After receiving a tip from police in Idaho, dozens of white supremacist members were arrested. They were preparing for a Pride event and making “a little army” preparations.
After being spotted loading riot gear in a U-Haul truck at a Coeur d’Alene hotel car park, the 31 Patriot Front members were taken into custody.
Thomas Ryan Rousseau, Grapevine, Texas was among those being held on misdemeanour conspiracy to riot charges. He is identified by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, as the 23 year-old founder of the group following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
Mitchell F Wagner (24), Florissant, Missouri was also held. He was previously accused of defacing a mural depicting famous black Americans on a St Louis college campus last year.
After pulling the van over in front of a park where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was hosting a Pride in the Park, police found riot gear and one smoke grenade inside the van, Coeur d’Alene Chief Lee White stated.
According to police, the group rioted around the city of northern Idaho wearing Patriot Front patches and logos on hats and T-shirts that read “Reclaim America”. Videos of the arrests were posted on social media.
The arrestees were from at least 11 different states: Washington, Oregon and Texas, Utah, Colorado; South Dakota; South Dakota; Illinois; Wyoming; Virginia.
According to the Idaho Statesman, the six-hour Pride event ran as planned. It featured booths, food and live music.
Wagner’s lawyer Michael Kielty stated that he was not provided with any information regarding the charges.
He stated that Patriot Front had no reputation for violence and that this case could be considered a First Amendment matter.
He said, “Even though you don’t like it, they have every right to make it.”
According to Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in homegrown violent extremism, Patriot Front is a white supremacist neo Nazi group whose members see black Americans, Jews, and LGBTQ people as enemies.
Mr Lewis stated that the group’s tactics include identifying local grievances to exploit and organizing on platforms such as Telegram. Finally, the group marches in neat columns in uniformed blue- or white-collared-shirt shirts in a show of strength.
Although Pride celebrations have been picketed for years by protesters citing religious objections they have never been a main focus of armed extremists groups.
Mr Lewis stated that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is becoming a powerful rallying cry for the far-right online community.
John McCrostie was the first openly homosexual man elected to the Idaho legislature. The arrests are made amid an increase in charged rhetoric about LGBTQ issues and a wave state legislation aimed towards transgender youth.
This week, many Pride flags were taken from Boise’s streets.
In a text message, Mr McCrostie stated that whenever we face hate attacks, we must respond by sending a message to the community that we accept all people regardless of their differences.
Troy Williams, of Equality Utah in Salt Lake City, stated that Sunday marked six years since the Orlando mass shooting that resulted in the deaths of 49 people.
He stated that “our nation is becoming increasingly polarised and the result has proven tragically and deadly.”