Idaho has had a law since 1927 against groups of armed men marching in parades, unless they are recognized veterans’ groups.
But it’s probably unenforceable because it comes close to violating the constitutional right to peaceful association, Deputy Attorney General William Von Tagen told the Human Rights Commission on Saturday.
The state’s best weapon against terrorists and terrorism groups is the 1986 Domestic Terrorism Law, he said. It and other laws will be enforced against anyone who violates them, no matter what their motives.
“We will enforce the laws of the state of Idaho regardless of what group is involved,” he said.
The 1927 law was passed when the Ku Klux Klan was very active, Von Tagen said. In a curious exception, Boy Scouts were allowed to march with firearms, but only on Decoration Day, now Memorial Day.
When The Order, a violent offshoot of white supremacist organizations, was active in the mid-1980s, the Legislature passed the Domestic Terrorism statute.
It stresses that people have the right to assemble, and keep and bear arms. “But that right doesn’t extend to conspiracies to commit illegal acts of violence,” Von Tagen said.
It bars people from assembling for training in firearms and explosive use, he said, if the intent is to commit civil disorder. A violation can bring a prison term up to 10 years and fine up to $50,000.
Von Tagen said people have the right to assemble and discuss their concerns. Society should encourage them to engage in peaceful political discussions, he said.
But the state can’t take “offensive” action to head off perceived threats from militias or other groups, he said.
“That is not the business of the attorney general or the state to break these groups up,” he said. “If you take away their ability for peaceful discussion, what options are you leaving them?”
He said if militia or other groups start making racist remarks or specific threats of violence, “then these groups will come under increasing scrutiny.”
Von Tagen said the North Idaho white supremacy organization Aryan Nations came in for close attention when reports surfaced of training in how to destroy a city’s sewer system.
“I have not seen rhetoric of that type from militia groups in the state,” he said.
He said there’s always a “potential for anarchy” when people with very strongly held beliefs are armed and feel they must defend themselves.