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Eye On Boise

After prodding from Otter and reminder of Idaho’s experience, Labrador breaks silence, condemns racist violence

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By Betsy Z. Russell

BOISE - Asked about the racist violence in Charlottesville, Gov. Butch Otter on Tuesday recalled Idaho’s own experience with neo-Nazi white supremacists, when the Aryan Nations was headquartered in North Idaho – and called on Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, who had remained mum for three days, to join the other three members of Idaho’s congressional delegation in denouncing white supremacist violence.

On Tuesday evening, Labrador did so, breaking his silence with a statement that said, in part, “As an American I abhor and condemn the violence, racism and bigotry we saw in Charlottesville. Racism and bigotry in all of their forms are abhorrent. In fact, I don’t know of an Idahoan who thinks otherwise.”

Otter recalled Idaho’s difficult experinence with white supremacists. “We’ve not new to that – we’ve had those problems in Idaho before,” he said, “and fortunately, for the most part I think we dealt with it in the right way. They weren’t welcome here. They went beyond the line.”

He noted that after members of the Aryan Nations attacked a mother and son who were driving past their compound north of Hayden Lake, they were taken to court and “they lost all their assets.” The lawsuit bankrupted the Aryan Nations, which lost not only its compound, but even the right to its name; the compound was purchased by humanitarian Greg Carr, who donated it to North Idaho College for a natural peace park.

Idaho also reacted to the group’s activities and presence by forming still-vibrant human rights advocacy groups and passing strong hate-crime legislation.

“Both as a population and as a government, I think we made a very firm statement that we’re not going to tolerate that in Idaho,” Otter said.

He praised Sen. Mike Crapo and 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson for their strong, prompt statements on social media on Sunday condemning racist violence and white supremacy; Sen. Jim Risch followed with a similar statement on Monday, but Labrador didn’t respond to repeated inquiries from Idaho reporters about his thoughts on the events, and his staff didn’t return reporters’ calls and emails. Labrador issued his statement after the close of business on Tuesday.

“I’m not going to try to put either words or intent into Labrador’s silence,” Otter said, “but I would just say that you’ve got to keep asking him. I’m sure in my heart of hearts – I don’t think he likes it any more than anyone else. What the rest of the delegation has done, I think it makes a strong statement for Idaho. As a congressman, I believe he should make a statement.”

Labrador represents Idaho’s 1st District, which includes North Idaho. He is currently running for governor. He, like Otter and the rest of the congressional delegation, is a Republican.

In his Tuesday evening statement, Labrador said it’s “not my style” to “insert myself into national tragedies,” but said “since some seem intent on pulling me into their discussion,” he’d address it. A native of Puerto Rico, Labrador said the issue is “very personal for me. I suspect I am the only member of the delegation or statewide political figure who knows what it is like to be juidged, to be overlooked, to be pushed aside solely due to how I look, how I sound or what I believe. It is one of the main reasons I entered public service. I want to make sure every Idahoan has what I had: An opportunity to succeed regardless of their station in life at birth.”

He added, “I detest white supremacy as much as I detest black nationalism and other forms of identity politics. … I am proud to say that the vast majority of Idahoans have always judged me by the content of my character rather than the color of my skin. … We must stop dividing our nation and our people along ethnic, racial, social and political lines.”

Prior to his Tuesday evening statement, Labrador’s last public comment was on Saturday, just before 7 p.m., when he posted this on his campaign Facebook page: “Another great week on the campaign trail! Thanks to Rep. Bryan Zollinger and his wife Shara for hosting us in Idaho Falls. And we had wonderful stops in the Magic Valley in Jerome County and Twin Falls. Our momentum is building!”

That was five hours and 40 minutes after a 20-year-old white nationalist demonstrator with an affinity for Nazism crashed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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