By Elizabeth Wolfe | CNN
After an alarmed 911 caller reported a group dressed like a “little army” getting into a moving truck, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, arrested 31 men believed to be linked to a White nationalist group, who had plans to riot at a weekend Pride event, authorities said.
The large group — which police believe was affiliated with Patriot Front — was seen at a hotel piling into a U-Haul with riot gear, the caller told a 911 dispatcher. They were later pulled over and arrested, Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said.
The group was headed to a Pride in the Park event at Coeur d’Alene City Park, police said. The event included a Pride walk and performances by local musicians, dancers and drag artists.
Local and state police were plentiful and on high alert Saturday because they wanted “to make sure this event went off safely,” Mayor Jim Hammond said. They’d also received threats about a separate group meeting in another city park; threats that turned out to be unfounded, he said.
Hammond referred to those arrested as young men who “seem to not have a purpose.” Asked what he thought the group might have done had police not thwarted their alleged plans, he said, “I have not seen that these people had any firearms, so I think it would’ve been mostly just disruption and trying to cause fear.”
Police found at least one smoke grenade, White said.
All 31 individuals were from outside the local area, Hammond said previously. Just two are from Idaho, according to a booking summary from the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.
It’s unclear why they picked Coeur d’Alene’s out of all the Pride events going on in the nation, but Hammond said perhaps they thought they could “get away with more” in a smaller community like Coeur d’Alene, a city of about 56,000 residents located just over the Washington border from Spokane.
The North Idaho Pride Alliance, which organized the event, released a statement Sunday saying its members were resting “after successfully organizing a momentous, joyful, and SAFE Pride in the Park community celebration under the most challenging of circumstances. … We are deeply grateful to law enforcement agencies who were present and professionally responded.”
Here’s what we know about the arrests:
Police received report of a group dressed like ‘a little army’
There was a large police presence at the Pride event after authorities received information “there were a number of groups” planing to disrupt Saturday’s activities, White said.
Police did not have information that Patriot Front members were coming, White said Monday.
“We had some information that there might be some, some individuals who are loosely affiliated with the some of the groups who were planning to protest the Pride event that day, and so we were adequately staffed for it, but we didn’t have any intelligence that there was going to be a riotous group coming to this event prior to the 911 call that we received,” he said.
A concerned citizen called police Saturday afternoon to report “approximately 20 people jumped into a U-Haul” in a local hotel parking lot, the chief said.
The group was equipped with shields and masks and “looked like a little army,” the caller said, according to White.
About 10 minutes after the call, officers stopped the U-Haul and detained 31 people, White said. They were charged with misdemeanor conspiracy to riot, he said.
The group was dressed similarly, wearing khaki pants, blue shirts and hats with plastic inside them, the chief said. They were also equipped with “shields, shin guards and other riot gear,” along with papers White described as “similar to an operations plan that a police or military group would put together for an event.”
“It is clear to us, based on the gear that the individuals had with them, the stuff they had in their possession in the U-Haul with them, along with paperwork that was seized from them, that they came to riot downtown,” White said.
“I think some of us were a bit surprised by not only the level of preparation that we saw, but the equipment that was carried and worn by those individuals, along with the large amount of equipment that was left in the van when the stop happened,” White said at a news conference Monday.
“That level of preparation is not something you see every day,” the chief said.
City, state and Kootenai County police responded with two SWAT teams, White said.
“I don’t think this would have been as successful had we not had one extremely astute citizen who saw something that was very concerning to them and reported it to us,” he said.
Officials aren’t releasing the identity of the caller to protect that person, White said.
“Since myself and other members of our agency have been receiving threats, including death threats, I think it is appropriate that we withhold that person’s information at this time,” the chief said.
The men were released after posting bond, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said. They’re due back in court at a later date.
The individuals came from a dozen states, according to a booking summary from the sheriff’s office. Seven are from Texas, six from Utah, five from Washington and three from Colorado. One was from as far away as Alabama. The youngest is 20 years old, and the oldest is 40, according to the summary.
Coeur d’Alene police are leading an investigation with the FBI’s assistance, FBI spokesperson Sandra Yi Barker.
Police arrested at least two other people in connection with the Pride event, authorities said. They were charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing, police said.
Men affiliated with white nationalist group, police say
In addition to the clothing associated with Patriot Front, most of the men had logos on their hats “consistent with the Patriot Front group,” and some were wearing arm patches associated with the organization, White said.
The Patriot Front believes their white ancestors conquered America and “bequeathed it to them,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. Members espouse fascist and anti-Semitic beliefs, which they spread through propaganda campaigns, the ADL says.
The Texas-based group was formed following the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when members of the white supremacist group, Vanguard America, split off to form their own organization, the ADL says.
Among those arrested Saturday was Patriot Front leader Thomas Ryan Rousseau, Kootenai County sheriff’s Sgt. Shane Moline said.
Rousseau led several dozen members of Vanguard America Texas during the Unite the Right rally and later led a contingent of VA members to create Patriot Front.
CNN reached out to Rousseau’s attorney but did not immediately hear back.
Coeur d’Alene residents and businesses have long made it clear the city is “too great to hate,” going back to the early aughts, when the Southern Poverty Law Center helped the city shut down an Aryan Nations group with a compound north of the city, Hammond told CNN.
“We are not going to back to the days of the Aryan Nations,” Hammond said at the news conference Monday.
“We are past that and we will do everything we can to make sure that we continue to stay past those kinds of problems,” the mayor said. “We are a culture of love and kindness, and we will continue to be.”