Investigation underway by Idaho police into racist harassment targeting Utah women’s basketball team

Police in Coeur d’Alene, a town in northern Idaho known for its presence of white supremacist groups, are currently investigating a series of “racial hate crimes” that allegedly targeted the University of Utah’s women’s basketball team during their stay in the area for the NCAA Tournament last week. The coach of the team reported these incidents, shedding light on the disturbing nature of the crimes.

Mayor Jim Hammond expressed his sincerest apologies to the team during a news conference held on Tuesday. This apology was prompted by the events that took place last Thursday evening when a driver, with a complete disregard for decency, revved their engine and hurled racial slurs at the team, band members, and cheerleaders as they were heading out to dinner. To make matters worse, as the group was leaving the restaurant later on, they were once again subjected to the same offensive behavior from two truck drivers who revved their engines and shouted racial slurs at them.

“We strongly denounce these acts of hatred,” stated Tony Stewart, a member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, during a press conference. He further added, “If the individuals responsible for these heinous acts can be identified, we urge for their prosecution. There is absolutely no room for such appalling actions in our communities or in the United States of America.”

Police Chief Lee White stated that local law enforcement was notified about the incident on the same night it occurred. They are currently collaborating with the FBI to interview the victims and witnesses in order to ascertain the relevant state and federal laws that are applicable to the case. Chief White specifically mentioned federal law, a state law prohibiting malicious harassment, and a statute addressing disorderly conduct.

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The FBI spokesperson, in a statement obtained by NBC News, acknowledged the incident in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and stated that they are in regular contact with local authorities. Furthermore, they expressed their readiness to investigate if any potential federal violation comes to light during the ongoing local investigation.

Coach Lynne Roberts revealed on Monday that the team had to stay in Idaho instead of Spokane, Washington for the NCAA Tournament hosted by Gonzaga University. This was due to a shortage of hotel space in the area.

“Racism exists, and it occurs, and it’s terrible,” expressed Roberts. “The way it unfolded was distressing for our players, regardless of their race. It’s disheartening when individuals are unsure of how to address such situations. It’s even more disconcerting when our players and staff don’t feel secure in an NCAA Tournament setting. It’s just not right.”

According to Roberts, the team was relocated to a different hotel with the assistance of the NCAA and Gonzaga. Requests for comment from Roberts and the women’s athletics department have not yet been responded to. Following the incident, Gonzaga, NCAA officials, and Idaho Governor Brad Little promptly issued statements expressing their apologies to the team and denouncing the harassment.

Coeur d’Alene and northern Idaho have gained notoriety for their extremist activities and the presence of racist organizations. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, white supremacist groups, including the Aryan Nations, have been causing terror in the region since the 1970s. In 2022, downtown Coeur d’Alene witnessed a march conducted by members of a racist hate group known as Patriot Front. The Spokesman Review of Spokane reported that thirty-one individuals were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to incite a riot.

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During Tuesday’s news conference, a local far-right activist caused a commotion by shouting about the Patriot Front incident. Despite claiming to be a member of the media, he refused to disclose his affiliation with any particular news outlet. The crowd at the event expressed their disdain by booing him.

According to the Idaho 97 Project, a group dedicated to countering far-right extremism in the state, the region has been identified as a “safe haven” for white supremacist hate groups.

“In 2022, Mike Satz, the executive director at the time, acknowledged the existence of extremism in Idaho, stating that it has been present at some level for a long time, dating back to Richard Butler and various groups in Coeur d’Alene. Speaking to KSTV-TV of Twin Falls, Satz also highlighted the influx of individuals relocating to Idaho due to its reputation as a conservative stronghold.”

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