PICTURED: Founder of Patriot Front white supremacy group, 23, and 30 members arrested for planning riot at Idaho Pride as attorney says ‘even if you don’t like the speech, they have the right to make it’
Thomas Ryan Rousseau, 23, of Grapevine, Texas, was among those facing felony charges of criminal conspiracy after dozens of members of the white nationalist group, known as the Patriot Front, were arrested in northwest Idaho Saturday
The alleged founder of a white supremacist group and 30 other members who were arrested for planning a riot at Idaho Pride have been pictured.
Thomas Ryan Rousseau, 23, of Grapevine, Texas, was among those facing felony charges of criminal conspiracy after dozens of members of the white nationalist group, known as the Patriot Front, were arrested in northwest Idaho Saturday.
The men, who had been packed in a rented UHaul truck wearing riot gear before being pulled over in Coeur d’Alene, are expected to appear in court in local Kootenai County later Monday.
Footage of the large-scale arrest shows the dozens of men, masked and wearing shirts that bore the message ‘reclaim American,’ kneeling in cuffs in a field in the Idaho Panhandle city about 380 miles north of the capital, Boise.
Police said the group had been plotting to incite chaos at a pride event about 10 minutes from where the arrested, called ‘Pride in the Park’ event in Coeur d’Alene City Park.
The group was reportedly busted after police received a tip from a local resident who called cops after spotting the group of men, donning white masks and carrying shields, load themselves into the vehicle.
Speaking to police, the witness said the group looked ‘like a little army’.
Police officers seized at least one smoke grenade, a collection of several shields and shin guards, and documents that included an ‘operations plan’ from the group, found by officers in the U-haul.
Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White told reporters Saturday that the contents of the document, without going into specific detail, made the group’s intentions ‘clear.’
However, a lawyer representing some of the alleged white supremacists has since attested that the charges to leveled against the members – a Class F felony punishable with up to five years in prison – are in violation of their First Amendment rights, citing that they do not have a reputation for violence and that Americans are allowed the right to protest.
He said: ‘Even if you don’t like the speech, they have the right to make it.’
The men, arrested on Saturday after the U-Haul rental truck they were riding in was pulled over, were expected to appear in court in the state later on Monday
The group was rumbled when a local resident called cops after spotting the men, all wearing white masks and carrying shields, loading themselves into the vehicle ‘like a little army’
The city’s police chief, meanwhile, maintained Saturday that the men were there to cause mayhem.
Also among the arrestees was Mitchell F. Wagner, 24, of Florissant, Missouri, who was previously charged with defacing a mural of famous black Americans on a college campus in St. Louis last year
‘They came to riot downtown,’ he said.
The men had come from at least 11 states across the country for the planned procession, police said, from states such as Texas, Colorado, and Virginia.
It was not immediately clear if any of the group had any firearms.
Video taken at the scene of the arrest and posted online showed a group of men in police custody, kneeling next to the truck with their hands bound, wearing matching military garb, consisting of khaki pants, blue shirts, white masks, and baseball caps.
The Patriot Front was founded in 2017 by Rousseau, who grew up in the suburbs of Dallas to emerge as the leading figures of the white nationalist right.
The group, responsible for more than 80 percent of white supremacist propaganda, was formed by Rousseau in the aftermath of the 2017 white nationalist ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, breaking off from another extremist group, Vanguard America, which was also founded by then teen in 2015.
What is the Patriot Front?
The Patriot Front is a white supremacist group founded by 23-year-old Dallas man Thomas Ryan Rousseau.
The group maintains a white nationalist ideology, firm in its belief that since its white members’ ancestors conquered America, the country should be left to them, and no one else.
The group, which sees black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, argues, argues that through processions and riots against these groups, it is preserving the ethnic and cultural origins of its members’ white, European ancestors.
The Patriot Front spreads its message predominantly through the internet, via social media with materials such as banners, fliers, and posters.
In 2020, the group shifted its materials’ message from being more antisemitic and white supremacist to a form of ‘patriotism’ that justifies its bigotry, based in white supremacist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and fascist ideals.
The group is responsible for the majority of white supremacist propaganda in the US, representing 80 percent of all propaganda incidents nationally in 2020.
They currently participate in localized ‘flash demonstrations’ across the country.
Both groups preach a white nationalist ideology, based in a belief that since its white members’ ancestors conquered America, the country should be left to them, and no one else.
No attorney was immediately listed for Rousseau, who is currently being held without bond, police records showed Monday.
Also among the arrestees was Mitchell F. Wagner, 24, of Florissant, Missouri, who was previously charged with defacing a mural of famous black Americans on a college campus in St. Louis last year.
Michael Kielty, Wagner’s attorney, said Sunday that he had not been provided information about the charges.
LGBTQ advocates said Sunday that polarization and a fraught political climate are putting their community increasingly at risk.
Those arrested came from at least 11 states, including Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Wyoming, Virginia, and Arkansas, White said. Only one was from Idaho.
The group is a white supremacist neo-Nazi group whose members perceive black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, says Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in homegrown violent extremism.
Their playbook, according to Lewis, involves identifying local grievances to exploit, organizing on platforms like the messaging app Telegram and ultimately showing up to events marching in neat columns, in blue- or white-collared-shirt uniforms, in a display of strength.
Though Pride celebrations have long been picketed by counter-protesters citing religious objections, they haven’t historically been a major focus for armed extremist groups.
Still, it isn’t surprising, given how anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has increasingly become a potent rallying cry in the far-right online ecosystem, Lewis said.
‘That set of grievances fits into their broader narratives and shows their ability to mobilize the same folks against “the enemy” over and over and over again.’
All 31 were charged with conspiracy to riot, a misdemeanor, after police received reports from residents who spotted the ‘little army’ getting inside the vehicle around 1.38pm
Those arrested came from at least 11 states, including Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Wyoming, Virginia, and Arkansas, White said. Only one was from Idaho
The men were standing inside the truck wearing khakis, navy blue shirts and beige hats with white balaclavas covering their faces
Patriot Front is a white supremacist neo-Nazi group whose members perceive black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, said Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in homegrown violent extremism
Patriot Front members arrested for conspiracy to riot
The arrests come amid a surge of charged rhetoric around LGBTQ issues and a wave of state legislation aimed at transgender youth, said John McCrostie, the first openly gay man elected to the Idaho Legislature.
In Boise this week, dozens of Pride flags were stolen from city streets.
‘Whenever we are confronted with attacks of hate, we must respond with the message from the community that we embrace all people with all of our differences,’ McCrostie said in a text message.
Sunday also marked six years since the mass shooting that killed 49 people at the Orlando LGBTQ club Pulse, said Troy Williams with Equality Utah in Salt Lake City.
‘Our nation is growing increasingly polarized, and the result has been tragic and deadly,’ he said.
Authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area are investigating a possible hate crime after a group of men allegedly shouted homophobic and anti-LGBTQ slurs during a weekend Drag Queen Story Hour at the San Lorenzo Library on Saturday.
No arrests have been made, no one was physically harmed, and authorities are investigating the incident as possible harassment of children.
In Coeur d´Alene on Saturday, police found riot gear, one smoke grenade, shin guards and shields inside the van after pulling it over near a park where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was holding a Pride in the Park event, Coeur d´Alene Police Chief Lee White said.
The group came to riot around the small northern Idaho city wearing Patriot Front patches and logos on their hats and some T-shirts reading ‘Reclaim America’ according to police and videos of the arrests posted on social media.
Though there is a history of far-right extremism dating back decades in northern Idaho, White said only one of those arrested Saturday was from the state.
The six-hour Pride event generally went on as scheduled, including booths, food, live music, a drag show and a march of more than 50 people, the Idaho Statesman reported.
‘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.’
The group is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.
Video taken at the scene of the arrest and posted online showed a group of men in police custody, kneeling next to the truck with their hands bound, wearing similar khaki pants, blue shirts, white masks and baseball caps
They also found documents that included an ‘operations plan’ from the truck, as well as shields and shin guards, all of which made their intentions clear
Patriot Front is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as ‘a white nationalist hate group’ that formed after the deadly ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017