A rally held by a militia group on the Capitol steps last week, in which several Idaho elected officials participated, should be cause for alarm throughout the Gem State.
As captured on a video shared by The Real Three Percent of Idaho, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, an Idaho Falls resident, administered an impromptu oath to attendees of the rally. She noted that in her time as lieutenant governor, she had administered similar oaths to Idaho senators.
But the oath she administered was not taken from Idaho Code 59-401, the oath of office given to elected officials. It was an abridged form of the oath outlined in Idaho Code 46-202 — the oath given to members of the state militia, that is, to members of the Idaho National Guard. This time, she administered the oath to a group of armed men who argue the government has become tyrannical, an ideology that has sparked terrorism and violence.
McGeachin did this during a brief period during which she was the acting governor because Gov. Brad Little was out of state. Even if the oath she administered as the acting governor has no legal effect, it may well serve to embolden and legitimize a militia movement that has shown a willingness to take up arms against the government.
There have long been indications that McGeachin has close connections to the Real Three Percenters. When she showed up for debates, she had a security detail, one of whom had a visible Three Percenter tattoo. When the Idaho Statesman asked McGeachin for information about who was providing her security, her campaign flatly refused to release any details.
Last month, McGeachin released a posed photo of herself and two men flashing Three Percenter hand signs while wearing prison garb, a measure meant to advocate for the release of Todd Engel, a militiaman who was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison stemming from his involvement in the 2014 Bunkerville standoff.
At the same rally, Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, gave a speech to the militia rally that went immediately off the rails. Though Christensen declared that he was not speaking as a state representative, elected office is not some hat he can take off whenever he feels like it.
Christensen has his own ties to the Real Three Percenters, having caused controversy by calling for the boycott of a Boise restaurant that he felt treated himself and his militia dining companions rudely.
Christensen compared the state and federal government to King George, which within the context of a rally held to remember the beginning of the Revolutionary War, cast them as a legitimate target for revolutionary action. He declared the members of the Legislature and state government “tyrants.” He declared that the government is “drifting dangerously from freedom to fascism.”
He said that he and others in the Three Percenter movement have been labeled “rebels,” “traitors” and “extremists,” labels he was happy to self-apply.
He said also proudly embraced the title “enemy of the state.”
“I would be remiss not to be the enemy of the state that so blatantly tramples our freedoms,” he said.
And his speech was laced with vague, inchoate calls to action from the armed group.
“It is time we meet oppression with resistance,” he said.
“The passion of our hearts will be raised with our fist,” he said.
“I will be the first one to step out of these Capitol walls and stand with you when the time is right,” he declared. “They cannot stop us.”
When the time is right — for what, precisely? To once again level firearms at federal law enforcement officers, as the leader of the Real Three Percenters and emcee of the rally, Eric Parker, infamously did during the Bunkerville standoff? To again seize public buildings, as happened during the Malheur standoff? Something worse?
It’s less than two years since Jerry Drake Varnell, a man who cited Three Percenter ideology and said he wanted to kick off “the next revolution,” was arrested by undercover FBI agents for plotting to blow up a bank in Oklahoma City with a van loaded with a half-ton of explosives.
Was there another Parker in that crowd, someone who has been administered an oath by the acting governor to fight “enemies, foreign and domestic” and convinced by a sitting representative that the government has become genuinely tyrannical, who will feel justified to train a gun on law enforcement officers?
Or, worse, was there another Varnell, or another Timothy McVeigh, who could be driven by antigovernment ideology to terrorism?
Let’s hope not. Because if there were, McGeachin and Christensen encouraged them.
“Is it that time, when our Bill of Rights is defiled every day? When tyrants inside these walls trample our God-given rights?” Christensen said on the steps of the Capitol where he just finished his first legislative session.
Varnell believed it was that time. So did McVeigh.
This is not an abstract threat but a concrete, growing one. The Anti-Defamation League reports that right-wing extremist killings rose last year to the highest level since 1995 — the year McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City.
The way McGeachin and Christensen behaved was shockingly irresponsible. (That’s especially true of McGeachin, an experienced politician who has already faced controversy for her involvement with Three Percenters and is only a heartbeat away from the governor’s office.) Their connections to the militia movement should make every law-abiding citizen of Idaho think hard about who they put in office.