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Greater Idaho


I can’t express enough disgust at the rural Oregonians who want to join Idaho. This is like Texans wanting to join Oklahoma or anyone wanting to join Mississippi. It’s just unfathomable to anyone who is not totally off their rocker. But it’s a real thing. There’s a big Atlantic piece on this that wildly overstates how “successful” this thing has been, but it’s a real deal. I am not quite ready to go super public with all the details yet, but I am working on a book that looks at the Pacific Northwest as a microcosm for the polarization of America since 1960. So I am very interested in how this is playing out and the rhetoric being used here. Here’s an excerpt of the Atlantic piece.

In McCarter and his allies’ eyes, they’re preserving a version of the last American frontier—lands still unfettered by the progressive ideas from cities such as Portland that are seeping into every place in America and threatening rural life. It’s a charming myth. “The frontier fantasy of armed white men who made the West and can remake it because they are autonomous or independent from political forces back east is something that really probably fires the imagination of a lot of people,” the historian Joe Lowndes, of the University of Oregon, told me. Localism, autonomy, and regionalism are entrenched in the literary imagination of Oregon—take, for example, Don Berry’s Trask and Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion. Greater Idaho is adjacent to the bioregion of Cascadia and the environmental utopia of Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia, as well as to the “American Redoubt,” a supposed haven for survivalists in the sparsely populated lands of Montana, Idaho, and the eastern sides of Washington and Oregon—“the last refuge of the American patriot,” as a Redoubt-centric real-estate company describes it. (“Rural America gives you ultimate freedom and safety far away from the Sanctuary City,” the firm promises.)

Oregon was itself founded in dispossession. Its constitution banned free Black people from living in the state. “It’s difficult to disentangle the nonthreatening parts of this group from the threatening white-supremacist aspects, because the region gained a reputation as a safe home for these ideas,” Steven Beda, a historian at the University of Oregon, told me. “It’s about articulating a rural identity, a return to a rural past; and ruralness is frequently used as a synonym for whiteness. Nostalgia is often rooted in white-supremacist ideals—‘we were all better off before people of color started demanding rights.’” Most supporters I spoke with skewed toward retirement age; they diligently collected signatures at farmers’ markets and gun shows and chatted in small groups at thinly attended meetups in church basements, peddling a far-fetched cause among their neighbors. But McCarter mentioned to me in passing that some supporters had gone to Washington, D.C., on January 6. A conservative-leaning separatist movement isn’t definitionally exclusionary or violent, but movements like Greater Idaho can’t be entirely decoupled from the context of menacing and violent right-wing organizing in the region. The Patriot movement, a set of anti-government conspiracist militias, remains active today, and Timber Unity, a rural solidarity group with extremist connections, gives money and support to county-commissioner candidates, including many who go on to win.

Much of Oregon’s history was “driven by an understanding of violence as a commonplace method of solving problems,” Kittredge, the rancher memoirist, wrote. The Greater Idaho movement’s more avid supporters say Darrow’s idea is the only thing keeping them from an insurrection. “A flash point is coming,” Gilson told me. “People are ready to fight; I’m hoping that it’ll be a push for Move Oregon’s Border—that it won’t be violent. Moving the border is a civil answer. Eastern Oregon is known for its guns.”

There are few people who understand who actually pays for places like eastern Oregon to exist:

Joining Idaho is a “mind-bogglingly oversimplified” notion, Steve Grasty, a retired Harney County judge, told me. Counties such as Harney are hugely dependent on federal funding; Oregon’s second congressional district, which covers the entire eastern swath of the state, was the nation’s biggest recipient of Affordable Care Act funds. But even Grasty, who used to travel to Salem to advocate for the county, admitted that the legislature there didn’t seem interested in the stories and problems he brought from rural Oregon. “Over and over, I worked to put that rural perspective into focus, and it really didn’t get heard.” He could have changed parties, but stayed a Democrat just so people on the west side of the state would talk to him, he told me.

Three things are true here. One, it’s fair that urban Oregon really doesn’t care much about rural Oregon. Two, rural Oregon hates urban Oregon with a great passion because that’s where the libs are. Three, I’m sure most of Portland and Eugene would be happy to keep their tax dollars and give nothing to ranchers in Harney County.

But this article underplays what the real values of Greater Idaho would be. We have to go to a different story for this:

When Chelsea Cox dropped off a card at the sheriff’s house, she did not expect to have a gun pointed at her forehead.

She had driven some girls from her church to his house in Blackfoot, Idaho, on the evening of Nov. 9. They taped a “thankful turkey” card to the door and sprinted back to the car, according to an affidavit filed this month by the Idaho attorney general’s office. The delivery was supposed to be a nice surprise.

But the sheriff, Craig Rowland of Bingham County, Idaho, saw them and thought that they were casing the neighborhood, according to the affidavit.

He brought his service gun outside and waved at the car to stop driving. Ms. Cox, a family friend, stopped the car and opened the door.

“We are just here to drop something off for Lisa,” she said, referring to the sheriff’s wife, according to the affidavit.

The sheriff yanked Ms. Cox out of the car by her hair, according to the affidavit.

As Ms. Cox explained who she was, Sheriff Rowland held the gun two inches from her forehead. “I will shoot you,” he said, using an expletive, according to the affidavit.

“Get out of here,” he added.

It’s all pure rage resentment and the desire to commit violence at will. One can understand that there may be some legitimate concerns coming out of the rural West toward the urban West while also recognize that these people are horrible and want to do horrible things to the people they don’t like.

Well, I suppose this book project gets more relevant all the time. That’s…..something.

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