BOISE, Idaho — This story originally ran in the Idaho Press.
In May 2021, a woman charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. stood outside the Idaho State Capitol, filming a parade of cars waving American flags. Drivers honked their horns as the flags rippled in the breeze.
This sunny spring day was Pam Hemphill and her companion’s first introduction to Protect43, a secretive new far-right group in Idaho politics, the Idaho Press reports. Hemphill is a Boise resident with far-right political affiliations who was an early member of Ammon Bundy’s People’s Rights organization. She is one of six Idahoans facing criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
A green Jeep pulled past Hemphill’s camera and a woman with a braid leaned out the window to yell “Go to Protect43.com.”
“What did she say?” Hemphill’s companion asked.
“I don’t know,” Hemphill said. “Something about 43.com or something?”
It’s not until around 30 seconds later, when another woman repeats the message that Hemphill understands.
Her male companion, wearing a white T-shirt that said “RIGHTS. Claim Them Use Them Defend Them” pulled up the website. He read their mission statement: A liberty action group based on constitutional conservative principles.
“I love that,” Hemphill said. She included a link to the site in the description of her YouTube video of the parade.
Over 60% of the candidates Protect43 supported in the 2021 elections won, and the group is getting ready to help other candidates run in the 2022 elections.
But the site, like everything else about Protect43, provides little to no information about who is behind the clandestine group, besides a subhead visible late last year that said “We are your neighbors and friends.”
Neighbors and friends
The day after the November election, business owner and Meridian City Council candidate Adam Nelson took to Facebook to concede defeat. In his message, he thanked Protect43 and said he was looking forward to helping with future projects.
Another candidate, Mike Hon, praised Protect43 for helping shake up the establishment and said the organization was made up of concerned conservatives from Meridian.
Neither of the two responded to requests for comment for this story.
Neither did Protect43, which did not return a call seeking comment.
Protect43 was founded in 2020 and calls itself a “political action group.” The organization is made up of “professionals from around the valley,” who work with other political groups to promote conservative values, according to a press release from Protect43 published by Idaho Dispatch.
Idaho Dispatch is run by Idaho Second Amendment Alliance Founder Greg Pruett.
“The group focuses on producing disruptive events that promote freedom and economic growth in the state of Idaho,” according to another Protect43 press release published by Idaho Dispatch.
Beyond that, there is little information about the group.
The organization is not filed with the Idaho Secretary of State. Its website indicates a copyright but a search of multiple United States’ copyright databases and an international trademark database show nothing for Protect43.
The group’s information is redacted from at least one domain lookup site, though the site is listed as registered in Idaho. Other press releases from Protect43 published on Idaho Dispatch show the founder’s name is Rick Dockery, which is a fictional character in the book “Playing for Pizza.” Mica Brock and Colette C are listed as co-founders.
The parade Hemphill attended was set to start at the Foothills Church in Garden City, move to the Capitol and then end at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park in Meridian.
The cities of Boise and Meridian said there were no event permits issued for the parade. Boise Police were at the event as well as at a nearby demonstration.
Boise Police Public Information Officer Haley Williams said events happen downtown often, and police regularly monitor what is taking place.
Transparency in the state
In 2012, then-Secretary of State Ben Ysursa sued a group called Education Voters of Idaho.
The Gem State was embroiled in a bitter fight over the “Luna Laws,” a series of education propositions which would have upheld laws backed in part by then-state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. Education Voters of Idaho argued the organization was a 501©(4), with a mission of promoting education reforms and was therefore exempt from disclosing its donors.
“If you are a political committee under the law, you are required to register a report,” Ysursa told the Idaho Press.
A political committee is any group designated to either support or oppose any candidate or measure, or any group which gives or receives more than $1,000 while supporting or opposing candidates or measures.
In March, Protect43’s website said the group planned to work with businesses and governments to create events and “liberty based messages that promote a free and healthy lifestyle.” But now their goals have changed.
“We are a group that focuses on keeping Idaho a free and Constitutional Conservative state,” Protect43’s website said in December. “We work to identify, vet and support candidates to be elected into office.”
In January, the website said the group was a “professional political consulting group.”
The Secretary of State’s office said there were no complaints against the group, and no organization named Protect43 filed with them.
Nationwide, there are a number of far-right groups who have been secretive about their business, said David Adler, president of The Alturas Institute, a civic engagement group. This lack of transparency is similar in Idaho, Adler said.
“Transparency would be a good thing for them to engage in,” Adler said. “That would help to promote discussion and that would mark the fulfillment of the founder’s commitment to free speech, where essentially many ideas would be introduced to public consideration.”
Any group that genuinely embraces the constitution would not draw a distinction when it comes to equal protection of the law on the base of race or gender or sexual identity, Adler said.
“That would be anathema to the principle of equal protection,” Adler said.
Though Protect43 espouses constitutional values like the Bill of Rights and personal liberties, some of their values include biological gender laws.
“There are a lot of people in Idaho who revere the founding fathers and yet they may not be fully aware of where the founders stood on issues of concern to Idahoans,” Adler said. “They revere the concept of the founding fathers, perhaps without digging too deeply into the views of the framers.”
Already, Protect43 is gearing up for the next election. The group’s “Constitutional Conservative Candidate Application” is open for 2022.
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