Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin presides over the Idaho Senate at the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
When Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin contacted Boise Rabbi Dan Fink in January asking if he would be interested in joining a task force to fight antisemitism in Idaho, Fink wrote back saying he wanted to sit down with her and talk about the idea. When he heard nothing back, he wrote a longer letter explaining his thoughts on antisemitism across the state — but still received no response.
On Feb. 25, Fink received another letter from McGeachin asking if he would join her to define, expose and call out antisemitism “in whatever form it takes,” with no acknowledgment of his previous writings.
Hours after receiving the letter, Fink learned McGeachin had appeared via recorded message at the America First Political Action Conference, which is hosted and attended by white nationalists who express antisemitic views and deny the Holocaust ever happened.
In the message to the conference, McGeachin congratulated the attendees on the third annual event and told them to keep up the good work fighting for the United States.
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“The whole thing is mind-boggling to me to the point that I can only kind of laugh about it, because it’s just absurd,” Fink said.
McGeachin, who is running for governor in the Republican primary in May, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
She said in a statement over the weekend that she does not support identity politics or discriminatory views that “seek to divide us and not unite us.” She told KTVB she did not know who the conference’s organizer, Nick Fuentes, was when she recorded the message. Fuentes describes himself as an American nationalist and has been banned from YouTube for violating the company’s hate speech policies. He also discussed the idea of killing legislators who did not vote to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election two days before the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.
Fuentes also said at the conference that he has his eye on state governments in several states, including Idaho.
Political action groups Take Back Idaho and The Idaho 97% have called for McGeachin’s resignation, and the Idaho GOP issued a statement saying white supremacist sentiments have no place in the Republican Party. The Idaho Democratic Party also called on the Idaho GOP to condemn McGeachin’s participation in the conference.
“To be clear, Lt. Gov. McGeachin’s courting of U.S. Capitol insurrectionists, white nationalists, and radical extremists is not a one-time occurrence, it is a pattern of alarming behavior,” said Deborah Silver, acting chair of the Idaho Democratic Party in a statement. “Just this month, she touted an endorsement from Michelle Malkin, a right-wing commentator with links to white supremacy groups, antisemitism, and Islamophobia, and posed for pictures with white nationalist and Holocaust denier Vincent James Foxx at a campaign event.”
McGeachin asked rabbi and director of Wassmuth Center to join task force
In her January letter, McGeachin asked Fink if he and Dan Prinzing, director of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights in Boise, would be willing to work with her office to update and strengthen the definition of antisemitism in law.
“As a Christian, I am called to support the people of Israel,” McGeachin wrote in her letter. “The rise in antisemitism in our country is alarming, and I am most anxious to help curtail such activities in our state.”
She included a letter sent to Gov. Brad Little in October asking for an update on investigations into vandalism at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise and a bill passed in the 2021 legislative session prohibiting Idaho from contracting with certain entities that engage in boycotts of Israel or its territories. She also included an article from Intermountain Christian News featuring her efforts.
Fink said while he appreciated the sentiment, McGeachin’s criticisms focused on antisemitism within the political left, but he is far more concerned about white nationalist groups that seem to be Idaho’s most overwhelming problem. He said he is bothered more by legislators who compare mask mandates to the Holocaust, or people who wear yellow Jewish stars to protest COVID-19 vaccines.
Fink said he is unsure why McGeachin reached out to him since he has been public with warnings about her candidacy and advising people to vote against her in the primary.
“I suppose she sought my help because she thought, ‘OK, he’s a rabbi, if I tell him I’m against antisemitism, he’ll immediately see me as a friend,’” Fink said. “That seems unbelievably foolish and naïve to me.”
Second letter from McGeachin said to fight antisemitism, we need to understand it
Ten days after sending his first response, Fink wrote again to say he had more time to think about the idea and said he wasn’t comfortable joining a task force because Israel was not his primary concern regarding antisemitism in Idaho.
“Stunningly absent from the materials you sent me is a clear and unequivocal condemnation of extremist anti-government and white nationalist groups that my community and I consider the most dangerous antisemitic threat in this very conservative state,” Fink wrote. “… You give succor to those groups when you refer to the United States as a Christian nation, as you do repeatedly in the … materials attached to your letter.”
Fink added that McGeachin’s focus on Little led him to worry she was using antisemitism as an exploitative tool to enlist his community in her campaign efforts.
The letter sent back, which was dated Feb. 16 but Fink said he received on the 26th, was a longer explanation of McGeachin’s thoughts on antisemitism, but nothing that addressed Fink’s concerns.
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“To fight antisemitism, we need to understand it. Meaningful action against antisemitism requires a consensus driven definition that reflects the lived experience of the Jewish community,” McGeachin wrote. “… My hope is that you will consider joining me in this effort to define, expose and call out antisemitism in whatever form it takes.”
After learning of her participation in the conference on Friday, Fink said he wrote one more brief email to McGeachin saying, “People who are serious about combating antisemitism don’t court the support of racist antisemites.”
Fink said he decided to make the exchanges public because if there is one thing he learned from Holocaust survivors in his congregation, it’s that much of what happened in the Holocaust happened because people didn’t speak up for too long.
“I think she is an extreme danger to democracy and decency in our state, and I think people need to speak out with their voice and their voices,” Fink said. “And if we don’t send a clear message now that courting the support of white nationalist antisemites is not OK, we’re going to find ourselves in a terrible place. I think I have an obligation to speak out because I’m speaking for my community and I’m speaking, I hope, for all decent people in this state who don’t want us to become the homeland of white nationalist America that I think a McGeachin administration would go a long way toward creating.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct in the headline that Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is interested in starting an antisemitism task force.
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