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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cd’A police describe downtown as ‘tense’ hours leading up to Patriot Front arrests; defendants expected to testify Thursday

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)

The atmosphere in downtown Coeur d’Alene was “tense” in the hours leading up to the arrest of 31 Patriot Front members last June, according to police officers who testified Wednesday in the ongoing trial against some of the men from the white nationalist group.

Coeur d’Alene Police Department Capt. David Hagar said police were aware of anonymous online threats, such as running over people with vehicles, and other discord before the June 11 event.

Some attendees at the city’s Pride in the Park event told police they were concerned about people with weapons, Hagar said. Several people were armed with a holstered pistol or a rifle slung on their body, and others wore ballistic vests.

At least two people were arrested at City Park that day for disorderly conduct and trespassing charges, Police Chief Lee White said at the time.

Police said they also learned some extreme groups, like Antifa, planned to show up downtown for the Pride celebration.

“There was quite the buildup,” Hagar said.

On Wednesday, prosecutors rested their case against Devin Center, James J. Johnson, Forrest Rankin, Robert Whitted and Derek Smith, five of the 31 members charged with conspiring to riot at the Pride event.

Center is expected to testify Thursday.

Attorneys for the defendants contend the Patriot Front members had their rights to peacefully protest infringed by police.

The members of the white nationalist group piled into a U-Haul truck that afternoon at a Coeur d’Alene hotel.

A citizen witnessed the men, dressed in blue shirts, tan pants and white face masks, hop into the back of the truck and proceed south on Northwest Boulevard. Law enforcement pulled the truck over just north of where the Pride event took place at City Park.

When a Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office deputy opened the rear truck door, they saw the group of men, some equipped with metal shields and shin guards, staring back at them.

The men exited the back of the truck one at a time and were ordered to lay face down on the pavement. Police detained the men before charging them with the misdemeanor conspiracy charge and booking them into jail.

Hagar said police were unaware Patriot Front planned to show up to Coeur d’Alene that day.

After hearing the report of a “little army” climbing into the U-Haul, he said he spotted the U-Haul truck heading south on Northwest Boulevard.

“My assumption is they were coming down to the Pride event,” Hagar said.

His was one of the law enforcement vehicles that activated its emergency lights to pull the truck over.

Hagar and Sgt. Jon Cantrell said they were surprised when they saw 28 men (the other three were in the cab) packed into the back of the truck and wearing similar clothes.

“I had never seen anything like that before,” Cantrell said.

Hagar said the members were different from other protesters downtown that day.

“They were acting in unison,” Hagar said. “That wasn’t the case with the other groups.”

Hagar on Wednesday held one of the red, white and blue shields and one of the flag poles police seized that day for the jury to see. Hagar testified the shield and the pole could have been used as a weapon.

The defendants’ attorney, Robert Sargent, asked law enforcement officers Wednesday whether it was illegal to own a shield or flag pole, and they said it was not. The officers said the Patriot Front members were peaceful and complied with law enforcement commands during the stop.

When asked by Sargent, many officers confirmed that the members did not use force or disturb the peace.

“We intervened before (violence) could happen,” Hagar said.

Coeur d’Alene Police Lt. Johann Schmitz said police arrested the men because it determined the members were “more likely than not” headed downtown to threaten violence or disturb the peace.

The members’ similar clothing attire, equipment and mode of transportation, the U-Haul truck, were some of the factors police considered in the arrest, Schmitz said.

When cross-examined by Sargent, Cantrell said clothing does not determine whether someone has a peaceful or evil intent.

However, Cantrell said, “I would say they were on their way down to do some sort of disruption.”

One of the officers’ body cameras showed police’s interaction with Thomas Rousseau, the group’s founder.

“It does detail our peaceful intentions,” Rousseau told officers as they searched his belongings.

Coeur d’Alene Police Detective Jesse Welch testified that he believed the group’s intentions were peaceful, but they were prepared for a riot.

Sargent asked the court to dismiss the charges because his clients did not threaten violence or disturb the peace. He also argued masks and shields do not constitute a riot.

“This case is about a lot of future speculation, what they may do,” Sargent said. “It’s not a claim that they were immediately causing violence, threats or any of that.”

Judge James Stow denied the motion to dismiss.

The trial resumes Thursday and is expected to conclude this week.