A large crowd stormed Idaho’s House of Representatives on Monday, breaking a glass door and then disregarding social distancing and Boise’s mask mandate inside during a special session on the coronavirus, according to reporters and lawmakers.
Tweeting video of people waving an American flag and chanting “Let us in!” in a hallway, Idaho House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D) said that protesters “charged the guards” and forced their way through the door to the gallery, leading to a call for backup law enforcement. House Speaker Scott Bedke (R) allowed the crowds to stay in the gallery if they did not chant, the Associated Press reported, while other lawmakers called for calm and a Democratic representative left a committee meeting over safety concerns.
“I want to always try to avoid violence,” Bedke told the AP. “My initial reaction, of course, was to clear the fourth floor. But we had room for at least some more.”
The Idaho State Police, who were present, did not immediately respond to inquiries Tuesday morning.
The people packing into the gallery and committee rooms left some lawmakers alarmed at the breakdown in rules meant to prevent the spread of the virus indoors.
“This special session may be the worst super-spreader event since covid hit Idaho,” Rubel tweeted Monday. “Hundreds packing into closed spaces with no masks. How will we ever get our kids back to school if our government actively makes community spread worse?”
One man in the gallery carried an assault-style weapon, according to the AP, which noted that such weapons are “not uncommon” in the Idaho House, especially when lawmakers are addressing gun restrictions.
The special session Monday addressed November election logistics during the pandemic, which has complicated voting nationwide, as well as liability issues that coronavirus cases could raise for businesses and other organizations.