After the arrest of more than two dozen members of a white supremacist group near a Pride event in north Idaho, including one identified as the founder, LGBTQ advocates said Sunday that polarization and a tense political climate are affecting their increasingly endangering the community.
The 31 Patriot Front members were arrested with riot gear after a tipster reported people being loaded into a U-Haul like “a small army” in a hotel parking lot in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, police said.
Among those jailed on the misdemeanor charge 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 Unite the Right . Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. No attorney was immediately listed for him and phone numbers linked to him went unanswered Sunday.
Also among those arrested was Mitchell F. Wagner, 24, of Florissant, Missouri, who was previously accused of defacing a mural of famous black Americans on a St. Louis college campus last year.
Michael Kielty, Wagner’s attorney, said Sunday that he had received no information about the charges. He said the Patriot Front has no record of violence and that the case could be a First Amendment issue. “Even if you don’t like the speech, you have the right to give it,” he said.
Patriot Front is a neo-Nazi white supremacist group whose members perceive black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, said Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher specializing in domestic violent extremism.
Their playbook, Lewis said, includes identifying local grievances to exploit, getting organized on platforms like messaging app Telegram, and eventually showing up to events dressed in orderly columns, in blue or white shirt uniforms, and as a sign of the march strength.
Although Pride celebrations have long been picketed by counter-protesters citing religious objections, they have not historically been a major focus for armed extremist groups. Still, it’s not surprising given that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has increasingly become a powerful rallying cry in the online far-right ecosystem, Lewis said.
“This series of grievances fits into their broader narratives and demonstrates their ability to mobilize the same people against the enemy over and over again,” he said.
The arrests come amid a wave of charged rhetoric around LGBTQ issues and a wave of state legislation targeting transgender youth, said John McCrostie, the first openly gay man elected to the Idaho legislature. In Boise, dozens of Pride flags were stolen from the city streets this week.
“Whenever we are confronted with hate speech, we need to respond with the community message that we accept all people with all our differences,” McCrostie said in a text message.
Sunday also marked six years since the mass shooting that killed 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse LGBTQ club, said Troy Williams of Equality Utah in Salt Lake City.
“Our nation is becoming increasingly polarized and the result has been tragic and deadly,” he said.
In Coeur d’Alene, police Saturday found riot gear, a smoke grenade, shin guards and shields in the van after stopping it near a park where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was hosting a Pride in the Park event, Coeur d’ Alene, Police Chief Lee White said.
The group came to riot in the small north Idaho town wearing Patriot Front patches and logos on their hats and some T-shirts that read “Reclaim America,” according to police and videos of the arrests shared on social media were published.
Those arrested were from at least 11 states, including Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Wyoming, Virginia and Arkansas.
Though northern Idaho has a decades-long history of right-wing extremism, White said only one of those arrested Saturday was from within the state.
The six-hour Pride event went generally as planned, including booths, food, live music, a drag show and a march of more than 50 people So reported the statesman of Idaho.
The group is due to be charged on Monday.
Whitehurst and Metz reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writer Martha Bellisle contributed to this report.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/12/patriot-front-leader-among-those-arrested-near-idaho-pride/ Patriot Front leader among those arrested near Idaho Pride