Patriot Front leader among those arrested near Idaho Pride

Also among those arrested was Mitchell F. Wagner, 24, of Florissant, Missouri, who was previously accused of defacing a mural of famous black Americans on a St. Louis college campus last year.

Wagner’s attorney, Michael Kielty, said Sunday he had received no information about the charges. He said the Patriot Front has no record of violence and that the case could be a First Amendment issue. “Even if you don’t like the speech, you have the right to give it,” he said.

Patriot Front is a neo-Nazi white supremacist group whose members perceive black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, said Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher specializing in domestic violent extremism.

Their playbook, Lewis said, includes identifying local grievances to exploit, getting organized on platforms like messaging app Telegram, and eventually showing up to events dressed in orderly columns, in blue or white shirt uniforms, and as a sign of the march strength.

Although Pride celebrations have long been picketed by counter-protesters citing religious objections, they have not historically been a major focus for armed extremist groups. Still, it’s not surprising given that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has increasingly become a powerful rallying cry in the far-right online ecosystem, Lewis said.

“This series of grievances fits into their broader narratives and demonstrates their ability to mobilize the same people against ‘the enemy’ over and over again,” he said.

The arrests come amid a wave of charged rhetoric on LGBTQ issues and a wave of state legislation targeting transgender youth, said John McCrostie, the first openly gay man elected to the Idaho legislature. In Boise, dozens of Pride flags were stolen from the city streets this week.

“Whenever we are confronted with hate speech, we need to respond with the community message that we accept all people with all our differences,” McCrostie said in a text message.

Sunday also marked six years since the mass shooting that killed 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse LGBTQ club, said Troy Williams of Equality Utah in Salt Lake City.

“Our nation is becoming increasingly polarized and the result has been tragic and deadly,” he said.

Authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area are investigating a possible hate crime after a group of men allegedly shouted homophobic and anti-LGBTQ slurs during a weekend drag queen story hour at the San Lorenzo Library on Saturday. No arrests were made, no one was physically injured and authorities are investigating the incident as possible child molestation.

In Coeur d’Alene, police Saturday found riot gear, a smoke grenade, shin guards and shields in the van after stopping it near a park where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was hosting a Pride in the Park event, Coeur d’ Alene, Police Chief Lee White said.

The group came to riot in the small north Idaho town wearing Patriot Front patches and logos on their hats and some T-shirts that read “Reclaim America,” according to police and videos of the arrests shared on social media were published.

Those arrested were from at least 11 states, including Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Wyoming, Virginia and Arkansas.

Though northern Idaho has a decades-long history of right-wing extremism, White said only one of those arrested Saturday was from the state.

The six-hour Pride event went generally as planned, including booths, food, live music, a drag show and a march by more than 50 people, the Idaho Statesman reported.

“We’ve been through so much,” Jessica Mahuron of the North Idaho Pride Alliance, which organized the event, told KREM-TV. “Psychological harassment and intimidation, and the truth is, if you’re bullied, let them win, and what we’ve shown today is that you’re not going to win.”

The group is due to be charged on Monday.

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