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

2 more Patriot Front members convicted of conspiracy to riot but get no further jail time

A group of 31 men with the white supremacy group Patriot Front was arrested after a traffic stop by multiple law enforcement agencies on June 11, 2022, on Northwest Boulevard in Coeur d’Alene.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Jurors on Friday convicted two more Patriot Front members of conspiring to riot by disturbing the peace at a Pride event last year in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

Judge Mayli Walsh sentenced Wesley Van Horn and Kieran Morris to two years of probation and $1,000 in fines, and they must stay 500 feet from Coeur d’Alene City Park during their two years of probation. Walsh did not impose any more jail time, giving the defendants credit for the two days they served.

“I hope you appreciate the disruption this caused in terms of the lack of feeling of safety in the community because of your conduct,” Walsh said.

Walsh granted defense attorneys’ requests for withheld judgments, which means the defendants can ask the court to dismiss their conviction once they complete their sentencing requirements. Van Horn and Morris don’t have criminal histories.

Attorneys took most of the morning Friday, the fourth day of the trial, delivering closing arguments before the six-person jury deliberated for roughly three hours and reached unanimous guilty verdicts.

Van Horn and Morris declined to address the court or speak with reporters Friday.

Five other Patriot Front members – Devin Center, James J. Johnson, Forrest Rankin, Robert Whitted and Derek Smith – were convicted by a jury last month and sentenced to three days in jail, one year of probation and $1,000 in fines, and were prohibited from coming within 2 miles of the Kootenai County Courthouse.

Another member, Alexander Sisenstein, was sentenced in November to two years of probation and a $500 fine after pleading guilty to disturbing the peace.

Cases for the remaining 23 members facing the conspiracy to riot charge are ongoing.

The trials stem from the afternoon of June 11, 2022, when members of the far-right, white nationalist group loaded into a U-Haul truck intended for the LGBTQ+-friendly event in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

A man called 911 after witnessing what looked like a “little army” of men dressed alike in tight white face masks, some with metal shields, and piling into the moving truck outside a Coeur d’Alene hotel before driving away.

Law enforcement agencies stopped the truck on Northwest Boulevard just north of City Park, where hundreds gathered for Pride in the Park.

Prosecutors said several men were equipped with shields, knee pads and shin guards. Morris had a smoke deployment device. Police also found an operations plan that outlined the group’s plan once it reached the park.

“The column will quickly form on the outskirts of the park and proceed inward until barriers to approach are met,” Wes Somerton, chief criminal deputy city attorney, read from the plan during closing arguments.

Those “barriers” included physical obstacles and police, Somerton said.

Van Horn and Morris were “column coordinators,” meaning they made sure the rest of the men remained disciplined and silent, Somerton said.

Patriot Front’s leader, Thomas Rousseau, intended to use a megaphone to give a speech at the park, and other members would hand out the group’s flyers.

Somerton said the content of the proposed speech, which used phrases like “predatory acts of homosexuality” and “deranged whorehouse,” was not unlawful, but it was part of the wealth of evidence that demonstrated the intent to disturb the public peace.

“The operations plan and the speech are proof of intent,” he said.

Somerton said people have the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, but they cannot interfere with others’ rights to do the same. In this case, the men wanted to barge into the middle of a lawful, permitted event and interfere.

“This is a case about time, place and manner of how a group wanted to express their views,” Somerton said. “This is not a case about beliefs. This is not a case about ideologies. It is how they went about trying to express those.”

Rick Baughman, Van Horn’s attorney, said dressing alike and bearing shields and flags was an effort to draw attention to their message, but it was not disturbing the peace.

He said the men intended to arrive at the park, stand quietly in formation and have Rousseau deliver a speech. Baughman argued there was no evidence the group had violent or threatening intents.

“They wanted to make their statement and leave, and they have constitutional rights to do that,” Baughman said.

Baughman also argued there was no peace to disturb because of the yelling, music and “men dancing as women” happening at the Pride event.

“You can’t even disturb it if it ain’t there,” he said.

Baughman opened his closing arguments saying he was dressed fully in black because it was a sad day. People’s rights to free speech and assembly were on trial, he said.

“He wants you to bury those rights by convicting these young men, claiming there’s been a conspiracy to violate the law intentionally,” Baughman said.