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After racist harassment reported against Utah team, Kootenai County and Idaho GOP send mixed messages

In the wake of the alleged racist harassment of the University of Utah women’s basketball team in Coeur d’Alene , outrage was swift and bipartisan.

Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little called the incident disgusting and said that racism has no place in the state. Idaho Democratic Party Chair Lauren Necochea condemned those involved and said the incident “cast a dark shadow on what should have been a joyous occasion…”

That response has not been universal, however. Some far-right lawmakers focused their outrage instead at the accusers, questioning the truthfulness of their claims amid an ongoing law enforcement investigation, while others have accused their political opponents of trying to use the incident to smear their faction of the Republican Party.

The heads of the Kootenai County and state Republican parties, meanwhile, have primarily raised concerns about the danger of “mislabeling” conservatives in the days following initial reports.

“I think their response has been very weak, or not at all, except that they question whether it even happened,” said Jack T. Riggs, former lieutenant governor of Idaho and a leader of the North Idaho Republicans association, a group seeking to remake the Kootenai County Republican Party.

Kootenai County Republican Central Committee Chair Brent Regan has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible, appearing to signal that he believed the incident occurred and that those who reportedly yelled racial slurs at Utah team members should be held accountable.

“I am offering a $10,000 reward to the person or persons who provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals who committed crimes against the University of Utah’s Women’s Basketball Team members in Coeur d’Alene on March 21st,” Regan said. “Visitors to Kootenai County, especially young women, should feel safe on our streets.”

The central committee Regan leads is the official Republican Party of Kootenai County.

A day prior, Regan had also pointed to a resolution approved Wednesday by the Republican Party “Rejecting ALL Racial, Religious, Partisan, and Sexual Supremacy.” On Thursday afternoon, the state GOP Chairwoman Dorothy Moon amplified this resolution, saying it was issued in response to “the reported terrible events of last week.”

This was not true, Regan said in an interview. The resolution, which makes no mention of the alleged racist incident in Coeur d’Alene, was something the county party had “on deck to be considered.”

“The timing was just fortuitous,” Regan said Thursday. “We thought, OK, this is applicable.”

Indeed, the body of the resolution approved Wednesday does little to condemn racism, almost solely focusing on “the political weaponization of mislabels and government” in an apparent allusion to right-wing concerns about “label lynching,” the belief that labeling someone as dangerous or having offensive beliefs can be weaponized with the intent of destroying their social lives. Over half of the resolution addresses the religious persecution of American settlers and the perceived political persecution of modern-day Republicans and conservative groups using labels such as “extremist” and “domestic terrorist.”

One sentence addresses the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which the county party said were “mislabeled” by the U.S. Government as members of a potential fifth column – a group sympathetic with an enemy, though the resolution makes no mention of racism contributing to this treatment. Moon did not respond to a request for comment.

It is also not the case that Regan necessarily believes members of a basketball team had racial slurs yelled at them over the weekend. In a Thursday interview, Regan said no one has reached out to him yet to claim his $10,000 reward, and he expressed doubt about whether the University of Utah women’s basketball team really experienced racist harassment.

“I think it’s important to know – it’s important to make sure – if it happened, that we find who’s responsible, and if it didn’t happen, what’s going on?” he said. “I don’t like Coeur d’Alene getting tarred as some kind of racist hangout when it isn’t.”

He questioned the legitimacy of the initial report made to the Coeur d’Alene Police Department by a man associated with the team, pointing to “what he says and what he sounds like.”

About 100 members of Utah athletics walked from where they were staying at the Coeur d’Alene Resort to Crafted Tap House + Kitchen for dinner on March 21. Two pickups passed by and passengers yelled racial slurs at the non-white players as the drivers revved their engines, a police report filed by team donor Robert Moyer stated.

Coeur d’Alene police Officer Michael Jolley responded to the resort to speak with Moyer that night, body camera video shows.

Moyer used the words “hillbilly” and “white trash” to describe the people he said directed the “N word” at the team. He said the group’s actions and hateful language forced the team to walk faster to the restaurant.

After their meal, Moyer said a group appeared to be waiting for the team and harassed them as they walked back to the resort, shouted more slurs at them.

“It scared them a lot,” Moyer said when he was interviewed by a Coeur d’Alene police officer.

The Coeur d’Alene Police Department has said that they have obtained a copy of a video related to the incident, but have not characterized the video or otherwise released it to the public, arguing that it could risk the integrity of the investigation.

Tony Stewart, secretary of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, which has taken a lead role publicly responding to the incident, said he had no doubt that the basketball team’s account of the incident was accurate and said his organization was pleased by Regan’s offer of a reward.

“We are always very supportive of any funds that could be available that would help lead to a successful conviction,” Stewart said. “If someone is able to solve it because of the reward, then it needs to be paid.”

Others have pointed to comments made by the man who called police. He portrayed of the region as steeped in racism and referred to those who reportedly participated in the incident and others revving their trucks on the city’s main street as “hillbilly white trash” and “rednecks.”

State Sen. Brian Lenney, a Republican member of the Idaho Freedom Caucus, issued a statement Thursday condemning the caller’s comments.

“Idaho is too great for hate; thus, I unequivocally condemn the divisive and derogatory comments made by Mr. Moyer,” Lenney wrote.

The state legislator did not condemn or mention the reported racist slurs against Black members of the University of Utah basketball team in his statement.

In a 2023 opinion column in the Coeur d’Alene Press, Regan opined that fear of “label lynching” would hamstring rightwing dissent.

“Fear is the preferred weapon of those infected with the Woke Mind Virus,” Regan wrote at the time. “If you transgress the self-appointed arbiters of hate speech or thought you will be canceled and subjected to ridicule, harassment, label lynching, banishment, loss of job or position, etc… It is fear of these consequences, meted out without trial or due process that stifles free speech and collapses thought to an approved narrow, but ever shifting, corridor.”

Asked whether he believed that the accusation of a racist incident in Coeur d’Alene might now be being used in such a way, Regan said: “That’s definitely a possibility. It wouldn’t be the first time.”

When asked to name an example locally, Regan said that he didn’t have one “at the top of my mind.”

It is true that some political opponents have used the incident, or at least Regan’s response to it, to accuse him of helping to create an environment in North Idaho where racism can proliferate.

Longtime Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Dan Gookin, a Republican who has accused Regan of taking over the Kootenai County GOP and pushing out moderates from the party, called Regan’s offer of a reward a political stunt.

“He’s offered this award and said the central committee condemns all forms of racism – he went and hired Dave Reilly, to not only work for the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, but also the Idaho Freedom Foundation,” Gookin said. “When it was exposed Reilly was who he is, Regan doubled down on the guy.”

David J. Reilly, a former radio host who promoted the 2017 Unite the Right Charlottesville rally and has since also been denounced for antisemitic views, ran unsuccessfully in 2021 for a seat on the Post Falls School Board with the endorsement of the Kootenai County GOP. Regan protested the accusation that this reflected poorly on his influence on the party.

“The Mr. Reilly incident is one of the reasons we implemented ranking and vetting (of potential GOP candidates),” Regan said. “Now we do full background checks, we hired a professional to do these checks to make sure this information is upfront.”

But while Regan did not try to defend Reilly’s past comments on Thursday, the party also did not rescind its endorsement of Reilly in 2021 after those comments were publicized. Regan has personally defended Reilly in the last two years, and organizations which Regan has a leadership position in have hired Reilly for various roles, including to make campaign videos for Kootenai County Republican-backed candidates for office.

In December, InvestigateWest confirmed that the Idaho Freedom Foundation had hired Reilly as a communications consultant. Regan serves as that organization’s board chair.

Reilly no longer works for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, something its leadership only publicly confirmed this week.

Describing Reilly as someone who “holds critical opinions of a group of people and occasionally expresses those opinions in public” that some might find offensive, Regan characterized Reilly’s numerous, well-documented comments about “Jews” as actually just being critical of the Israeli government.

Reilly’s past comments include, for example, a Sept. 11, 2020 post saying that “Jews invented terrorism. 9/11 was an inside job. Systemic racism isn’t real. George Floyd died of an overdose. Joseph Rosenbaum got what he deserved.”

For his part, Reilly initially wavered on whether he believed that Black college students had been racially harassed in Coeur d’Alene.

Stewart, of the human relations task force, led a press conference Tuesday meant to address media questions about the incident involving the University of Utah basketball team. Reilly interrupted to ask questions about the actions of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department in an unrelated incident nearly two years prior. In an interview later that day on KBOI talk radio, Reilly said he did not doubt that the incident occurred, but also said that the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations had a track record of “hate hoaxes” and said there was a “political motive that had to do with political gains.”

“There is a heist underway, the Gem State heist,” Reilly said, pointing to efforts by groups like the North Idaho Republicans to oust Regan-affiliated precinct committeemen in Kootenai County.

Precinct committeemen are an oft-overlooked political office elected every two years in Idaho. They work as partisan functionaries and are the core of each political party in a given county.

Those races are often sleepy and typically uncontested. This May, nearly every one of the Kootenai County Republican Party’s 73 committeemen positions, the vast majority of which are currently held by people aligned with Regan’s vision of the party, are being challenged by candidates supported by the North Idaho Republicans.

Gookin and Riggs argue that these are the most important races on the ballots this year in Kootenai County, as control of a majority of these positions grants control of the county party and the ability to either retain or replace Regan as chair.

“It doesn’t do any good for a traditional Republican to run in this county until the committee is changed,” Riggs said. “The only way you can do that is having a majority of these committeeman positions be traditional Republicans.”