North Idaho imports nuts

By Michael O’Donnell

North Idaho must have a magnetic pull that attracts elements in the social periodic table that are extremely dense.
People who are a few protons short of functioning in real life flock to the isolation of the rugged thumb of land between the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area and the Great White North.
The magnetic field is surging again as a group from Maryland is proposing to build a walled community called The Citadel on several thousand acres near St. Maries.
On their website,, developers for The Citadel exalt the virtues of living in “an affordable, safe, well-prepared, patriotic community where your children will be educated in school rather than indoctrinated.”
There is a caveat.
“Marxists, Socialists, Liberals and Establishment Republicans will likely find that life in our community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles,” the website states.
To help define what types of folks will be welcomed at the complex, the group says via its website that it’s looking for: “Patriotic American families who agree that being prepared for the emergencies of life and being proficient with the American icon of liberty — the rifle — are prudent measures.”
It’s probably no coincidence that the main financial backing for this new North Idaho venture is coming from III Arms Co., an AR-15 rifle manufacturing firm that also builds semi-auto .45-caliber pistols. The gun company’s motto is simple: “Made by Patriots – Made for Patriots.”
Hopefully the target of these weapons will not be anyone deemed to be unpatriotic (see Marxists, socialists, liberals and establishment Republicans).
And like so many groups before them, the Citadel-lites are setting themselves up for confrontation with you guessed it – the government.
The group’s website promises “zero property taxes.”
Unless the Benewah County assessor has credentials signed by Thomas Jefferson it might be best if he never sets foot in that shangri la of freedom driven by firepower.
Whether or not this latest poke at the fabric of modern society actually takes root in the hills of Idaho is anyone’s guess. As my father-in-law used to say, “Talk is cheap. It takes money to buy whiskey.”
Buying a small parcel and putting up a shack in the middle of nowhere can be done on the cheap. Organized developments with water, sewer, schools, self-contained law enforcement, fire protection and recreational opportunities cost big bucks. Just ask Mayor Brian Blad.
But at first blush living in isolation, bathed in the fear of a collapsing civilization might sound inviting to some folks. They could make Idaho a real “battleground state.”
Over the years, these odd elements of society have given Idaho some pretty twisted publicity. Ruby Ridge, the Aryan Nations Compound outside Hayden Lake and the ill-fated Almost Heaven complex developed by ex-Green Beret Col. Bo Gritz — who shot himself in the chest with a .45 during a messy divorce — were nesting places for the disenfranchised during the 1990s.
Ruby Ridge was home to Randy Weaver and one of the worst examples of federal law enforcement run amok. In 1992 a siege on Weaver’s cabin by federal agents for an alleged gun violation led to the shooting deaths of a federal agent and Weaver’s wife and son. Weaver and his family had simply moved to the remote mountains to home school their kids and survive what he felt was an impending apocalypse.
What they got was national publicity and tragedy.
They also got about a $3 million wrongful death settlement from the federal government.
When the Rev. Richard Butler set up his Aryan Nations compound he just planned on raising a crop of skinheads and spewing hatred and lead at the resident population of squirrels. Then he dreamed big. He started inviting others of his ilk to what he liked to call the Aryan Nations World Congress.
Money got a little tight and members of his group started robbing banks in nearby Washington State. Other members harassed the local Native American population at gunpoint and ended up losing a lawsuit for $6.3 million – essentially recessing Butler’s congress forever.
As for Gritz’s Almost Heaven, it was never even close to Pearly Gates status. What started as a 1,000-acre development for “patriotic” Americans in Idaho County soon became a destination for the disturbed. Gritz himself said it best in a story that appeared in the Casper Star Tribune back in 2004.
“There were about six individuals who were looking for armageddon, and if it didn’t come, they were going to cause it,” Gritz was quoted in the story.
As trouble grew, so did resistance to buying property in Almost Heaven. Gritz bailed and so did others as conservative Idaho residents grew intolerant of the extremists.
Finding a nice place to wait for the world to end isn’t easy — even in Idaho.

Michael H. O’Donnell is the assistant managing editor of the Idaho State Journal.