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A white nationalist moved to Idaho in search of an ‘ethnic enclave.’ He’s not alone.

July 21, 2022 Updated Thu., Aug. 4, 2022 at 8:27 a.m.

Kyle Chapman attends a hearing at the Ada County Courthouse to change the date of his trial July 15 in Boise.  (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman)
Kyle Chapman attends a hearing at the Ada County Courthouse to change the date of his trial July 15 in Boise. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman)
By Nicole Blanchard Idaho Statesman

Kyle Chapman swore he was a changed man. Chapman, a Boise resident, was addressing a judge while being arraigned in January on a felony charge after allegedly assaulting a Saint Alphonsus health care worker.

“I know if you look at my record, it does seem bad, but I’m not that person anymore,” Chapman, 46, told Ada County Judge Joanne Kibodeaux.

A police report showed he was accused of grabbing and pulling a hospital employee who was trying to provide him medical care. Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Whitney Welsh said Chapman was also accused of making racist and sexist slurs against hospital employees.

When Chapman was arrested, he was on probation resulting from a 2018 aggravated assault conviction after punching a man and hitting him with a bar stool during a fight in Austin, Texas.

Prior to that, Chapman counterprotested a 2017 rally in California against then-President Donald Trump and clashed with Trump critics. Chapman, clad in a helmet and gas mask, swung at people in the crowd with a wooden stick. He was sentenced to five years’ probation after agreeing to a plea deal on a charge of possession of a leaded cane or billy club. The incident also earned him a nickname in far-right circles: Based Stickman.

He also had prior convictions for robbery in Texas in 1993 and grand theft in California in 2001, court documents show.

Though Chapman claimed he was no longer that person, social media posts and accounts of his behavior in Boise indicated otherwise. They showed a pattern of hate speech, as well as encouragement for others to move to Idaho, which Chapman painted as an escape from racial minorities.

“Some cry ‘ETHNOSTATE!! I say ‘Idaho,’ ” Chapman wrote in a group he created on the messaging app Telegram.

Chapman isn’t alone. In recent years, a pattern has emerged of white nationalist figures taking refuge in Idaho, a place they see as a haven for their beliefs 20 years after Idahoans ousted the notorious Aryan Nations. At the same time, local leaders are trying to address recurring incidents of antisemitism, and the prominent Coeur d’Alene arrest of 31 members of the white supremacist Patriot Front group has refocused a national spotlight on hate in the Gem State.

Idaho extremists ‘emboldened’, ex-lawmaker says

When Cherie Buckner-Webb was 6 years old, her family was sitting down to dinner in the dining room of their North End home when her mother, Dorothy, glimpsed the flicker of fire in the window. It appeared to be coming from a neighbor’s house.

Her father, Aurelius, ran outside to help. He stopped in his tracks when he realized the flames were coming from their front yard.

A cross, wrapped in burlap gunny sacks, was burning in front of the family’s home near 19th and Alturas streets – believed to be the first time a Black family rented and later owned property in Boise’s North End, according to an application to include the residence on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Aurelius doused the cross with water from a garden hose and started to move the charred symbol to the backyard.

“(My mom) said, ‘No, leave it right out front,’ ” said Buckner-Webb, a former state legislator who was the first elected Black member of the Idaho Legislature, in an interview with the Statesman. “We left it on the porch for everyone to see.”

Buckner-Webb said the family was shaken by the overtly racist threat. They filed a police report, but no one was ever arrested in connection with the incident.

Over the years, she came to understand the significance of the cross burning. Though she finds Boise welcoming, for the most part, she said she has seen bigotry in Idaho transform from what she experienced in her childhood.

“There’s a critical mass that is no longer doing this in the shadows,” Buckner-Webb said. “Crosses used to get burned in your yard in the dark of night, or you covered your face. These people are bold. They’re emboldened.“

Chapman calls Idaho ‘ethnic enclave’

Before Kyle Chapman moved to Idaho in 2020, he was a California resident. He gained notoriety in far-right extremist circles in March 2017 following the incident that earned him the Based Stickman nickname. He became the subject of memes, embracing the moniker with now-deleted social media profiles, and used his fame to crowdfund money for his legal defense, The New Republic reported.

Soon after, Chapman founded a group called the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, a paramilitary arm of the white nationalist Proud Boys. In 2020, Chapman broke with the Proud Boys. He announced on Telegram that he would be starting an off-shoot – the Proud Goys – that would not allow people of color or gay people to join. The group’s name references the Hebrew word “goyim,” which refers to non-Jewish people and has been embraced by antisemitic white supremacists, according to the American Jewish Committee.

The offshoot didn’t reach the popularity of the Proud Boys, who’ve been photographed counterprotesting recent abortion rights rallies in Boise. A Telegram group started by Chapman has about 1,500 members. In messages to the group in 2020, Chapman told members he was moving to Idaho, distancing himself from the Bay Area and his Based Stickman title.

“I’ve been researching this move for almost a decade,” Chapman wrote. “Idaho is the best location in the country to weather the storm and lobby for secession. Ethnic enclave. Fight the battle from higher ground.”

Chapman told the group he arrived in September 2020, purchasing two properties in Boise. Anti-right wing groups already had their eye on him. A group called Idaho Anti-Racist Action said on Twitter that it had identified both of Chapman’s homes – his private residence and an Airbnb – and distributed flyers in his West Boise neighborhood.

“Meet your neighbor Kyle Chapman,” the flyers read, alongside images of Chapman and screenshots of him using slurs in reference to Hispanic and Black people. “Boise is not your Nazi haven, Kyle.”

The flyers earned the attention of the Boise Police Department, police reports showed. Officers said hundreds of flyers were distributed, and Chapman told police he wanted to “document these incidents and expressed his concern that Antifa is coming for him in Boise, like they have in other parts of surrounding states where he has lived previously.”

The Idaho Statesman reached out to Chapman via email. He did not respond to requests for comment.

In spite of the flyers, Chapman operated largely under the radar in Boise. In his Telegram group, he encouraged people to move to Idaho to get away from minorities, whom he referred to with racial slurs. In other posts, he promoted Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming as places with white, right-wing demographics that would be welcoming to people with alt-right ideologies.

“We take over that state’s capitol, small towns and local politics. Institute laws that benefit us and eventually vie for secession,” Chapman wrote.

Chapman in Telegram posts has been openly racist, using derogatory slurs for Black people, Muslims, the LGBTQ community and Hispanics. As recently as last week, posts in the channel encouraged people to teach their kids to “fight and avoid blacks at all costs,” and said, “We are not the same.”

In July 2021, Chapman was again called out publicly. He posted a one-star Yelp review for the Beardsmith Barbershop, saying there was a “toxic feminist attitude amongst the staff.” Chapman said women at the shop were “judging men for being, acting and talking like men.”

Beardsmith owner Wendy Rose was quick to respond.

“Bigotry is not tolerated at our shop,” Rose wrote. “As a business owner, it is my responsibility to stand up for my team and refuse service to any person who expresses hate.

“Kyle ‘the stickman’ is not allowed at the Beardsmith Barbershop,” Rose added.

Rose told the Statesman that Chapman’s Yelp review came after she canceled an appointment he had at her shop upon hearing that he had repeatedly made employees uncomfortable. Rose said Chapman had been to the shop three times before that and had requested to have his hair cut by a Hispanic barber.

“When he sat down, he started talking about things that disturbed the barber,” Rose said, including alleged comments degrading racial minorities and women.

“I was like, ‘Why are we even booking this guy at all?’ ” Rose said. “The fact that he was comfortable opening his mouth and saying these things raised a red flag for me.”

She sent Chapman a text telling him racism isn’t tolerated at her business and informed him his appointment was canceled.

“I needed other people (in Boise) to know you need to stand up for your people,” Rose said. “He was counting on us being afraid.”

How can Idaho oust extremists?

Rose said she felt compelled to show Chapman his views aren’t acceptable – and experts say that kind of pushback can be crucial to ousting extremists.

Tony Stewart, one of the founders of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, said community outcry was part of what helped push the Aryan Nations out of North Idaho. The group’s founder, Richard Butler, created a compound near Hayden Lake in the 1970s where neo-Nazis and white supremacists would flock for conferences and training.

The group began creating antisemitic graffiti and escalated to violence, Stewart said. After armed guards assaulted a woman and her son near the compound in 1998, Norm Gissel, the task force’s lawyer, recruited the Southern Poverty Law Center to sue Butler, bankrupting him and shutting down the compound.

Stewart said the task force helped pass human rights laws in Idaho, and task force members more than once uncovered criminal activity from the Aryan Nations and its splinter groups, leading to arrests. The task force also held human rights training at local schools and colleges, led rallies focused on equality and raised funds to combat hate.

“(The community response) needs to be not just one incident, it should be ongoing at all times,” Stewart told the Statesman. “It creates a cultural environment in that community to where those that are peddling hate oftentimes find it so uncomfortable they leave.”

Mike Satz, executive director of the Idaho 97 Project, a group founded in 2020 to counter disinformation and extremism, said he doesn’t see that kind of widespread pushback today.

“The regular community isn’t standing up; they’re not speaking out against these people,” Satz told the Idaho Statesman. “If you look at the Aryan Nations, the community made a statement: This is not acceptable.

“But right now we don’t have that,” Satz said. “Our leaders aren’t standing up, our Legislature is an abject failure at this. The governor is not trying.”

The day after Patriot Front members were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Gov. Brad Little issued a statement on social media declaring that “intimidation, scare tactics and violence have no place in our great state.” It made no mention of the Patriot Front or what the group stands for, or that its target was a North Idaho Pride event.

In recent years, extremists have started to blur lines with groups that may not share all of their views, said Stephen Piggott, a researcher who studies right-wing extremism with the Western States Center. When they’re allowed to participate without being shunned, he said, many of those groups take it as an invitation to spread their ideology.

“Neo-Nazis and other folks like that are really kind of looking to take advantage of this moment of people questioning and trying to radicalize these folks even further, which is really, really troubling,” Piggott said.

Marina Villa Eudave said part of the pushback can start with people standing up in their own social circles, not just to prominent figures or organized groups. Villa Eudave, who works for Latino advocacy group PODER, urged Idahoans, especially white people, to call out racism when they encounter it in conversations with loved ones or in other daily interactions.

Like Piggott, Villa Eudave said some people don’t realize their silence may be signaling an implicit approval of bigoted ideas. Speaking out can help disrupt those ideologies, even if the people espousing them aren’t part of organized extremist groups, Villa Eudave said.

More extremists ‘emboldened’

Chapman isn’t the only extremist to seek like-minded individuals in Idaho. Vincent James, a self-described “Christian nationalist,” recently moved to North Idaho, which he described as a breath of fresh air.

James, who also goes by Vincent James Foxx, spoke at the America First Political Action Conference earlier this year – the same white nationalist convention that prompted criticism of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who gave an address via video. James was also photographed with McGeachin at an event in Coeur d’Alene and endorsed McGeachin’s gubernatorial campaign on his vlog, where he has criticized other Republican politicians.

“If you’re a legislator here, either get in line or get out of the way, because what we’re planning on doing here in this state is inevitable,” James said in one video about Idaho politics.

According to nonprofit misinformation watchdog group Media Matters, James used his now-defunct website the Red Elephants to promote the conspiracy theory that Jewish people control the media. On his own Telegram channel, he said Jewish people control other influential institutions, including Congress, Hollywood and social media.

James also said in a video shared on Telegram that the Holocaust has been weaponized to incite white guilt and in a separate Telegram post said the Holocaust is “literally the only genocide you’re not allowed to question.” James has used his Telegram channel to deny accusations of antisemitism.

David J. Reilly, a far-right figure who participated in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, moved to Post Falls in 2020. According to a story published in 2021 by the Daily Beast, Reilly has made – and since deleted – antisemitic posts on Twitter, including comments like “Judaism is the religion of anti-Christ” and “all Jews are dangerous.”

Since moving to Idaho, Reilly has made unsuccessful runs for Post Falls school board and Idaho governor. According to reporting by the Coeur d’Alene Press, members of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee hoped to install Reilly as the chair of the county’s Democratic Party earlier this year.

Idaho has seen a spate of other ties to hate groups in the past few years, including a white supremacist rally in Hayden Lake in March and public displays in Boise from extremist groups including the Proud Boys and Patriot Front. In June, 31 members of Patriot Front – including the group’s founder – were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, where they allegedly planned to riot at the Pride rally.

Like Chapman, many of these groups point to Idaho as a haven because of its overwhelmingly white population. But Census data show the state is becoming more diverse.

Between 2010 and 2020, the Hispanic population – Idaho’s largest minority group – increased 36%, from 11% of the state’s total population to 13%. The state’s Black, Asian and Pacific Islander populations also saw slight increases, and the number of multiracial people jumped from 2.5% of the total population in 2010 to 8.3% in 2020.

While the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017 reported tracking 12 hate groups in Idaho, it currently records half that number – among them, the Proud Boys and Patriot Front. That doesn’t mean extremism has decreased in Idaho; for example, some of the previously recorded groups, like anti-Muslim ACT for America, have obscured information on their local chapters. The Western States Center told McClatchy and the Statesman that more than two dozen hate and anti-government groups are active in Idaho.

The number of hate crimes in Idaho appears to be consistent the past several years, according to Idaho State Police data. The agency’s records totaled 47 reported hate crimes in Idaho in 2021, a decrease from the 54 hate crimes reported in 2020, an all-time high for the state. The majority of 2021’s hate crimes were racist or homophobic – though the latter is a category not protected under Idaho’s hate crime law. Idaho State Police spokesperson Aaron Snell said in an email that tracking hate crimes against the LGBTQ community is part of national hate crime reporting criteria.

FBI data on hate crimes doesn’t match with state police information. In 2020, the most recent year available, the FBI noted 42 hate crimes against people and an additional 11 targeting property. That was nearly double the previous year’s hate crime totals.

A Department of Homeland Security official recently told McClatchy and the Statesman that Idaho has been “microtargeted” with extremist online content because of its history.

In late 2021 and early this year, Boise saw a rash of antisemitic incidents, including graffiti at the city’s Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial and antisemitic flyers spread through part of the North End.

Rabbi Dan Fink, of Boise’s Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel, told the Statesman he thinks antisemitic ideals are still a rarity in Boise, which experienced a rash of antisemitic graffiti earlier this year. But elsewhere in Idaho, he said, he’s “deeply, deeply concerned” about anti-government and antisemitic ideologies – particularly because the two often go hand-in-hand, he said.

“Some groups are explicitly antisemitic and some are anti-government extremists, but there’s not a clear line,” Fink said. “People who believe in government conspiracies are at the very least highly prone to antisemitism. To me, it’s one web.”

‘Am I safe here?’

For people of color or members of the queer or Jewish communities in Idaho, the increasingly visible extremism has been impossible to ignore, though it’s not new.

Growing up in Nampa, “skinheads would target Hispanic kids or kids of color,” Villa Eudave told the Statesman. “We have to realize those people are still here.”

Timber Lockhart, who is white and Native American, recalled finding Ziploc bags filled with flyers that espoused racist rhetoric while riding their bike through a Coeur d’Alene suburb as a kid.

“I filled my bike basket and ran home to show my mom,” Lockhart told the Idaho Statesman. “Then we went to pick all of them up.”

Despite Idaho’s history with white supremacy groups and racism, Satz said seeing extremists run for office this spring was especially alarming. It signaled that the candidates – many of whom were defeated – see support in Idaho for their beliefs.

Satz said he’s seen polling that shows Idahoans by and large don’t agree with the views of people like Chapman and James. But their beliefs and calls for an ethnostate threaten real harm.

“You have people who are here and being violent, bringing a level of violence and discord and hate and attracting other people to come here,” Satz said. “That alone is frightening because it makes those of us who are diverse look over our shoulder – is this person going to attack me? Am I safe here?”

Villa Eudave said she experienced more racism around 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president.

Fink told the Statesman that’s when he began feeling unsafe, too. The synagogue’s doors were locked, and Fink set up a security committee and a security budget. He started noticing when new people joined the congregation.

“(In the past) if I saw somebody there for the first time, I didn’t think twice about it,” Fink said. “I don’t have that luxury anymore.”

Fink said he frequently hears from Jewish people considering a move to Idaho. They’ll email him to ask if it’s a safe place to live. He still says yes, but now with more hesitation.

“I’d like to be able to encourage my kids to come back here,” Fink said. “But I’m reluctant to tell my own kids (it’s safe).”

Emerson, who is nonbinary and asked to be identified only by their first name out of safety concerns, was a congregant at Fink’s synagogue. They said they were called a “Christ killer” while wearing a kippah, a traditional Jewish head covering, in Boise. They worried about the synagogue being “shot up” and dreaded recurring vandalism at the Anne Frank memorial.

Defaced LGBTQ pride flags and homophobic vandalism at their Idaho college was the final straw that convinced them to leave for Washington state.

“It became a situation of, ‘I don’t feel safe in the place I’ve grown up, the place I was born and raised,’ ” Emerson said.

Lockhart also left Idaho in large part because of growing hostility toward the LGBTQ community. Lockhart moved to Washington to attend college and doesn’t see an appeal in returning to Idaho. The politics have become too extreme, and the politicization of topics like the COVID-19 pandemic created further division, Lockhart said.

“I would love to take up space here as a loudmouth queer person and make space for other people, but I can’t do that if my mental health is (suffering),” Lockhart said.

Lockhart said they have hope for overcoming extremism, as long as Idahoans keep talking about the issue. But personally, they couldn’t stay. They could no longer call this place home. Lockhart will speak out from afar – for now, at least.

“I’m truly ashamed sometimes to tell people I’m from North Idaho,” Lockhart said. “It’s such a beautiful place to be from, and it’s such a beautiful place to leave.”

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