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No violations found at controversial alt-right ex-comic’s Boundary County property

Owen Benjamin’s 10-acre parcel of land had several vehicles and a wall tent present on Wednesday near Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Owen Benjamin’s 10-acre parcel of land had several vehicles and a wall tent present on Wednesday near Bonners Ferry, Idaho. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Neighbors have raised concerns about an alt-right ex-comic’s plans for a 10-acre parcel along the Moyie River, but an official who visited the property earlier this month identified no violations of the Boundary County zoning code and observed little construction activity.

Tessa Vogel, an assistant land use planner, made that determination during a July 12 site visit made in response to multiple complaints from area residents as well as from the person who sold the land to Struggle Bear LLC.

Since that sale went through, Owen Benjamin, a comic whose career nosedived as his act became increasingly racist and anti-Semitic and who has since assembled a legion of online followers known as “Unbearables,” has touted a range of conflicting and – in some cases, concerning – plans for the property.

In one social media post provided to Boundary County commissioners and shared with The Spokesman-Review, project promoters claimed they were creating a “new Ruby-Ridge-style compound.”

Benjamin has given credence to that possibility in some of his voluminous online activity, touting the parcel as a place where a paramilitary force will defend itself against the dark forces of modernity.

Elsewhere, however, he has described it as a peaceful place to commune with nature, fish, learn to hunt, form community and get back to the land.

Those complaints promoted the county’s planning and zoning department to issue a letter of potential violation to Benjamin and his wife, Amy Smith, in June.

Smith assured the department that they did “not intend to build an RV park, a primary residence, or any cabins larger than 950 square feet but did confirm that they had poured two 12-foot-by-12-foot slabs for two shelters that will not have power or water,” according to a July 14 letter Vogel sent to Tevis Hull, the county’s chief deputy prosecuting attorney.

Smith also vowed to follow the guidelines for any structures that did require permits, Vogel’s letter states.

When Vogel went out to see the site for herself, with a sheriff’s deputy along for the ride, she found it much as Smith had described.

While Vogel did not enter the property, she observed little activity from her parking spot on Earl Lane Road.

“From the road, we were able to see tarped materials, a ladder, and ground disturbance a few hundred feet into the property,” Vogel wrote in her letter to Hull. “The ground disturbance area looks to be similar to that for the construction of a foundation of a structure from what we were able to see.”

“From what I could see from the road,” Vogel added, “there does not seem to be any violation with the Boundary County ordinance in regard to the construction of structures and uses required a conditional use permit like a RV park/stalls.”

Elaine Duncan is among the neighbors who have expressed their concerns to county officials about Benjamin’s plan for the property, but she said she hasn’t seen any activity on the site in almost two months.

“As far as I can tell, nobody has been there since about June,” Duncan said. “Why? I don’t know.”

And while Duncan said she doesn’t dispute Vogel’s assessment, she remains concerned about the future of the property.

“There is not a violation going on right at this minute,” Duncan said. “I agree with that, but there seems to be a sense of disregard of the possibility of future violations. This is going to go on for years.”

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