Angry, maskless spectators forced themselves into the Idaho House special session on the coronavirus pandemic Monday, shattering a glass door, rushing into the gallery that had limited seating because of the virus and forcing lawmakers to ask for calm in a crowd that included a man carrying an assault-style weapon.
After some people shoved their way past Idaho State Police, Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke allowed the gallery to fully open as long as the crowd stopped chanting and was respectful.
“I want to always try to avoid violence,” he told The Associated Press later. “My initial reaction of course was to clear the fourth floor. But we had room for at least some more.”
Several conservative lawmakers asked for calm and decorum from the gallery crowd that included a man armed with an assault-style weapon. The session started with a full gallery and few masks.
That carried over into packed committee rooms, where maskless spectators ignored social distancing. One Democratic representative walked out of a committee meeting, citing unsafe conditions.
People not let into the House gallery over social distancing requirements began chanting and banging on the glass doors. Witnesses said the crowd appeared to surge forward and the glass broke, and some people rushed in to fill the gallery.
“This is our house,” said Allen Clark of Meridian, who was among those who got in. “We own this house. We pay taxes. We’re citizens of Idaho. Why can’t we be allowed in a public meeting?”
Clark also carried across his chest what he said was a Yugoslavian M70B1 with a loaded 30-round magazine. Idaho permits the open carry of firearms, including in the Statehouse. People carrying assault-style rifles are not uncommon when the Legislature is in session, usually when legislation involves gun restrictions. No such legislation has been proposed for the special session.
“I think it’s unfortunate that a few people felt like they had to do damage,” said Republican House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Megan Blanksma as she stood near the broken door. “We’ve not experienced this type of atmosphere before.”
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel said the session was turning into a super-spreader event for the coronavirus, with hundreds of maskless people crowding the House gallery and committee rooms.
“I was afraid when we headed in that there would be a lot of people not wearing masks, but it’s way worse than anything I had feared,” she said.
She said she liked the proposed voting changes but questioned whether that was worth calling a special session.
The session also drew anti-government activist Ammon Bundy, who led the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. He stood on the Statehouse steps with about 100 others opposed to liability limits.
“I recommend you act wisely, because we will not live in fear,” Bundy later testified at a committee hearing.
Johns Hopkins University reports that Idaho has nearly 30,000 infections and 307 deaths due to the virus. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
So this is what the US has become, a place ruled by armed mobs? Where is the law and order president now? Where is the law and order Republican party? Armed mob rule braking into a government building is not met with government unidentified storm troopers in a Republican area, but civil unarmed protesters not attacking a court house are attacked by those same above mentioned storm troopers. How the hell is this acceptable in our country? This armed carry thing has gotten out of control. The unwilling to be civil but instead using intimidation and force to allow minority rule is destroying the US. But this has been fomented by the Republicans because they are a minority party barely hanging on to the power they crave by dirty tricks, and as they become ever more the minority they use armed thugs to enforce their views. This is like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq where the dictator was of the minority religion sect that ruled brutally over the majority religious sect by arms and force. Welcome to the new horrible US. Hugs