The nearly three dozen people arrested for allegedly conspiring to riot near an Idaho Pride event over the weekend appear to be affiliated with the hate group Patriot Front, police said. The group was called "one of the most prominent white supremacist groups in the country" by the Southern Poverty Law Center earlier this year.
On Saturday, police swarmed a U-Haul truck in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, after receiving a tip from a witness who said the truck was carrying what looked like "a little army," Police Chief Lee White told reporters. Authorities arrested 31 men dressed in similar blue shirts and khaki pants with some wearing logos and insignias consistent with those of Patriot Front, the chief said.
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According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist ideology, Patriot Front promotes fascism and the creation of a white ethnostate.
"They are twisting and manipulating and misusing the idea of patriotism but promoting a white supremacist version of patriotism," Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of American University's Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab, told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge.
The group of men arrested Saturday were charged with conspiracy to riot, a misdemeanor, and released on bond. White said Monday the group was looking to disrupt events in downtown Coeur d'Alene, where a Pride event was being held.
The Anti-Defamation League has been tracking Patriot Front since it was founded in 2017 following the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Carla Hill, director of investigative research for the group's Center on Extremism, told CBS News Radio the group uses flash demonstrations to intimidate people.
"They're mainly orchestrated for a quick photo or video opportunity that is then turned into online propaganda," Hill said.
Those arrested Saturday had shields, shin guards and at least one smoke grenade, White said. "It is clear to us based on the gear that the individuals had with them … that they came to riot downtown," the police chief said Saturday.
An attorney for one of the defendants told CBS News the allegations are unproven, Herridge reports.
Patriot Front's members are overwhelmingly young, White men, according to Miller-Idriss. The men arrested Saturday range in age from 20 to 40 and came from about a dozen states but none of them were from Coeur d'Alene, according to authorities.
They include Patriot Front's alleged leader, Thomas Rousseau. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rousseau was seen in photos at the "Unite the Right" rally that also showed the man who was later convicted of federal hate crime charges for plowing a car into a counterprotest, killing Heather Heyer.
In February, the center's Hatewatch blog said 18 of 87 Patriot Front applicants claimed to be active U.S. military service members or veterans. A journalist collective leaked the information from archived private chats, according to Hatewatch.
One applicant claimed to be in the Army Reserve and used derogatory language about LGBTQ people, according to Hatewatch. Another applicant claimed to have served in the Marines and worked for the Department of Homeland Security.
In 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland warned of an "elevated threat to the homeland" posed by domestic violent extremists.
"In the FBI's view, the top domestic violent extremist threat comes from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, specifically those who advocated for the superiority of the white race," Garland said.
In January, the Justice Department announced it would launch a new unit centered on tackling domestic terrorism.
On Monday, Coeur d'Alene Mayor Jim Hammond told CBS News he wasn't concerned about having to keep residents calm after Saturday's mass arrests.
"We are a loving and a kind community," Hammond said. "We care about each other, and we intend to stay that way."