The Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative lobbying and government watchdog group, was slated to hold its annual banquet Aug. 26 at The Riverside Hotel in Garden City.
The event’s guest speaker is Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank. The author of “The Bell Curve,” he has been criticized for his views linking intelligence to class and race.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that monitors hate groups, considers Murray a white nationalist extremist. In March, he attempted to give a speech at Middlebury College in Vermont but was shouted down and forced to leave campus as a riot broke out.
That and other incidents surrounding Murray, as well as last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va., worried hotel managers here, said Riverside hospitality managing partner Kristen Jensen.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
So on Tuesday morning, Riverside notified the group that it was canceling the banquet reservation because of safety concerns.
“When it became evident that we would not be able to control the circumstances surrounding the event and its speaker, we had to make the difficult decision to cancel it,” Jensen said. “After seeing many recent examples of protests and riots at Charles Murray events across the country, we knew an incident would be more than likely. We simply could not take the chance.”
The 303-room hotel on 14 acres along the Boise River has dozens of entry points, making it difficult to monitor from a security standpoint, Jensen said. Additionally, guest rooms cannot be cordoned off from the ballrooms.
“Our guests have the expectation of a safe, enjoyable stay in a resortlike atmosphere,” she said. “We cannot guarantee their safety or an enjoyable stay if there is chaos and riots and protesting going on.”
The Freedom Foundation had to scramble to find a new location. The event will now take place at Château des Fleurs, a French-themed event venue in Eagle.
The organization also took to its website and social media to respond to Riverside’s decision.
“The leftist campaign to stifle the free exchange of ideas has struck a blow right here in Idaho,” Wayne Hoffman, the organization’s president, wrote Wednesday. “Even in Idaho, the left is successfully bullying businesses, badgering, trolling and harassing anyone who dares to contradict their progressive worldview. We are but the latest victim.”
Asked to elaborate, Hoffman told the Statesman that he believes the hotel was bullied into canceling.
“We know for a fact that some individuals in the community who hold progressive viewpoints have been harassing certain businesses and cajoling them into canceling the event. They made it very clear they would do whatever they can to stop Charles Murray’s speech from taking place,” Hoffman said.
Jensen said she wasn’t aware of any calls to the hotel.
“The decision to cancel Idaho Freedom Foundation’s event was based solely on our responsibility for staff and guest safety,” Jensen said. “It was certainly not politically motivated or influenced. However, we understand that not everyone will understand or see it that way.”
Because the hotel has a binding contract with the Freedom Foundation, it is paying the difference in cost to relocate the event. Hoffman said that amounts to $10,000; Jensen said the final amount will not be known until after the event is over.
Hoffman claimed the Château is now receiving calls asking that it cancel the event. Château management did not return a call seeking comment, but on Friday posted a statement to its Facebook page:
“The Château des Fleurs was built by our family as a place for the community to enjoy, gather, celebrate and share ideas. The freedom to express ideas is central to the founding of our nation, and to the core of our beliefs in our business. We have hosted and will continue to host civic and private events for an array of audiences, some we will agree with and some we will not. We believe that through respectful honest dialogue, our communities and humanity will grow stronger.”
Murray, Hoffman said, has been “mischaracterized and vilified for a number of years by people who grossly misinterpret his research.”
“Charles Murray is a widely regarded public policy expert, a scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, a well-regarded national think tank,” Hoffman said. “He speaks on issues and researches issues intended to improve the lives of ordinary Americans regardless of their economic statue, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, their ethnicity, religion, any of that stuff.
“He does the kind of work that we are doing, which is trying to improve people’s lives through positive public policy.”
Hoffman also said some incorrect assumptions are being made about Idahoans.
“I believe that most Idahoans are extraordinarily good-natured and they are above a lot of the crap that is taking place in other parts of the country,” Hoffman said. “The majority of Idahoans would never engage in activities that would harm or jeopardize anyone.”
Nonetheless, Hoffman said his organization has “taken precautions” at the new venue. He would not elaborate.
As of Thursday, Hoffman said, the event had fewer than 10 tickets remaining.
Notable Republicans slated to attend the event include U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who is running for governor next year, and David Leroy and Russ Fulcher, who are vying for Labrador’s congressional seat. Of the other two leading GOP candidates for governor, Lt. Gov. Brad Little has a scheduling conflict, his spokeswoman said. Businessman Tommy Ahlquist has purchased a table but will be out of state at a family event and unable to attend, according to his campaign office.