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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Little army’ of 31 masked Patriot Front members arrested in Coeur d’Alene near Pride in the Park

By Garrett Cabeza and Quinn Welsch The Spokesman-Review

Police in Coeur d’Alene arrested 31 masked members of a white nationalist group suspected of conspiring to riot in the city’s downtown on the same day as a scheduled Pride in the Park event nearby.

The arrested men of “Patriot Front” arrived in Coeur d’Alene inside a U-Haul truck that police pulled over. Only one was from Idaho. The rest came from Washington, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming. Among the arrested is the national leader of the group, Thomas Rousseau, according to the Kootenai County Jail roster.

The men were jailed and are scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said the group evidently “came to riot downtown.” White said the group also had “paperwork” that appeared similar to a police or military operations plan.

The arrests became a spectacle as onlookers watched and used cellphones to take video and pictures of numerous police officers standing by as others rolled up the rear door of the U-Haul near the Paul Bunyan restaurant to reveal more than two dozen men wearing khakis, blue shirts and coats, white balaclavas and baseball caps. The U-Haul was eventually towed away.

Another video also showed the men on their knees with their hands behind their backs, surrounded by police officers in tactical gear.

WARNING: The following video contains profanity.

Police were tipped off by a citizen who said they saw a large group of people wearing masks and donning shields “like a little army” jump into a U-Haul truck Saturday afternoon at a hotel parking lot, White said.

About 10 minutes later, police pulled over the truck as it traveled toward downtown on Northwest Boulevard. Police also seized a smoke grenade and what White described as riot gear from the truck.

“I don’t think this would have been as successful had we not had one extremely astute citizen who saw something that looked very concerning to them and reported it to us,” White said.

The Pride in the Park event had drawn many other people to the downtown area to celebrate the LGBTQ community .

White said the Patriot Front members could face more charges after prosecutors review the evidence.

“In my opinion, I would gladly arrest 31 individuals who are coming to riot in our city for a misdemeanor rather than have them participate in some sort of seriously disruptive event, which is exactly what they were planning in the downtown area,” White said.

He said the group planned to riot in City Park, along Sherman Avenue and possibly at other downtown locations.

Patriot Front is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a white nationalist hate group” that broke off from a similar far-right group after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

“Patriot Front focuses on theatrical rhetoric and activism that can be easily distributed as propaganda for its chapters across the country,” the SPLC said of the group.

The group has a manifesto that calls for the formation of a “white ethnostate” in the United States. Its brand of activism often consists of posting flyers and other advertisements in public places that promote an extremist brand of patriotism, according to the SPLC.

Photos show one of the men wearing a shirt that read “RECLAIM AMERICA,” while one said “Conquerors not Thieves,” an apparent reference to the belief that white colonialists were within their rights to take Native Americans’ lands.

Besides Coeur d’Alene police, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office and the Idaho State Police were involved. Two SWAT teams were among them.

White noted that police were also in contact with the FBI on Saturday.

Sheriff Bob Norris, who has been vocal about overcrowding at the Kootenai County Jail and the lack of staffing, said Saturday: “We’ll find the room for these 31.”

Several police officers had been stationed at City and McEuen parks Saturday in downtown Coeur d’Alene to ensure the Pride in the Park event ran smoothly. The Panhandle Patriots Riding Club, which ride motorcycles to “uphold the Constitution” according to its website, planned an event at nearby McEuen Park in opposition to the Pride event.

White said at least two people, both from Oregon, were arrested at City Park for disorderly conduct and trespassing charges. At least three warnings were issued to others.

The six-hour Pride event included several booths, food, live music, a drag show and a march of more than 50 people through the park.

Casiana Azzollini, a University of Idaho student who wore a “Love Wins” crown, marched while holding a sign that read, “here for every story” on one side and “Ally for all love” on the other.

She said she and her friends wanted to support members of the LGBTQ community who have been oppressed.

“We wanted to show our support for everyone we know and everyone we don’t know,” Azollini said. She said the growing event represents “a new age for Idaho.”

“It was really cool to see Coeur d’Alene, specifically, come together to put on this event with the threats from outside haters,” Azzollini said.

A few churches planted booths at City Park in support of the Pride event.

Matthew Erickson, pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Post Falls, wore a blue shirt that said “This Pastor Loves You” with the word “Pastor” in rainbow colors.

Erickson said people have been demonized and intimidated by hate speech.

“I’m on the side of people who God loves,” Erickson said.

Tom Meyer was part of a small group that held signs and sang hymns at City Park, protesting the Pride celebration.

“The drag queen thing, they’re preying on our children and that’s my target,” Meyer said. “I want to focus on the kids to give them a chance and give them a way out so they don’t get caught up in all this. It’s horrible. What they’re doing is they are grooming children for pedophilia, in my belief.”

At McEuen Park, about 100 people, including Panhandle Patriots and former Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, walked to several downtown buildings to protest the Pride event and support freedom of speech, guns and other values.

“We do not hate the person,” Gabe Blomgren, pastor at On Fire Ministries in Spokane, said through a megaphone outside the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. “God, but we hate the sin of homosexuality … this is the grooming of children.”

Nearby, Patrick Runkle, Mariah Berquam and her 2-year-old daughter, Aurora, sported rainbow tutus and black shirts that said “Equality” in rainbow colors across the chest.

Runkle said he wanted to show Coeur d’Alene is an accepting place, and that it can overcome the negative light some people place on the LGBTQ community.