Bitz said. For example, Northwest Front was described by Politico as “America’s worst racists” in 2015; racist mass murderer Dylann Roof highlighted the group in his manifesto. Northwest Front has been encouraging people to move to the Pacific Northwest to create a white ethno-state for years. American Redoubt, which has been described as white Christian nationalist (it identifies as a “non-racist” “preparedness movement” for “Christian patriots”), has been recruiting people to move to the area for over a decade. Idaho GOP Chair Dorothy Moon is a member of the far-right John Birch Society.

Now there’s a new crop of extremists.

David Reilly and Vincent James Foxx are two of the most notorious newcomers in Idaho politics. They’re part of far-right efforts to take control from the bottom up via the “precinct strategy” championed by Steve Bannon. Both are affiliated with white nationalist Nick Fuentes. Reilly has professed being a fan of Fuentes’ and reportedly attended his CPAC alternative, America First Political Action Conference. Foxx is the national treasurer of Fuentes’ America First organization.

Reilly became the focus of a scandal about his attendance of Unite the Right in 2017. He subsequently resigned from his father’s radio station where he was a host. InvestigateWest reports he sported a pin with the logo of the neo-Nazi Identity Evropa to the rally. In his resignation letter, Reilly denied being racist, white supremacist, or a neo-Nazi. A judge later threw out his lawsuit against a Pennsylvania-based news outlet and individuals he claimed had defamed him by calling him racist.

In recent years, Reilly called himself a Fuentes “stan.” Reilly is also purportedly an ally of the Unite the Right marcher best known for the catchphrase “Hitler did nothing wrong.” He has a lengthy history of antisemitic posts on X, formerly known as Twitter. Reilly did not respond to interview requests.

Reilly made his way to Idaho a few years ago.

In 2021, Reilly sought a seat on an Idaho school board, which he lost with 47% of the vote. (KCRCC endorsed him.) During the campaign, a group from his Pennsylvania hometown urged people to vote against him because of his involvement in Unite the Right.

“When Reilly left our community, he acknowledged himself, ‘not even McDonald’s would hire [him].’ Please consider if you, the voter, would want to hire Reilly to create policy for your schools,” Bloomsburg Stand Against Hate wrote.

He didn’t have as much trouble finding employment in Idaho.

During his failed 2022 gubernatorial campaign, anti-government militant Ammon Bundy paid $30,000 to a firm the Inlander reports was linked to Reilly. KCRCC also paid Reilly’s company $11,000 for videos.

Bitz said of KCRCC Chair Brent Regan’s association with the men, “I think he sees Reilly and Vincent James as his pet white nationalists who he can push consulting money to during elections.”

Regan did not respond to interview requests.

In December, InvestigateWest reported that Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), which Regan also chairs, employs Reilly to help with its communications strategy. The piece noted that Reilly has claimed Jews “invented terrorism” and “control the media.”

In response to the story, Regan penned an op-ed claiming he has no authority over IFF’s hiring decisions and claiming its Jewish president, Wayne Hoffman, interviewed Reilly. “I believe it is fair to say that Wayne Hoffman’s sensitivity to anti-Semitism is greater than mine so that if he is okay with Reilly, so am I and so should you,” Regan wrote. He also denied that Reilly is antisemitic or a white supremacist.

Regan’s editorial made no mention of Unite the Right.

Last week, amid rising criticism, IFF announced that Hoffman had been replaced with a far-right former lawmaker. It did not say if Hoffman quit or was fired.

Holocaust denier Foxx is another white nationalist who found more welcoming pastures in Idaho in recent years. In 2017, ProPublica described Foxx as “a 31-year-old video blogger and livestreamer with a fondness for white supremacists and radical right-wing politics.” It reported that Foxx was essentially an unofficial propagandist for Rise Above Movement (RAM), a violent, racist group at the center of much of the violence at Unite the Right. Three members were convicted for violence they committed at Unite the Right.

He didn’t merely document RAM’s violence, per ProPublica. The outlet reports that Foxx could be heard screaming, “Get that f*cking cuck!” in a YouTube video he posted of a RAM member and several others pummeling a man in California. Identity Evropa founder Nathan Damigo fought alongside RAM that day.

In 2021, Foxx moved from California to Idaho.

He was photographed with then-Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R); Media Matters for America reported he said he had “deep connections” to her. Last January, he gave a speech to a group of north Idaho Republicans in which the Southern Poverty Law Center reports he echoed the racist great replacement conspiracy theory that whites are being intentionally displaced by nonwhite immigrants. In September, a former school board member who was once a KCRCC committeewoman claimed he said political leaders convinced him to move there.

Since becoming an Idahoan, Foxx has continued to espouse white nationalist talking points. He did not respond to interview requests.

Foxx is the national treasurer of Fuentes’ America First organization. In 2022, Foxx gushed “great clip!!” of a video of Ye (formerly Kanye West) praising Hitler. After Fuentes infamously had dinner with Trump, Foxx bragged, “We have in fact infiltrated the mainstream flank of the GOP. Just look at what Tucker Carlson is talking about lately. … We have parts of the nation talking about secession, talking about banning gay marriage.” Last month, Foxx posted a video of actor Michael Rapaport claiming people would be thrown off a building for asking where to find an LGBTQ business in Gaza. Foxx captioned it, “Wait a minute. Do I love Gaza now??!”

Right Wing Watch unearthed a video of him saying, “We are the Christian Taliban and we will not stop until The Handmaid’s Tale is a reality and even worse than that.”

Last year, Foxx ran for chair of the Idaho Young Republicans. In his pitch for votes, he advocated using the precinct strategy to install extremists in positions throughout the state.

He lost.

People agree that Foxx and Reilly are just the tip of the spear.

An attack on Pride

Sarah Lynch is the executive director of North Idaho Pride Alliance (NIPA). Over coffee at Evans Brothers Coffee, a cheerful space on the same street where white supremacists used to march during Aryan Nations’ heyday, Lynch said after she and her wife moved to the area, she noticed it was “a weird mix of like Nazis and granola hippies.”

The darker side of the picturesque town was front and center in June 2022 when 31 members of the white nationalist Patriot Front were arrested en route to Pride in the Park in Coeur d’Alene.

The incident stunned the nation. Patriot Front is one of the most active white supremacist groups in America and it often posts photos of its activities in Idaho. But a few dozen men in riot gear in the back of a U-Haul is a significant escalation from sneaking around at night to spray paint stencils and hang banners, which the hate group usually sticks to.

All the men were charged with conspiracy to riot; many have been convicted or pled guilty since then. Charges were dismissed against Patriot Front leader Thomas Rousseau last fall.

Police officers were doxed and received death threats after the arrests. Police Chief Lee White told media that they got 100 calls afterward—half from supporters and half from critics.

Idaho white supremacists
North Idaho Pride Alliance Executive Director Sarah Lynch described the area as a “weird mix of like Nazis and granola hippies.”

While Patriot Front generated headlines and fear, Lynch said it could’ve been much worse. 

“Despite all the hateful rhetoric that was going on last year, and despite the events that occurred, we still had our largest ever Pride in the Park. It was our first one back since COVID, there were over 2,500 people there,” Lynch said.

Lynch, a retired veteran with a Ph.D. in public safety, said that they’d established a communication line with law enforcement before the event, which has strengthened with time. The arrests also spurred some local and state officials to publicly support LGBTQ equality. Mayor Jim Hammond (R) declared June as Pride Month. Weeks before Lynch sat down for coffee, Hammond was named a “Pillar of Idaho” for his public stance against extremism.

These developments may have some feeling optimistic, but it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows in Kootenai County.

Lynch said some families with queer children have moved away; others have said their queer adult relatives won’t even come home for Thanksgiving because they don’t feel safe there.

She described the homophobic and transphobic segment of the extreme far-right as a “very loud minority.”

“As long as nobody else stands up and says anything, then that’s the only narrative that’s heard,” she said.

Several years ago, Army veteran Sam Rowland moved back to the area where he was born. Rowland, a musician, has a thick red beard and eyes that seem older than his 39 years. He did a couple tours in Iraq; he said Coeur d’Alene reminded him of the small town in Saudi Arabia where he grew up.

“Then 2020 happened and it exposed itself.” He paused. “It re-exposed itself.”

During the civil rights protests inspired by George Floyd’s murder, people took to the streets of Coeur d’Alene to “protect” the community from “antifa.” Photos from the publication that Reilly purportedly runs show heavily armed men, most of whom appear to be white, gathered on the sidewalk downtown.

Rowland said some wore insignias identifying themselves as members of militia-type groups like the III Percenters. “Prominent white supremacists were out there,” he said. “…I was followed home.”

He and others said that churches in the area have become breeding grounds for extremism, with pastors making little to no effort to separate politics from theology.

Rowland sees what’s happening in Coeur d’Alene as part of a larger strategy. “You have to take the little towns first,” he said.

“It appears that they would like to have it turned into a very conservative quasi-religious institution that still has the benefit of public funding.”

A large “Coeur d’Alene rejects hate” sign hangs in the window of Crown & Thistle Pub. Jennifer and Ben Drake spent years making plans for the British-style pub, which served its first half-pint in 2019. Every detail, from the cask ales to the 120-year-old bar and the menu, which includes bangers made by Ben and a delectable Guinness short rib pie, is designed to make you feel like you’re steps away from London Bridge, albeit in a snug in northern Idaho. (A snug is an enclosed booth from when it was faux pas for women to be seen drinking alcohol in public.)

Jennifer’s family has been in Coeur d’Alene for five generations. Running the Crown & Thistle in her hometown is the fulfillment of a dream first glimpsed attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. It’s come with nightmares that have nothing to do with Scotch eggs or ales.

She’s the type of person who stands up for what she thinks is right. Rejecting hate aligns with those values.

Over the din of the suppertime crowd on a snowy Friday night in December, Ben said they originally put up an 8 ½” x 11” sign. Then, he said, “We started getting hate mail.”

They brushed it off, deciding to increase the size of the sign each time they received another hateful missive.

When she was a kid, Jennifer said the town was united against the Aryan Nations. Now they’re divided between people who fall in line and those who take a stand.

Both Drakes are Republicans. Yet they’ve ended up on the opposite side of Regan and the party’s radical flank.

“They’ve infiltrated the community to the point that they say they are the community,” Jennifer said.

The incidents, Jennifer said, escalated gradually. People call them liberals online. They dogpile the pub with one-star reviews. “Insane” misinformation floats from the internet to the streets.

“They honestly think I’m a Satan-worshiping communist witch,” Jennifer said in a pained voice. “And it’s too much for me. I’m Lutheran. I’m tired.”

Lawsuits everywhere

As chair of both IFF and KCRCC, Brent Regan is a powerful force in Idaho politics. IFF rates politicians based on their voting records; the more conservative, the higher the rating. KCRCC recruits and endorses candidates. These efforts have been effective. Various positions of power in Kootenai County are now held by people who score high on IFF’s ideological purity tests and have the KCRCC stamp of approval.

Several people said that the candidates might check the “right” boxes, but they can struggle to govern effectively. They pointed to North Idaho College (NIC), whose board is under far-right control.

NIC has been hemorrhaging money since they took over. Worse, the 90-year-old community college’s accreditation is hanging by a thread.

A bust of Patrick Stewart circa Star Trek gazed down from the shelf in Dan English’s office at Healing Hearts, the mental healthcare clinic he runs with his wife. A quilt hangs on the wall by his desk; English mentioned with endearing husbandly pride that his wife made it. Bagpipes softly played holiday music as English shared memories of the town where he was born and raised.

English, the lone Democrat on the city council, has been an elected official in Coeur d’Alene for 30 years. He previously served on the school board and as clerk-auditor. He describes himself as an “election geek” who enjoys crunching data. The numbers from 2020 were extremely illuminating to him.

“Eighty-five-plus [percent] had been a registered voter here less than like, you know, two years or four years or something. So it’s no wonder they have a hard time passing bonds for schools,” he said.

English said that some of the transplants are from the extreme right and others are more traditional conservatives. The newcomers include a lot of retired police, so many from Los Angeles, in fact, that the area is sometimes called “LAPD North.” There’s also a contingent of liberals. The combination creates what he calls a “weird melting pot.”

It pains him to see his hometown torn apart by politics.

“The sad part is how much time, energy, and financial resources is wasted over these ideology battles, or just people’s inflated ego, like the college,” English said.

Idaho white supremacists
Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Dan English (D) said it’s “sad” to see how much money, time, and effort are being wasted on “ideology battles.”

After the far-right took over NIC’s board, it fired the college president, who sued for wrongful termination and received a $500,000 settlement. NIC later put his replacement on leave; a court in a separate lawsuit determined this was without cause and ordered it to reinstate him and for the school to pay his attorney’s fees.

Between litigation with the president it was deemed to have placed on leave without cause and a separate case the local newspaper brought over public records (NIC lost that too), attorneys’ fees, travel costs for officials from the accreditation agency, and training for the board itself, the Coeur d’Alene Press reports that it’s spent $1.2 million. An Idaho Statesman columnist recently referred to this as an “incompetence tax.”

Now English says NIC can’t afford the light bill to keep the library open a few extra hours on Sundays.

“It’s ironic that people get elected are a lot of those, anti-education, anti-science, and yet they want to be in positions of monitoring educators,” he said. “It appears that they would like to have it turned into a very conservative quasi-religious institution that still has the benefit of public funding.”

Education has been thrust into the forefront of the conservative culture wars across the country.

KCRCC candidates won control of the library board last year by campaigning on reducing children’s access to sexually explicit books. During the campaign, KCRCC reportedly circulated a letter falsely accusing the incumbents of giving kids access to “graphic books with text and pictures describing every imaginable sex act,” books “so explicit that if you were to give them to a child, you would be committing a crime.”

They may have gone too far. The two women who allege they were smeared—a lawyer and a longtime member of the library board—are suing Regan and KCRCC for defamation.

City councilman Gookin is also wrapped up in a defamation suit with KCRCC. It’s suing him over what he characterizes as “mean tweets.” KCRCC claims that Gookin “has demonstrated profound ill will and malice toward many KCRCC officers and affiliated candidates—in particular, KCRCC’s chairman, Brent Regan” on his YouTube show, Kootenai Rants, and posts on X.

“The KCRCC appreciates that Gookin is entitled to engage in speech that is protected by the First Amendment,” the complaint states. “However, his recent statements have crossed the line from protected speech into unprotected defamation because they accuse KCRCC of rigging its 2023 candidate ‘rating and vetting’ process, perpetrating a fraud on its members, and violating campaign finance laws—things which simply have not happened.”

Gookin views their case as an attack on his free speech right to criticize them. He seems eager to have his day in court.

“It’s ping-pong time,” he said in an email earlier this month.

Gookin describes the political migrants who are pushing Idaho further to the right as people who were “p*ssed off” living in more liberal areas. He said this migratory pattern accelerated during the pandemic because they thought they’d have more freedom there. (The libertarian Cato Institute actually ranks Idaho 49th in personal freedom.)

But it didn’t absolve their anger.

“They hate our governor. They hate our legislators. They hate elected officials like me, they hate people who’ve made it a conservative state,” Gookin said. “And they want to replace them with their own people who, like we see in Washington, D.C., are incompetent and incapable of governing.”

Gookin said such people vote for candidates who don’t have any real goals, instead spending their campaigns and, if they win, terms in office spewing “Fox News talking points.”

Gookin is sick of it. So are a lot of conservatives in the area. They’ve formed the North Idaho Republicans to challenge Regan and his allies. KCRCC endorsed the candidate who ran against Gookin in the recent election. Gookin won, but the battle continues.

As Gookin prepared to leave the Crown & Thistle, a long-haired man approached to shake his hand. “Thank you for being a voice of reason,” Dave Beach, one of Coeur d’Alene’s few Democrats, said to Gookin, adding, “I don’t always agree with you.”

Gookin thanked him and hurried out into the night that would bring the first snow of the year. He didn’t want to be late for the North Idaho Republicans meeting.

Read the entire Naziland series
VDARE Publisher Lydia Brimelow and VDARE Editor Peter Brimelow
Vincent James (l) Brent Regan (c) David Reilly (r)
christopher pohlhaus
John Minadeo in front of signs hung on highway that read 'end Jewish supremacy in America' and 'Honk if you know its the Jews'

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*First Published: Jan 16, 2024, 12:00 am CST