By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports
Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin appeared in a photo on social media that has shocked several members of the Senate and prompted accusations of racism from Idahoans across the state.
In the photo, McGeachin is making a heart symbol with her hand as two men make an OK hand gesture.
“I don’t feel safe,” said Sen. Maryanne Jordan in a Friday morning interview with Idaho Reports. “It’s a white power sign.”
In a statement released Friday McGeachin said: “I wholeheartedly reject bigotry and discrimination in all of it’s forms.”
Governor Brad Little released a statement on Monday saying “I discussed the issue with the Lt. Governor. All of us must be accountable for our actions and their implications, and I trust her to do the same.”
The two men flanking McGeachin are Anthony Dephue and James Ward, members of the Political Prisoners Foundation. The foundation is an active non-profit in good standing with the Secretary of State’s office. The group advocates for Todd Engel, who was sentenced to serve 14 years in prison after his involvement in the Nevada standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch.
According to the Southern Policy Law Center, the OK hand gesture is sometimes used as a symbol of “white power,” when used by alt-right.
“The problem, of course, is that there are white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen who have increasingly begun using the use of the symbol both to signal their presence to the like-minded, as well as to identify potentially sympathetic recruits among young trolling artists flashing it. To them, the configuration means WP, for “white power.”’
The hand gesture can also signal support for the Three Percent movement.
“For the antigovernment Three Percenter movement this same hand gesture symbolizes their belief in the disputed claim that only three percent of American colonists fought against the British in the American Revolution,” says a 2017 SPL post. “The three extended fingers represent this three percent.”
McGeachin says in her statement that viewing this in terms of race “is part of a larger narrative to paint conservative leaders as embracing identity politics.”
“It had been our hope that this incident, whatever the intentions, would provoke a deeper dialogue. Clearly the dismissal of these concerns as ridiculous tells us all we need to know,” said Sen. Jordan after reading McGeachin’s statement.
Idaho Reports communicated with Dephue on Facebook. “We are being characterized as White Supremacists for our hand gesture,” Dephue wrote. “We would like to engage in a civil dialog that will help your audience make an informed decision.”
Dephue did not address the possible racism in the hand gesture.
McGeachin explained why she deleted the picture from her Facebook Page. “Once I discovered that a few people had begun erroneously assigning sinister motives which are contrary to my character, I immediately deleted the post,” said McGeachin. “The photo was intended to show support for Engel and nothing more.”
Regardless of the intent behind the hand sign, some Idaho politicians have spoken out strongly over the photo.
“This image and the message that it sends is appalling,” former Republican legislator and Congressional candidate Luke Malek told Idaho Reports. “The Capitol of our great State… our people’s house… should never be used as a platform for hate.”
This photo is not the first time McGeachin has been connected to alleged racism on the internet. Idaho Reports reported on Facebook comments made during last years campaign.
“I’ve seen one, now I’ve seen two,” Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb told Idaho Reports.
“I’m surprised,” said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett. “The lieutenant governor should be more judicious with who she meets.”
In a joint statement from Senate Minority leadership, the senators stated constituents are upset.
“We have heard numerous grave concerns overnight and today from constituents who are now fearful of coming to the statehouse,” said the statement, released Friday morning. “Some have said they will not allow their children to visit. The openness of the statehouse is foundational to our service. Whatever the intention of the post, the impact has resonated negatively across the state.”
In the statement, Democratic leadership did not publicly call for disciplinary action or an apology from McGeachin.
The Lieutenant Governor of Idaho presides over the Idaho Senate, meaning regardless of how they feel, the senators will have to continue working with McGeachin.
Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill told Idaho Reports on Friday morning that he had just seen the post. “She is not part of the legislative branch of government. I have no authority to discipline her or have an ethics committee. That’s going to have to be worked out with the executive branch of government.”
Hill said he didn’t know until this morning that the hand gesture was affiliated with either Three Percenters or white supremacy.
“I just can’t react to that yet. I’m sorry, I haven’t seen it. I haven’t talked to her about it,” he said, adding that the dignity of the Senate does need to be protected.
Gov. Brad Little’s office said he will wait to release a statement until meeting with McGeachin.
Melissa Davlin contributed to this report. Idaho Reports will have more throughout the day, and on this week’s episode. Idaho Reports airs Friday at 8 pm.
This story was updated to include a statement by Governor Brad Little at 4:38 on Monday.