Canyon County resident John Heida recently made the beautiful state of Idaho his home. Like many who consider themselves political refugees after they could not convert their communities to match their values, Heida teamed up with the Idaho Freedom Foundation Network to promote his values to lifelong Idahoans through his group called “Stop Idaho RINOs.”
Heida recently published a series of tweets that worked to normalize extremism in Idaho. He said, “We are calling on Idahoans to crush the curve and embrace the EXTREME. Don’t let them control the narrative. Never before has it been labeled EXTREME to have patriotism and a desire to protect the young and innocent. Stay married. Have the babies. Go to church. Homeschool the kids. Protect all children. Speak the truth. Be EXTREME.”
It’s an interesting take on extremism. You see, this tweet was published in response to the creation of a new group designed to fight extremism called Idaho Leaders United.
Influential business leaders like Tommy Ahlquist and Courtney Liddiard have put their names behind this effort to educate Idahoans on extremism and it seems to have triggered people like Heida who are invested in stopping Idaho “RINOs.” If what John Heida says is true, then why would these highly successful people stake their reputations on an effort to destroy faithful Christians, parents who homeschool their kids, and those who see the LGBTQ+ community as a threat to their children?
To understand what is really going on here, we must first realize that extremism is real, and extremists often use manipulative and abusive language to normalize their behavior.
What is Extremism?
Extremism is when someone is so invested in their rigid belief in a cause or ideology that they reject any other viewpoint and are willing to use abusive and harmful tactics to shut down those they believe to be in their way. Aggressive defense of their ideology may include violence to enforce their belief system.
At its core, extremism is a refusal to accept or respect different perspectives, favoring an extreme, singular viewpoint instead. This mindset is marked by unshakeable conviction in the correctness of one’s own beliefs, viewing any disagreement not merely as wrong but as potentially dangerous or evil. Extremists rigidly cling to their ideologies, rejecting compromise and denying validity to opposing viewpoints. Their commitment can be so intense that they resort to aggression or violence to promote their beliefs.
Extremism becomes part of an extremist’s identity, and practitioners of extremism may go to great lengths to cause trauma to those around them who may disagree with their rigid ideology.
Extremism can manifest in various forms, each with distinct features, but all are equally harmful when enforced.
Here are some of the most common extremism types:
Often rooted in notions of racial superiority, ethnonationalism, and anti-government sentiments, far-right extremists staunchly oppose immigration, multiculturalism and frequently harbor anti-Semitic or Islamophobic prejudices. They might fear the loss of their cultural or ethnic identity or see themselves as defenders against an imagined ‘invasion’ or ‘takeover’ by groups who stand in their way of gaining authoritative control. Far-Right extremists often see themselves as ideologically superior and promote their efforts as standing in the gap between the people and the target they have labeled the enemy.
While far-right extremism is often rooted in preserving the status quo or returning to an idealized past, far-left extremism tends to focus on drastic societal change. They might advocate for overthrowing existing economic and social systems, which they perceive as fundamentally unjust. This can manifest in forms such as extreme socialism or anarchism. Far-Left extremists often push social justice and environmental issues to an extreme level that contains alarmist rhetoric. They might push for culture war issues well beyond the Overton window or push financially toxic policies in the name of saving the environment at the expense of humans. Opposition to these extremists leads to cancelation attempts with every effort designed to label the other side as an enemy to their version of equality and what’s best for everyone.
Rooted in dogmatic interpretations of sacred scriptures, religious extremists often believe in their doctrine’s absolute ‘truth’ and reject any differing interpretation. They might seek to implement a theocracy or religious law and are often intolerant of other religions or belief systems. When paired with political extremism, religious extremism leads to religious leaders justifying their extremism as doing “God’s will” or protecting the most vulnerable (children) from the world’s evils. This extremism is seen worldwide within the fringes of every major religion.
Remember, extremism isn’t exclusive to any one ideology or belief system. When taken to its absolute extreme, any viewpoint can lead to extremism. The key is maintaining our ability to listen, understand, and compromise, which are the cornerstones of a healthy, functioning representative democracy.
What are the Fundamentals of Extremism?
Extremism is nuanced. It does not manifest as one single thought or action. It is often rooted in one or more ideological notions and then used to inspire an action that may cause harm to others. Here are the most commonly accepted foundations of extremist ideology.
Flawed Interpretation of the Constitution: The Constitution is a living document designed to be adaptable. Some extremists may adhere to a rigid interpretation, believing that any deviation is a gross overstep of governmental power. This viewpoint can fuel anti-government sentiment and is often linked to movements like sovereign citizens or militia groups, who may believe they are the true defenders of constitutional rights.
International Shadow Groups: Conspiracy theories often feature secretive groups orchestrating global events. While these narratives can be enticing, they are usually unsupported by evidence and may breed unnecessary fear and distrust. The belief in entities such as a ‘New World Order’ or ‘Deep State’ pulling the strings fosters a worldview where hidden forces control things. Such beliefs can lead to the rejection of factual information and can often be associated with prejudiced views.
Gun Confiscation: The Second Amendment is a cornerstone of American freedom, protecting the right to bear arms. While debates on gun control are ongoing, the idea that the government plans a wholesale confiscation of firearms is typically exaggerated. Understanding the nuances of the gun control debate and recognizing fearmongering rhetoric can help maintain a balanced perspective.
Intolerance towards Diversity: Extremists often exhibit intolerance towards different beliefs, races, religions, or nationalities. This can take the form of racism, xenophobia, or religious bigotry. A healthy society values diversity and recognizes the rights of individuals to hold differing beliefs. Promoting tolerance and understanding helps to counteract the divisive narratives often propagated by extremists.
Authoritarianism: Many forms of extremism seek a strictly ordered society, often at the expense of personal freedoms and democratic values. While order is a desirable quality, an authoritarian approach often involves the suppression of dissenting voices and the concentration of power in the hands of few. Recognizing this can help prevent the gradual erosion of democratic principles.
Violence and Militancy: Extremist ideologies often justify or even glorify violence as a means to achieve their ends. However, violence rarely leads to constructive solutions. Democracies are founded on peaceful negotiation and compromise principles, which should always be the first recourse in resolving disputes.
Anti-Establishment Sentiment: While skepticism towards the government is a healthy part of democracy, some extremists harbor strong anti-establishment sentiments that can fuel discord. Constructive criticism is vital, but believing societal institutions are fundamentally corrupt can lead to unproductive cynicism and destructive actions.
Conspiracy Theories: Conspiracy theories often offer simplified answers to complex issues, making them attractive to some. However, they often rely on misinformation and can create an us-versus-them mentality. Verifying the information and seeking reliable sources is crucial before accepting such narratives.
Radical Change: Extremists often advocate for rapid, sweeping changes, sometimes at the expense of stability and safety. While change can be necessary, it’s important to remember that sustainable, effective change often requires thoughtful deliberation, broad consensus, and respect for the rights and well-being of all involved. The balance between preserving valuable traditions and pushing for necessary reforms is vital in a healthy society.
Show Me the Receipts
If we are to belive that extremism is real and exists, it is essential to see real-life examples of the foundations of extremism right here in Idaho. Let’s take a look at the receipts:
Flawed Interpretation of the Constitution
Ammon Bundy is sitting at his home right now in a self-imposed house arrest because he is determined to refuse to accept that the civil legal system we have all agreed upon is unjust and corrupt because it is being used to hold him personally accountable. Bundy has built his entire identity on the idea that the Government is illegitimate and that his interpretation of the Constitution means he can openly violate laws without consequence. He preaches his interpretive “Constitutional Sheriffs” concept that the sheriff is the highest authority in the area because the people elected them to enforce the law. He and others that follow him believe the Federal Government and its law enforcement agencies have no policing authority and must be dissolved. Bundy’s People’s Rights Network members often engage in Sovereign Citizens style actions that baffle legal experts nationwide. Ammon Bundy and his followers have their own interpretation of the Constitution that ignores reality, and they use this to convince others that the state and federal government is illegitimate.
Bundy and his People’s Rights Network have a right to believe in factually incorrect things. However, once they start terrorizing a child outside the home of a County Health District Commissioner and using kids as human shields, they have crossed the line into extremism.
International Shadow Groups
Erick Ehrlin of Greenleaf, Idaho, was sentenced to over six years in prison for unlawful possession of a firearm and threats to a federal officer in the summer of 2022. He was found with bullets with Boise Mayor Lauren McLean’s name written. Ehrlin had been radicalized by the narrative that globalists were plotting to steal his way of life and that people like the mayor of Boise, who was regularly labeled a “socialist” by liberty groups, were part of the globalist cabal.
On December 9, 2020, Josiah Colt shared an article from the Idaho Freedom Foundation that attacked the policies of the same Boise mayor. He said, “Someone needs to put this lady in a box and send her to China, where she belongs.” Twenty-eight days later, Colt was photographed inside the Capitol Senate chambers, dressed in tactical gear, sitting in Mike Pence’s chair. This early January 6th image shocked the world and embarrassed our nation as he acted upon his hatred of the “globalists” who had conspired to stop Trump from overthrowing the government. Groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation seem to have contributed to radicalizing him into believing an international shadowy conspiracy was designed to override his values. Colt now faces a 15-month federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to charges related to the insurrection.
Believing that a shadowy cabal is set on taking away one’s way of life may fall well outside the Overton window. Taking the next step to break into the US Capitol and attempting to violently overthrow the Constitutionally protected process of a peaceful transition of power is extremism.
In 2019, legislation was presented to give victims of violent crimes equal rights as the accused and give them standing in the sentencing, bail, and parole hearings. The bill was known as Marsey’s Law and has been passed in numerous Republican-controlled states. The law protects women and children who are victims of violent abuse and gives them notice when their attacker might be released from prison so they can take action to protect themselves from further abuse. The no-compromise gun rights group called the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance needed a narrative to justify its existence in one of the most gun-friendly states in the nation, so they made up a story that Marsy’s Law was backdoor legislation that could lead to gun confiscation. They knew “red flag laws” were unconstitutional in Idaho and made up a false narrative that scared legislators into killing this bill.
Extremist groups like this often use abusive language like “gun grabbers” to label their opposition and justify their existence. They continue to gaslight voters by demanding candidates back their pledge for “no red flag laws” when none can exist.
Holding an illogical and rigid no-compromise stance on gun rights falls within one’s personal liberty. Taking the next step to impose their rigid ideology through bullying and abusive confrontational tactics is extremism.
Intolerance towards Diversity
Far-right extremists often exhibit intolerance towards different beliefs, races, religions, or nationalities. This intolerance can take the form of racism, xenophobia, or religious bigotry. In 2017, a far-right extremist named James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of people protesting against white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields killed one person and injured others.
Dave Reilly, a far-right activist supported financially by KCRCC and whose propaganda website content is regularly shared by John Heida, also attended the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville with James Fields. Reilly has close ties to Nick Fuentes’ organization America First which is one the leading anti-Semitic white nationalist/supremacist organizations in the nation. Reilly and other Idaho Freedom Foundation-backed elected officials regularly publish social media posts that push racially charged attacks on immigrants and those whose sexual orientation does not align with their values.
One may hold hateful ideas of supremacy based on race, gender, religion, and nationality, and while viewed by most as racism, bigotry, and hate, it alone is not extremism. Taking the step to post deeply hurtful and abusive content online towards those with whom you disagree is extremism. Acting out on a hateful ideology to enforce one’s belief system, including escalation towards violence, is extremism.
Many forms of extremism seek a strictly ordered society, often at the expense of personal freedoms and democratic values. In 1995, a far-right extremist named Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. McVeigh was motivated by his belief that the government was too powerful and that it was necessary to overthrow it. Before McViegh murdered children, he had traveled the country looking for like-minded anti-government groups. He traveled to North Idaho and met with Chevie and Cheyne Kehoe. These infamous brothers were tied to Richard Butler and his Aryan Nations compound near Hayden Lake. On the morning of April 19th, one of the Kehoe brothers walked into a local watering hole and told them to turn on the TV because something was about to go down. Moments later, McVeigh’s bomb killed 168 people, including children.
Anti-abortion activists like Blaine Conzatti also share strict adherence to a specific order; in this instance, his interpretation of the bible is that ANY form of abortion is evil and must be legislated. His zero-tolerance policy has led to legislation that tried to eliminate personal freedoms for mothers to obtain medically necessary abortions to save their own life and eliminate the option when a rapist or their sexually abusive father has impregnated them without consent. Conzatti’s authoritarianism is widely embraced by legislators who proudly carry a 90% or higher Freedom Score from the IFF.
The idea that a group would need a manipulated scoring system to enforce its ideology is an authoritative and abusive action. The harmful enforcement of an ideology is extremism.
Violence and Militancy
In 2014, Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy, called upon militias to come to his aid as he falsely stated the government was there to steal his land and cattle. Jarred and Amanda Miller, active followers of the Constitutional Sheriffs movement (CSPOA) and the III%ers, Answered the call to arms and joined the Bundys at their standoff. Dressed in military fatigues and tactical gear, Jarred gave interviews to the press and was photographed receiving food from Ammon Bundy.
Disappointed that the standoff ended without the deaths of law enforcement officers, the Millers went back to Las Vegas. They found two North Las Vegas police officers eating lunch at Cici’s Pizza and executed them. They took their guns and draped a Gadsden and swastika flag over the officers’ bodies, walked over to the nearby Walmart, and opened fire on the innocent shoppers inside. A good guy with a concealed weapon drew down on Jarred and was killed by his wife before he could take the shot. The rampage ended when the officers’ gunfire hit Jarred, and Amanda killed herself after seeing her husband die.
Extremist rhetoric excites the delusions of dangerously unstable people and, too often, ends with the death of innocents. Too much blood has been spilled over enforcing Bundy’s extremist ideology.
While skepticism towards the government is a healthy part of democracy, some extremists harbor strong anti-establishment sentiments that can fuel discord. In August of 2020, the far-right in Idaho had latched on to multiple disinformation campaigns that whipped them into an anti-establishment frenzy.
After COVID lockdowns were lifted, narratives were crafted to give the impression that an upcoming special session would be used to push Idaho Freedom Foundation’s absurd agenda. This led to a violent mob forcing their way into the house gallery, shoving Idaho State Police, and shattering a glass door, all supporting actions they thought IFF-backed legislators would push. Followers of the far-right agenda were using the threat of force to bully legislators into doing what they wanted regardless of the consequences.
While the narratives spread by Wanye Hoffman, Redoubt News, and the rest of the IFF-connected propaganda network may have been cringeworthy and viewed as extreme, this alone did not make it extremism. The actions taken to enforce these fringe beliefs and deceptions encourage followers to be abusive to others online and, in this case, be physically abusive towards Idaho State Police.
Many saw this violent anti-establishment display as a dangerous precursor to the January 6th insurrection, where an army of MAGA anti-establishment vigilantes violently attacked capitol police officers.
Conspiracy theories often offer simplified answers to complex issues, making them attractive to some. However, they often rely on misinformation and can create an us-versus-them mentality. In 2020, a far-right extremist named Qanon spread the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump was fighting a secret war against a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles. This conspiracy theory led to violence and harassment against people seen as part of the cabal. This same conspiratorial thread has been used to paint drag queens as part of a leftist agenda to groom children so they can be sex trafficked by pedophiles.
Similar conspiracy theories led Idaho Freedom Caucus Director Maria Nate to travel to the small town of Victor, Idaho, to loudly state via a bullhorn that a local cider brewery couldn’t have her kids. Her words suggested that the private business might be harboring pedophiles, a claim she has yet to prove.
One quick glance at Maria Nate’s Twitter profile will show that she appears to have a deep-rooted hatred towards members of the LGBTQ+ community, with a special focus on transgender people. Her belief system alone may seem extreme. However, her willingness to engage in hurtful and abusive behavior toward those not sharing her beliefs is what makes her an extremist.
Critical Race Theory has existed for decades. While some argue that the push by far-left activists has caused many to believe it is a way to re-write history, many understand that there may be systematic biases built into banking, lending, and other financial institutions skewed negatively towards people of color. While these ideas had been taught in colleges for years, it had not been an important Idaho legislative issue until 2021, when they suddenly became the most crucial issue and needed to be banned via legislation. Then in 2022, Idaho had to hand out hundreds of millions of dollars to parents to spend on private Christian schools because Idaho Schools were full of leftist ideology.
Imposing potentially harmful legislation through bully tactics is a form of enforcement of ideology and is extremism.
Simultaneously the far-right instructed everyone that the same books that may or may not have been in Idaho public libraries were being used to groom children. Overnight, your friendly local librarian was part of an evil leftist plot. They should be thrown in jail or sued for any book a parent found in the library that they thought should be banned. These sudden radical changes were not driven by logic or common sense; they were packaged and shipped to Idaho from out-of-state groups with support to keep groups within the Idaho Freedom Foundation network funded and active.
Messaging and narratives that rely on dishonesty to gaslight people are abusive. Engaging in abusive behavior to achieve a victory for one’s ideology is extremism.
These examples are a mere fraction of all the abusive behavior and deeply harmful actions taken by the far-right over the past few years to enforce their ideology.
Let’s Stop the Normalization of Dangerous Extremism
My wife and I have been married for 19 years and have five children. We protect our kids and homeschool many of them. We are gun-owning Republicans who support the second amendment and regularly speak up and tell the truth.
Does that make us extremists? According to John Heida’s Stop Idaho RINOs, yes, it does.
Would this explain the death threats, the doxxing of my children on a militia Facebook page, the organized attempts to destroy my ability to provide for my family, and the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve had to spend to defend myself from Idaho’s far-right extremist actions? No, the extremists did everything they could to shut me down because I published content opposing their abusive tactics. Those connected to the Idaho Freedom Foundation network showed how far they would go to enforce their deceptive ideology and prove their extremism. I refused to allow the normalization of extremism to go unchecked.
We must do all we can to educate others of the dangers of extremism that will destroy more lives and even get innocent people killed if left unchecked.
We can work together to actually protect children, our loved ones, and our neighbors from potentially getting shot in a local Walmart by the next deranged extremist follower of the strain of extremism evangelized by those similar to Ammon Bundy and/or the Idaho Freedom Foundation Network. Idaho extremists don’t care if you or someone you know could potentially die at the hand of one of their more delusional followers. They only care about taking power by any means necessary, just as any extremist would.
The extremism we must identify and expose is the abusive and harmful actions used by those willing to silence anyone who stands up to their dangerous ideology.
We can defeat this threat to our state by first understanding the real definition of extremism and the abusive behavior extremists use to protect their rigid ideology. Then we can use this knowledge to educate others to encourage inoculation against adopting their extreme ideologies and tactics.
Take a minute to sincerely read this article and share it with your friends and family.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion article written by Gregory Graf. Opinions expressed by the author are his alone and do not reflect the views of any group or employer.
If you have questions or want to support my efforts, please contact me via Twitter @gsgraf.