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Protesting In Trump Country (Photo Essay)

I waited a bit to share these photos for a few reasons: first, they’re a little disturbing, and depending on your background, potentially triggering. Second, I needed to track down the activists involved to get consent to use the photos at all. In this region of the country in particular, they stand out even more than they would otherwise. But I think they’re valuable pictures regardless: they flesh out even further the movement that is happening across the country. For this reason, if you read the rest of this caption, please read the whole thing.

In Couer D’Alene, Idaho, a city that is 93% white in a state that is 93% white where 59% voted for Trump, around 200 protestors marched through downtown and gathered in front of the City Hall on multiple days, all while surrounded (quite literally) by armed militia. There are several things about this I would like to highlight: a generation ago, a peaceful protest led by people of color through downtown Couer D’Alene would have been unlikely. But optics can be confusing. The national media ran several stories about Couer D’Alene and the ‘vigilantes’ lining the streets, and the visuals can be disturbing, intimidating, but also, I think, misleading. There was virtually no police presence, at least on the day I was shooting. The militia and the BLM leaders had coordinated timing. The number of militia marching and chanting with the protestors actually outnumbered the MAGA hats.

The militia were also not the only ones armed: so were some of the BLM marchers, a “Defund the police” sign in their hands and a sidearm on their hips. Welcome to Idaho.

Granted, the militia was there ostensibly to prevent looting by ‘Antifa,’ swept up in the unsubstantiated paranoia infecting right-leaning communities — but they also gave vociferous defense of the protesters’ right to march. Also somewhat surprising to me, every single militia member I spoke to expressed unequivocal support of de-militarizing and reforming the police. Maybe having your own guns helps in that case.

Regardless, it reminded me of several things. First, you can’t just go to Fox News to understand how the “other half” of the country thinks. The libertarian conservatism of Idaho and surrounding states operates a little differently than Republicanism in, say, the South. Second, although Idaho by popular conception is the home of the fundamentalist Mormons from “Educated” and the kind of place you can find fringe-right separatist groups partying at the fairground on the weekend (I know because I went and found them), you must remember that if 59% of voters chose Trump, that means 4 out of 10 did not. That’s a lot of people — and the trouble with painting our states red or blue is that it leaves a lot of people out of our imagination all across the country.

So — do conspiracy theorists with assault weapons still make me nervous? Definitely. Have they learned to hide their prejudices from both others and themselves by coding their language away from color? Absolutely. Was the rule-abiding, non-confrontational protest indicative of the implicit pressure from an overwhelmingly white community to rage politely? Sure. But I ask again, could this have happened at all forty years ago? I don’t think so, and that, too, is significant.


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