By MARTHA BELLISLE, Associated Press
Authorities arrested 31 members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front near a Pride event in Idaho on Saturday after they were found crammed into the back of a U-Haul truck with riot gear.
The men were standing inside the truck wearing khakis, navy shirts and tan hats with white balaclavas covering their faces when Coeur d’Alene police stopped the U-Haul and began arresting them on the edge of the road.
“They came to riot downtown,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said at a news conference.
All 31 were charged with conspiracy to riot, a misdemeanor, White said. The men were going through the booking process on Saturday afternoon and are expected to be picked up on Monday, he said.
Based on the evidence collected and the documents, authorities found that the group planned to riot in several downtown neighborhoods, not just the park, White said.
Police found riot gear, a smoke grenade, shin guards and shields inside the van, White said. They wore patches on their arms and logos on their hats that identified them as members of the Patriot Front, he said.
Police learned of the U-Haul from a tipster, who reported that “it looked like a small army was charging into the vehicle” in a hotel parking lot, White said. Officials spotted the truck soon after and stopped it, he said.
Videos of the arrest posted on social media show the men kneeling on the grass with their hands tied behind their backs.
“Reclaim America” was written on the back of a shirt.
Police led the men, one by one, to the front of patrol cars, removed their masks and then brought them into a police van.
Those arrested came from at least 11 states, including Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Wyoming, Virginia and Arkansas, White said.
Only one was from Idaho, he said.
The truck was stopped near where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was hosting the Coeur d’Alene Pride in the Park event. The police had increased their presence in the area during the event.
“It appears that these people did not come here to participate in peaceful events,” Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris told a Coeur d’Alene Press reporter.
The Patriot Front is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a white nationalist hate group” that formed after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
“Patriot Front focuses on theatrical rhetoric and activism that can be easily disseminated as propaganda for its chapters across the country,” the Southern Poverty Law Center said of the group.
The group’s manifesto calls for the formation of a white ethno-state in the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.
Bellisle reported from Seattle.
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