In recent weeks, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has transformed itself from an ultraconservative policy advocacy organization into one whose primary purpose is encouraging violations of the law and endangering public health. Leading its Disobey Idaho campaign of intentional lawbreaking, the Idaho Freedom Foundation and its staff have become the most vocal opponents of measures that have proven successful in stemming the spread of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Civil disobedience is by definition illegal, and serious practitioners expect to go to jail for participating in it. Whether it is morally justified depends on the law being intentionally violated. When civil rights activists in the Jim Crow South stood up and broke laws enforcing racial apartheid, knowing full well they would be jailed, that was clearly justified because the law itself was manifestly unjust.
But the Idaho Freedom Foundation has chosen actions that directly endanger public health under the guise of promoting liberty, a holy concept they have thoroughly debased. They’ve held densely packed gatherings of more than 1,000 people on the Capitol steps and held dodgeball games where children come into close contact and could easily get sick. They have done everything imaginable to turn their supporters into vectors for spreading the disease.
What’s next? Robbing banks to protest the FDIC?
Every day, president Wayne Hoffman sounds less like his mentor, Ralph Smeed, and more like the Reverend Jim Jones.
Here’s the profound injustice of these actions: While many quip that the protestors should be denied treatment if they get sick, doctors and nurses are not among them. When a drunk plows his car into an electric pole, doctors and nurses treat him, attending only to the nature of his injuries and not to the fact that he caused them through his own irresponsibility. And when a protestor needs to be intubated because they selfishly engaged in behavior that caused them to catch COVID-19, doctors and nurses will do that too.
But each time health care workers engage in such lifesaving treatment they are risking their own. About one of every eight cases of COVID-19 in Idaho is a health care worker as of Thursday. Every time a protestor engages in behavior that unnecessarily raises their risk of infection, it is an attack on doctors and nurses.
This week, prodded by the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s calls for lawlessness, members of the anti-vaccination group Health Freedom Idaho tore down barriers blocking off a public playground, which had been sensibly closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When police came to ask them to leave, Sara Walton Brady yelled at the officers until they gave her a countdown to leave or be arrested. She put her hands behind her back and demanded to be cuffed. The officer obliged.
The Freedom Foundation responded by organizing roadblocks in front of the local jail. At the same time, it posted the arresting officer’s name and photo on Facebook along with the message, “Let the Meridian Police Department know how you feel” — a post which it deleted, then denied posting, then admitted to posting and deleting. The significance of doing this cannot be overstated, nor can the damage be undone by disavowing it.
Some bells you can’t unring.
In no time flat, the officer’s name and picture were being circulated among militia types and white supremacists on social media, who were describing him as a redcoat, a Nazi, a member of the STASI, and issuing thinly veiled and sometimes open threats.
Ammon Bundy’s followers took these messages to heart, showing up at the officer’s door, holding an additional protest and posting a video showing the officer’s home and street address. This action was vile.
In addition to dealing with grown women throwing temper tantrums at playgrounds, police sometimes have to arrest murderers, gang members and other extremely dangerous people. For that reason, their addresses are usually unlisted, and they often live out of town. When an officer’s address becomes public, they sometimes have to move to ensure their family’s safety.
This should be sufficient cause for Hoffman and communications director Dustin Hurst, the loudest and most visible proponents of these protests, to resign their positions. If they won’t, local members of their organization’s board of directors should take leadership into their own hands.
These recent decisions and their consequences cannot yet be laid directly on the shoulders of Idaho Freedom Foundation board members like Bryan Smith and Doyle Beck. Typically board members are not involved in day-to-day operations.
But board members are responsible for hiring and firing decisions.
Because Beck and Smith are highly public local figures extensively involved in Idaho politics, including through their leadership of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, they should state their decision publicly.
If Beck, Smith and other board members do not move to replace the leadership staff of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, they are choosing to be responsible for its recent actions: endangering children, the elderly, health care workers and police officers.
Are Beck and Smith prepared to own these acts? We offer them space on this page a week from today to state their decision and reasoning.