Idaho has lurched suddenly to the far right, plunging the state's Republican Party into civil war.
The state's GOP governor, Brad Little, revoked an executive order banning mask mandates that his right-wing lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, had put into place while she briefly served in his place while he traveled out of state, and the episode underscores how extremism has reached the highest levels of government there, reported The Guardian.
"Political moderates around the country need to pay more attention to what is happening here," said Mike Satz, executive director of the Idaho97 project to fight misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. "Idaho used to follow broader trends, but now it is in the vanguard of extremist activity."
The state has long been a hotbed of political extremism, but the pandemic has exacerbated tensions with a Republican Party that has dominated Idaho politics for generations.
"When you have a majority for so long, it can lead to internal divisions and factions," said Jaclyn Kettler, a political scientist at Boise State University.
McGeachin herself is a good example of how quickly the state's GOP has turned to extremism since Donald Trump's unlikely election, which was followed by wins by similarly right-wing candidates.
"Before 2018, no one thought that there was a realistic chance of [McGeachin] becoming lieutenant governor," Satz said, "but here we are."
Far-right activists have gained momentum there by refusing to comply with public health measures, as they have in Michigan and other states, and McGeachin has shown clear support for extremists before and after launching her own gubernatorial race.
"I don't view that the federal government owns the land in Idaho, my view is that the land of Idaho belongs to the state of Idaho," McGeachin said last week on the right-wing David Horowitz podcast.
Those views come from the right-wing fringes where Ammon Bundy, who has filed papers for his own gubernatorial campaign, has challenged the federal government's authority in armed standoffs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 and his father's Nevada ranch in 2014.
"Both Bundy and McGeachin have exploited pandemic anxiety and instability over the last year to build political power and attract attention for disrupting democratic norms," said Amy Herzfeld-Copple, who monitors extremists for the nonprofit Western States Center. "They each have long histories of engaging with paramilitaries, encouraging political violence, courting bigoted groups ... [and] there's a real danger that their campaigns will embolden extremist movements."
Bundy and his People's Rights group have engaged in aggressive and confrontational protests against COVID-19 measures, and that battle has resulted in more coordination between right-wing factions all the way up to the state's executive branch."They're using COVID and becoming more aggressive and more focused," Satz said. "The extreme right are gaining power in Idaho, but we don't think it will stop here."