June is when most of the Pride parades, around the United States and the world, are held, and there are a lot of them, hundreds at least. One list of the relatively major events affiliated with an international organization counts 152. The parade in Coeur d’Alene, on June 11, didn’t make the list.
The Coeur d’Alene event was comparatively small and ordinary in its context. It got some attention locally, but little from people more than a few miles away – with some notable exceptions.
At first the Panhandle Patriots Riding Club, a culture war group which had scheduled a Gun Coeur d’Alene event on the same day, seemed to be watching it closely. According to one report, a poster for that event proclaimed, “If they want to have a war, let it begin here.” It decided to reschedule, however; in a statement it said that “due to instigation from local media sources, our event has been hijacked by extremist groups.” It named some groups, but not the one that showed up: the Patriot Front.
Coeur d’Alene law enforcement officers were tipped that a group aimed at disrupting the pride event was headed toward it in a U-Haul. They intercepted it en route and arrested 31 people from 12 states. Coeur d’Alene’s police chief, Lee White, said, “It is clear to us based on the gear that the individuals had with them, the stuff they had in their possession, the U-Haul with them along with paperwork that was seized from them, that they came to riot downtown.”
Documents and clothing items made clear that this group was associated with the Patriot Front; that group’s founder and national leader, Thomas Rousseau, was among the arrestees.
That raises the question: Why Coeur d’Alene?
When a police officer remarked to one of the would-be rioters that he had come a long way to Coeur d’Alene from his home in Alabama, the man responded, “We go where we’re needed.” But why was he needed in Coeur d’Alene?
And why to a Pride event that didn’t have much to do directly with the kind of racial issues that usually have been the Front’s focus?
Second question first. For the Front (and likely for any number of other similar groups) this is not just racial war, but broader culture war. Anti-abortion is a big part of their agenda too, and the culture war ethos you hear from much of the Idaho Legislature is reflected in many statements by Patriot Front group members. Like this one: “Those destroying the American family can only have the intent of destroying the American people.” That varies only a little in tone from the talk of many state legislators.
Still, why Coeur d’Alene and not any number of other places?
Here we come into some speculation, but we can safely say the Idaho Panhandle has been thought of for half a century in race-war circles as a special place – for culturally conservative white people. When Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations, moved to the Hayden Lake area in 1974, it’s because he identified the area a white homeland, and used that as a sales point for others of similar persuasion. In the quarter-century or so his activities took root there, the area became famous for them. The region became a magnet for many thousands of people from other places, attracted not necessarily by the specifics of Butler’s message, but by the cultural direction in which they pointed.
If you’re an organization like Patriot Front, that makes northern Idaho a ground zero for your kind of people, a place that has to be protected against anyone who doesn’t fit in. People of color. People of other sexuality. Certainly – gasp – liberals.
That’s why the incident and the arrests in Coeur d’Alene were more than just a dramatic event, and should be taken seriously.
Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County is a place many white nationalists see as theirs, specifically. And they well may, in time ahead, come from across the country to, in their view, “defend” it.