Our Families Are Not Political Punching Bags

Political pugilism in Idaho can get ugly. Over the past few years, there has been an escalation in attacks on legislators, political consultants, campaign volunteers, and online spectators weighing in on public policy. Tensions rise, and donor money is poured into these fights, igniting personal animosity.

In 2018, I started a website called Idaho Conservatives. I saw things that bothered me within the Republican brand I had identified with since I was a kid and decided to create a platform that would shed light on behaviors and tactics I felt were dishonest and abusive. I had no idea that by doing so, I would kick a hornet’s nest of adversaries determined to hurt me. Since then, I’ve faced multiple SLAPP-style lawsuits aimed at bankrupting me; I was doxxed, stalked, and have had thousands of social media posts aimed at me to attack who I am, where I worked, and what I do in what I believed was a coordinated effort to destroy me. Any attempt to defend myself was met with more attacks, escalating to where we are now. 

On the evening of January 21, my wife and I rushed our 17-year-old son to the emergency room after he came to us complaining about the onset of double vision and balance issues. His eyes were looking in different directions, and we were very concerned. In the ER, we received a CT scan, which revealed any parent’s worst nightmare: a large mass deep inside our son’s brain.

That night, our focus was entirely on informing family members, arranging care for our other four children, and transporting my son to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Politics was the last thing on my mind as every worst-case scenario spun through my head. 

While we were scheduling an emergency MRI and discussing the options and risks of intensive brain surgery with a neurosurgeon, someone started posting multiple accusations that I had been behind some fake X (Twitter) account and texting their wife at 11 pm the night before, that they had proof and were going to destroy me with it.

Others notified me about this as friends and colleagues reached out with concerns. I was being accused of horrible things, actions the accuser knew were happening while I was dealing with a family crisis. I have no doubt in my mind that this was a deliberate and malicious attempt to take advantage of my family’s crisis. And to that end, everyone involved in this mess succeeded in being disruptive and caused my family severe emotional distress.

These accusations are entirely false. It’s become apparent I had nothing to do with the fake X account or any text conversations between a political adversary’s wife and whoever was messaging them. I believe that the hatred and obsession with me led the individual to make false assumptions and pull the trigger on making those public accusations towards me.

It was classic ready, fire, aim.

The individual responsible for making these false accusations even went so far as to threaten to send the police after me while I was in the hospital with my wife and son. This malicious attack on my family was cruel and set a new low for political engagement in Idaho.

Consequently, I had no choice but to instruct an attorney to send a cease and desist letter, hoping to halt these false accusations and attacks on the eve of my son’s emergency brain surgery. After countless prayers and support from friends, family members, and many in the Idaho political community, the 10-hour tumor removal was successful, and my son is now slowly recovering. 

This crisis opened my heart to the idea of working to inspire a shift in how everyone engages in this space so what happened to me never happens to anyone else again.

Things must change, and it’s time to set some ground rules for political engagement in Idaho. 

Many of us have participated in creating and amplifying content that was directed at individuals and not ideas. We’ve failed to be civil and allowed ourselves to let our feelings overtake logical approaches. Public participation in policy discussions is a critical part of representative government, and for us to co-exist in this space, we need to develop solutions to prevent destroying people and relationships.

May I propose a few ground rules we can all get behind to shift this space from finding new ways to hurt those who disagree with us to developing creative ways to drive messaging around policy and ideas? 

Proposed Ground Rules

Families Are Off Limits

  • Do not talk about spouses, children, and extended family members who are not involved in politics.
  • Give people space to be a parent and spouse. We must respect family time and not impose unfair commitments that detract from our families.
  • Do not contact family members or relatives who are not involved in the political space.
  • Do not share stories about other people’s spouses and children.

Avoid Nasty Personal Attacks

  • Avoid creating false images via AI or image editing to create personal attacks, mainly when rooted in ad hominem and dishonest messaging.
  • Do not publish content attacking someone’s physical appearance, gender, identity, sexuality, and race. Who we are as people is not something that should be weaponized.

Do Not Engage in Doxxing

  • Sharing personal and private information without consent to target an individual for harassment must be off-limits.
  • Never share the personal addresses, phone numbers, and names of children/spouses. This puts kids and family members at risk of targeted harassment by others, and they should never be made victims of political violence.
  • Do not share private employment information. We all have a constitutionally protected right to engage in political discussions. Our ability to provide for our families through private employment must be protected. If you work for a political organization and engage in political messaging as part of your work, that becomes part of the conversation.
  • Sharing private information increases the risk of identity theft by online criminals, and nobody in this space deserves the damage that can be caused by severe financial harm stemming from identity theft.

No Salacious Unverified Claims or Threats

  • Serious allegations must be addressed through proper channels: if you suspect someone of engaging in harmful acts privately, confront them in private. Ensure you’ve gone through the appropriate steps to ensure you don’t make false accusations that cause serious harm to everyone. 
  • Do not make threats or engage in political violence. This includes threats of physical violence and threats of “destroying” someone.

No Hacking or Impersonation

  • Do not set up fake social media accounts to impersonate someone. This violates the terms and conditions of most social networking sites and is an incredibly dishonest and ineffective way to make a point. 
  • Do not engage in hacking and breaching the digital privacy of others. This behavior may be unlawful, and nobody in this space should ever engage in this type of behavior. Do not share passwords or personal information that could lead to someone getting hacked or provide information that could be used in identity theft.

These are a few basic ground rules I believe we can all get behind. This isn’t about limiting free speech; it’s about enabling us to communicate more effectively and responsibly. How we use our voices says a lot about who we are as people, and I choose to keep my integrity intact and abide by these rules moving forward.

We should have an open dialog about this, and I encourage those with whom I often disagree to help create an engagement framework together. I appreciate that even those who often disagree with me can find common ground on this issue. If we can agree on some basic ground rules and find ways to hold each other accountable to these rules, Idaho politics will become a better place, and we’ll all be more effective. Ultimately, we might even be able to break bread with each other instead of wanting to break those with whom we disagree. 

Disclaimer: The following is intended to convey an opinion on newsworthy events of public concern regarding public figures and/or public officials in the exercise of their official duties. No implications or inferences—beyond those explicitly stated in the preceding—are intended to be conveyed or endorsed by the Author. Wherever available, hyperlinks have been provided to allow readers to directly access any underlying assertions of fact upon which this opinion is based.

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