Mar 26, 2024 - News

Right-wing disruption shuts down Idaho's apology for racism targeting Utah during NCAA tourney

A coach hugs a University of Utah basketball player on a basketball court.

Utah coach Lynne Roberts hugs player Alissa Pili on Monday in Spokane. Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Officials in Idaho tried to apologize Tuesday for the racism the University of Utah's women's basketball team faced in Coeur d'Alene before an NCAA tournament game at Gonzaga.

Yes, but: They abruptly shut down the news conference when a far-right operative began shouting questions at a human rights advocate.

Why it matters: Northern Idaho has become a hub for right-wing extremist groups.

State of play: Last week's racist harassment was already an embarrassment, prompting apologies from Gov. Brad Little, Gonzaga and Coeur d'Alene Mayor Jim Hammond.

  • Another politically-charged disruption during a nationally-watched media event "says a lot about what we're dealing with," Spokane journalist Melissa Luck posted on Twitter.

Friction point: It also could fuel questions as to why Gonzaga and the NCAA outsourced tournament accommodations to a community that's been called a "haven" for white nationalism.

  • "We worked hard to secure the opportunity to serve as the host institution," Gonzaga officials wrote in a prepared statement Monday, adding that safety and security were their top priorities.
  • The Utes were lodged in Coeur d'Alene, about 30 miles from Gonzaga, because Spokane was short on hotel space, per the AP. Gonzaga needed a waiver to host the tournament because Coeur d'Alene is more than 30 minutes' drive from the stadium.

Catch up quick: Utah athletics officials on Monday disclosed that a driver revved their truck engine and yelled the N-word at the women's basketball team, cheerleaders and band members as they walked to a restaurant Thursday in Coeur d'Alene.

  • When they left the restaurant, two drivers were waiting, revving engines and shouting slurs, KSL.com reported.
  • The team decided to stay in large groups for safety and ultimately moved to a hotel in Spokane, Washington. They were joined by players from UC-Irvine, who also feared for their safety in Idaho, Hammond said.

The latest: Investigators in Coeur d'Alene are working with the FBI to determine which, if any, criminal violations occurred, Hammond and police chief Lee White said at the Tuesday news conference. Idaho law forbids "malicious harassment."

  • A reporter from the conservative Idaho Dispatch asked whether the investigation would violate the harassers' free speech rights.
  • Another man later began shouting that he was a journalist but refused to name his outlet. An official shut down the press event amid the argument.

Inside the room: Spokesman Review reporter Alex Duggan identified the agitator as Dave Reilly, a far-right activist and consultant with the powerful Idaho Freedom Foundation.

  • Reilly responded that he "just wanted to ask a question." His question was inaudible amid booing and shouting.

What they're saying: The harassment "was a distraction and upsetting and unfortunate," Utah head coach Lynne Roberts said Monday in a news conference following the Utes' loss to Gonzaga.

  • "People say, 'Man I can't believe that happened,'" she added. "But, you know, racism is real, and it happens, and it's awful."
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Salt Lake City stories

No stories could be found

Salt Lake Citypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Salt Lake City.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more