A white hate group descended Saturday upon downtown Coeur d’Alene, leaving area residents with disgust and questions, and adding another stain to an area with deep ties to racism.
Will Parker, a 35-year-old Coeur d’Alene resident, said he was not surprised when he learned 31 members of Patriot Front were arrested Saturday on suspicion of conspiring to riot. He said many people are coming from outside the area and using North Idaho’s white supremacist history as a platform.
The 31 people from the white nationalist group are from all over the country, including Michigan, Texas, Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Arkansas.
“That’s kind of typical here,” Parker said. “Even back when the Aryan Nations were here, it wasn’t locals doing that stuff … I don’t think that a lot of hate comes from locals.”
Tony Stewart, a founding member and current secretary of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, said Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations, figured everyone would support his neo-Nazi group – given the mostly white communities – when he came to North Idaho in 1973. But that didn’t happen.
“He totally failed to recruit local people,” Stewart said.
Still, Parker said he moved from New York City to Coeur d’Alene five years ago to start a tech company and bring jobs to the region. But now, he and his wife don’t feel safe in the community and are leaving town at the end of the year.
Saturday’s arrests and open carry of guns, which is legal, by some individuals downtown Saturday made Parker think moving out of the state is not enough and that perhaps he and his family will leave the country.
Parker attended Pride in the Park, an LGBTQ celebration, Saturday at City Park. Several counterprotesters showed up at the park and others marched through downtown. The Patriot Front members were arrested on Northwest Boulevard near Paul Bunyan after a tipster reported “a little army” of men jumping into a U-Haul truck with riot gear. Police believe the group’s plan was to riot downtown.
Parker said he left the Pride event, which was just a short walk down the street from the U-Haul truck traffic stop and subsequent arrests, 10 minutes before the arrests.
Pat Milligan, a Marine veteran and Hayden Lake resident, asked why Patriot Front members, who were not from the area, came to Coeur d’Alene.
“Why are they doing that? What’s the end game?” said Milligan, adding they should not have conspired to riot.
Mary Anderson, a Post Falls resident, said she respected the group’s rights to express their opinion but questioned the manner in which they did it, like riding in the back of a U-Haul truck and wearing masks that could make them look suspicious.
“I think there’s different ways you can go about it,” she said.
Stewart said Saturday’s arrests fueled the nation’s stigma of North Idaho, which is one of racism.
“Anything that happens here, it goes out around the country as kind of the impression of, ‘Yeah, that’s what happens in North Idaho,’ ” Stewart said.
Stewart credited the concerned citizen who called in the suspicious members of the U-Haul truck, the three law enforcement agencies that responded and the Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office which will prosecute the cases against the 31 charged.
“If you’re going to engage in hate crimes of any form, don’t come here because you will get arrested and you will be prosecuted,” Stewart said.
Other leaders also chimed in on Saturday’s arrests.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little wrote on Twitter that “intimidation, scare tactics, and violence have no place in our great state.”
“All Americans should be able to peacefully express their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech without the threat of violence,” Little wrote. “It is what has always set America apart from other nations.”
He also commended law enforcement for “their swift action” Saturday.
“Their diligence and quick response helped avoid a potentially terrible situation,” Little wrote.
Sarah Ellis, president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, wrote on Twitter that lawmakers and governors, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and “their co-conspirators at Fox News” must recognize “their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric” and “anti-LGBTQ bills” introduced this year are responsible for this “dangerous climate.”
She wrote that social media platforms must also take responsibility and stop fueling the hate and misinformation that inspire white nationalist groups like Patriot Front.
“Today as we mark the sixth remembrance of the 49 beautiful and innocent lives lost at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, we have to stop the shameful anti-LGBTQ laws, misinformation, and rhetoric that make America unsafe for LGBTQ and other marginalized communities,” Ellis wrote. “Corporations, media, politicians, have to act now, not send thoughts and prayers in the future.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.