BOISE, Idaho —
This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
The man filming Boise Police Officer Michael Miraglia through a window in Caldwell on New Year’s Eve was hesitant to admit his role in distributing antisemitic flyers in Boise.
As the conversation wore on, the man corrected the officer on details of the flyers, never denied his involvement and couldn’t answer the question of why he didn’t distribute the flyers in his Caldwell neighborhood, according to Boise Police records obtained by the Idaho Press via a records request.
Miraglia asked the Ada County Prosecutor to see if this case fit the Idaho Malicious Harassment code.
“The prosecutor declined this case as it does not meet the requirement that the suspect specifically targeted the identified victims in this case, as set out by the code,” Miraglia wrote in his report. “This case is closed.”
The Ada County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Another case, where a hate symbol was spray-painted in a park on South Walnut Street, resulted in no leads, according to a separate Boise Police Department report.
For some members of the community, the conclusion of the flyers incident is another example of what they say are Idaho’s “weak” hate crime laws.
But as antisemitic incidents in the Treasure Valley have become more frequent, people are looking for other, non-legal ways to respond, such as education or a planned mural at the spot of one of the incidents. Though there is concern for the community, Jewish and human rights leaders are on a mission.
“I think what we’re all coming to is the one thing that we cannot afford to do is to do nothing,” said Dan Prinzing, executive director of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights. “If these acts are going to occur with such frequency, then not only let’s call them out, let’s act upon it.”
The weeks after Hannukah
Just before midnight on Dec. 18, 2021, a Boise resident called the police to report bags lying in front of every house on his side of the street. Inside the bag was what looked like a Christmas card bearing pro-Nazi propaganda, according to the Boise police report.
Though the location is redacted in the report, the Idaho Press previously reported the distribution of flyers in Ziploc bags in the North End neighborhood during December.
The bags were weighed down with pellet-gun ammo, depicted anti-Jewish messages in relation to COVID-19, and claimed the Jewish population is part of a “COVID agenda.”
Several Boise officers, including Michelle Tiner, Marconi, and Willson Moss checked the area. They collected bags from several residences.
Sgt. Will Reimers, who also helped canvass the area, notified Lt. James Quackenbush who went to check out the Anne Frank Memorial.
Reimers went to check on Ahavath Beth Israel Jewish Synagogue and Chabad Jewish Center. Both were clear of any graffiti or bags, the police report said.
Half an hour after the first call, a security guard from The Grove Plaza downtown approached Officer Matthew Pap. The guard handed Pap a bag with paper and small metal beads.
Later that Sunday, Dec. 19 and into Monday, more officers responded to calls.
On Tuesday, Miraglia was assigned to investigate. Miraglia, along with Detectives Jagosh, Canfield and Wiginton canvassed the neighborhood where the flyers were found.
“Many expressed their disgust over the messages it contained,” Miraglia wrote. “I spoke with each of 3 (redacted) couples noted above directly to gauge their reactions to receiving the flyers, whether they felt directly victimized, and if they wished to press charges in this case.”
Of the three, two said they wanted to press charges. The third family “expressed a fear of retribution … should their names and address become public knowledge through court documents.”
The names of the family members are redacted in the police report, but one family member said she was scared it was one of her neighbors.
“(Redacted) considered, ‘Maybe someone saw me in the house lighting Hannukah candles,’ as the curtains were left open on a couple of evenings (sic) the holiday,” the report said. “(Redacted) admitted to feeling ‘paranoid’ as a result.”
Finding a suspect
On Dec. 23, as Miraglia was reviewing video from The Grove Plaza, he noticed a man and a woman in masks enter the plaza a little before midnight. The man pushed a stroller and the woman held what Miraglia wrote “appeared to be an infant.”
The couple left flyers on several of the tables, then spent several minutes taking photos in front of the Christmas tree.
“At one point, the male gave a straight-armed ‘Heil Hitler’ style salute as the female took a photo,” Miraglia wrote. “A short while later, the male appeared to be instructing the female by demonstrating the proper form for the salute. The female then walked back to the Christmas tree and performed the same salute as the male photographed her.”
On Dec. 31, Detective Roath and Miraglia went to interview a man in Caldwell whose name is redacted in the police report. He refused to let the officers in but spoke through the window. A woman also in the residence let the man speak on her behalf.
The man questioned why the police were even investigating. He “initially claimed he only learned of it via the media,” Miraglia wrote.
“(Redacted) repeatedly prefaced his responses to my direct questions about his intent with, ‘Hypothetically, if I were to go out there and throw out some flyers …” and “If I were to do it, there would be no malicious intent.” Ultimately, (redacted) dmitted (sic) ‘I wanna be 100 with you, but you’re trying to get me to say something that I don’t want to say.”
The man then said he had only seen a blurred photo of the flyers on the news, but that everything on the flyer was 100% accurate.
“(Redacted) said he believed ‘There’s a big thing about being antisemitic these days…” and suggested, “it’s like there is some big money behind this,” the report said.
Miraglia asked him why he performed the Nazi salute and the man described himself as a fascist and said fascism is “mankind’s try at a society/system closest to how God would want it to be.”
Fascism is a political ideology characterized by authoritarianism and dictatorships, extreme nationalism and contempt for democracy.
The most infamous fascist regimes include Nazi Germany and Italy under Benito Mussolini. Nazi Germany committed a horrific genocide against the Jews, murdering millions through methods including execution, starvation and gas chambers. Mussolini created a police state in Italy.
Recent history of antisemitism in the region
In 2018, Sandpoint residents received robocalls from a California neo-Nazi that opened with “America has a Jewish problem.” In 2019, the neo-Nazi ran for Garden City’s City Council, garnering 3.7% of the vote.
At the time, Ahavath Beth Israel Rabbi Daniel Fink told the Idaho Press fringe political candidates have sometimes espoused antisemitic views.
Recently, current Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin associated herself with Nick Fuentes, an antisemitic white nationalist, when she gave a speech via recorded video at his conference, the America First Political Action Conference.
There’s also been an uptick in vandalism. The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, which was dedicated in 2002, was defaced with antisemitic graffiti in 2017, and then again in 2020.
Other antisemitic graffiti appeared in tunnels on the Greenbelt near the Anne Frank Memorial in 2021.
The same year, antisemitic graffiti was found downtown on the historic Idaho Building, on a St. Luke’s hospital in McCall and on flyers at a protest against President Joe Biden held near the Boise airport.
“I think what is so radically different now is the frequency and the very casual use of antisemitic symbols or phrases, that they almost get tossed around to become commonplace,” said Prinzing, the executive director of the Wassmuth center.
Prinzing said the issue has been exacerbated by those who compare mask mandates and COVID-19 protocols to the Holocaust. He said this trivializes the Holocaust, which was the most infamous genocide in history where German leaders murdered millions of people.
When it comes to the incidents in Boise, Prinzing said, part of the problem in prosecuting is the actual definition of hate crimes. He said some of the hate acts in Idaho code do not have a clear line between protected speech and what crosses a line.
“Now there is discussion of what needs to be added. How do we define antisemitism and what acts and what language become … clearly acts of antisemitism, then what’s the punishment for having done such?” Prinzing said. “This is going to involve the state.”
Hate crime in general has been up in the United States in recent years. In 2020, hate crimes hit a 12-year high nationally, National Public Radio reported. According to FBI data, there were over 7,000 hate crimes that year in the U.S.
Jewish community reacts
Before Entrepreneur Dan Berger moved to Boise in July 2020, he was never part of the Jewish community. But as he was seeking a sense of belonging, he was drawn to Chabad.
Not a lot of people knew about Judaism locally, he said, because there was not a lot of Jews or Jewish infrastructure. Berger would go on dates when he first moved here where people would ask if he celebrated Christmas or believed in God.
If the legal route is not as productive, Berger believes education can help with the problem.
“My position is responding to antisemitism is after the fact,” Berger said. “The question is how do you prevent it, or how do you make people feel really stupid when they do it?”
Another way is to learn about the benefits from Jewish culture and welcoming Jews, Berger said, just as there are benefits from welcoming other ethnic groups and religions.
Around 28 years ago, Fink moved to Boise with his wife and two small kids to be the first full-time rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel. At the time, Idaho had only 500 Jews in a state of more than 1 million. Now, one report estimated there are over 2,000 Jews in a state of almost 2 million.
Fink’s wife at the time was concerned about groups like the Aryan Nations, according to a 1994 New York Times news service article
“Idaho had this reputation,” Fink told the Idaho Press on Wednesday. “There was antisemitism but there was antisemitism everywhere … it didn’t seem more challenging than any other place that I’d been.”
Not long after, the Aryan Nations were disbanded. For most of his time in Boise, Fink said, he hasn’t been concerned that antisemitism here has been worse than anywhere else. But he said the exception is right now.
Fink said it all started with the 2016 election of former president Donald Trump, which he said empowered the extreme right-wing in the United States. There’s also antisemitism on the extreme left, Fink said, but the left is not a player in Idaho.
“Pretty much any group that traffics in anti-government conspiracy is always antisemitic, there’s always an antisemitic strain,” Fink said.
After some of the local incidents, Fink received calls from Boise citizens and other faith communities.
“It all helps. It’s a reminder,” Fink said. “It helps to be reminded that these kind of hateful acts are representative of a very small percent of the population.”
The moral support helps, though Fink said he’d like to see more legal support.
But antisemitism is thousands of years old, he said. “It’s ongoing work.”
Watch more Local News:
See the latest news from around the Treasure Valley and the Gem State in our YouTube playlist: