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Speaker with controversial race theories leads to cancellation, move of Idaho Freedom Foundation annual banquet

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 17, 2017

Charles Murray, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, is the keynote speaker for the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s annual “Faces of Freedom” banquet in Boise on Aug. 26. (AEI)
Charles Murray, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, is the keynote speaker for the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s annual “Faces of Freedom” banquet in Boise on Aug. 26. (AEI)

BOISE – A major Boise convention center and hotel canceled the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s upcoming banquet – forcing a change of venue just 11 days before the event – because it learned the group’s keynote speaker was a scholar whose controversial theories on race and intelligence have drawn disruptive protests around the nation for the past six months.

“The decision to cancel the event was based solely on our responsibility for staff and guest safety,” said Kristin Jensen, a partner in Riverside Hospitality, which operates the Red Lion Riverside Hotel and Convention Center. “It was definitely not politically motivated or influenced.”

“After seeing many, many recent examples of protests and riots at Charles Murray events across the country, we knew that an incident was more than likely, and we just couldn’t take the chance,” Jensen said. “You just never know, especially with what just happened in Charlottesville.”

Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman railed against the decision on the group’s website, declaring, “Even in Idaho, the Left is successfully bullying businesses, badgering, trolling and harassing anyone who dares to contradict their progressive world view. We are but the latest victim.”

Hoffman found a new venue, the Chateau des Fleurs in Eagle, on Tuesday, the same day that the Riverside canceled the Aug. 26 banquet. The Riverside agreed to pay the $10,000 difference in cost for the higher-priced venue.

“We had a signed contract,” Jensen said. “Any time we might be in a position to have to cancel a contract and we’re the ones doing the canceling, of course we would make it right.”

Murray is a 74-year-old libertarian scholar with the American Enterprise Institute whose controversial 1994 book, “The Bell Curve,” theorized that intelligence was the best predictor of success – and that social programs and efforts to educate the disadvantaged would therefore fail. Most controversially, he’s tied intelligence to genetic factors, including race.

The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Murray a “white nationalist,” but Murray sharply disputed that, saying they’d mischaracterized his writings.

In March, a violent protest that left one professor injured disrupted a speech Murray was giving at Middlebury College in Vermont. Protests, some peaceful and some disruptive, followed at his speeches at Notre Dame University, Indiana University, Villanova University and the University of Wisconsin, among others. One college, Azusa-Pacific University, canceled an April speech by Murray after protests.

Hoffman, who didn’t return a call Thursday for comment, blamed the “thought police” for the change in venue of his group’s annual banquet, entitled, “Faces of Freedom.” On the group’s website, he wrote, “We will not allow fear and intimidation to silence us.”

The Idaho Freedom Foundation is a conservative lobbying group that rates bills in the state Legislature and assigns ratings to lawmakers based on their compliance with group’s positions, such as opposing occupational licensing and taxes. It’s also become increasingly active, through a political arm, in political campaigns.

Jensen disagreed with Hoffman’s assessment. “We were not bullied by the left, and it was not at all politically motivated. But we understand not everyone will see it that way,” he said.

“What it really boils down to is the fact that our guests have the expectation of a safe and enjoyable stay in a resort-like atmosphere,” she said. “It became evident that we would not be able to control the circumstances.”

She noted that the Riverside has more than 300 guest rooms, and they’re not separated from the ballroom where the banquet was booked. Also, it has dozens of entrances and is easily accessible by foot, including from the public, riverfront Greenbelt that runs right behind it. “We just thought we can’t guarantee safety and security with an event like this should something break out, and in all likelihood it would,” Jensen said.

She added, “They didn’t tell us who the speaker was. We actually found out about it because of some of the online chatter that we’d seen,” including plans for protests.

The Riverside notified the IFF on Monday that it wanted to meet with them; it met with IFF officials on Tuesday and agreed on terms for canceling the event.

“We’re not in the habit of canceling our groups’ events,” Jensen said. “It was just out of real concern for safety and security for our staff and for our guests, and that was the only reason it was canceled.”

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