Five Patriot Front members will spend the weekend in jail after a judge sentenced the men Friday morning for conspiring to disrupt a Pride celebration last year in downtown Coeur d’Alene.
Devin Center, James J. Johnson, Forrest Rankin, Robert Whitted and Derek Smith were led from Judge James Stow’s courtroom in handcuffs after Stow sentenced each of them to five days in jail with two days credit served, one year of unsupervised probation and $1,000 in fines. He also prohibited the men from coming within 2 miles of the Kootenai County Courthouse.
The restricted area encompasses the parks and businesses affected by the defendants’ crime, said Wes Somerton, chief criminal deputy city attorney.
The five defendants were the first members of the white nationalist group to face trial for the conspiracy charge, for which a jury convicted them Thursday.
Another member, Alexander Sisenstein, resolved his case when he was sentenced in November to two years of unsupervised probation and a $500 fine after pleading guilty to disturbing the peace.
Twenty-five men, including Patriot Front founder Thomas Rousseau, are still awaiting trial.
Somerton told The Spokesman-Review he had never dealt with this many defendants stemming from one incident. He said he does not know how this trial will impact the future Patriot Front cases on his slate.
The five men on Friday addressed Stow and asked him to impose withheld judgments, which Stow granted. The judgment means the men can ask the court to dismiss their conviction once they complete their sentencing requirements.
The defendants said they respected the jury’s decision but maintained their innocence, saying they planned to peacefully protest.
“I do maintain that I am completely innocent of the charges,” Johnson said.
Johnson, of Concrete, Washington, said he’s worked and lived in Idaho and loves the state. He never intended to go to Coeur d’Alene to infringe on anyone’s rights and disturb the peace, he said.
Center said Patriot Front’s plans were to peacefully assemble and peacefully protest at City Park, displaying their beliefs to a multitude of crowds, before leaving.
The group never made it to the park, though.
The 31 men, wearing blue shirts, khaki pants and white face masks and piled into a U-Haul truck, were pulled over on Northwest Boulevard.
Police seized metal shields, a smoke bomb, shinguards, two-way radios, megaphones and an operations plan from the members and from inside the truck.
Many of the defendants spoke about the hardships they’ve faced because of their actions June 11, 2022. They included job losses, not being allowed to graduate college, a keyed car, social media threats, legal fees and travel costs.
Smith said one person showed up to his apartment with an AR-15.
“It’s affected our lives fairly seriously in many cases,” Center said.
They also talked about how they and other Patriot Front members participated in food drives and helped areas affected by natural disasters.
“Those actions have been very rewarding,” Center said.
Robert Sargent, the defendants’ attorney, called his clients respectful, likable and memorable, and said he enjoyed defending them.
“I actually was happy to do this case,” he said. “I was excited to do it.”
Sargent said he felt they were likely convicted for their clothing and the content of their message.
“I do believe they were going to peacefully protest,” Sargent said.
“This wasn’t a case of ideology,” he said. “This was a case about conduct.”
He argued the members believe in an orderly society, but their methods June 11 undermined that belief.
“The First Amendment rights of one stops when it invades the First Amendment rights of another,” Somerton said.
He described the group’s protest approach as “flash mob-style.”
Ryan Hunter, deputy city attorney, told the court Thursday the masked men, carrying shields and flag poles, planned to storm out of the U-Haul outside the park, potentially deploying smoke and using a bullhorn. They intended to engage in a “tumultuous manner” with Pride attendees trying to enjoy the park, he said.
Somerton said Friday other protesters downtown that day did not have the shin guards and other equipment Patriot Front did. Some people at City Park did carry firearms and ballistic vests.
Somerton asked Stow to impose a 10-day jail sentence, 40 hours of community service, two years of unsupervised probation and fines. The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor is one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Stow said he believed the jury based its verdict on the equipment members had similar face masks, shields and a smoke bomb, rather than their clothes and beliefs as Sargent indicated.
Stow said he wanted to send a message to the defendants that people exercising their rights still need to respect laws while doing so.
“We don’t know what the outcome would have been,” if the group hadn’t been pulled over, Stow said.
The men will be released Sunday from the Kootenai County Jail.
Sargent told The Spokesman-Review it was a fair trial but said he was disappointed with the conviction and Somerton’s sentencing request, which Sargent said seemed like “retribution.”
“This was a right to free speech and assembly versus if you disturb the peace, and I do believe it needed to be in a courtroom,” Sargent said.