Idaho News

Twin Falls officials deluged with angry, some threatening, emails

Twin Falls City Council listened to public testimony on the sexual assault case in June.
Twin Falls City Council listened to public testimony on the sexual assault case in June.

Some people are angry and want answers. Others want the family members of city officials to be raped.

National attention has again come to refugee resettlement in Twin Falls, as the case of three underaged boys from Iraq and Sudan who stand accused of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl at the Fawnbrook Apartments makes its way through the juvenile court system and as opponents of Islam and of refugee resettlement point to the case as validation of their beliefs about Muslims.

“Have you any idea how many Americans are hoping and wishing your daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt, or niece gets gang raped by those (expletive) piece of (expletive) sand (expletive) you’re so (expletive) enamoured (sic) with?” wrote the anonymous sender of one of the emails local police forwarded to the FBI because of another, even more threatening comment in it.

Combined, City Council members and City Manager Travis Rothweiler have gotten more than 100 emails, from more than 90 different email addresses, from people outraged over the case, according to a response to a records request from the Times-News. Many of them repeat accusations that the city and local law enforcement tried to cover the case up, and some, especially the earlier ones, incorrectly say the boys involved were Syrian, which was initially falsely reported on a number of anti-Muslim and anti-refugee resettlement blogs.

Some other emails show the discussion behind the scenes, as city officials try to answer people’s questions, handle the handful of more threatening emails and phone calls, and discuss releasing what information they can to the public and respond to some of the press reports and the interview requests from national outlets.

A few people wrote to say they had canceled plans to travel to or even retire in Twin Falls because of the case.

“We were planning to spend a few days in Twin Falls on our RV tour of Wyoming and Idaho,” one person wrote. “We have decided to pass around, way around, the Twin Falls area to avoid your refugee problem.”

While many of the people were angry about what they heard happened and blamed the City Council for allowing refugees into Twin Falls (the program is federally run), most were not threatening. However, a handful of emails and voice mails city officials have gotten over the past few weeks are being investigated by local police or the FBI.

One man left voice mails for Camille Barigar, wife of Mayor Shawn Barigar, and for two other faculty members at the College of Southern Idaho, which administers the refugee program in Twin Falls, accusing them of bringing “humanity’s lowest common denominator, essentially human garbage, from Africa and the Middle East, into the Twin Falls area.”

In two of voice mails, the man asks the women he left messages for how they would feel if they were gang-raped by Muslims, going into detail about how he imagines it might happen, and in all three voice mails, he refers to the murder of Jo Cox, a Labour Member of Parliament from England and a refugee resettlement supporter who was killed a month ago by a man who appears to have been motivated by his racist beliefs.

A majority of the people who wrote the Council don’t say where they’re from — out of 93 email addresses tallied by the Times-News, where the sender is from is unclear for 57 of them — but the ones that can be identified seem to support what city officials have said — many of the most vitriolic calls and emails they have gotten have been from people who don’t live here.

“All of you Mother (expletive) should be hung for treason,” wrote one California man. “To brush aside Radical Islamic individuals that have committed crimes is shameful. I watched the video of your open Council and what a (expletive) embarrassment. All of you need (expletive) bullets right between the middle of your eyes.”

Of the remaining 36, eight are clearly from the Magic Valley, four from other parts of Idaho, five from California, four from Colorado, and most of the rest from other states. Three people wrote from Canada, and one from Singapore.

Many of the emails accuse the City Council of not paying enough heed to people who came before them with concerns about the incident, and a number of them singled out Councilman Chris Talkington, who supports refugee resettlement and has said bigotry is behind much of the opposition. At one meeting about a month ago, he asked Julie Ruf if she agreed with another refugee opponent who, at a previous meeting, had framed opposition to refugee resettlement as support for “the preservation of the white race.” Ruf said she did not agree. Talkington also said he was glad the refugee opponents speaking at the meeting weren’t around when his ancestors came to America during the Irish Potato Famine.

“With all due respect, the Irish were not terrorists with a political/religious ideology of world conquest,” wrote Larry T, from California. “Neither are many of the Syrian refugees ... but some are and many more are yet to come under the federal government’s Syrian refugee program.”

Councilman Don Hall answered many of the emails, forwarding them the statement city officials put out summarizing the case after the June 20 City Council meeting and having follow-up conversations with some of the people who answered.

“I have responded to all but the most vile,” Hall wrote in one email to Rothweiler. “I have a mixed bag of responses but at least I am trying.”

A couple of these exchanges started out hostile but became more civil. Some evolved into more general discussions of the refugee program.

“I think the problem now is that our Federal Government is unresponsive to the will of the people and we are all frustrated with this fact,” Hall wrote to one man. “We at the local level are closest to the people so we are coming under fire for a program we have no authority over. I do want to say that I have numerous friends and colleagues that are direct or children of the refugee program who are wonderful and productive citizens in our community so I have difficulty in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I do believe that the Congress should demand a complete audit of the program to ensure that those that we are bringing in have been vetted appropriately.”

City spokesman Joshua Palmer said many of the phone calls the city got from people concerned about what happened were more civil than the emails, with many of the calls appearing to be driven by concern for the victim.

“They were just wanting more information,” Palmer said. “Or they were upset because they received some misinformation.”

Palmer said they were often able to talk civilly, even if they didn’t always hang up the phone agreeing with each other.

“The human side of things can get lost in an email exchange,” he said.