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Idaho police have been bombarded with death threats from callers as far away as Norway after arresting 31 masked members of a white supremacist hate group on their way to riot at a pride event.
The arrests were made Saturday after a concerned resident called 911 to warn about masked men who ‘looked like a little army’ climbing into a truck and seemingly headed to the LGBTQ event at a park in the northwestern state.
Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said half of around the 150 calls received by his department since the arrests were from anonymous people wanting to ‘scream and yell at us’ and ‘offer death threats against myself and other members of the police department, merely for doing our jobs.’
White attributed the abusive calls to ‘hate groups from outside’ Coeur d’Alene, with one person phoning from Norway to ‘give us their opinions.’ The other half of the calls were ‘supportive calls from the Coeur D’Alene community.’
The arrested men – who police believe are linked to US far-right cell Patriot Front – were intercepted before they could reach Coeur d’Alene City Park, where the pride event was taking place.
Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said half of around the 150 calls received by his department since the arrests were from anonymous people wanting to ‘scream and yell at us’ and ‘offer death threats against myself and other members of the police department, merely for doing our jobs’
The hate group ‘Patriotic Front’, on their way to riot at a LGBTQ pride event, was rumbled when a local resident called cops after spotting the men, all wearing white masks and carrying shields, loading themselves into the vehicle ‘like a little army’
Dozens of masked members of the group, which preaches its white nationalist ideology with propaganda shared on social media, were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, in northwest Idaho
Patriot Front is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as ‘a white nationalist hate group’ that formed after the deadly ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017
All 31 were charged with conspiracy to riot, a misdemeanor, after police received reports from residents who spotted the ‘little army’ getting inside the vehicle around 1.38 p.m.
The men, arrested on Saturday after the U-Haul rental truck they were riding in was pulled over, were expected to appear in court in the state later on Monday
They were armed with ‘shields, shin guards and other riot gear… including at least one smoke grenade,’ and were arrested for conspiracy to riot, said White.
The police chief said he and his department had been surprised by ‘the level of preparation that we saw’ and by the ‘equipment that was carried and worn by those individuals.’
‘It was very clear to us immediately that this was a riotous group’ with ‘some ill intent,’ he added.
All 31 men, including 23-year-old self-declared leader of the alt-right Thomas Ryan Rousseau, were released from jail on bond and will make their initial court appearances in the coming weeks, a court official said on Monday.
The men were standing inside the truck wearing khakis, navy blue shirts and beige hats with white balaclavas covering their faces
Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond (pictured) said on Monday: ‘We are in the same city that we were last week. We are a city that respects everyone, that welcomes everyone’
A sticker reading ‘Love Lives Here,’ which is intended to show that all are welcome in the community regardless of race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, or religion, in Coeur d’Alene. A second sticker reading ‘CDA 4 Pride’ is seen on a door at the Human Rights Education Institute
Decorations from a separate pride event at the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene
The men had come from at least 11 states across the country, White said, including Texas, Colorado and Virginia.
The group are faced with felonies of conspiracy to riot for the alleged offense that could see them jailed for up to five years.
Rousseau founded Patriot Front in the aftermath of the 2017 white nationalist ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when it broke off from another extremist group, Vanguard America, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a justice and rights body which tracks hate groups.
Patriot Front has since maintained a similar white nationalist ideology, staging riots almost identical to the one police said they prevented Saturday.
In December, Rousseau led more than 100 masked members of the group on a march through Washington DC in an an effort to ‘reclaim America’ – after which they were caught on camera loading themselves into the back of an U-Haul moving truck.
The rally, which prompted law enforcement to remain on standby, remained tame – with none of the protestors arrested.
That was not the case this time around.
23-year-old self-declared leader of the alt-right Thomas Ryan Rousseau was also released on bail after his arrest
Thomas Ryan Rousseau, 23, of Grapevine, Texas, is among those facing felony charges of criminal conspiracy after dozens of members of the white nationalist group, known as the Patriot Front, were arrested in northwest Idaho Saturday
Rousseau also attended that protest, which occurred on December 4, 2021. No one was arrested after that procession, which remained peaceful
An offshoot from Rosseau’s previous pro-white group Vanguard America, the Patriot Front has staged riots almost identical to the one police said they prevented Saturday. Pictured: Members of Patriot Front hold shields after marching in Washington, DC on December 4, 2021
The December demonstration also saw Rousseau and fellow member illegally pack into in a U-Haul truck before and after the protest
All 31 men arrested wore shirts inscribed with the message Reclaim America and hats that read ‘Victory or Death’.
White added at the press conference: ‘One lesson we have for our community … is that one concerned citizen can prevent something horrible from happening.’
‘Just one concerned citizen, rather than pulling out their phone and video taping this for their 15 minutes on YouTube or snap chatting it, took the time to call 911 and report some suspicious activity and as a result we likely stopped a riot from happening down town.’
Saturday’s pride event in Coeur d’Alene, described by organizers as the largest ever in North Idaho, drew a crowd of several hundred people for festivities that included a talent show and drag queen dance hour, local media reported.
‘We are in the same city that we were last week,’ Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond said on Monday. ‘We are a city that respects everyone, that welcomes everyone.’
The remote hills of northern Idaho were long associated with Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi group which hoped to establish a separate white-only region, and was tied to numerous violent crimes across the United States.
But Mayor Jim Hammond said the area was ‘not going back to the days of the Aryan Nations’ and was ‘able to completely rid ourselves of that group and the kind of awful culture that they were trying to present to our community.’
An FBI spokeswoman told AFP that federal officers were assisting local authorities.
‘If, in the course of the investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate,’ said Sandra Barker via email.
What is the Patriot Front?
The Patriot Front is a white supremacist group founded by 23-year-old Dallas man Thomas Ryan Rousseau.
The group maintains a white nationalist ideology, firm in its belief that since its white members’ ancestors conquered America, the country should be left to them, and no one else.
The group, which sees black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, argues that through processions and riots against these groups, it is preserving the ethnic and cultural origins of its members’ white, European ancestors.
The Patriot Front spreads its message predominantly through the internet, via social media with materials such as banners, flyers, and posters.
In 2020, the group shifted its materials’ message from being more anti-Semitic and white supremacist to a form of ‘patriotism’ that justifies its bigotry, based in white supremacist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and fascist ideals.
The group is responsible for the majority of white supremacist propaganda in the US, representing 80 percent of all propaganda incidents nationally in 2020.
They currently participate in localized ‘flash demonstrations’ across the country.