Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) has never implemented a statewide mask requirement, though nearly a dozen areas of the state have local restrictions, including Boise. For months, Little has been at odds with Lt. Gov Janice McGeachin (R) over pandemic restrictions (in Idaho, the governor and lieutenant governor run on separate tickets); the state’s current guidelines “strongly” recommend face coverings but require them only in long-term care facilities. McGeachin vehemently opposes any mask mandates.
McGeachin, who appeared in a video last fall that suggested the pandemic “may or may not be occurring,” was photographed speaking at the Boise protest Saturday.
Republican state Reps. Dorothy Moon and Heather Scott appeared in a video on Friday giving their support to the “Burn the Mask” rallies.
“At 10 a.m., people are going to be lighting up burn barrels to throw masks in, mandates, emergency orders and replications thereof, because I think everyone is ready for these emergency orders to be lifted,” Moon said in the video.
In a video from the scene in Boise captured by Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Sergio Olmos, half a dozen children are seen grabbing handfuls of blue surgical masks and dropping them into the fire as adults are heard warning them not to go too fast.
In the video, a boy is heard shouting, “Destroy them!”
Organizers for Boise rally had a permit, but it is being investigated after the fire was set in a barrel, the Idaho State Police said in a statement.
“Those involved with the event were informed both before and during the event that open flames are not allowed on State Capitol grounds,” according to the State Police.
Saturday’s anti-mask rallies in Idaho encapsulate the polarized response to the pandemic across the United States, with some conservatives viewing business restrictions and mask mandates not as public health guidance but a form of government overreach.
“We’re standing here today to rein back government, to reestablish our republican form of government … that has balance between the branches,” Darr Moon, who helped to organize Saturday’s demonstration, said in a video interview with Olmos, the Oregon reporter. “That’s not what we have today,” Moon added, saying Little and other governors nationwide have been “running the show.”
Moon, who is married to Dorothy Moon, serves on the national council for the John Birch Society, an ultraconservative group that organized anti-shutdown events throughout the country, including previous ones in Idaho.
Last August, maskless protesters led by anti-government activist Ammon Bundy stormed a special legislative session at Idaho Capitol, where lawmakers were discussing pandemic measures, breaking down the gallery door and ripping up signs about social distancing. The protests have since come under criticism as dry runs for the extremist violence seen during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
In Idaho, the pushback to government restrictions continue to come from inside the house.
Last week, the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi announced they were dropping statewide mask requirements, much to the concern of health officials who said it was too soon to rescind such measures. That Idaho never had a statewide mask requirement to begin with is not enough for some of the state’s Republican lawmakers where on Tuesday a House committee took up legislation that would ban mask mandates by any government entity. Under the proposed legislation, private businesses could still require masks.
Idaho has tallied more than 173,000 cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and at least 1,800 deaths.