SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — Linda Navarre moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, from Cleveland in 1978, when the town was made up of lumber folks and hippies “and they all got along.”
Now she barely recognizes the small resort community near the Canadian border that is growing rapidly as people disillusioned with big-city life move in. Many are conservatives who are fed up with liberal politics in blue states.
“The division is getting wider and wider,” Navarre said, adding that many of the newcomers are changing the civility of the community. “My concern is that there are so many people who are not nice.”
Sandpoint is a four season resort built along the shores of scenic Lake Pend Oreille. It had a population of 7,300 at the 2010 census, but grew 21% over the decade to around 8,900 at the 2020 census. In addition to the natural beauty, “people come here because it’s a state red,” said longtime resident Gail Cameron, 67.
To capitalize on this trend, a growing number of real estate companies are advertising to right-wingers, claiming they can get them out of liberal strongholds like Seattle and San Francisco and find them homes in places like Idaho. rural.
Flee The City, based in Sandpoint, is a consortium of four companies that specialize in selling properties to conservatives in northern Idaho and western Montana. The company presents itself as “a real estate company for the vigilant”.
Flee the City has partnered with a company that provides “durable home design with built-in ballistic and defensive capabilities.”
Todd Savage, whose company Black Rifle Real Estate is part of Flee The City, said in a brief email exchange that his business is booming, thanks to “insane” leftist politics.
One of the biggest players among right-wing real estate companies is Dallas-based suburban Conservative Move. Founder and chief executive Paul Chabot said blue states had only themselves to blame for driving out the Tories.
“People are tired of runaway crime and forced masking,” Chabot said.
Idaho has been the nation’s fastest growing state for five straight years, growing 2.9% in 2021, driven primarily by immigration.
But the influx of people to places like Idaho has made it harder for some longtime residents. People are struggling to find accommodation in Sandpoint, with many homes selling the same day they list, after bidding wars, Cameron said.
Many of those homes are being converted into vacation rentals, which is tightening the market for people who live in the area, Cameron said.
Carolyn Knaack, associate director of the conservation group Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, has lived in town for a year.
She said the confluence of the coronavirus pandemic and politics “has created a division among people”.
“I was applauded and belittled for wearing a mask,” she said. “I have friends who refused to be vaxxed.”
Savage was asked if it was desirable for people to separate by political ideology.
“I don’t agree with the term ‘separate’,” he wrote. “People are just ‘voting with their feet’ on issues like crime, taxes, homeschooling, gun laws, mask and vaccine mandates, Orwellian laws, and uncontrollable tyranny in the sanctuary states.”
Not everyone is a fan of what the wild, conservative real estate agents are up to in Sandpoint and elsewhere.
Mayor Shelby Rognstad, a Democrat, worries about real estate companies that serve only conservatives are “increasingly pushing Idaho into a playground for extremism.
“It doesn’t bode well for our sense of community here,” said Rognstad, who is organizing a campaign for governor. “It’s a challenge to civility.”
Barbara Russell, who lives near Bonners Ferry, Idaho, expressed similar concerns.
Bonners Ferry feels overrun by white nationalists, said Russell, who owns a dance studio in the town of 2,600.
“What they’re doing is preparing for war,” Russell said of the newcomers, who often carry guns when in town.
“New people are moving in and going to city council meetings and telling people who grew up here to move back to California,” Russell said. “They sell fear, that’s what they do.”
The National Association of Realtors does not keep records if any of its members are marketing themselves out of political ideology, spokesman Quintin Simmons said. And not all real estate agents are members of the Realtors. It is therefore difficult to determine whether the tendency to target conservative customers is generalized.
The Western States Center, a human rights group based in Portland, Oregon, monitors right-wing real estate companies, said member Kate Bitz.
“This is just the latest in several waves of politically motivated relocation to the interior of the Northwest,” Bitz said.
Indeed, in recent decades various extremist groups, primarily the Aryan nations, have sought to create a white homeland in northern Idaho due to the small number of minorities in the area.
“People in the United States move all the time,” Bitz said. “What concerns us is when white nationalists and anti-democratic actors move into the region with the aim of organizing, recruiting and taking control of local institutions.”
Nicholas K. Geranios, The Associated Press