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31 tied to hate group charged with planning riot near LGBTQ event in Idaho

Idaho police arrested more than two dozen people on June 11 and charged them with planning to riot near an LGBTQ Pride event. (Video: Reuters)
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Police in Idaho arrested 31 people who had face coverings, white-supremacist insignia, shields and an “operations plan” to riot near an LGBTQ Pride event on Saturday afternoon. Police said they were affiliated with Patriot Front, a white-supremacist group whose founder was among those arrested.

Authorities received a tip about a “little army” loading into a U-Haul truck at a hotel Saturday afternoon, said Lee White, the police chief in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a city of about 50,000 near the border with Washington. Local and state law enforcement pulled over the truck about 10 minutes later, White said at a news conference.

Many of those arrested were wearing logos representing Patriot Front, which rebranded after one of its members plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens.

The group’s founder, Thomas Ryan Rousseau, was among those arrested, according to jail records. Like the others, Rousseau was arrested on a charge of criminal conspiracy to riot, a misdemeanor. Some of the other men arrested also have been linked to the group. By Sunday afternoon, all of the men had posted bond and were free as they await arraignment later this week, according to a spokesperson with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.

In photos and videos posted on social media, a group of men dressed in hats, sunglasses, white balaclavas and Patriot Front’s signature khaki pants were seen kneeling on the ground with their hands zip-tied behind their backs as police officers kept watch. An onlooker taunted the group, yelling, “Losers!”

White said the people were headed to City Park, which was hosting Pride in the Park, an event advertised as a “family-friendly, community event celebrating diversity and building a stronger and more unified community for ALL.” Organizers did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests for comment from The Washington Post on Saturday evening, but they wrote in a post to the group’s Facebook page that it was a “successful” event.

The group, North Idaho Pride Alliance, urged people to “stay aware of your surroundings this afternoon and evening” in the city.

Authorities had been aware of online threats leading up to the weekend, White said, so police had increased their presence in the city’s downtown. Two SWAT teams and officers from the city, county and state assisted in the arrests.

The Panhandle Patriots, a local motorcycle club, had planned a “Gun d’Alene” event on the same day as Pride in the Park to “go head to head with these people,” an organizer said in April during an appearance with state Rep. Heather Scott (R).

The organizer was not identified by name in a video but wore a vest bearing the alias “Maddog” and the insignia of the Panhandle Patriots group. He lamented that the Pride gathering would be “allowed to parade through all of Coeur d’Alene,” saying that “a line must be drawn in the sand” against such LGBTQ displays. Scott did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post late Saturday.

In a news release posted on the group’s website, the Panhandle Patriots encouraged the community to “take a stand” against the LGBTQ “agenda.” It also suggested without evidence that “extremist groups” were trying to hijack the event to provoke violence and said the group would change its event name to “North Idaho Day of Prayer” in response.

Reached by phone late Saturday, a representative for the Panhandle Patriots declined to comment on the day’s events, telling The Post, “We are not answering questions right now.”

White did not mention a connection between the Panhandle Patriots event and the arrests. He said those arrested had come from several states “to riot downtown,” with riot gear, at least one smoke grenade and documents “similar to an operations plan that a police or military group would put together for an event.”

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He did not see firearms at the scene of the arrest, he said, but emphasized the situation was “very fresh.”

However, firearms were present in the vicinity of the park, White said. Police had been in contact with the FBI “all day,” he said.

White noted that the authorities’ understanding of the situation was still developing and said at the news conference that law enforcement had not yet interviewed those arrested. Representatives for Patriot Front were unable to be reached for comment.

More charges are possible, White said. The first court appearances for those arrested will probably be on Monday, Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris said.

Kim Bellware contributed to this report.

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