Idaho police arrested more than 30 white supremacist members of the far-right Patriot Front on Saturday as the group made their way to disrupt an LGBTQ+ Pride celebration.
Local officials in Coeur d'Alene, located in northwest Idaho, have praised an eagle-eyed citizen for potentially saving the lives of LGBTQ+ Pride celebrants.
Chief Lee White of the Coeur d'Alene Police Department told reporters that the group planning to cause mayhem by rioting at the event.
Thirty-one members of the racist, neo-Nazi Patriot Front, including the group's founder, were arrested in the city after police stopped a U-Haul truck filled with the suspected would-be rioters. The members are being charged with conspiracy to riot — a misdemeanor offense.
According to White, a tipster called authorities around 1:38 p.m. PDT to report suspicious activity. The person who provided the information told authorities that people who were dressed in similar garb had loaded into a U-Haul truck complete with shields and masks, looking "like a little army."
As a result of working with the Idaho State Police, the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department, multiple SWAT teams, and the FBI, White said the police pulled over the truck ten minutes after the initial call.
A video shared on Twitter shows police approaching the U-Haul's rear gate with weapons drawn. As the door opens, a group of men wearing navy blue shirts and khakis with beige hats and white balaclavas begins to exit the truck, their hands raised. Once outside, they lay on the ground face down. Another video shows the men kneeling on the ground, their hands behind their backs, being led away one by one and unmasked before being taken to jail.
According to White, several groups planned to disrupt and protest Saturday's Pride in the Park event, which caused police to be a strong presence in the area.
White said officers found shields, shin guards, and other riot gear in the vehicle, including at least one smoke grenade.
"Those 31 individuals have been arrested for conspiracy to riot," he tells The Advocate.
The Patriot Front members came from at least ten other states, including Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Arkansas, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia.
There was only one group member arrested from Idaho as of Saturday night.
Mayor Jim Hammond of Coeur d'Alene tells The Advocate that his town rejects racism as it has in the past.
"The people arrested were all from other parts of the country, not locals," Hammond says. "We still believe as we did...when the Aryans were north of [town.] We believe in human rights for all, and discrimination is never appropriate."
The Aryan Nation's founder and then-leader Richard Butler led a parade through Coeur d'Alene in 1999. Several clashes occurred at the time due to local opposition to the racist presence.
"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," White says.
Authorities say it’s clear that the members came to riot based on evidence they’ve collected, including documents with a detailed outline of the planned rioting.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremism and hate groups, describes the Patriot Front as "a white nationalist hate group that formed in the aftermath of the deadly 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017."
One of those arrested on Saturday was Patriot Front founder Thomas Ryan Rousseau.
Patriot Front wasn't the only one targeting the northwest Idaho Pride celebration. Videos shared on social media show that several right-wing groups protested Pride in the Coeur d'Alene area that day.
Videographer Ford Fischer captured armed bikers and others displaying anti-LGBTQ+ banners across from the Pride in the Park event. The group was rallying against books for children that they felt were inappropriate.
Several independent video producers who traveled throughout the country to document social turmoil shot videos showing the unmasked faces of Patriot Front members. The group goes to great lengths to conceal its members' identities.
On Twitter, users such as Alejandra, who goes by the handle @aleximenez, posted threads with pictures of the racists for people to identify.
White says he was pleased with the operation and that people could celebrate the town's Pride safely.
Local news station KREM even reports that Saturday's Pride in the Park was the largest in Coeur d’Alene history.
"I was in contact with Pride event organizer all day, and I was happy to hear that it was a safe and fun event for everyone who attended," White tells The Advocate, referring to the North Idaho Pride Alliance.
He adds, "The Coeur d'Alene Police Department does not condone hate in any form, and we are extremely happy that we were able to prevent a violent encounter from occurring at today's event."
The North Idaho Pride Alliance was not immediately available for comment.
“Law enforcement really came through today, and I think this is a really important message and also a healing message that's needed in this country,” Jessica Mahuron, outreach director at the North Idaho Pride Alliance, told NPR. "I know that a lot of law enforcement members actually had to delay their vacations and this was stressful on all throughout the city."