Why Coeur d’Alene’s ‘Pride in the Park’ became the target for white supremacist groups like Patriot Front

click to enlarge Thirty-one Patriot Front members were arrested near Pride at the Park for "conspiracy to riot." - DAVID NEIWERT PHOTO

David Neiwert photo

Thirty-one Patriot Front members were arrested near Pride at the Park for “conspiracy to riot.”

Almost instantly, it made national news: Thirty-one members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front had been arrested for “conspiracy to riot” in Coeur d’Alene, allegedly with plans for a destructive confrontation at Pride at the Park, a gay pride event last Saturday.

Since then, reams of speculation and commentary have poured out, but one question, in particular, keeps popping up: Why there?

“We’ve often asked ourselves over the last couple days, why did they pick Coeur d’Alene?” says Jeanette Laster, executive director of the Human Rights Education Institute, an organization formed as a result of the battles years ago against the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group the local community helped chase away.

One reason that police were prepared to respond, the police report on the Patriot Front said, was the amount of “credible intelligence indicating there would be groups coming into town intending to seek oppositional contact with other crowds gathered in downtown Coeur d’Alene.”

That’s groups, plural. It wasn’t just Patriot Front in downtown Coeur d’Alene aiming to object to Pride in the Park. There were also members of “White Lives Matter,” another racist extremist group there. And that’s not even counting the far-right pastors, alt-right propagandists and a biker group.

Instead of just focusing on one solitary group, it makes more sense to focus on the overall chorus: Across two months, Pride in the Park had been hyped up by numerous local and national right-wing voices as a national flashpoint in a civilizational culture war.

By June 11, the presence of far-right radicals looking to cause trouble was less a surprise and something closer to an inevitability.

click to enlarge Patriot Front member Mishael Joshua Buster, one of several Patriot Front members with connections to Spokane. - DAVID NEIWERT PHOTO

David Neiwert photo

Patriot Front member Mishael Joshua Buster, one of several Patriot Front members with connections to Spokane.

Patriot Front was already here

In April of last year, Spokane resident Dennis Smith recorded three men defacing the George Floyd mural in downtown Spokane with white paint. When he got closer, Smith found they’d left calling cards: stencil-spray-painted images of the Patriot Front logo and an “American First” Patriot Front Sticker.
Spokane and Kootenai County have been hit with waves of Patriot Front vandalism and propaganda on numerous occasions in the last year.

click to enlarge Patriot Front logos sprayed on a George Floyd mural downtown - DENNIS SMITH PHOTO

Dennis Smith photo

Patriot Front logos sprayed on a George Floyd mural downtown

“It was like 23 posters that were distributed throughout Kootenai County: light signal boxes, intersections, entrances to the freeway, railroad crossings,” says Laster. “They were photographed and put on [Patriot Front’s] National Telegram site.”

North Idaho College was hit. The Human Rights Education Institute was hit multiple times, she says. Sometimes they’re just stickers, but other times they go further.

But last Thanksgiving, an abandoned Hayden Idaho IHOP was spray-painted with Patriot Front stencils. It’s a common strategy for Patriot Front — if the media covers it and names the group, it’s essentially getting free publicity.

Just last month, Laster says, Patriot Front slapped some stickers down at Prairie Shopping Center in Hayden.

While locals were eager to point out that none of the Patriot Front members were from Coeur d’Alene, pull back the lens and the number of people with ties to the region start multiplying quickly.

Voter registration data showed that Patriot Front members Mishael and Josiah Buster both lived in Spokane — though Josiah moved to Texas recently. Until this week, their father, Matt Buster, was listed on the website of On Fire Ministries, former Washington state Rep. Matt Shea’s church, as their “Real Men’s Ministry” leader. (Shea now says that Matt Buster is not a part of his church in any capacity.)

Josiah Buster, meanwhile, lives in Texas at the same address as fellow arrested Patriot Front member Connor Patrick Moran. Moran isn’t exactly a stranger to the area either. Documents show that he was a senior at Shadle Park High School in 2016, and for that matter got a speeding ticket in Spokane in 2020.

Public documents and since-deleted social media and wedding registry feeds also indicate that another Patriot Front member, Robert Benjamin Whitted, is married to a woman who lived in Spokane until recently. His wife graduated in May 2019 from Washington State University, where the Lewiston Tribune reports that another Patriot Front member, Winston Durham, is currently a senior and an ROTC cadet in the National Guard.

Zoom out one level further, and you’ll find Spencer Simpson from Ellensburg, Washington, while Justin Oleary, James Julias Johnson and Colton Brown are all from Western Washington.

Devin Burghart, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, says Patriot Front has suffered high-profile humiliations.

“Patriot Front had a couple of different difficult run-ins in the past few years,” he says. “Their D.C. or Philadelphia events — optically they came across looking weak and disorganized. They were left literally fleeing what was supposed to be seen as a show of force.”

Coeur d’Alene, by contrast?

“It was seen as a soft target,” Burghart says.

click to enlarge Dave Reilly (right) with white supremacist James Allsup in an Instagram post taken in Coeur d'Alene. Allsup is holding a tiki torch — and not for the first time. - INSTAGRAM SCREENSHOT

Instagram screenshot

Dave Reilly (right) with white supremacist James Allsup in an Instagram post taken in Coeur d’Alene. Allsup is holding a tiki torch — and not for the first time.

A coterie of alt-right propagandists move to town

It’s Aug. 7, 2017 — four days before the infamous Unite the Right March in Charlottesville. And in a private messaging group on Discord, an instant messaging tool, a slew of alt-right figures are brainstorming strategy.

A user with the handle “DavyCrockett” has an idea.

“We NEED to march straight through the commons with torches for the night rally,” he writes, according to a trove of leaked alt-right chat messages. “Nobody will expect it, it will give us the opportunity to take photos and videos and lots of good propaganda.”

He’s met with a chorus of agreement from other alt-right members. And that’s exactly what happened, though instead of just chanting “things Normie conservatives can get behind,” as he proposes, they chant things like “Jews will not replace us.”

In other comments, “Crockett” frets that being too public about the Nazi memes could open them up to attacks from leftists. He rants that “if your [sic] gay STAY IN THE [F—-ING] CLOSET AND STOP PROMOTING THAT SHIT,” he writes on Discord.

And “Crockett” repeatedly identifies himself as a Pennsylvania radio host, surrounding his cohost’s name with triple parentheses, a symbol anti-Semites use to derisively claim someone is Jewish; linking to his coverage at Davereillymedia.com; and begging for retweets to his @DaveReillyMedia account.

A source from Pennsylvania contacted the Inlander and laid out a trove of evidence that “Davy Crockett” was Dave Reilly, the man who ran for Post Falls School Board last year with the local county Republican Party’s endorsement.

Reilly had resigned after being suspended following his coverage of the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, but the leaked Discord comments show that not only was Reilly covering the alt-right marchers in Charlottesville through a sympathetic lens, he’d helped plan the event.

Under oath during questioning from white supremacist Richard Spencer during a court battle last year, Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler identified “Davy Crockett” as the online handle of Reilly, citing him as a source of a recording of an exclusive meeting of local alt-right leaders. (Indeed, Reilly’s SoundCloud page links to a defunct Bandcamp page titled “DavyCrockettRocks.”)

When the Inlander contacted Reilly to ask if there was additional context to “Davy Crockett,”  he didn’t offer a denial. Instead, he just sent a link to a video of his comments about Patriot Front and Pride in the Park taken by Redoubt News.

And Reilly’s just one of several alt-right media figures who have moved to the region in the last few years.

There’s Lana Lokteff and Henrik Palmgren: When their “Red Ice” YouTube channel, characterized by critics as a white supremacist propaganda outlet, was taken down by YouTube, they had over 300,000 followers. Lokteff once compared positive media portrayals of interracial relationships to “genocide… more devious than blatant in-your-face mass murdering, but give it time.”

A 2019 Red Ice episode featured Lokteff and Palmgren interviewing Reilly, heaping praise on him for his anti-gay positioning, including asking conservative commentator Charlie Kirk at an event, “How does anal sex help us win the culture war?

And there’s video streamer Vincent James Foxx —  a Holocaust denier and fervent supporter of the Great Replacement theory, a man who got cheers from the crowd before speaking at white nationalist Nick Fuentes’ alt-right political conference. He’s touted Coeur D’Alene’s extremely white population, and has celebrated the idea that “a true, actual right-wing takeover is happening right now in the state of Idaho…. and there’s nothing that these people can do about it.”

You can see Dave Reilly retweeting Foxx in archived tweets. You can watch Foxx give Reilly his endorsement. You can see them posing together more recently in a photo with Janice McGeachin. And like Reilly, Foxx is passionately anti-gay.

“Yes, gays should be bullied,” Foxx wrote in a post on June 4. “Make gays afraid again.”

It wasn’t just that they were alt-right leaders who moved to North Idaho — it’s that they were alt-right media mavens, experienced with building fan bases by stoking outrage.

click to enlarge Anti-"groomer" signs brandished at Pride in the Park - DAVID NEIWERT PHOTO

David Neiwert photo

Anti-“groomer” signs brandished at Pride in the Park

Foxx news goes viral

In her efforts to defend a Florida bill banning teachers from any K-3 instruction about gender identity or sexual orientation, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted on March 4 that anyone who is against the bill is essentially pro-pedophile.

“If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children,” Pushaw wrote.

“Grooming” is a word that refers to manipulating children in order to molest them. But conservatives have started using it to refer to any pro-gay or pro-trans instruction being given to kids. Within a matter of weeks, it was practically everywhere within right-wing online discourse. And that includes folks like Foxx.

So on April 13, Foxx tossed the equivalent of a lit cigarette into that puddle of fuel. 

“Groomers are going to try to gather in the park in North Idaho in June,” he writes on his Telegram account, complete with a list of sponsors and a Star of David superimposed on the Pride poster. “Here’s all the companies in the area supporting these groomers.”

Foxx himself has over 97,000 followers on Gab and 44,000 subscribers on Telegram — two websites popular with the alt-right. Within the small world of trollish alt-right “Groypers,” Foxx is a very big star.

By the next day, Burghart says, you could already see Foxx’s post echoing across other far-right and alt-right pages: It’s posted in the feed for the Idaho chapter of White Lives Matter. Lokteff — or someone imitating her on Telegram — makes a post in the “North Idaho Freedom Alliance” channel, which helps fund a wide swath of far-right media pages in the region: “Time to organize a protest against this pedophile groomer ‘family-friendly’ event in Cda on June 11.”

Someone creates a “North Idaho Anti Groomer” channel for Telegram, shares Foxx’s post, then asks, “Is this acceptable, Coeur d’Alene?”

At an open forum event in April, the local Panhandle Patriots motorcycle club declare that they have a “peaceful” plan for a heavily armed “Gun d’Alene” protest in Pride in the Park to counter the “groomers.” They echo their plans at an April event held by Idaho Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard.

Multiple media outlets, including the Inlander, write about concerns about a potential violent confrontation.

By May 9, a far-right blog called the Idaho Tribune writes a post drawing on far-left tweets in order to claim that “Antifa members from across the country are planning on coming to Coeur d’Alene Idaho for an LGBT event titled ‘Pride in the Park.'”

The Idaho Tribune has numerous connections to Reilly, including as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Watch” blog reveals, source code pieces suggesting that it’s likely controlled by the same person who controls Reilly’s campaign site.

And by May 11, fears that “Antifa radicals” and “a White Nationalist Group called White Lives Matter” were planning to attend and cause violence cause the Panhandle Patriots to rebrand their planned event as the “North Idaho Day of Prayer”

“In the early days it looked like it was mostly local and regional actors that got involved,” says Burghart.

It didn’t stay that way.

The devil in the details

Finally, add Satan.

On June 5, Rowan Astra, an ordained minister with The Satanic Temple of Idaho, announces that they will have a booth at Coeur d’Alene’s Pride at the Park. 

“We will have merchandise and be performing unbaptisms for those interested!” Rowan Astra writes on Twitter on June 5. “Just know, Satan loves you for you! Hail Satan.”

Astra told the Boise Weekly in May that the church uses Satan as a metaphor for values like compassion and justice and to push back against the concept of religious dominance. In other words, it’s more a form of trollish atheism than a religion that actually worships Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness.

But for an already tense event, it just added brimstone to the fire.

Days earlier, Dave Reilly had already been trying to get the attention of Libs of TikTok — a Twitter account with 1.2 million Twitter followers that has been fueling outrage about race and gender in classrooms and other settings.

On June 7, he gets his wish, thanks, ironically, to Satan: Libs of TikTok post that a “‘Family-friendly drag dance party’ was being promoted by the Satanic Temple in Idaho. We are living in hell.”

The account tweets to the Coeur D’Alene mayor, “Did you see this? The Satanic Temple (@TSTIdaho) are actually co-sponsors of the event and are having a booth at the ‘family friendly drag show’ and links to an article in the Idaho Tribune.

Out come the pitchforks.

Two days later, @LibsOfTikTok announce that the Church of Satan has canceled its involvement in Pride in the Park. But before then, The National Desk, a syndicated program from the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns numerous local TV stations across the country, had already sent out stories with headlines like “‘Family-friendly’ pride event features ‘unbaptisms’ by Satanic Temple, drag dance party”

And Nick Fuentes — the most prominent white nationalist in the country — had already promoted the “rosary march,” an event to protest Pride in the Park, featuring Foxx and Reilly.

“Vince will be there,” Fuentes tells his followers. He doesn’t even have to use the last name.

Shades of white

So why did Patriot Front target Pride in a Park in Coeur d’Alene? Combine everything:

Kootenai County was a place the alt-right had been creating a new mythology about, in a region where the Patriot Front had a slew of connections with and had been targeting for over a year. Alt-right propagandists, Patriot movement groups and popular reactionary Twitter accounts had been hyping up the event, all teasing an epic confrontation — whether spiritual or physical — with “groomers,” Antifa and satanists.

“The online chatter becomes reality,” Burghart says.

In other words, if you’re a white nationalist group desperately hoping for a high-profile win, why wouldn’t you go to Pride in the Park?

“They saw the Pride group as small,” Burghart says of Patriot Front’s likely view of Coeur d’Alene. “They knew they had a large base of support in the area. They had local activists on the ground. They had other groups they could mobilize. A show of force is important to have the kind of intimidating impact that these groups were looking for.”

Instead, before they could even enter the event, they were arrested, their mugshots and names released to the world (including their parents).

To be clear, it’s not as if there’s some united front of far-right “Patriots.” The further you go on the fringe, the more frayed the fringe becomes.

In a Facebook video this week, On Fire Ministry worship leader Gabe Blomgren and longtime Shea ally Caleb Collier defended their friend Matt Buster — father of two of the Patriot Front members, saying the father can’t be blamed for the sins of his sons — and fervently decried the Patriot Front and racism.

They also, however, said the underlying anger that the young men were feeling was justified — it was just being used by nefarious forces, possibly feds — to give conservatives a black eye.

Reilly, in his comments recorded by Redoubt News, scoffs at the “Patriot Front Neo-Nazi pagans,” telling them to stay out of North Idaho. He mocks them on Instagram, earning a backlash from some of his alt-right followers.
But simultaneously, Reilly uses his speech to condemn the gay, lesbian and transgender people in Coeur d’Alene, telling them they should also leave.

“We do not need outsiders coming to North Idaho, to defend what isn’t theirs,” says Reilly. “They can go to Seattle or Portland or San Francisco. But not here. We will not accept it. So, spread the word: You’re not welcome. Satanists. LGBT groomers. Drag queens. Satanists. Pagans. Find somewhere else to call your home.”

In a few minutes, it highlighted how partial the victory is for those pushing back against extremism in the region. Patriot Front may have been arrested, humiliated and — at least for some of them — sent skittering back to places like Texas.

But for alt-right figures like Dave Reilly and Vince James Foxx? They act like North Idaho, despite being newcomers themselves, remains very much their territory. 

Article Source: Inlander