The warning signs of potential extremist activities surrounding “Pride in the Park” in Couer d’Alene, Idaho had police on high alert.
In early May at a forum held by ultra-conservative Idaho State Rep. Heather Scott, R-Bonner County, titled “Gameplan to Remove Inappropriate Materials from Our Schools and Libraries,” a so-called patriot group announced plans to “go head-to-head” against the Pride event.
Saying, “If they want to have a war, let it begin here,” the Idaho Panhandle Patriots Riding Club told attendees, “They [the LGBTQ community] are trying to take your children.”
That event went from a gun rally to a prayer rally near the Pride event.
But another group, likely drawn by the news publicity of the event, showed up in force. At least 31 members of the white supremacist group, Patriot Front, piled into the back of a UHaul truck and headed towards the park. A 911 call from a person who witnessed the group climbing into the truck wearing military-like apparel allowed Idaho police to stop the group from moving forward with their plans.
At least six of those men live in Utah, according to police records. Experts estimate that around 300 people consider themselves members of Patriot Front.
Patriot Front was one of two hate groups recruiting new members on the University of Utah campus in 2019. They put up posters and pamphlets around campus with slogans like “Not Stolen, Conquered” — a reference to their claim that white Europeans ‘conquered’ America rather than stole it from indigenous people.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Patriot Front is responsible for about 80 percent of white supremacist propaganda distributed in the United States. The group has become known for “flash demonstrations” across the country.
This has included leaving flyers at a Black church, stickering an LGBTQ community center, and vandalizing memorials for George Floyd and other inclusiveness murals.
In addition to distributing flyers and stickers, Patriot Front has added stenciled graffiti, banner drops, and the reprogramming of traffic signs to display messages like “Reclaim America” as mechanisms for spreading its ideology. Patriot Front members are required to engage in activism or risk expulsion.
In Utah, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism has identified 161 occasions when the group promoted its views in cities across Utah from 2020 to 2021, including a demonstration outside the state Capitol with messages that read, “America First” and “Revolution is tradition.”
Retired FBI agent Greg Rogers, who spent 20 years working undercover in militia groups, said the relatively new group made up of men mostly in their 20s and 30s — likely wanted to use the Idaho Pride event as a recruitment tool.
“They’re basically just trying to get notoriety. That’s what this is all about,” Rogers told the Deseret News. “These kinds of groups get a lot of street cred by showing they’re actually doing something.”
Rogers hypothesized the men would have lined up around the park and probably chanted some “nonsense” while being filmed. Members intentionally didn’t bring weapons with them. The worst thing authorities could do to them is not only charge but convict them of a felony so they can’t possess weapons, “which is the most important thing in their entire lives.”
The Utah arrestees are Jared Michael Boyce, 27, of Springville; Branden Mitchel Haney, 35, of Kaysville; Cameron Kathan Pruitt, 23, of Midway; Alexander Nicholai Sisenstein, 27, of Midvale; Dakota Ray Tabler, 29, of West Valley City; and Nathaniel Taylor Whitfield, of Elk Ridge.
Rogers said they’re likely now proud that they were arrested. The misdemeanor charges, he said, will be “pled down to nothing,” as it would be difficult for prosecutors to prove they intended to riot. He said Patriot Front members will spend the next few months bragging about it online.
“These young men in Utah now think they’re the real deal,” he said.
Richard Medina, a geography professor who studies hate groups at the University of Utah, said it’s not clear how big the group’s presence is in Utah.
Utah has generally seen less extremist activity than neighboring states, Medina said. That may be why members based here traveled to Idaho even though there were local pride events.
“They’re leaving the state to do this someplace where they think they might be more effective,” he told KUER Radio. “I think there’s a bigger audience for these kinds of anti-pride activities in Idaho.”
Medina said white supremacist groups are trying to appeal to young, white men who are fearful of the changes they’re seeing, including the population becoming less white and the changes in gender perceptions and masculinity.
Ultimately, the six-hour Pride event went on as scheduled, including booths, food, live music, a drag show, and a march of more than 50 people.
At a press conference, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Hammond said the city would not return to “the days of the Aryan nations.”
“We are the same city that we were last week and that city is a city that respects everyone,” Hammond said. “We are not a city that wants to discriminate, we are not a city that wishes to bring any hurt on anyone. We will do everything we can to make sure we continue to stay past those types of problems.”
The events took a toll on Pride organizers and the LGBTQ community.
“We have been through so much, so much,” Jessica Mahuron of the North Idaho Pride Alliance, which organized the event, told KREM-TV. “Harassment, and attempts to intimidate on the psychological level, and the truth is if you allow yourself to be intimidated you let them win and what we have shown today is that you will not win.”