The Panic in Twin Falls, Idaho

(Otto Kitsinger/AP Photo)

Twin Falls, Idaho is perhaps one of the best well known small towns in America when it comes to the resettlement of refugees. The billionaire owner of Chobani, Hamid Ulukaya, made it a personal mission to use the low-skill jobs available at his yogurt factory in Twin Falls as a jobs program for refugees, and he currently employees 400 of the recently resettled. Idaho has been a destination for refugee resettlement since 1975, when California governor Jerry Brown refused a planeload of Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon. Idaho stepped in and established the Idaho Office for Refugees, and today resettles people primarily from Iraq, Congo, Burma, Bhutan, and Somalia.

The panic in Twin Falls began when the local newspaper reported that Syrian refugees would be resettled in the town. As Caitlin Dickerson reports for The New York Times Magazine, when a report surfaced of a sexual assault involving two boys, a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old (the boys were refugees from Iraq and Sudan) and a 5-year-old girl, a thread of misinformation began to tear the town apart. Since those involved in the assault were juveniles, the police couldn’t release the details, and the lack of information created a void into which people poured their rage about Muslims and refugees. Then Lee Stranahan, a reporter for Breitbart, came to town.

Stranahan arrived in Idaho in August, after covering the national party conventions. The sealed nature of the case prevented any journalist from an exhaustive examination, and the accused and the victim’s families refused to speak to the mainstream media. But Stranahan thrived in the void of facts. He was granted one of the few interviews with the victim’s family, but his account of the crime offered little more information than others’ had — and far more inaccuracies, according to the police and the county prosecutor. He described what took place as a “horrific gang rape” and wrote graphic details about the incident, which the Twin Falls Police say are untrue…

Stranahan says his Breitbart editors sent him to Twin Falls to report on the “Muslim takeover” of the town. (Breitbart denies this and says it’s “absurd.”) But he soon became enamored of a grander theory about what was happening in southern Idaho: globalism. He wrote that local businesses received government kickbacks for employing foreigners instead of Americans. (Stranahan did not cite any evidence of this, and it is untrue, according to the state Department of Labor.) And he often referred to a Syrian refugee crisis, though no Syrians were ever resettled there. Then, to bring the story full circle, he claimed these Muslim refugees were being used to replace American workers and that the government, big business and law enforcement were either conspiring to conceal the sexual-assault case or intentionally looking the other way, in order to keep the machine turning.

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