View of Idaho: Luck is no defense against inner terror | Policy

LEWISTON TRIBUNE EDITORIAL BOARD

The last thing you want to rely on as a frontline defense against hate groups is a vigilant citizen.

But that’s what spared Coeur d’Alene and northern Idaho Saturday from domestic terrorists who were poised to turn that community’s peaceful LGBTQ pride event into a riot.

Ten minutes after being tipped off to a ‘small army’ of masked men boarding a U-Haul truck in a hotel parking lot, police pulled over and arrested 31 members of the Patriot Front, a nationalist group white man who had split from Vanguard America, organizers of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Police found a smoke grenade, riot gear and “documents” that looked like an operation plan.

“I was a little surprised by their level of preparation. It’s not something we see every day,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said at a news conference. “It was very clear to us, immediately, that this was a riotous group who had prepared in advance to come downtown and disrupt either the pride event or the event. Prayer in the Park. It was clear that there was bad intention.

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Among the 31 charged with conspiracy to riot were Patriot Front founder Thomas Rousseau of Grape Vine, Texas; two Idahoans, Winston North Durham of Genesee, 21, and Richard Jacob Jessop, 21, of Idaho Falls, and a Spokane man, Mishael Joshua Buster, 22. The bulk of the potential rioters were foreigners – two-thirds from Colorado, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Instead of alerting the police ahead of time, it’s usually the attentive witness who ends up telling a TV reporter after the fact, “You know, at the time, that seemed strange to me… “

So some questions need answers:

  • How on earth can someone recruit and organize 31 young men from nearly a dozen states, including those as far apart as Texas, Illinois, Missouri and Arizona, deliver them to some dark corner of a rural state, provide them with operation plans, equip with cash, riot gear, smoke grenades, and place them within 10 minutes of the outbreak of a violent riot without the FBI and Does the Department of Homeland Security know about it? Didn’t FBI Director Christopher Wray say this about domestic terrorism: “So every time we’ve had the chance, we’ve tried to emphasize that it’s a major concern and that it remains so for the FBI. In fact, we considered it such a critical threat that in June 2019, under my leadership, we elevated racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism to our highest threat priority on par with ISIS and local violent extremists where he remains to this day”?
  • What brought them to northern Idaho? Was it the region’s troubled history as a base for Aryan nations in the 1980s and 1990s?
  • Did they feel that a region that is smeared – or, take your pick, promoted – as the last white homeland would support their goals? And if so, how did they come to this conclusion? Was it the antics of Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who recently kicked off another spin on the culture wars when she said drag queens and other LGBTQ supporters were responsible for a “war of perversion against our children”?
  • Did they get this idea when they saw the Anne Frank memorial in Boise disfigured by Nazi swastikas?
  • What about the spitting rhetoric from the Idaho legislature, like Rep. Barbara Ehardt’s animosity toward transgender athletes?
  • Or was it just knowing that any hate group can gain national network TV coverage by acting in the Idaho Panhandle?

And after? With then-Attorney General Jim Jones at the helm three decades ago, a shining spotlight exposed and condemned the Aryan nations to their ultimate demise. Penal sanctions have been strengthened. People of good will among local and state political, social and business networks countered the white supremacists.

What is needed today is something just as proactive.

Governor Brad Little said just enough to condemn the Patriot Front. But if the governor created an effective response that investigates what’s going on here, exposes it, and then outlines ways to take it down again, he’d enjoy the same widespread support that hailed Jones’ efforts.

Otherwise, we may not be so lucky next time.

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