It didn't take long for disorder to break out at a Dec. 1 public hearing before the Bonner County Commission, which had been asked to consider voting to oppose Syrian refugee resettlement.
When the first speaker suggested the resolution would invite comparisons to North Idaho's history of white supremacy movements and “do nothing but paint a Nazi symbol on our foreheads,” the boos and catcalls were immediate.
“You called us Nazis!” one man shouted.
“[Muslims] hate Christians!” another yelled. “We're all Christians!”
It was the most chaotic moment in a meeting, which drew dozens of residents to testify. More than 100 turned out to hear the commissioners, who ultimately decided to support Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in opposing refugee resettlement
. They emphasized their backgrounds in the military and reasoned that, while many refugees are likely good people, Bonner County's safety is at risk.
Commissioners also noted radical Islam represents a particular threat to the country.
“I do have a heart,” Commissioner Glen Bailey said. “I am a Christian. I believe in loving my brother. However, as an elected official, I do have a responsibility.”
The decision followed about an hour of public comment. Only two speakers opposed the resolution, both referencing North Idaho's national reputation as a haven for racists. While they maintained the reputation is unfair, any action reinforcing the perception could hurt tourism from Spokane, Wash., and Canada, where many refugees are being resettled. What's more, they said, since the county lacks authority to halt refugee resettlement, the resolution would add up to nothing more than political theater.
The majority of attendees at the hearing, however, called for officials to protect Bonner County from potential terrorist attacks. Some said the resolution didn't go far enough.
“I would like to see something a little more powerful, a little more gutsy,” said one speaker. “[You should] refuse to allow this program to continue.”
Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler received loud applause when he reiterated his opposition to refugee resettlement in Idaho. He first weighed in on the issue
two weeks ago with a letter to Otter urging cessation of the program.
“When I see a potential threat to this community, I am obligated to do everything in my power to expose that threat,” he wrote in the letter. “The resettlement of Syrian refugees is a plausible threat and must be prevented.”
Many expressed beliefs similar to state legislators like Blanchard Republican Rep. Heather Scott, who claims Muslims seek to infiltrate rural communities and build their numbers until they can enact Sharia law. Scott recently called
for a special session of the Idaho Legislature to address the "refugee crisis."
“Islam is not a religion—it is a culture, a way of life,” said Danielle Ahrens, who ran against Sandpoint Republican Sen. Shawn Keough in the 2012 GOP primary . “Sharia law is their constitution.”
One speaker referenced Dearborn, Mich., which houses a prominent Muslim community, and claimed the community there has already established Sharia law and is sentencing residences to floggings, amputations and stonings. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this is a rumor based on a satire article. She also claimed the U.S. government is purchasing guillotines, presumably for planned beheadings.
Others at the meeting held to the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama is working with the Muslim Brotherhood to transform American society.
Several attendees also turned out for a Boundary County Commission meeting Monday morning. Once again, more than 100 people packed into a small room with the majority urging commissioners to oppose refugee resettlement. Commissioners delayed a decision until next week, with Commissioner Dan Dinning cautioning against any action targeting one particular religion.
“Once you start for a specific religious group, you open it up to curve potentially into any religious group,” he said. “I want to be careful that we're not picking out a religion.”