Idaho lawmaker posts meme appearing to advocate violence

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A far-right Idaho Republican lawmaker has posted a meme on Twitter appearing to advocate violence against journalists, educators, conservationists, the state’s largest university and other organizations ahead of an upcoming election in November.

Rep. Tammy Nichols on Tuesday posted an image showing former President Donald Trump, a red-colored Idaho image covering his head and face, carrying a barbwire-wrapped baseball bat and others behind him with their heads covered with logos representing 11 groups, including Boise State University.

The meme is an altered image from The Walking Dead, a post-apocalyptic American television series. The fictional character with the bat uses it to smash another character’s head open in a graphic scene of violence.

Nichols captioned the meme: “Idaho has a swamp and there are many players that are working hard to turn it blue. We must stand and not let a Rocky Mountain Heist happen here in the Gem State. Local elections are coming up and they will have consequences.”

Nichols, who represents an area in southwestern Idaho, declined to be interviewed on the phone but said she would respond to an emailed question about whether the meme advocates violence.

“The meme was based on an original Donald Trump meme, but the real question is why is the media worried about a meme on Twitter instead of the potential issues and corruption that seem to be occurring in Caldwell,” she wrote.

She didn’t elaborate on her concerns about Caldwell, a city in southwestern Idaho, and didn’t respond to a second email sent by The Associated Press.

She attached in her email an image of the Donald Trump meme, which shows Trump carrying the barbwire-wrapped baseball bat and the logos of national news organizations, including the AP, covering the faces of characters behind him.

The Idaho 97 Project, a recently-formed group that on its website describes itself as trying to counter disinformation and extremism, is depicted in the Idaho meme.

“I did take it as a threat of physical harm,” said Mike Satz, the group’s executive director. “The problem with this kind of behavior and what makes it so pernicious is people like Tammy Nichols can pretend they didn’t mean what the meme obviously means. But anyone with two brain cells knows that there are people out there in her base who would look at that and take it as a call to action against all of those organizations through violence.”

The Idaho Conservation League, which advocates for the enviroment mainly through collaboration, is also in the meme.

“Rep. Tammy Nichols’ social media posts are condoning and inciting violence,” said Justin Hayes, the group’s executive director. “Her actions do real damage to those working together to solve problems and reflect poorly upon the entire Idaho Legislature.”

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobbying group, is also depicted.

“I think that these sort of things are just not appropriate for Idaho politics,” said Alex LeBeau, the group’s president. “It’s unfortunate that that’s where we find ourselves.”

Another group depicted in the meme is Idaho Education News, which covers education-related issues.

The meme “suggests that these players are working hard to turn Idaho blue and that’s just not accurate,” said Managing Editor Jennifer Swindell. “And, of course, it incites violence.”

Joe Parris, a reporter for Boise-based KTVB-TV that’s also in the meme, responded on Twitter to Nichols tweet: “Only the elected official can say what they meant by a tweet. I can tell you from experience though that threats against journalists from community members can often be rooted to images like this.”

Boise State University saw its proposed budget cut earlier this year despite a record budget surplus in the state after Nichols and other right-wing lawmakers complained about critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism, and accused the university of indoctrinating students.

The school didn’t respond to inquiries from the AP.

Scott Bedke, the Republican speaker of the House, didn’t respond to a text message.