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Several far right Republicans running in the Idaho primary have ties to extremism

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Idaho now, where Republican Governor Brad Little is facing a primary challenge today. Janice McGeachin is the state's lieutenant governor. She is one of several Republicans in Idaho primaries with ties to extremist militia groups. She recently spoke at a white nationalist conference. And she has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. NPR's Kirk Siegler is based in Boise, the capital. He joins us now. Hey there, Kirk.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. Set the stage a little more. Why is this primary getting so much attention?

SIEGLER: Well, Republicans hold a supermajority here at this Capitol where I'm standing. Especially since the pandemic, there has been a rise in extremism within the GOP. You know, Mary Louise, this is Idaho. There's a long history of extremism. You can think back to the Ruby Ridge standoff 30 years ago. The Aryan Nations was headquartered in the Idaho Panhandle. But lately, we're seeing extremism really enter the mainstream of Republican politics, just like we are across the country. There's even a faction here basically calling for armed rebellion.

You know, in most other states, Governor Brad Little would be a hardline, hard-right Republican. He just signed a Texas-style abortion ban. But as you say, Donald Trump endorsed Janice McGeachin. It's widely thought that Little will still secure the nomination. But these are unpredictable times. As we know, Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. It's hard to know how all the newcomers will vote. There has been a lot of white flight coming from California up here lately, especially since the pandemic.

KELLY: Huh. I want to hear more about Janice McGeachin. How did she become so prominent?

SIEGLER: Well, let's first point out that the lieutenant governor here is an independently elected office. So she's not aligned with Governor Little. McGeachin really started sparring with him during the COVID lockdowns that were very brief here in Idaho. One time when he left the state and she was acting governor, she even signed an executive order banning all mask mandates in cities and schools. You may recall she also tried to call the National Guard down to the U.S.-Mexico border. This is Idaho. We're bordering Canada.

KELLY: Yeah.

SIEGLER: And when Governor Little returned home, he rescinded all the things she did and suggested it was tyrannical.

KELLY: Well, and is it working with voters? Any - can we measure whether it's helping her in this race?

SIEGLER: We don't really have a great idea. And that's why we're watching this primary so closely. We do know that Trump easily carried Idaho with one of his biggest wins in the nation, about 64% of the vote here. When you drive into the suburbs and the rural areas, you see Trump 2024 signs everywhere. And McGeachin is definitely going for his playbook. You know, she defended her appearance at the white nationalist America First PAC conference back in March. And she also doubled down after this promotional video went viral recently. We're going to hear from it now, where it looks as though she seems to be promoting violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JANICE MCGEACHIN: God calls us to pick up the sword and fight. And Christ will reign in the state of Idaho.

SIEGLER: So, Mary Louise, I'd say the Idaho primary is definitely going to be a national test for how far to the right the GOP can be pulled. You know, just the other day, the far-right extremist Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers, was here on McGeachin's behalf. Rogers has been peddling a fake conspiracy that the U.S. government orchestrated the Buffalo mass shooting over the weekend.

KELLY: And just real quick, just to keep things interesting, Ammon Bundy is also in the race.

SIEGLER: That's right, although he recently switched his affiliation from Republican to independent. So he's not in the primary. But he called the Republican Party corrupt and wicked. And you may recall he was wheeled out of this building here, the Idaho Capitol, in handcuffs after trespassing charges during the pandemic.

KELLY: All right. Lots to keep you busy there in Boise. NPR's Kirk Siegler, thank you.

SIEGLER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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