Los Angeles (AFP) – Police in the US state of Idaho have received death threats after arresting 31 members of a white supremacist group who were preparing to riot at a weekend Pride event, an officer said Monday.
The arrests were made Saturday after someone called 911 to warn about masked men who “looked like a little army” climbing into a truck and seemingly headed to the LGBTQ event at a park in the northwestern state.
The men — who police believe are linked to US far-right cell Patriot Front — were intercepted before they could reach Coeur d’Alene City Park.
They were armed with “shields, shin guards and other riot gear… including at least one smoke grenade,” and were arrested for conspiracy to riot, said Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White.
At a Monday press conference, White said half of around 150 calls received by his department since the arrests were from anonymous people wanting to “scream and yell at us” and “offer death threats against myself and other members of the police department, merely for doing our jobs.”
White attributed the abusive calls to “hate groups from outside” Coeur d’Alene, with one person phoning from Norway to “give us their opinions.”
The police chief said he and his department had been surprised by “the level of preparation that we saw” and by the “equipment that was carried and worn by those individuals.”
“It was very clear to us immediately that this was a riotous group” with “some ill intent,” he added.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a justice and rights body which tracks extremist organizations, has labeled Patriot Front a white nationalist hate group.
White said the arrested men came from at least 11 different US states, and that he had not previously encountered the Patriot Front in the area.
The remote hills of northern Idaho were long associated with Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi group which hoped to establish a separate white-only region, and was tied to numerous violent crimes across the United States.
But Mayor Jim Hammond said the area was “not going back to the days of the Aryan Nations” and was “able to completely rid ourselves of that group and the kind of awful culture that they were trying to present to our community.”
An FBI spokeswoman told AFP that federal officers were assisting local authorities.
“If, in the course of the investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate,” said Sandra Barker via email.