Thirty-one people affiliated with the white nationalist group Patriot Front were arrested near an annual LGBTQ+ event Saturday in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, police said.
The suspects were booked on suspicion of conspiracy to riot, Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said at an afternoon news conference. Among those in custody late Saturday was a man with the same name as Patriot Front’s Dallas-based founder, Thomas Ryan Rousseau.
White said police were made aware in recent days that a number of groups planned to disrupt Pride in the Park, an annual event highlighting civil rights struggles for the LGBTQ+ communities.
Staffing was increased and awareness was heightened by the time dispatchers fielded a report of 20 people in a U-Haul vehicle Saturday afternoon, he said.
The suspects wore masks, had shields, and “looked like a little army,” the chief said, quoting the caller who reported the suspicious activity.
Ten minutes after that 1:38 p.m. U-Haul report, police stopped the vehicle and a total of 31 people in “similar attire” were arrested, White said.
Suspects resided in multiple states, including Texas, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Arkansas, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Virginia, he said.
“They came to riot,” White said.
Without that citizen’s report of masked people in a U-Haul, he said, law enforcement may have been less effective in protecting Pride in the Park participants, the chief suggested.
The suspects, he emphasized, allegedly had gear and plans for disruption. “I don’t think this [arrest operation] would have been as successful,” White said.
Federal law enforcement partners have been in contact with local police on the matter, the chief said, and there had been rumors of groups coming to Coeur D’Alene with firearms, bear mace and edged weapons, he said.
One smoke grenade was found among the suspects’ belongings, the chief said. Presumed suspects were spotted loading the U-Haul earlier in the day at a local hotel, White said.
Two other suspects at or near the day’s Pride events were cited for separate allegations of disorderly conduct and trespassing and released, the chief said. Both suspects are from Oregon, he said.
Organizer of Pride in the Park, the North Idaho Pride Alliance, warned supporters on Facebook Saturday to “make sure to stay aware of your surroundings.”
Otherwise, it thanked the community for a successful 2022 event.
On Tuesday the police department said it was staffing up for the Pride event but emphasized there was no specific information indicating groups planned to riot.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Patriot Front as a white nationalist “hate” group.
The nonprofit says Rousseau founded Patriot Front with the help of other “neo-Nazis” in Texas immediately following 2017’s deadly Unite the Right rally, which left the event’s organizing group, Vanguard America, in shambles. He had a leadership position with that group before launching his own.
This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.
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