On Saturday, the Idaho Freedom Foundation intends to stage its next rally at the Idaho Capitol.
It’s the group’s latest protest against Gov. Brad Little’s stay-at-home order, a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But embedded in the promotion is this: The Freedom Foundation wants to party — replete with refreshments, music and a comedian.
The IFF calls it a “celebration of business and freedom.”
Talk about a weird time to take a victory lap.
As late as April 16, even its critics could not deny the Freedom Foundation a grudging respect for the skillful way it manipulated Republican politicians.
The following day, the IFF launched what has come to be known as its “Disobey Idaho” campaign with a Statehouse rally that recklessly ignored the public health. About 1,000 people mingled at a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols limited gatherings to no more than 10. There was no social distancing. Children were present. And participants followed an organizer’s mantra to avoid wearing facemasks and gloves.
With a highly contagious virus spread by asymptomatic carriers, inadequate testing and no contact tracing, it’s a reasonable bet they caused even more infections.
That was only the beginning:
l April 21 — After protester Sara Brady goaded a Meridian police officer to arrest her at a closed city park playground, the Freedom Foundation staged a spontaneous protest in that community. Later, an IFF staffer posted the arresting officer’s name and face on Facebook, encouraging people to “Let the Meridian Police Department know how you feel.”
Encouraged or not by the post, Freedom Foundation ally Ammon Bundy of Emmett led a group of followers to the police officer’s home.
At about the same time, Parish Miller — who is listed as the Freedom Foundation’s Freedom Index analyst — began posting his own comments. As the Idaho Falls Post Register’s Bryan Clark noted Wednesday, Miller’s rants, which continued into the following day, included references to “Nazi collaborators in Meridian,” and suggested: “Just remember, shooting someone who is attempting to kidnap you is always justified.”
Then on Friday, Brady apologized to Meridian police: “I let the stress of me being in a house with my four young kids, one with special needs, get the best of me that day.”
Left holding the bag were the guys who accused the Meridian police of wrongdoing.
l April 22 — With the Freedom Foundation’s encouragement, about 40 people protested the city of Boise’s decision to remove basketball rims and hoops from city parks. Can you think of a better way to spread a virus than by playing dodge ball at Phillippi Park?
l Friday — Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman joined about 50 protesters at the Nez Perce County Courthouse. Again, they brushed off CDC protocols. As the Lewiston Tribune’s Joel Mills noted, the protesters avoided social distancing, shook hands and did not wear masks.
In a community with a quarter of Idaho’s COVID-19 deaths, that was hardly a good look.
l Saturday — Hoffman was disinvited from Rexburg’s protest rally, featuring Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin as its keynote speaker. Not only did organizers reject Hoffman, they turned against his methods as well. Rather than meeting openly in a park, the event took place online and protesters drove their cars past courthouses in Rexburg, Idaho Falls and Rigby.
“We just wanted to do things a little bit differently, and we have a different message,” organizer Dan Roberts told the Idaho Press of Nampa.
l Tuesday — The Idaho Statesman reported that Carrie Scheid of Idaho Falls filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the Freedom Foundation. Scheid, who had four decades of experience with nonprofits before retiring, is contesting the Freedom Foundation’s charitable status, which allows donors to deduct their contributions from income taxes. “Engaging in illegal activities and planning and sponsoring illegal activities are incompatible with IRS rules for charities,” Scheid told the Boise newspaper.
The last time anybody had a couple of weeks that bad, it was Walter Mondale contemplating how to “celebrate” his 1984 wipeout to Ronald Reagan.
But it gets worse. Not only does the Freedom Foundation find itself joined at the hip with a militia-type like Bundy, its co-sponsor for Saturday’s rally is none other than Health Freedom Idaho. At a time when the one prayer on every person’s lips these days is finding a cornonavirus vaccine, why would the Freedom Foundation tie itself to an anti-vaccine group?
So in two weeks, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has become marginalized.
Its brand has been damaged, not just with those familiar with its campaigns against regulation, Medicaid expansion and public education, but also with a broader public who until now never heard of the Freedom Foundation.
Its political acumen has been called into question.
Its means of raising money is under scrutiny.
And it finds itself identified with fringe groups.
If that’s what Freedom Foundation calls a win that should be celebrated, what in the world would it consider a loss? — M.T.