(Reuters) – Thirty-one members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were expected to appear in an Idaho court on Monday for an arraignment following their weekend arrest on suspicion of plotting to violently disrupt an LGBTQ pride event.
The men, arrested on Saturday after the U-Haul rental truck they were riding in was pulled over, face misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to riot and possibly additional offenses, according to Lee White, the police chief in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
A local resident called authorities after spotting the group of men, all dressed alike with white gaiter-style masks and carrying shields, loading themselves into the truck “like a little army,” White told reporters following the arrests.
He said the truck was stopped by police about 10 minutes after the call a short distance from the “Pride in the Park” event in Coeur d’Alene, an Idaho Panhandle city about 380 miles north of the capital, Boise, and about 36 miles east of Spokane, Washington.
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.
Police officers seized at least one smoke grenade, a collection of shields and shin guards and documents that included an “operations plan” from the truck, all of which made their intentions clear, White said.
“They came to riot downtown,” he said.
The men had come from at least 11 states across the country, White said, including Texas, Colorado and Virginia.
The Patriot Front formed in the aftermath of the 2017 white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, breaking off from another extremist group, Vanguard America, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
Saturday’s pride event, described by organizers as the largest ever seen in North Idaho, drew a crowd of several hundred people for festivities that included a talent show and drag queen dance hour, local media reported.
KREM-TV in Spokane reported several smaller groups turned out to protest the gathering, with dozens of individuals seen carrying guns on the fringe of the park in what organizers said was an attempt to intimidate those attending the LGBTQ event.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Chris Reese)