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Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman replaced, controversy over his alt-right contractor lingers

Idaho Freedom Foundation founder Wayne Hoffman delivers a talk at the Panhandle Pachyderm Club in Post Falls.
Duane Rasmussen
Idaho Freedom Foundation founder Wayne Hoffman delivers a talk at the Panhandle Pachyderm Club in Post Falls.

After InvestigateWest revealed last month that the Idaho Freedom Foundation, an influential right-wing think tank, was contracting with an alt-right propagandist with a long record of anti-Jewish rhetoric, Foundation President Wayne Hoffman doubled-down.

On Dec. 12, at 4 a.m. the day after InvestigateWest reported on the group’s ties to Dave Reilly — who promoted the deadly 2017 Unite the Right Charlottesville rally as an alt-right propagandist — a bleary-eyed Hoffman livestreamed a 40-minute video arguing his choice to hire Reilly was as a kind of act of grace.

Later, Hoffman, a Jewish person himself, told supporters in a statement that Reilly was an “excellent writer and videographer” who wanted to “free people from the ravages of socialism and Marxism.” Hoffman said he’d made the hard decision “to embrace this young man, warts and all, and give him a chance to apply his creativity at IFF.”

On Monday, the Freedom Foundation announced in an email to supporters that Hoffman was out. He’s being replaced by former Idaho legislator Ron Nate, who has been a “senior policy adviser” at the Idaho Freedom Foundation since 2022. Nate’s wife, Maria, is the Idaho state director for the State Freedom Caucus Network, an organization that seeks to apply the principles of Tea Party-aligned U.S. representatives in the House Freedom Caucus to the local governments.

Asked if Reilly was still with the Freedom Foundation, Vice President Alli Megal said she had “no comment” and requested InvestigateWest not call her cellphone again.

It’s not clear whether controversy around Reilly played any part in the timing of Hoffman’s departure. Hoffman did not respond to a text message about whether the decision to leave was his. InvestigateWest sent emails to multiple board members last week asking them if they had faith in Hoffman to lead them through the next legislative session. None of them responded.

The Freedom Foundation press release doesn’t explicitly say whether Hoffman resigned or was ousted, only that Hoffman told the board “of his decision to pursue other opportunities” a long time ago — shortly after Nate joined the Freedom Foundation in 2022.

Either way, ditching the influential think tank’s leader at the moment Idaho’s legislative session begins is a major move. Hoffman and his often combative approach had defined the image of the organization from its start 15 years ago. He was there as it slowly morphed from a libertarian-leaning think tank that would eagerly team up across aisle with the ACLU for issues like police civil asset forfeiture and became something closer to artillery in the culture wars, launching regular salvos against transgenderrights, controversial library books, and “social justice” courses in college.

Yet the last year has seen a major exodus: The 10 foundation employees listed on its webpage last January have been whittled down to only four today.

Nate, in a statement Monday, argued that the Freedom Foundation “has an opportunity to achieve even greater influence in how Idaho government operates and in advancing freedom principles across the state, and I am committed to taking the Foundation to the next level of leadership and effectiveness.”

‘AT A CROSSROADS’Over the past month, Hoffman and the Freedom Foundation have been hammered by critics even harder than usual: Idaho Leaders United — a group of businessmen, former politicians and retired law enforcement that formed last year to fight extremism — put out a statement calling on the Freedom Foundation to “disavow their association with known antisemite and white nationalist Dave Reilly.”

They cited a selection of Reilly’s statements, like Jews “control the media” and that Jewish behavior was the “number one cause” of antisemitism, and posted a screenshot of Reilly reacting to a report that 61% of Americans agreed with at least one antisemitic stereotype by saying, “Good news! Let’s get those numbers up!”

“Rhetoric of this kind motivates violence against Jews, such as the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh,” Idaho Leaders United wrote. “Our local synagogues have already increased security due to rising antisemitism sparked by the war in Israel and Gaza. They should not also be subjected to antisemitism from one of Idaho’s most prominent political organizations.”

At least 25 current Idaho legislators and candidates had signed onto the Idaho Leaders United statement calling for the Freedom Foundation to disavow Reilly.

Both Democrats and Republicans joined on to the Idaho Leaders statement — including 10 relatively moderate Republican legislators.

Among them were former state Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, who told InvestigateWest that he blamed the Freedom Foundation, in part, for his electoral defeat in 2022 to Brian Lenney, the author of children’s books like “Why Is Feminism So Silly?”

“I think the Freedom Foundation is at a crossroads. I think they’ve been able to really fly under the radar, call themselves conservative,” said Agenbroad. But now, he said, “I think they’ve revealed who they are and what they’re doing to the average person.”

“I believe this hiring only further demonstrates that this secretly funded organization has nothing meaningful to contribute to Idaho’s political discourse,” wrote Sen. Geoff Schroeder on Facebook, adding that he hoped the reporting about Reilly would ensure “their deceptive attempts to manipulate lawmakers through coercion and threats are even less effective when their people are revealed for who they really are.”

By contrast, right-wing legislators, like Idaho state Sen. Tammy Nichols, mocked Idaho Leaders United as “a pro-Biden organization.”

Hoffman’s departure is unlikely to satisfy those who want the Idaho Freedom Foundation to have a clean break from Reilly. Idaho Freedom Foundation board Chair Brent Regan doubled down on his support too, saying last month that while Reilly had made some deleted “posts that were critical of the Israeli government,” “Reilly was NOT an anti-Semite white supremacist.” He also claimed that a “son of a holocaust survivor” had interviewed Reilly and had come to the same conclusion.

Few prominent figures have defended Reilly so many times in so many different ways as Regan. Since 2021, he’s argued that Reilly’s true story is an “inspirational,” “remarkable one of salvation.” That journalists who wrote about Reilly were “disgraced” “fake news” “social justice warriors” who had “numerous associations with unsavory individuals” or were “monetizing hate.” That Reilly’s reported tweets were “either fabricated or taken out of context,” or that they were made a long time ago, or that Reilly had deleted and ostensibly “apologized” for them, or that “Twitter is a sewer.”

And maybe, he suggested, Reilly’s documented involvement with white nationalist Identity Evropa was simply an attempt to try to infiltrate the group as a journalist.

If you don’t stand up for guys like Reilly, Regan has argued, “who will come to your defense when it is your turn to be lashed?”

Reilly made the same argument more colorfully on social media after protesters targeted a youth baseball game coached by his longtime friend, white nationalist Nick Fuentes’ treasurer, Vincent James Foxx.

“Ya can hang me and throw me under the bus,” Reilly wrote in August. “And then these sick freaks will hang YOU and your kids when there’s nobody left to stand in their way.”

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The story was originally published by InvestigateWest. InvestigateWest is an independent news nonprofit dedicated to investigative journalism in the Pacific Northwest.