COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho—For most of the day Saturday, a crowd of several hundred people joyously celebrated the city’s annual Pride festival—music and dancing, food and display booths, with a rainbow of colors and children romping amid blown bubbles.
But there was a dark cloud over the whole affair, hovering around the fringes. Drawn by a loud campaign of vicious rhetoric by far-right extremists depicting the organizers as “groomers,” pedophiles, and satanists, a motley crew of white supremacists, “Patriots,” Christian nationalists, and hate preachers circulated around the lakeside city park where the event was held. Some entered the event and mingled menacingly. At least three of them carried AR-15s.
Their intentions weren’t entirely clear until late in the day, when police, a block away from the park entrance, pulled over a U-Haul van full of men—all 31 of them members of the explicitly fascist Patriot Front organization from around the country, faces covered with white masks and dressed in the group’s uniform. According to Coeur d’Alene police, the men planned to start a riot at the Pride event and then continue the rampage into the city’s downtown.
Police swarmed the van and ordered the men into custody, binding them with flex cuffs and ordering them to sit or kneel on a grassy swath next to Northwest Boulevard just above a skate park. Then they processed all 31 of them in public view, unmasking them as they did so.
“They came to riot downtown,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White told reporters Sunday at a press conference. He said evidence collected and other documents demonstrate that they intended to begin the riot among the Pride crowd, but then fan out to other parts of downtown. The men all face misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to riot, though White indicated that other charges could be pending for some of them.
Among the men arrested was 23-year-old Thomas Rousseau of Grapevine, Texas, the youthful founder of Patriot Front, which itself is the offspring of the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America whose contingent Rousseau helped organize for the August 2017 “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Among the men he admitted to the group was James Alex Fields, who subsequently plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and maiming dozens.
Only two of the 31 men arrested are from Idaho, though a number are from the Pacific Northwest. Men from as far away as Alabama, Texas, and Illinois came out to Idaho to participate.
They were spotted by a local resident who saw them piling into the van near the intersection of Interstate 90 and Northwest Boulevard, about two miles from the park. He alerted Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris, but it was Coeur d’Alene police—who had been out in force all weekend—who provided the bulk of the response, intercepting the van about 500 yards from the park entrance.
“And they were all dressed like a small army,” Norris said. “We had units in their area, and we were able to intercept them pretty quickly.”
White denied rumors that the arrests were made possible because of informants within the Patriot Front ranks. “This all came from a concerned citizen,” he said.
The Coeur d’Alene Pride event had been targeted by right-wing extremists for several weeks, thanks to a campaign of intimidation first organized by a number of Christian nationalists in the Idaho Panhandle, but then spearheaded by a regional far-right bikers club, the Panhandle Patriots. The club announced it was holding an event called Gun d’Alene at a park less than a mile from the lakeside City Park. Spouting “groomer” rhetoric accusing the LGBTQ community of fostering pedophilia, two members of the club promised there would be a confrontation.
The far-right organizing developed into an intense right-wing media scrum when white nationalist Dave Reilly of Post Falls began writing about the event in his propaganda outlet, the Idaho Tribune, and his neo-Nazi cohort, Vincent James Foxx, began doing the same on his YouTube channel. Notably, Reilly happened to notice that one of the sponsors listed for the event was the Satanic Temple of Idaho, which became fodder for the national far-right ecosystem, including the Libs of TikTok account on Twitter, which began retweeting Reilly’s posts; they were apparently in such close contact with Reilly that one of the account’s tweets promoted a Tribune story about 20 minutes after it was published.
The Satanic Temple dropped out of the event after Reilly’s posts began circulating widely. But the damage was done, and the Coeur d’Alene Pride gathering became a national far-right lightning rod. The Panhandle Patriots rebranded their event a “day of prayer” march, which meant that it attracted a variety of Christian-nationalist groups; but its rhetoric connecting the LGBTQ community to pedophilia ramped up.
One of the leading Christian nationalists drawn to Coeur d’Alene on Saturday was Matt Shea, the former Washington state Republican legislator who is deeply connected to the secessionist “American Redoubt” movement in the interior Northwest, and currently leads a Christian nationalist church in the Spokane Valley, about 20 miles from Idaho.
Shea showed up at the competing “prayer” event nearby and then led a march down Northwest Boulevard past City Park and the Pride gathering.
North Idaho Pride Alliance coordinator Jessica Mahuron explained that they accepted the Satanic Temple’s application to join the list of sponsors and to have a booth there was a product of their own non-discrimination policies.
“We have several inclusive churches that are present,” she told Daily Kos. “We have several policies in our bylaws that we do not discriminate on any basis, from gender identity to sexual orientation to race, and one big one is creed. If we denied one application from a faith group, and accepted others, not only is that a potential legal liability, but that also goes against the very civil and human rights that govern our organization.
“I do think that while that name sounds scary, I would encourage people to dig deeper and use critical thinking. This group—what are they really about? They don’t actually worship the deity of Satan at all. If someone looks into what they’re for, they stand up for the religious pluralism that all faiths have a place in this country.”
Yet for nearly the entire day, the Pride gathering went on unmolested and uninterrupted. At one point, a brief heavy rainstorm swept over the park, but participants simply got out their umbrellas and walked in a mini-parade around the grounds.
Drag performers danced and sang onstage, and the crowd joined with them on the grass. People milled at the booths and gathered information, bought food and jewelry items, and generally conversed as they would have any other year.
At the same time, the threatening presence of the far right hovered nearby. One large man with camouflage gear, body armor, and a mask wandered around on the eastern side of the park while toting an AR-15. Another man with a cowboy hat actually stalked through the crowd several times while toting not just an AR-15 but a revolver stuck in his body armor and a large hunting knife. A third man with an AR-15 but wearing all black, including a face-concealing balaclava, hung out for much of the day at the park’s entrance.
A couple of men who had arrived at the park in a fire truck festooned with a banner mocking the LGBT acronym wandered through the crowd all day. So did Christian nationalists wearing shirts denouncing homosexuality, and “Patriots” mingled while wearing shirts with threatening slogans and depictions of guns firing. A couple of men held signs on the edge of the event citing the Leviticus verse that recommends homosexuals be put to death.
A group of men—one wearing a neo-Nazi “Skull” mask, another wearing Patriot Front colors with the trademark white mask pulled down around his neck—gathered at the walkway on the park’s southern lakeshore edge and unfurled a banner: “Groomers Are Not Welcome in Idaho.” About an hour later, joined by the two men with AR-15s, they again unfurled it on the lawn across the interior walkway from the Pride gathering.
The intent to menace was clear, but no one could see any particular strategy unfolding. But the presence of unmistakable neo-Nazis suggested that something else was afoot—which became much clearer at about 2 p.m., when Coeur d’Alene police stopped the Patriot Front would-be rioters in their tracks.
While police have been mum about any weaponry carried by Patriot Front—which were reported to only consist of shields and sticks—but it’s not difficult to envision how the scenario would have played out inside the park had they arrived unimpeded and created a scene of violence at the gathering while men with AR-15s who were clearly part of their camp stood on the periphery.
Their strategy, reportedly laid out in a seven-page planning document police found inside the U-Haul van, included moving into downtown Coeur d’Alene after they were done inside the park and wreaking havoc there as well. It’s a marked shift upwards in aggressive tactics for Patriot Front, who primarily have attempted to troll the media and public officials by staging marches in Washington, D.C., at which they mainly paraded their fasces-bearing banners in scenes eerily reminiscent of Nazi Brownshirt marches in 1920s Germany.
But this kind of gradual escalation reflects the planning by white nationalists and other extremists for expanding their movements in the post-Trump era. Leaked data about Patriot Front has revealed how this looks: A weird combination of violent eliminationist rhetoric as their primary appeal and clownish and often hapless male posturing as part of their would-be paramilitary training.
Choosing Coeur d’Alene as the place to kick off this escalation in tactics was probably less than astute: While Idaho police are notoriously right-wing generally, police in Kootenai County have been wrestling with neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists and the inevitable criminal behavior that accompanies them since the 1970s, when the Aryan Nations moved to Hayden Lake—a few miles up the U.S. 95 from Coeur d’Alene—and created their notorious compound that was not extirpated until 2001.
The end result was the arrest these 31 white men:
- Thomas Ryan Rousseau of Grapevine, Texas
- Mishael Joshua Buster of Spokane, Washington
- Josiah Daniel Buster of Watauga, Texas
- Dylan Carter Corio of Cheyenne, Wyoming
- Kieran Padraig Morris of Haslet, Texas
- Derek Joseph Smith of Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Dakota Ray Tabler of West Valley, Utah
- Steven Derrick Tucker of Lexington, Alabama
- Robert Benjamin Whitted of Conroe, Texas
- Brandon Mitchel Haney of Kaysville, Utah
- James Michael Johnson of Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- James Julius Johnson of Concrete, Washington
- Justin Michael Oleary of Des Moines, Iowa
- Forrest Clark Rankin of Wheat Ridge, Colorado
- Spencer Thomas Simpson of Ellensburg, Washington
- Devin Wayne Center of Fayetteville, Arkansas
- Winston Worth Durham of Genesee, Idaho
- Garret Joseph Garland of Freeburg, Illinois
- Nathaniel Taylor Whitfield of Elk Ridge, Utah
- Nathan David Brenner of Louisville, Colorado
- Richard Jacob Jessop of Idaho Falls, Idaho
- Cameron Kathan Pruitt of Midway, Utah
- Conor James Ryan of Thornton, Colorado
- Mitchell Frederick Wagner of Florissant, Missouri
- Colton Michael Brown of Ravensdale, Washington
- Connor Patrick Moran of Watauga, Texas
- Alexander Nicholai Sisenstein of Midvale, Utah
- Graham Jones Whitsom of Haslet, Texas
- Lawrence Alexander Norman of Prospect, Oregon
- Jared Michael Boyce of Springville, Utah
- Wesley Evan Van Horn of Lexington, Alabama
As it happens, Mishah and Josiah Buster are both the sons of longtime Matt Shea associate Matt Buster. It appears that a number of the Patriot Front marchers parked their cars at the Buster residence in Spokane Valley. Shea and his Christian nationalist associates constantly proclaim their innocence about the connections of the region’s neo-Nazi elements to his Redoubt project.
A number of Saturday’s detainees were released on bail on Sunday. According to @Johnthelefty, they then proceeded to wander around downtown Coeur d’Alene, proselytizing their innocence of the accusation (made by far-right conspiracy theorists and denialists) that they secretly are federal agents performing psychological operations. They were also panhandling for money to get home with.
Nick Martin at The Informant reports that the fascists’ fury at Coeur d’Alene police for what they see as a betrayal has been raging:
If you're wondering how things are going in the aftermath of the Patriot Front arrests in Idaho, neo-Nazis on other social media platforms have started doxxing members of law enforcement in Coeur d'Alene. Names, home addresses, phone numbers and photos are being circulated.
One of the members of the Coeur d'Alene Police Department is being described by neo-Nazis as an "Anti-American and Pedophile Apologist" because the arrests prevented the Patriot Front members from allegedly planning to disrupt a Pride event.
Chief White reported that his department’s tipline has “blown up” with people voicing support, but not all of them: “Conversely, we’re also hearing from a lot of people who are mad at us for arresting a hate group who wanted to riot,” White said.
Mahuron just voice her gratitude that, despite the threatening behavior, this year’s Pride gathering was one of their largest ever, reflecting how the Coeur d’Alene community responds to the defense of people’s civil rights.
“I am overwhelmingly happy with the turnout and the positivity that is in this space,” she said. “It’s felt great all day long. All the scenarios that could have turned out bad just did not.”
One of the veterans of the anti-Nazi battles of the 1980s in Coeur d’Alene, Tony Stewart, praised the zero-tolerance message sent by Saturday’s arrests. Stewart was a cofounder of the local Human Rights Task Force that responded to the Aryan Nations menace.
“I hope the message going out today is, ‘If you’re going to commit a crime as a hate group, don’t come here. You’re not going to find a receptive audience here,’” Stewart said.