Following the arrest of members of a white nationalist group called the Patriot Front this weekend, members of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department are getting death threats.
That's according to police chief Lee White who spoke to media during a press conference Monday.
White said the department received more than 100 calls to their office; half were applauding officers for their work, and the other half called to bash police for arresting the Patriot Front members. One call came all the way from Norway.
The arrest of the 31 group members happened on Saturday near a Pride event in the city. The men were found packed into a U-Haul, and came from at least 10 other states. The defendants were booked on misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to riot and released on bail. As of Monday afternoon, online court records did not show if the men had retained defense attorneys.
Thomas Rousseau, a 23-year-old from Grapevine, Texas, who has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the Patriot Front founder and was among those arrested, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
White previously said the information and gear collected from the U-Haul indicated these men were preparing to riot downtown. He said Monday that there was a clear level of preparation that “you don’t normally see everyday.” Officers were able to understand immediately this group had “ill intent” planned, he said.
White applauded the actions of the unnamed, concerned citizen that called police as soon as they witnessed these men entering the U-Haul truck Saturday. This person "prevented a riot from happening," he said.
New details of the case are still scarce as police are still investigating, White said. Body-worn camera footage from police and other details will be released at a later date, he said.
A few weeks before Saturday’s arrests, a fundamentalist Idaho pastor told his Boise congregation that gay, lesbian and transgender people should be executed by the government.
Around the same time, a lawmaker from the northernmost region of the state, Republican Rep. Heather Scott, told an audience that drag queens and other LGBTQ supporters are waging “a war of perversion against our children.”
A toxic brew of hateful rhetoric has been percolating in Idaho and elsewhere around the U.S., well ahead of the arrests of the Patriot Front members at the pride event in Coeur d’Alene.
Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in homegrown violent extremism, said outrage directed at LGBTQ people had been growing for months online, often in chat rooms frequented by members of groups like the Patriot Front.
In the same way that it mobilized against Black Lives Matter in the nation’s capital in December, the Patriot Front harnesses what’s in the news cycle — in this case, drag queen story hours, disputes about transgender people in schools, and LGBTQ visibility more broadly.
A “massive right-wing media ecosystem” has been promoting the notion that “there are people who are trying to take your kids to drag shows, there are trans people trying to ‘groom’ your children,” Lewis said.
The rhetoric has been amplified by right-wing social media accounts that use photos and videos of LGBTQ individuals to drive outrage among their followers.
Several posts have falsely sought to label teachers and librarians who accept the LGBTQ community as abusers or groomers of children. Others have lambasted pride events or drag performances as “depraved.”
One photo shared widely on social media this week falsely claimed a “Drag Queen Story Hour” performer flashed their genitals to children while reading aloud. But the photograph, from a suburban Minneapolis library in 2019, clearly shows the performer was wearing tan undergarments.
A spokesman for Hennepin County Library confirmed to The Associated Press that the performer did not expose themselves to children.
Northern Idaho has long been associated with extremist groups, most prominently the Aryan Nations, which was often in the news in the 1990s. The area drew disaffected people after white supremacist Richard Butler moved there in 1973 from California.
After the Aryan Nations’ heyday, many local officials tried to disassociate the region from extremism. But in recent years, some politicians, civic leaders and real estate agents have boasted about northern Idaho’s conservatism to draw like-minded people.
At a news conference Monday, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond said the city is no longer a locus of hate.
“We are not going back to the days of the Aryan Nations. We are past that,” he declared.
Scott, the northern Idaho lawmaker, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
At her public appearance weeks ago, she introduced two members of the Panhandle Patriots motorcycle club, who urged watchers to join them in “the fight” against LGBTQ people at the Coeur d’Alene pride celebration. They dubbed their counter-protest “Gun d’Alene.”
“Stand up, take it to the head, go to the fight. ... We say, ‘Damn the repercussions,’” the motorcycle club members said. “They are trying to take your children.”
The Panhandle Patriots later changed their event to a prayer rally, saying they are “a Christian group that stands against violence in all its forms.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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