The answer to bad guys who dress up in costumes and pretend to defend America from imagined enemies is good guys who stand up for democracy and the rule of law.
It shouldn’t be that hard.
Many of our public officials these days, including some who hold office in Utah, aren’t willing to stand up to a rising tide of lies, confrontation and violence. Some of their actions even encourage widespread mistrust of the very public institutions they are supposed to serve. That mistrust gives rise to individuals and gangs who seek to push aside the law and Constitution in order to force America to become the white-supremacist, Christian nationalist society they imagine it once was.
Some members of Congress from Utah, as well as the state’s attorney general, have given oxygen to conspiracy theories that make up The Big Lie, Donald Trump’s ongoing and groundless claim that there were enough irregularities in the 2020 election to believe it was stolen from him.
So, because too many of our elected officials won’t stick to the basics of governing, we aren’t having the healthy public debates we should have about education, health care, defense and the environment. Instead we are distracted by growing numbers of LARPers — live action role players — whose hobby has taken on a sinister edge.
We, and our law enforcement agencies, are increasingly forced to deal with people who don’t just have harmless fun acting as orcs or dressing as Jedi, but who plan and practice their efforts to provoke violence and take power from those who rightly hold it.
Now we are hearing from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, just how deep the conspiracy to overthrow an election and do harm to members of Congress was. Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, is telling the truth despite the very real threat that it will be the end of her political career.
Last weekend, a much smaller incident was apparently headed off by the arrest, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, of 31 members of a self-styled militia of white supremacists who had apparently gathered with a plan to disrupt a LGBTQ Pride parade in that city.
Six of those arrested were from Utah. At least two of them appear to be present in a series of leaked videos showing members of the Patriot Front organization gathered near Sand Hollow Reservoir in southern Utah last November engaged in a pathetic version of military-style drills.
Nothing horrible happened. The Patriot Front’s style in such events apparently is to quickly run in, create chaos, film everything, and run away. None of which took place there because police — already alert to possible violence at the Pride event — received a tip about a bunch of fools crowding into a rental truck at a local hotel. They were all arrested and charged with misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to riot.
The Idaho police have been rewarded for their devotion to duty with a flood of online attacks, including information identifying specific officers and carrying death threats.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, praised the police and tweeted a statement that said, in part, “Intimidation, scare tactics and violence have no place in our great state.” Stephen Heidt, the Democrat challenging Little in this year’s election, issued his own statement, “White nationalists, I say to you. You are not welcome here.”
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, asked about the apparent Utah connection to the Idaho incident, also condemned the alleged plot and rightly called the video of the preparation that seems to have occurred in his state, “evil and sad at the same time.”
All that is well and good, but so far hasn’t been enough to overcome Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and his support for election conspiracy theories. Or Utah Sen. Mike Lee and his participation in the search for bogus slates of electors and promotion of the ridiculous “2000 Mules” film that raises absurd claims of voter fraud. Or the votes from Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens to reject state election returns on Jan. 6, and Owens’ subsequent refusal to participate in any debates this election year.
The strain of white nationalism that previously targeted Blacks and Jews is now turning its attention, as was the case in Idaho, to hostility to LGBTQ Americans. The act of the 2022 Utah Legislature, passed over Cox’s veto, to ban transgender athletes from school sports is very much in that vein and can’t help but embolden the hostility expressed toward these fellow citizens.
One of the Utahns charged in the Idaho gathering has since been told by his own mother he can no longer live in her home.
Utah officials don’t have the power to tell people who participate in white nationalist groups that they can’t live here anymore. But all of our elected officials, of all parties and persuasion, should be making it clear that their hateful ideologies are not welcome in Utah.