Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Shawn Vestal: Redoubt realtor wants only right kind of buyers

Owen Benjamin's 10-acre parcel of land had several vehicles and a wall tent present on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, near Bonners Ferry, ID.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

The dream of an exclusionary homeland for the far right in the Inland Northwest has had a long and sordid history.

These days, it also has a Realtor.

Sandpoint’s Todd Savage is a California transplant who markets property to city folk desperate to escape leftist tyranny and come to limitless Idaho, where everyone is assumed to share the same far-right views. He once called himself the Redoubt Realtor, a reference to his association with the American Redoubt movement – an idea of the Northwest as a libertarian retreat from a failing society.

“Looking for land to FLEE the CITY and live a sustainable lifestyle far away from the tyranny of the overpopulated leftist cities?” one of Savage’s ads reads. “No Masks, No Vaccines, just FREEDOM on this land!”

In a brief interview this week, Savage said, “I’m allowed to say I don’t want to live around you based on your political beliefs.”

He sure is. But, as a licensed real estate agent, he discovered recently that exclusionary language in property listings can be problematic. The Coeur d’Alene Multiple Listing Service demanded last month that Savage remove a listing through its service that read, “This property is for sale to Liberty/Constitutional buyers ONLY.”

That language, an attorney for the MLS said in a demand letter sent to Savage on Sept. 16, risks sounding discriminatory and put the MLS in danger of litigation.

This turned Savage into a hero on Gateway Pundit, a hoax-riddled far-right web site. But it’s sadly accurate that these terms – Liberty person, Constitution person – have become coded, loaded signals for certain ideologies, some of which are overtly biased and discriminatory, just as giant American flags stuck in the back of pickup trucks no longer merely denote a simple love of country.

These once generically patriotic signals have been hijacked and now send unambiguous messages not just to leftists or snowflakes or RINOs – but also to immigrants or minorities, as the MLS demand letter noted.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, sex or disability. It does not prohibit discrimination based on political views, as Savage said. The MLS letter said Savage’s language was not a direct violation of the Fair Housing Act, but “The FHA has been interpreted to prohibit not just outright discrimination, but actions that have a discriminatory effect.”

A potential plaintiff could argue that the terms “liberty” or “constitutional buyers” exclude someone whose national origin is not American, or that the terms are code words for racial bias, which could put the MLS in legal jeopardy.

Savage said he understood that this was not a violation of his First Amendment rights, because the National Association of Realtors and its MLS are private entities. The NAR has a policy opposing discrimination and imposing sanctions on members who violate any fair housing law.

“They have a right to do that,” he said. “It’s called free speech, and I don’t have to be a member.”

That doesn’t mean he didn’t see it as TYRANNY.

In a statement to Gateway Pundit, he wrote, “It’s a dark day in America when a local CDA MLS (Multiple Listing Service) affiliated with the National Association of Realtors takes the stance that the words ‘Liberty’ and ‘Constitutional’ may be interpreted as ‘racially charged code words’. This is an example of how the far left implements communist ideology thru Nazi-style stasi tactics in all walks of life. … I have complied with the demand letter by changing the listing to simply say ‘Land for sale to folks that don’t get their feelings hurt.’ ”

Savage insists that he has no bias or hatred toward anyone else. He says he’s a libertarian who believes in guns, God and living off the land, and doesn’t want to live around people who see things differently.

There are more pictures of guns than properties on the home page of his web site, Black Rifle Real Estate. As a Realtor, here’s how he handles the fair-housing disclaimer:

“Attention all social justice warriors and radical insane leftists; As always, we are a Fair Housing firm. We don’t care what you look like or where you are from. This means we do follow all HUD and Fair Housing Act guidelines for non-discrimination, so everyone is welcome. However, we do discriminate based upon political and moral beliefs. Snowflakes, Liberals, Socialists, Marxists, Communists, and other Tyrants that hate our Constitutional Republic, the Bill of Rights and want to defund law enforcement are not allowed to engage our services.”

Everyone is so welcome.

Savage is not, of course, a native Idahoan. He fled California after becoming disgusted with urban life; he is far from the first urban refugee to move to Idaho and begin declaiming the “real” Idaho or “true” Idahoans – definitions that many actual Idahoans do not fit.

One of his clients was the former comic Owen Benjamin, who purchased land in Boundary County pitched as a “new Ruby-Ridge style compound” for fans and followers. Benjamin was a minor league comic whose career tanked after he veered increasingly into racist and antisemitic territory.

Savage has defended Benjamin as “a passionate freedom-loving, natural man of this planet and in my eyes is a wonderful husband, father and leader of his family.”

Here is what Benjamin once said about Adolf Hitler: “Really what he was trying to do was clean Germany, clean it of the parasites, of the fleas. He did not hate Jews. He hated filth and he was trying to clean up.”

The exclusionary dream is alive and well, unfortunately. It just takes a bit more attention to detail in your word choices.

More from this author