Crowds gather to protest Biden's Idaho visit
Michelle Ballon, of Caldwell, Idaho, holds up a sign and joins protesters outside the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, as they gather for President Joe Biden's arrival on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. Biden's stop in Boise is part of a swing through western states in which he will promote his administration's use of a wartime law to aid in wildfire preparedness. (Keith Ridler/Associated Press)
| September 13, 2021 11:00 AM
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — More than 1,000 protesters gathered in Boise, Idaho, on Monday morning ahead of a visit by President Joe Biden to express their displeasure about his coronavirus plan, the election and other issues.
Biden was headed to Boise as part of a swing through three Western states to promote his administration's use of a wartime law to aid in wildfire preparedness, survey wildfire damage and push his economic agenda. He was expected to arrive at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise late Monday morning to meet with fire officials.
Lisa Mitchell, 65, of Middleton, Idaho, said she was protesting because she doesn't believe the 2020 election was valid.
"I'm here to support Trump and stand for freedom," said Mitchell, who was wearing a "Trump Women 2020" sticker. "He is in there illegally."
Though some of former President Donald Trump's most fervent supporters believe his continued claims that the presidential election was stolen, there is no evidence of widespread fraud and Republican and Democratic election officials certified the election as valid. Courts have also repeatedly rejected lawsuits claiming the election was tainted.
About a half-dozen Boise police officers were stationed at the entrance to the National Interagency Fire Center, with other law enforcement officers patrolling the area on motorcycle. The National Interagency Fire Center is generally closed to the public and the protesters were gathered outside the NIFC complex entrance.
Many of the protesters carried expletive-laden signs or waved U.S. flags hung upside down as a signal of distress.
Biden also planned stops in Sacramento, California, and Denver during the two-day trip.
The administration activated the Defense Production Act last month to boost supplies from a U.S. Forest Service firefighting equipment supplier. Wildfire activity has been growing increasingly extreme across the West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in recent decades and that it will continue to make wildfires and weather more extreme and destructive.
Chris Burns, a 62-year-old from Boise, said he attended the protest because, "I'm against everything Biden is for."
Burns was especially displeased with the president's sweeping new vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans announced on Thursday. The vaccine requirement says that all employers with more than 100 workers must require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. Workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will also have to be fully vaccinated, as well as employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government.
"He's acting like a dictator," Burns said.
Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the United States and the state's health care system is in danger of buckling as the delta variant sends COVID-19 case numbers skyrocketing. One in every 210 Idaho residents tested positive for COVID-19 within the past week, and the average number of daily new cases has increased by nearly 70% in the past two weeks.
Idaho reached a record high with 613 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday, the most recent numbers available from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Last week the state gave hospitals in northern Idaho permission to operate under "crisis standards of care," a health care rationing measure intended to ensure that scarce resources such as hospital beds are first given to those most likely to benefit or survive.
Still, opposition to wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated remains high across the deep-red state.
"I don't think anybody should be forced to put something in their body," said 46-year-old Caldwell resident Michelle Ballon, holding a sign calling forced vaccines "medical rape."
Several far-right groups have leveraged Biden's trip as a way to show their opposition to his administration. Idaho Liberty Dogs, a far-right group that often shows up to protests and other events heavily armed and in militia-style clothing, promoted an "Unwelcoming of Joe Biden in Boise" protest. Miste Gardner-Karlfeldt, the director of the anti-vaccine group Health Freedom Idaho, also urged followers to protest Biden's arrival.
Some members of the "People's Rights" organization founded by anti-government activist and far-right gubernatorial candidate Ammon Bundy also said they planned to protest Biden's arrival. Idaho GOP Rep. Tammy Nichols urged residents to attend a "Trump Rally" at the National Interagency Fire Center.
And Dan McKnight, a military veteran and founder of "Bring Our Troops Home," an organization that advocated for the end of the war in Afghanistan, promoted a protest called "Biden Killed Americans."
Several of Idaho's GOP gubernatorial candidates also seized on Biden's trip as a way to try to distinguish themselves in the crowded field. Ed Humphreys, a GOP gubernatorial candidate who has made fighting against vaccine mandates part of his campaign, announced last week that he would host a "Traitor Joe is not welcome in Idaho rally." Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is also running for governor and has argued against masking rules and other efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, called on incumbent Gov. Brad Little to "uninvite" the president.
Little also announced last week that he was working with the state's attorney general to fight Biden's vaccine mandate through the legal system.