Dozens of members of a white supremacist group have been arrested after Idaho police received a tip they were preparing as “a small army” ahead of a Pride event this weekend.
The 31 members of the Patriot Front were arrested after they were seen loading riot gear into a U-Haul vehicle in the parking lot of a hotel in Coeur d’Alene.
Among those detained on charges of conspiracy to riot was Thomas Ryan Rousseau of Grapevine, Texas, who was identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the 23-year-old who founded the group after the deadly rally.” Unite the Right”. in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Also among those detained was Mitchell F Wagner, 24, of Florissant, Missouri, who was previously charged with defacing a mural of famous black Americans on a college campus in St Louis last year.
Police found riot gear, a smoke grenade, shin guards and shields inside the van after parking it near a park where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was hosting a Pride in the Park, Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said.
The group came to riot around the small northern Idaho town wearing Patriot Front patches and logos on their hats and T-shirts reading “Reclaim America”, according to police and videos of the arrests posted on social networks.
Those arrested came from at least 11 states, including Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Wyoming, Virginia and Arkansas.
The six-hour Pride event went according to plan, including booths, food, live music, a drag show and a march of more than 50 people, the Idaho Statesman reported.
Michael Kielty, Wagner’s attorney, said he had not received information about the charges.
He said the Patriot Front does not have a reputation for being violent and the case could be a First Amendment issue.
“Even if you don’t like the speech, they have every right to do so,” he said.
Patriot Front is a neo-Nazi white supremacist group whose members perceive black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, according to Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in grassroots violent extremism.
Mr Lewis said the group’s tactic was to identify local grievances to exploit, organize on platforms such as the Telegram messaging app and ultimately show up at column-marching events neat, in blue or white collared uniforms, in a show of force.
Although Pride celebrations have long been the picket line for counter-protesters citing religious objections, they have not historically been a major focus for armed extremist groups.
Mr Lewis said anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has increasingly become a powerful rallying cry in the far-right online ecosystem.
The arrests come amid a flurry of charged rhetoric around LGBTQ issues and a flurry of state legislation targeting transgender youth, said John McCrostie, the first openly gay man elected to the Idaho legislature.
In Boise this week, dozens of Pride flags were flown on city streets.
“Whenever we face hate attacks, we must respond with the community message that we embrace all people with all of our differences,” McCrostie said in a text message.
Sunday also marked six years since the mass shooting that killed 49 people at LGBTQ club Orlando Pulse, said Troy Williams of Equality Utah in Salt Lake City.
“Our nation is increasingly polarized, and the result has been tragic and deadly,” he said.
You Can Read Also