Tuesday, March 28, 2023

6 members of white supremacist group ‘Patriot Front’ expected in Idaho court

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho ( Associated Press) — Six of the 31 members of a white supremacist group who were arrested near a North Idaho pride event last month will be in court Monday afternoon and face lesser charges. conspiracy to cause riots.

The Patriot Front members were arrested June 11 in riot gear after an informant reported seeing people getting into a U-Haul in a hotel parking lot in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, police said.

In court scheduled for Monday were Josiah Buster and his brother Mishael Buster and Connor Moran, all of Watauga, Texas; Derek Smith of Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Dakota Tabler of West Valley City, Utah; and Justin O’Leary, of Des Moines, Wash.

They had each posted $300 bond and were released after their arrest.

Among those arrested was Thomas Ryan Rousseau of Grapevine, Texas, who has been 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.

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 college campus in St. Louis last year.

Michael Kielty, Wagner’s attorney, said Patriot Front had no reputation for violence and that the case could be a First Amendment issue.

“Even if you don’t like the speech, they have the right to do it,” Kielty said after the arrests.

Patriot Front is a white supremacist neo-Nazi group whose members perceive black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, said Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in domestic violent extremism.

This Combination Of Stock Images Provided By The Kootenai County Sheriff'S Office Shows, Top Row From Left, Josiah Buster, His Brother Mishael Buster, And Connor Moran, All Of Watauga, Texas;  Bottom Row, Left To Right, Derek Smith Of Sioux Falls, Sd;  Dakota Tabler Of West Valley City, Utah;  And Justin O'Leary, Of Des Moines, Wash.  (Kootenai County Sheriff'S Office Via Ap, File)
This combination of stock images provided by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office shows, top row from left, Josiah Buster, his brother Mishael Buster, and Connor Moran, all of Watauga, Texas; bottom row, left to right, Derek Smith of Sioux Falls, SD; Dakota Tabler of West Valley City, Utah; and Justin O’Leary, of Des Moines, Wash. (Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office via Associated Press, File)

Their playbook, Lewis said, involves identifying local grievances to exploit, organizing on platforms like the Telegram messaging app, and ultimately showing up to events by marching in orderly columns, wearing blue or white collar uniforms, in a show of force

Although Gay Pride celebrations have long been protested by counter-protesters citing religious objections, they have historically not been a major focus for armed extremist groups. Still, it’s not surprising, given that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has increasingly become a potent rallying cry in the far-right online ecosystem, Lewis said.

The arrests come amid a groundswell of charged rhetoric about 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 Coeur d’Alene, police found riot gear, a smoke grenade, shin guards and shields inside the van after stopping it near a park where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was holding a Pride in the Park event, the police chief said. of Coeur d’Alene. Lee White said.

The group arrived in the quaint lakeside resort 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 posted on social media.

Those arrested hailed from at least 11 states, including Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Wyoming, Virginia and Arkansas.

Although there is a history of far-right extremism going back decades in northern Idaho, once home to the Aryan Nations group, White said only one of those arrested was from the state.

The six-hour Pride event generally went ahead as scheduled.

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