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Retired Idaho law enforcement officers start PAC targeting ‘fringe candidates’ in GOP primary


Retired Idaho law enforcement officers start PAC targeting ‘fringe candidates’ in GOP primary

May 04, 2022 | 6:30 am ET
By Audrey Dutton
Retired Idaho law enforcement officers start PAC targeting ‘fringe candidates’ in GOP primary
Gary Raney, retired sheriff of Ada County, speaks in a political advertisement created by Defend and Protect Idaho PAC. (Still from YouTube video)

A new group led by retired Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney says it plans to thwart “fringe candidates” in 2022 elections.

The Defend & Protect Idaho PAC held a press briefing Tuesday with Raney; Paul Wilde, retired sheriff of Bonneville County; and Ron Winegar, retired deputy chief of the Boise Police Department.

“… We have to return to civility in politics and stand up against radical extremism, regardless of the source,” Winegar said. “We just need to strongly examine ourselves and our motives and our values and align ourselves with people in our representative republic, of like mind and like values. And, to me, those cannot include violence, intimidation or extremism in any way.”

Winegar recounted a personal experience with what he believed to be political extremists, following a traffic stop in downtown Boise in 1997.

Two brothers from Pennsylvania were pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, a minor infraction. The men pulled guns and shot at police officers. They killed one officer and seriously wounded Winegar.

Ron Winegar, retired deputy chief of Boise Police Department, appears Tuesday in a virtual briefing with Idaho journalists
Ron Winegar, retired deputy chief of Boise Police Department, appears Tuesday in a virtual briefing with Idaho journalists. (Screen shot from Zoom video)

“And at the ripe-old age of 28, I began a lifelong journey with pain,” he said. “That reminds me every day that I’m fortunate to be alive, and also reminding me what dangerous extremism looks like.”

Winegar said that, in the aftermath, investigators found anti-government literature and bomb-making materials in their apartment, “which leads me firmly to believe that they were of the mindset that I call a ‘militia mentality,'” Winegar said. They had weapons in their car and on their bodies, he said. “Those brothers spent a great deal of time and effort over many years preparing for an armed, violent encounter.”

Defend & Protect Idaho PAC has begun political ad campaign

The PAC has begun to run video advertisements on digital media, opposing Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and Ammon Bundy as candidates for Idaho governor. The ads also warn of political extremism as a threat to the “rule of law” and to law enforcement.

The group spent $10,838 on Facebook advertising between mid-April and May 1, according to data from Meta, Facebook’s parent company. The group operates the Facebook page Idahoans Against Extremism.

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Defend & Protect Idaho on April 29 reported it received $90,000 from Real Idaho Patriots LLC, according to Idaho Secretary of State campaign finance records.

Real Idaho Patriots reports only a registered agent on its business records. It does not disclose names of managers or owners, and PAC representatives were vague when asked about its funding sources at a press briefing Tuesday.

That is Defend & Protect Idaho’s only reported contribution so far; the group hasn’t yet filed a more recent campaign finance disclosure.

“I gotta tell you, everybody who has come forward, offering support and offering money, it’s the same idea,” Raney said. “The only agenda is to restore civility, to restore common sense, and to restore the rule of law by our elected officials in Idaho.”

The GOP primary on Tuesday, May 17, includes several hotly contested races.

At the top of the ballot, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is seen as the leading challenger against Gov. Brad Little for the governor’s seat.

Defend & Protect Idaho in a press briefing Tuesday named McGeachin as one of the candidates it opposes. McGeachin plans to hold a rally Wednesday in Meridian, featuring far-right figures Michelle Malkin, Stew Peters and Arizona State Sen. Wendy Rogers.

Winegar made a comparison between the far-right extremism that includes white supremacy and anti-government activity, and the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.

“Anybody who was offended by that conduct has to be also offended by extremism on the other side of the political aisle,” he said.

PAC has support of former Idaho law enforcement officers from throughout the state

The PAC has support from a cadre of law enforcement officers. In a press release, it listed the following as people who have signed on in support:

  • LeRoy Forsman, retired Nampa Police Chief
  • Daniel Hall, retired Jerome Police Chief
  • Jack Hart, retired Payette Police Department patrol sergeant and school resource officer
  • Scott Johnson, retired Ada County Chief Deputy Sheriff
  • Jim Kerns, retired deputy chief, Boise Police Department
  • Michael Masterson, retired Boise Police Chief
  • Gary Raney, retired Ada County Sheriff
  • Chris Smith, retired Canyon County Sheriff
  • Paul Wilde, retired Bonneville County Sheriff
  • Rich Wills, former Idaho State Police trooper, Elmore County deputy and Idaho State legislator
  • Ron Winegar, retired deputy chief, Boise Police Department
  • Ben Wolfinger, retired Kootenai County Sheriff

“As former and current members of Idaho’s law enforcement community, we are writing to condemn the actions of fringe extremists whose promotion of political violence threatens the rule of law, public safety and democratic governance in our communities,” the group said in the news release. “Targeting the family homes of police officers, judges and civil servants does not reflect Idaho values. Using the threat of violence to shut down hospitals and emergency rooms in order to score political points is un-American.

“Trying to appeal to white nationalists, Holocaust deniers, and convicted criminals in order to intimidate and bully true conservatives to their extremist point of view is bad for officers of the law, public servants, and ultimately, our society.”