Patriot Front thwarted: A closer look at what happened in Coeur d'Alene Pride

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Photos courtesy of Kootenai County Sheriff's Office
Photos courtesy of Kootenai County Sheriff's Office

The flags were hung, the people had gathered, and Coeur d'Alene's first Pride in the Park celebration was underway on Saturday, June 11, when police sirens filled the air. Just blocks from the festivities, police intercepted a U-Haul van filled with 31 men in riot gear preparing to disrupt the event.

Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Lee White said they received a tip from an anonymous caller who saw approximately 20 men piling into the U-Haul in a hotel parking lot. The caller described the group as looking like "a little army."

Ten minutes after the initial 911 call, police stopped the U-Haul, and all 31 men were detained and charged with misdemeanors. All of the men have since posted bail.

"It is clear to us, based on the gear that the individuals had with them, the stuff they had in their possession in the U-Haul with them, along with paperwork from them, that they came to riot downtown," White said in a press release. "I think some of us were a bit surprised by not only the level of preparation that we saw but the equipment that was carried and worn by those individuals, along with a large amount of equipment that was left in the van when the stop happened," he continued.

North Idahoans are praising the fast actions of the police department for preventing what could have turned out to be a violent and egregious attack.

"I am grateful that [Coeur d'Alene] Police Dept. was prepared to take action to protect area residents and visitors, including the LGBTQ+ community," Idaho state Rep. John McCrostie told the SGN.

"Every time that oppressed communities are attacked, we must continue to respond with resoluteness, like those who continued to hold the CDA Pride event did. Every person holds dignity, and our LGBTQ+ community adds beauty to our diverse world."

Photo by North Country Off Grid / Youtube / Reuters  

Involvement with white supremacist group
The equipment confiscated by police included shields, shin guards, and at least one smoke grenade. Reports from the scene also confirmed that the men were dressed similarly, all wearing khaki pants, blue shirts, and hats with plastic inside them — a uniform many have come to associate with the internal terrorist group Patriot Front.

While Coeur d'Alene police are still investigating the event, along with help from the FBI, there seems to be good evidence that the men are affiliated with Patriot Front. The organization's leader, Thomas Ryan Rousseau, was among those arrested.

Among the other men arrested, only one was actually from Idaho. The rest had traveled from other states, including Texas, Utah, Washington, Colorado, and Alabama. While it is unclear why they chose North Idaho as the location for their riot, some theorize that Patriot Front could be attempting to restore the old Aryan Nations group that used to gather in the area.

One man from Missouri, with a previous record of defacing a mural in St. Louis depicting famous Black Americans, has already obtained legal counsel. His attorney is defending his presence in Idaho on Saturday as a protected right to free speech. "Even if you don't like the speech, they have the right to make it," he said.

North Idaho's history of white supremacy
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Aryan Nations regularly convened at its Idaho compound for its annual world congress, which drew in neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other white nationalists from around the world. The group even obtained legal permits to march and hold events in North Idaho until the early 2000s, when the SPLC won a lawsuit against the group, decimating its finances.

Given North Idaho's known history as a hub for white supremacy, the mayor of Coeur d'Alene addressed concerns in a press conference following the day's events. "We are not going back to the days of the Aryan Nations," he said. "We are past that, and we will do everything we can to make sure that we continue to stay past those kinds of problems. We are a culture of love and kindness, and we will continue to be."

Despite the mayor's assurances, Idaho's white supremacists are now using Saturday's event to make their presence known. Just two days after the incident, Chief White reported that the department had already received 149 calls regarding the arrests. Half the calls, he said, "want nothing more than to scream and yell at us and use some choice words [and] offer death threats against myself and other members of the police department merely for doing our jobs."

Other protesters at the park
Patriot Front weren't the only disrupters to show up at the Pride in the Park event. A few blocks from the park, a Catholic anti-LGBTQ group organized by a self-identified Christian nationalist gathered to protest and pray away the Gays. Many members of that organization are affiliated with the white nationalist group America First, which advocates anti-immigration policies.

Another group that gathered to protest Pride in the Park was the Panhandle Patriots, a North Idaho group that claims to stand for "the Constitution and community." On the day of the event, they gathered on motorcycles and armed themselves with firearms to take a stand against Pride in the Park.

In a video released by the organization, President Michael Birdsong called on members of the community to join them in protest of Pride, saying, "That very same day, we intend to go head-to-head with these people. A line must be drawn in the sand." When questioned by local news station KHQ over the comments made in the video, Birdsong backtracked and said the intention of the group was not to protest LGBTQ+ people, but that "grooming books" are "geared towards pedophilia."

The protesters didn't all stay out of the park, however. According to reports from NPR, several men carrying long guns and handguns walked around and throughout the crowd. Another Christian group gathered at a nearby picnic table to sing religious songs. Protesters circled the park with flags and banners accusing LGBTQ+ people of pedophilia, an association that has become more common among conservative groups of late.

Pride in Eastern Washington
While protesters are, unfortunately, not uncommon at LGBTQ+ events in the North Idaho/Eastern Washington region, people who gathered for Pride this last weekend said they were still able to enjoy themselves. Just 20 minutes from the danger in Idaho, Spokane resident Lizzie Vosler attended another Pride event.

"I had a great time honestly, and I never once felt unsafe," she told the SGN. "I didn't see any perceived threats. I didn't even know about what had happened in [Idaho] until my Uber driver told me later on the way home."

Vosler said she did recall some opposition in Spokane, but the Queers took it all in good stride. "There was one 'Jesus guy' with a sign quoting scripture at people, but there was no violence, and he was not at all combative," she recalled. "A whole circle of Queer folks [asked him] questions," she laughed.

Of course, things could have gone worse. In Dallas on June 4, fascists attacked a drag brunch event full of children.