The arrests of 31 white supremacists outside of a Pride festival in North Idaho shook the country over the weekend. It’s only part of a larger uptick in far-right extremism.
The group involved is known as Patriot Front, which renamed itself after the 2017 rally in Charlottesville where one of its members ran over and killed Heather Heyer. However, Patriot Front was not the only extremist group at the Coeur d’Alene Pride festival. Leah Sotille, a freelance reporter who covers this issue in the Northwest, said a local biker group and Idaho state Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, made the event a flashpoint.
“The Pride festival was going on, and then around the park there was a guy holding an AR-15, there were people holding signs and trying to intimidate people at the festival,” Sotille said. “So, people seemed to respond to the Panhandle Patriots’ and Heather Scott’s calls to get people there to protest.”
It’s not yet clear what the Patriot Front members planned to do at the festival. Local police arrested them for conspiracy to riot.
Sotille said other far-right figures at the event included Matt Shea, a former eastern Washington state representative. Shea is known for his extremist rhetoric and has been seen with Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers leader facing sedition charges for his role on Jan. 6, 2001, at the U.S. Capitol. Two people who attend Shea’s church were among the men arrested.
Sotille said the latest attack on the LGBT community may feel new but it is not for folks like Shea.
“The whole debate around trans youth and trans people – this is something that has just revived old grievances within the far right,” she said. “But I think it’s just something that people like Matt Shea have pounced on to continue to push the views that they’ve always had.”
Idaho has struggled with white supremacists in the past, although only one of the men arrested is from Idaho. Sotille said it’s important to see this as one of many extremist incidents taking place within a short time span across the country.
“It was just a week ago or two weeks ago that we were all talking about the Buffalo shooting at the grocery store, and how the shooter was motivated by a white-supremacist ideology,” she said. “This group, Patriot Front, is part and parcel, it’s the same ideas about a white ethno-state.”
Sotille has authored a book about religious extremism in Idaho, called “When the Moon Turns to Blood,” which comes out next week.