BOISE — Idaho legislators and others received a postcard in the mail Monday featuring a cartoon depicting new Boise State University President Marlene Tromp as a clown, mocking the state Board of Education, and decrying diversity and inclusion efforts at Boise State.
The postcard, sent by the “Infowars Army,” a group affiliated with InfoWars that touts itself as “a peaceful, lawful and legal citizen activism operation” that is “free from the treachery of superficial identity based messaging, faux-liberalism and fake news,” offended many of its recipients.
“It’s disgusting,” said Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise. “We have so many things we could be talking about in a rational way, but this isn’t a policy debate. This is just hate. And it’s bad for the state, it’s bad for these students. It’s really an embarrassing way to welcome a new university president.”
The cartoon was created by Daniel Brannan, a freelance illustrator and artist from North Idaho who’s also listed as the current Kootenai County chair of the Constitution Party of Idaho; Brannan posted the image on his social media accounts on July 16 with the caption, “A recent commissioned cartoon.”
He didn’t say who commissioned it and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Brent Regan, board chairman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and head of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, said neither he nor the committee was involved. “I really know nothing about it,” he told the Idaho Press.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, and other Democratic lawmakers said they received another postcard from the same group that, like this one, was postmarked from Spokane. That “evil, ugly one,” in Wintrow’s words, was postmarked May 31, and carried an anti-Muslim message, depicting a caricature of a Muslim man with the slogans “Idaho says NO!” and “They’ve gotta go back!!!” On the black cloak the caricature was wearing were written in red a series of phrases, including, “Jihad, Gang Rape, Acid Attacks, Beheadings.”
Both postcards had identical lines across the bottom listing the website infocomms.org, which connects to the Infowars Army; the words “activism,” and “Idaho Reality Theater.”
The postcard claims Tromp, at the invitation of the state Board of Education, is bringing Idaho “scholarships for illegal aliens,” “alt-gender-cult center for LGBTQ creep clowns,” “a gaggle of diversity clowns to gobble up fat paychecks while violating Idaho students,” and after listing the members of the state Board of Education, declares, “The Show Must Not Go On!”
“All the things they put on that postcard, as somebody that works on civil discourse and so forth, my gut just turns and wrenches when I read that kind of stuff and see it coming into mailboxes,” Wintrow said, “because it’s completely hateful and diminishing of real issues that people face in their everyday lives, being marginalized from mainstream culture.”
“‘Pronoun scramble on the rainbow stage’ — oh, my heavens,” Wintrow said. “How people see themselves and what gender they associate with is a very serious issue of who they are. This is nothing but fear, hate, diminishing people’s humanity.”
She added, “Last fall, I remember there were robocalls being made that were racist and hateful up in North Idaho. We have to be vigilant against this kind of hate coming into our state again.”
Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, said he got the postcard, too. “This is not helping their cause,” he said. Martin said he immediately called Tromp to tell her the card is “not the Idaho way.”
On Facebook, Martin posted, “Whoever sent it to me, and I cannot find out who sent it, please do NOT sent me any more of your mailers.”
After 28 Idaho GOP House members signed a letter to Tromp penned by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, decrying BSU’s diversity and inclusion programs — particularly those highlighted in a June 4 newsletter by then-acting President Martin Schimpf — all 21 Democratic members of the Idaho House and Senate signed a letter to Tromp supporting those programs. On Saturday, roughly 200 people attended a rally on the Capitol steps organized by BSU students in support of those programs.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said the postcard contained inaccuracies. “I think it’s real sad when the discussion lowers itself to this level,” he said.
Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, who was among the Republicans who signed the original letter to Tromp, said he got the postcard in the mail Monday afternoon. “Wow, that’s sick,” he said. “I don’t know, this whole thing has just been real eye-opening with respect to people and their emotional state right now. It’s just scary. Why would someone send something like that? I don’t know.”
Lawmakers of both parties from Moscow in the north to Pocatello in the east reported receiving the card.
BSU spokesman Greg Hahn said, “As Dr. Tromp said last week, she believes Idaho can have a meaningful dialogue that underscores our common commitment to the well-being of our students and to the future of the state. She has already begun speaking to the legislators who voiced their concerns with diversity and inclusion programming at Boise State and elsewhere, and is committed to keeping that conversation moving forward.
“We believe that open, honest and compassionate dialogue is the best way to address important issues.”
The Idaho Democratic Party issued a statement Monday evening, condemning the postcard.
“We do not believe that the success of our state is a laughing matter,” according to the statement. “We are disappointed that the group that sent the postcards seeks only to sow division and create a hostile environment. In higher education, as in Idaho generally, we need the opposite: inclusiveness and a welcoming environment.”
The statement went on further, “Our students’ education should not be treated as a political football. The dark-money group behind these postcards should end its attacks upon those who are trying to do the hard work that needs to be done. Idaho students deserve better. We sincerely hope that our Republican colleagues will stand with us against this hateful rhetoric and work with us to develop real solutions for our students.”