Facing simmering outrage over her decision to deliver a taped speech to a white-nationalist conference in Orlando last month, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin insisted she did not know the infamous Holocaust denier who organized the event. In classic far-right fashion, she also bristled at scrutiny from the media for catering to racists.
But somehow, McGeachin can’t stop talking about her craven appeal to some of the most hateful actors in American politics. And on Thursday, in a new interview defending her role in the American First Political Action Conference (AFPAC)—which also featured speaker Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and was organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes—McGeachin seemed to put an end to her wink and nod act.
“I did know who I was talking to, who had invited me to speak at the conference,” McGeachin said in an interview with right-wing outlet Valiant News, before further defending her appearance that has prompted local lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to call for her resignation. “I’m not going to back off from the opportunity to talk to other conservatives across the country about America First policies.”
The Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate defending her appearance at the event by citing a desire to speak to “America First”—read: white-nationalist—types is not entirely new.
In her taped speech, McGeachin even went as far as insisting that she was calling for “freedom fighters all over this country that are willing to stand up and fight…. Even when that means fighting among our own ranks, because too many Republicans don’t exhibit the courage today.”
But the interview released Thursday does provide more context into the process that went into her appearance, including that she claims she was invited by longtime conservative columnist Michelle Malkin. Malkin, for her part, torpedoed her reputation in mainstream conservative circles in 2019 after aligning herself to Fuentes, whom she once called “one of the New Right leaders.”
“I was invited to present a video of my commitment to my Idaho policies, and my vision for the state of Idaho and for America to thousands of young conservatives,” McGeachin said in the latest interview, before confirming she was “invited by Michelle Malkin.” While describing Malkin’s credentials, McGeachin also took pains to note by way of apparent defense for appealing to anti-Semites that Malkin is married to a Jewish man.
Whether her continuing to dish on a speech that has pissed off virtually everyone who is not an extremist in her state will pay political dividends in a 2022 gubernatorial primary remains to be seen. The push-back continues to be bipartisan, albeit far less decisive from her own party.
“I feel like this TV defense just made it so much worse,” one Idaho GOP state senator, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional retaliation, told The Daily Beast on Friday.
Amy Herzfeld-Copple, deputy director of programs and strategic initiatives at Western States Strategies, a nonprofit that focuses on countering white nationalism that has previously called for McGeachin’s resignation, likewise called out the gubernatorial candidate after her Thursday interview.
“Janice McGeachin is saying what we all know: not only is she consciously courting white nationalists in her bid to become the governor of Idaho; she’s clearly intending to embrace and enact their agenda if elected,” Herzfeld-Copple told The Daily Beast. “This is a profound threat to inclusive democracy, and we need people from across the political spectrum and from every corner of civil society to make clear it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
A spokesperson for the Idaho Democrats, who have been especially vocal in their critiques of McGeachin, insisted to The Daily Beast on Friday that the lieutenant governor’s latest defense of her AFPAC appearance was further evidence of her true beliefs.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them,” the spokesperson said. “Janice McGeachin’s support of the extreme right and white nationalists is blatantly clear, and it has been for years. What I’m still not clear on is when, if ever, leaders of the Idaho Republican Party will say ‘enough is enough’ and call on her to resign.”
The known connection between Malkin and Fuentes also calls into question McGeachin’s insistence that she did know who Fuentes was when she accepted the invitation to deliver a pre-taped speech at AFAC. In a now-viral interview with KTVB, McGeachin previously said she never met Fuentes and his beliefs do “…not reflect on who I am or who the thousands of others that are participating in this movement.”
McGeachin also previously said in a statement: “I do not and have never supported identity politics or other discriminatory views that only seek to divide us and not unite us.” Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The saga has suggested McGeachin thinks her challenge to incumbent Republican Gov. Brad Little will benefit from extremist support, signaling a growing civil war within the state’s party. Bonner County Commissioner Steven Bradshaw, another Republican gubernatorial candidate, told The Daily Beast earlier this month that he was surprised by McGeachin’s decision to “in the middle of a primary election, [go] to something that could be that controversial.”
“I would always examine something like that beforehand and ask myself, ‘Where or what is the value in this,’” Bradshaw added. “That being said, we all have [our] own perspectives.”
Little, who is also running for re-election, recently broke his jarring silence on his deputy—who he did not choose as his running mate and has long sparred with in bizarre fashion. (McGeachin attempted to make new, truther-style COVID-19 policy last year while the governor was briefly out of town, among other highlights.)
While Little did not call out McGeachin by name, he released a damning statement earlier this month after Democrats, some former GOP officials, and advocates in the state called on him to condemn McGeachin for her appeal to professional racists.
“It is extremely unfortunate anyone in elected office in Idaho must make statements like these, but let me be clear—I fully reject racism in all its forms,” Little said earlier this month on Twitter. “There is no place for racism and hate in the great State of Idaho. As Governor, I will continue to stand up for Idahoans’ values and work to make our state the place where our children and grandchildren choose to stay.”
The Idaho Democratic spokesperson, however, noted that McGeachin’s latest interview was par-for-the-course.
“It’s no more bizarre or troubling than her issuing rogue executive orders while the governor is out of state or racking up $46,000 in legal fees after refusing to release public records,” she added.