Six of the 31 white supremacists arrested near a northern Idaho pride event last month will appear in court on Monday afternoon, facing misdemeanor conspiracy to riot charges.
The Patriot Front members were arrested with riot gear on June 11 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, after a tipter reported seeing people loading into a U-Haul in a hotel parking lot, according to police.
Josiah Buster, his brother Mishael Buster, and Connor Moran, all of Watauga, Texas, were scheduled to appear in court Monday, as were Derek Smith of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Dakota Tabler of West Valley City, Utah, and Justin O’Leary of Des Moines, Washington.
Following their arrest, each had posted $300 bail and been released. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified Thomas Ryan Rousseau of Grapevine, Texas, as the 23-year-old who founded the group after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Mitchell F. Wagner, 24, of Florissant, Missouri, was also arrested. He was previously charged with defacing a mural of famous Black Americans on a college campus in St. Louis last year.
Wagner’s attorney, Michael Kielty, has stated that Patriot Front has no history of violence and that the case may be a First Amendment issue.
“Even if you don’t agree with the speech, they have the right to deliver it,” Kielty said following the arrests. Patriot Front is a white supremacist neo-Nazi group whose members perceive Black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, said Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in homegrown violent extremism.
Their playbook, Lewis said, involves identifying local grievances to exploit, organizing on platforms like the messaging app Telegram and ultimately showing up to events marching in neat columns, in blue- or white-collared-shirt uniforms, in a display of strength.
Though counter-protesters have long picketed Pride celebrations citing religious objections, they have not historically been a major focus for armed extremist groups. Still, it’s not surprising given how anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has become a powerful rallying cry in the far-right online ecosystem, according to Lewis.
According to John McCrostie, the first openly gay man elected to the Idaho Legislature, the arrests come amid a surge of charged rhetoric around LGBTQ issues and a wave of state legislation aimed at transgender youth.
After pulling over the van near a park where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was holding a Pride in the Park event, police in Coeur d’Alene discovered riot gear, one smoke grenade, shin guards, and shields, according to Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White.
The group arrived at the scenic lakeside resort city wearing Patriot Front patches and logos on their hats and some T-shirts reading “Reclaim America” according to police and videos of the arrests posted on social media.
Those arrested came from at least 11 states, including Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Wyoming, Virginia, and Arkansas.
Though there is a history of far-right extremism dating back decades in northern Idaho, once home to the Aryan Nations group, White said only one of those arrested was from the state.
The six-hour Pride event generally went on as scheduled.