It’s not me, it’s you: Idaho’s 12 most embarrassing national news stories of all time
Michael Deeds, Idaho Statesman
People who obsess about politics tell me that Idaho is a red state.
I’ve always considered it more of a red-faced state.
As Idahoans, we are required to humiliate ourselves in the national news. It’s our code of dishonor.
Some of the Gem State’s embarrassing acts are driven by misguided ideological beliefs. Others are caused by the Idaho weirdo gene, which scientists suspect is tied to Florida Man DNA. Often, it’s our politicians.
Before social media exploded, we were able to keep our neighbors’ nuttiness somewhat under wraps. It wasn’t so easy for the rest of the nation to discover the secrets of our wonderful, wack-job state.
But with the internet? We’re hosed, bros. As amazing as it feels to live in beautiful Idaho, we must welcome each sunrise prepared to cringe.
In the wake of recent events causing rational Idahoans to retreat into turtle shells of disgrace, I have compiled a handy history of national mortification. The column’s headline — inspired by a reader — indicates that the list is comprehensive. Not exactly. This topic is highly subjective. Besides, with the pace of Idaho indignities quickening, there’s no way to keep up with all the crazy. (Also, I differentiate embarrassing from full-on horrifying, e.g., the Daybell case featured on NBC’s “Dateline.”)
Consider this an “Idaho Dirty Dozen for Dummies.” After shuddering your way through it, from old to new, I think you’ll agree: We Idahoans are gifted dummies — at least when it comes to grabbing unwanted attention.
1. ‘THE BOYS OF BOISE’
No, not the house-flippers on HGTV. The homosexuality scandal. Chronicled in a book of the same name, this troubling slice of history rocked Idaho’s capital city and ruined lives. Late night on Halloween in 1955, three men were arrested for “immoral acts involving teenage boys,” as the Idaho Statesman described it, “in an investigation that had only ‘scratched the surface,’ ” according to the arresting officer. With homosexuality considered taboo, a massive witch hunt ensued — with the Statesman helping to drive hysteria in the post-McCarthyism ’50s.
By the time it was over, 1,500 people had been questioned. Fifteen men received sentences ranging from probation to life. (Nine years was the most served.) A young man killed himself. And Time magazine had written that Boiseans were “shocked to learn that their city had sheltered a widespread homosexual underworld that involved some of Boise’s most prominent men and had preyed on hundreds of teen-age boys for the past decade.” To this day, “the events make Boiseans squirm with discomfort,” the Statesman wrote in 2015.
2. ARYAN NATIONS IN IDAHO
Fair or not, nothing has soiled Idaho’s reputation over the years more than white supremacy. Aryan Nations headquarters was located just north of Hayden, Idaho, from the late 1970s until 2001. White nationalists, anti-Semites and neo-Nazi skinheads converged on the secluded, 20-acre site.
Two decades ago, Aryan Nations finally was bankrupt by a lawsuit from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its Idaho compound was history. But the stink still wafts across our beloved state. And racist culture still bubbles underground, if not openly. “In 2018, at least nine hate groups operated in the region of Spokane and northern Idaho,” according to The Associated Press. At Black Lives Matter rallies in Boise, people show up in Nazi regalia and shout racist garbage.
3. MUD LAKE ‘BUNNY BASH’
Put down the rifle, Elmer Fudd. Use your hands. “About 800 men, women and children, armed with ax handles, baseball bats, tire tools and golf clubs, stretched across a mile of the desolate prairie near Mud Lake,” according to a 1981 Associated Press article, “and rounded up jackrabbits which they claim have done an estimated $5 million in crop damage. Many of the jackrabbits were beaten to death during the drive and others captured in a pen and had their necks broken and their heads decapitated.”
Hundreds of thousands of squealing jackrabbits — more than a million, the organizer later told the Post Register — were killed that winter during bunny-bashing drives in eastern Idaho. Although the practice dated back to the prior century, this Mud Lake spectacle outraged the nation. (Another gem from the Post Register piece? The Mud Lake Tavern served Bloody Bunnies: Bloody Marys with lettuce stalks instead of celery.) Citing animal cruelty, animal-rights lawyers tried to halt the slaughters. They lost in court. Either way, the jackrabbit population soon dwindled, and the drives vanished — along with national media attention.
4. BUTCH OTTER’S TIGHT JEANS …
If he hadn’t gotten pulled over in 1992 and charged with a DUI in Meridian, then-Lt. Gov. Butch Otter wouldn’t still be remembered as “Mr. Tight Jeans.” But after he got busted, media discovered that he’d won a tight jeans contest a few nights earlier at Boise’s Rockin’ Rodeo lounge. At 50, Otter didn’t just look good strutting in those jeans, according to a waitress: “He looked great.” Embarrassing or not, Otter went on to become a three-term Idaho governor.
… AND SOFTCORE ‘PORN’
Otter also made headlines in 2014 when the Post Register noticed he’d taken a small acting part years earlier in an R-rated movie filmed near Weiser. A Western called “Roundup,” it went straight to video in 1997. But then it got released again in 2003 with bonus footage as an unrated movie, “A Time to Revenge” — suddenly with 10-plus minutes of softcore-style sex scenes. Obviously, Idaho’s politician did not appear in those, but as media outlets noted, Butch Otter would be a pretty badass porn-star name.
5. LARRY CRAIG’S ‘WIDE STANCE’
In 2007, Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig’s infamous excuse permeated the culture of a giggling nation. Late-night talk-show jokes. A “Saturday Night Live” skit. Urban Dictionary entries. After being arrested for allegedly soliciting sex from a Minneapolis airport cop in an adjacent men’s restroom stall and charged with lewd conduct, Craig eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He claimed it was all a misunderstanding — that he just happened to have a “wide stance.” Then he publicly declared, “I am not gay. I never have been gay,” making the situation worse — or even funnier, depending on your sense of humor. Bonus: The stall debacle also coined the term “toe-tapper.”
6. THAT 2014 GUBERNATORIAL DEBATE
The Washington Post headline read, “Harley Brown is a real Idaho gem in GOP debate.” Oof. Not for Idaho’s reputation. To quote Brown himself, he was “about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punch bowl.” Sharing the stage with Gov. Butch Otter, then-state Sen. Russ Fulcher and Walt Bayes (another kooky challenger), Brown was, yes, totally hilarious. But sooo cringey for Idaho. “Clad in a black leather vest, hat and gloves, the engineer biker with a more manicured white beard and missing teeth looked like a bad Santa,” The Post wrote. “And he sounded like one, too. ‘I’ve got a master’s degree in raising hell’ was one of the many gasp-worthy things uttered during the hour-long debate.” Words don’t do it justice. You had to witness this jaw-dropper on Idaho Public Television.
7. POOPING CYCLIST STARTS MASSIVE FIRE
It’s never good when the call of nature destroys nature. We’ve all been there, right? You’re riding in the Hulls Gulch area, an unstoppable gastronomic emergency occurs, and, well, you try to do the right thing afterward by burning your toilet paper.
Then, “Oh crap!”
It took four air tankers, three helicopters and a bunch of firefighters to stop a 73-acre fire from blazing across the Foothills and threatening homes nearby in 2015. I give the mountain biker credit for coming forward later. But how many poop emojis do you think got used on social media as word spread nationwide?
8. PUPPY EXECUTION BY SNAPPING TURTLE
What do you do with your kid’s sick pooch when it looks like it won’t survive long-term? Drop it in a 350-gallon classroom tank with a snapping turtle named Jaws, of course. That’s what Preston Junior High School science teacher Robert Crosland did in 2018. But only after his python, Monty, refused to choke the life out of the puppy first. (Shortly after the story broke, the turtle was euthanized by the Idaho Department of Agriculture.)
Students who witnessed the puppy’s underwater death testified that they weren’t offended — hey, this is small-town Idaho. (Preston is where 2004’s hit indie movie “Napoleon Dynamite” was filmed, incidentally.) And guess what? Crosland was found not guilty of animal cruelty after a two-day trial. Nevertheless, the incident infuriated compassionate people across the universe.
9. MIDDLETON TEACHERS’ HALLOWEEN DISASTER
Let’s see, Middleton Heights Elementary School staff, what costumes should we wear for Halloween? Sexy nurse? Inappropriate. Zombie? Too scary for the kids. How about we dress as Mexicans? Or pose behind a mock border wall plastered with “Make America Great Again”? And make sure photographs get posted online?
It didn’t take long for that to go viral. Or for a dozen Idaho-based advocacy groups and nonprofits to send a letter to the district’s superintendent. Or for a MoveOn.org petition, “No Racism in Middleton School District,” to get fired up. The district yanked the photos, apologized, and suspended teachers and other involved employees. But faces across the state burned with anger and embarrassment in late 2018.
10. AMMON BUNDY. PERIOD.
Where do we start when it comes to the most attention-starved human ever to move to Idaho? Bundy’s most recent embarrassment for the Gem State was a profile in The New Yorker in December: “How Ammon Bundy helped foment an anti-masker rebellion in Idaho.” (Yeah, like that was difficult here.) But the incident that horrified many parents was Bundy’s refusal to wear a mask at his son’s high school football game — or leave campus — causing the Emmett-Caldwell contest to be stopped at halftime. Can you imagine having a father so unbelievably selfish? Look, I actually agree with Bundy’s stances occasionally, but his embarrassment rating for Idaho is off the charts. He is currently banned from the Idaho Capitol grounds — he showed up there Monday anyway to drop off signs — after being arrested twice during last August’s special legislative session.
11. ANTI-MASKERS HARASS CDH MEMBERS
In December, anti-maskers caused a Central District Health Board of Health meeting to be ended shortly after it began. Why? Because of danger they posed at the CDH office — and, more shockingly, at board members’ houses, where children were being scared. CNN, Fox News, “The Today Show,” MSNBC, even The Guardian in the United Kingdom spread the news about this inappropriate incident. The Washington Post headline: “An Idaho official left a meeting in tears as anti-maskers swarmed her home.” Sometimes anti-maskers make sane Idahoans want to put bags over their heads.
12. BOISE MAN INVADES U.S. CAPITOL
When a maniacal mob terrorized the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, you knew Idahoans had to be involved. Worst of all, two of the high-profile photographs circulated by media were of Boise’s own Josiah Colt, a Mountain View High graduate: one where he dangled acrobatically from the Senate balcony, another where he plopped down in a seat that, well, confused him. Now Colt is facing two federal misdemeanor charges.
In a video posted to Facebook and circulated widely on other social media, Colt breathlessly and wrongly claimed he was the first rioter to sit in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chair. (He also called Pelosi, 80, a “b****.”) But, no, Colt actually was photographed in the vice president’s spot in the Senate chamber. If you’re gonna get your butt in federal-level trouble, at least know where it’s seated?