Albion Monitor /Commentary

The Plutonian Landscape of Idaho

by Dan Yurman

Groups like the Aryan Nations, militias, Christian Identity Movement part of a "well-oiled national structure"

Idaho's politics is like its geology. Deep beneath the surface are what vulcanologists call 'plutons' of hot magma -- named after Pluto, the Greek god of the fiery underworld -- which periodically and unpredictably erupt and cover the landscape. When that liquid fire cooled, it created the state's famous "Craters of the Moon" and the high desert's 2 million-year old cinder cones.

After roiling underground for a long time like volcanic magma, the militia movement burst explosively on the national scene with the bombing of the Federal office building in Oklahoma City last April. But like the frozen-in-time lava flows, the militia's momentum continues to show signs of cooling.

One indicator is a coalition of human rights, civil rights, and political activists that have formed an anti-extremism organization in Idaho. The purpose of the organization, says one organizer, is to pull together currently "fractured efforts" aimed at countering a "national hate movement." Participants at the coalition's first meeting held in Boise on November 3rd include the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, the Idaho Women's Network, the Ada County Human Rights Task Force, and the Idaho Democratic Party.

A coalition spokesman told the Idaho Statesman that groups like the Aryan Nations, militias, Christian Identity Movement, and the Idaho Citizens Alliance are part of a "well-oiled national structure." Mary Daley, the Northwest Coalition's project director in Idaho, said, "These [groups] may deny that they are part of any other group, but their ideology makes them part of a movement."

Idaho's militia movement was not pleased with this turn of events. Samuel Sherwood, head of the Blackfoot, ID, based U.S. Militia Association charged that human rights groups were pushing peoples' "hot buttons" to try and get press and raise money.

"Liberty of Conscience" PAC formed to fund the election of legislators sympathetic to the militia cause

Returning to plutonian processes, some have said the militia movement is like a failed star, one that could not achieve the critical mass to ignite, and in so doing, is still a rebellion and not a true political party. Perhaps with a recognition of that critique in mind, the Idaho miltiia movement has moved again in the direction of seeking to enter the poltical mainstream.

Sherwood, who last winter threatened to shoot Idaho state legislators if they didn't align themselves with his apocalyptic political views, now wants to raise money to elect them. He's formed the "Liberty of Conscience" political action committee (PAC), with the stated purpose to fund the election of legislators sympathetic to the militia cause.

The militia will also use its PAC to fund two ballot initiatives. One would outlaw abortions in Idaho, and the other would allow Sherwood's paramilitary militia to train with weapons and be legally recognized by the governor. A third initiative designed to amend the state constitution regarding freedom of religion has been ruled illegal under state law by Idaho attorney general Al Lance. For now, it's in limbo. Sherwood's intentions, as usual, are less than clear, but it is believed he is interested in challenging the line, set by the U.S. Supreme Court, which prohibits public tax dollars from being offered as vouchers for use in support of private religious or home schools. Sherwood would have to obtain over 40,000 signatures to place each initiative on the ballot and then get a majority of Idaho voters to vote yes in order to enact his initiatives into law.

In creating the PAC it would allow militia watchers like the Anti- Extremist Coalition to request names and amounts given to candidates by the PAC. State election laws would require the militia organization to submit annual reports to the Idaho Secretary of State's office. These reports would include amounts of money raised, who the funds came from, and where the funds were used. At one point Sherwood claimed to have more than 5,000 members in 12 states, but has refused to provide proof to Idaho newspapers on the grounds his members might be harassed. In August of this year, Sherwood told the Idaho Statesman his financial support was coming from 30-40 members providing $10/week.

Sherwood charged that hostility to his PAC was the work of "cloak and dagger methods used by homosexuals and socialist Democrats"

One might think that with Idaho U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth's national notoriety over her support for the militia movement that some local politicians would greet a militia PAC with open arms. However, Sherwood found fewer friends than he'd hoped for after announcing his new political initiatives.

Reaction to the formation of the militia PAC was swift and unanimous. No legislator contacted by either the Idaho Statesman or the Idaho Falls Post Register wanted anything to do with it. Idaho House Speaker Michael Simpson (R-Blackfoot) said, "When someone starts talking about shooting your local legislator I think that creates a credibility problem." What's unique about Simpson's statement is that Sherwood lives in his district. It doesn't reflect well on Sherwood's political smarts to have alienated not only his local legislator, but also the most powerful politician in the Idaho House, and all in one fell swoop.

Rep. Laid Noah (R-Kimberly) is also familiar with the militia. Since Sherwood wore out his welcome in Blackfoot, he's set up shop in Noh's district, which includes Twin Falls. Sherwood's "fashion shoot" for the national news media last August took place there. Noh told the Idaho Falls Post Register, "It would be a desperate candidate that would accept any funds from them."

Rep. Reed Hansen (R-Idaho Falls) told the paper he's willing to meet with any political group, including militias, but he won't take any guff from them. "I'll have no patience for people who question my patriotism. I won't talk to anyone who comes on like that."

As for Rep. Pete Black (D-Pocatello), he said he had not solicited any support from militia groups and didn't plan to. "I don't, and I won't," was all he would say to the press.

Sherwood charged that legislative hostility to his PAC was not the result of his famous "shoot the legislator" remark, but rather the work of "cloak and dagger methods used by homosexuals and socialist Democrats."

It's unlikely that Sherwood's broad swipe at the anti-extremism coalition will play well with the public. Human rights activists have said previously that it has been "stupifyingly obvious" for some time to most Idaho voters that Sherwood is a loose cannon. Even his erstwhile political allies, the Idaho Citizens Alliance, now rejects overtures from the militia on the grounds they are unreliable and untrustworthy. The ICA is now in the midst of its second try at fielding an anti-homosexual rights initiated ballot question for the 1996 election.

Then there is this to consider, a comment by ex-Texas Governor Ann Richards recently expressed about on the militia movement in her state. She told the Ft. Worth, TX, Telegram that there has been a decline of values in this country. She said, "There was a time . . . when the word 'crackpot' really meant something."

[Editor's note: Beginning on Sunday December 17th, most PBS television stations in the country will air "Not in Our Town" -- a story about the people of Billings, Montana and how they stood up against white supremacist hate groups.

NOT IN OUR TOWN WEEK, December 10-17, is a national campaign in conjunction with the PBS broadcast of the show aimed at increasing awareness of the threat of hate-motivated crime and how communities can respond.

For background and information sheets on the campaign, a list of national supporters, or a list of PBS air dates, visit the NOT IN OUR TOWN home page.]

Dan Yurman's reports from the High Country are archived at the Western Lands Gopher.

Albion Monitor November 14, 1995 (

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