After more than two dozen members of a white supremacist group were arrested near a pride event in northern Idaho, including one identified as its founder, LGBTQ advocates said Sunday that polarization and a difficult political climate put their community increasingly at risk.
The 31 members of the Patriot Front were arrested with riot gear after a tipster reported seeing people loading into a U-Haul like ‘a small army’ in a hotel parking lot in Coeur d’Alene , Idaho, police said.
Among those incarcerated on a conspiracy to riot charge 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 murderous “Unite the Right”. rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. No attorney was immediately listed for him and phone numbers associated with him went unanswered on Sunday.
Also among those arrested 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.
Michael Kielty, Wagner’s attorney, said Sunday 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, said Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in grassroots violent extremism.
Their playbook, Lewis said, is to identify local grievances to tap into, organize on platforms such as the Telegram messaging app and ultimately show up at events marching in neat columns, by blue or white collar uniforms, in a show of force.
Although Pride celebrations have long been marked by counter-protesters citing religious objections, they have not always been a major focus for armed extremist groups. Still, that’s no surprise, given that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has increasingly become a powerful rallying cry in the far-right online ecosystem, Lewis said.
“This set of grievances fits into their larger narratives and shows their ability to mobilize the same people against ‘the enemy’ over and over and over again,” he said.
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 US Legislative Assembly. Idaho. 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.
Authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area are investigating a possible hate crime after a group of men allegedly shouted homophobic and anti-LGBTQ slurs during a weekend Drag Queen Story Hour at the library in San Lorenzo on Saturday. No arrests were made, no one was physically injured, and authorities are investigating the incident as possible child harassment.
In Coeur d’Alene on Saturday, police found riot gear, a smoke grenade, shin guards and shields inside the van after stopping it near a park where 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 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.
Although there is a decades-long history of far-right extremism in northern Idaho, White said only one of those arrested Saturday was from the state.