Dozens of masked members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front were arrested late Saturday as they prepared to stage a riot near a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, authorities say.
Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White told reporters that 31 individuals affiliated with the group were in police custody and charged with conspiracy to riot.
The group had traveled from all over the country to sow chaos during the LGBT+ event, White said. They came from states like Texas, Utah, South Dakota, Arkansas, Oregon, and Virginia. Law enforcement was quick to derail the group’s plans, he said, thanks to “one concerned citizen.”
“We received a telephone call from a concerned citizen who reported that approximately 20 people jumped into a U-Haul wearing masks, they had shields, and ‘looked like a little army,’” he said.
“They had shields, shin guards, and other riot gear with them, including at least one smoke grenade,” White said, adding that paperwork including an apparent “operations plan” had also been found in the group’s U-Haul. It was not immediately clear if they had any firearms.
Video from the scene of their arrest showed several members of the group kneeling in the grass, their hands zip-tied behind their backs, as counter-protesters jeered and shouted “losers!”
Approximately 20 members of the group, all clad in their trademark balaclavas, blue shirts and khakis, could be seen kneeling as police officers stood around them. Local reports said members of the group were unmasked before being placed in police vans.
One video purportedly filmed at the scene showed a cop telling onlookers the group had been detained thanks to “informants in their chats,” but the police chief disputed that at an evening press conference, saying law enforcement was tipped off only by “one concerned citizen.”
“It appears they did not come here to engage in peaceful events,” Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris was quoted telling Coeur d’Alene Press.
Patriot Front didn’t immediately return a request for comment from The Daily Beast on Saturday evening.
Patriot Front is a white supremacist, neo-fascist group that likes to travel inconspicuously: in U-Haul trucks. Police reportedly stopped the group’s U-Haul on Saturday a short distance from the “Pride in the Park” event, which had already been the target of a counterprotest by a conservative motorcycle club called the Panhandle Patriots. That group had announced that they would go “head-to-head” with attendees of the Pride event and host their own event called “Gun d’Alene.”
White said law enforcement had received information ahead of the Pride event about “a number of groups planning to disrupt today’s activities.”
The event was one of the largest Pride in the Park events in its six-year history, North Idaho Pride Alliance told KXLY. Despite growing tension and backlash, several attendees said it was their first Pride because of COVID-19. One couple even got engaged at the park before the chaos ensued.
— Zachary Petrizzo contributed reporting