On Saturday, 31 men dressed in matching shirts, khakis and masks entered a large U-Haul truck and departed for a “Pride in the Park” event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. They were arrested just a few minutes from their destination, with local police reportedly responding to a concerned citizen’s tip that a “little army” of suspicious figures, armed with shields, was mobilizing.
The 31 men are members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front, an extremist organization that has roots in neo-Nazism and is responsible for spreading more racist propaganda across the country than any other group. Patriot Front gained prominence in the aftermath of the violent “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, under the agitation of founder and leader Thomas Rousseau.
The Dallas native was one of the 31 arrested in Idaho, and indeed, nearly all of the men were from out-of-state, traveling from places like Utah, South Dakota, Virginia and Oregon in order to disrupt and intimidate people at LGBTQ Pride event. So how did they find out about an event in Coeur d’Alene, a northern Idaho city home to just under 55,000 people? Why did they even bother to care, given that Pride events are taking place all across the country?
Authorities are still seeking answers to these questions, but what we do know is that six weeks earlier, Idaho State Representative Heather Scott hosted an event in Kootenai, Idaho dubbed “Gameplan to Remove Inappropriate Materials From Our Schools and Libraries,” focused on the banning of books to “protect children.” Scott held the event in conjunction with a group dubbed “Parents for Freedom and Liberty,” and promoted it on the state legislature’s website as well as Facebook, urging people to attend or tune into the livestream.
Near the end of the event, Scott invited organizers from a far-right Christian motorcycle club, Panhandle Patriots, to address the crowd. One unidentified man, wearing a vest decorated with the alias “Maddog” and a patch from the extremist Three Percenter movement, took the mic to thank attendees for supporting “family values” and promoted an armed anti-Pride protest, which they dubbed “Gun d’Alene.” The organizer urged the crowd to “go head to head against these people,” saying that Pride events in Coeur d’Alene were a “line in the sand.”
“They’re trying to take your children. This fight is not just paper. It’s not just words. It’s not just politicians. They have to see people standing in their faces saying, ‘No more.’ If we don’t do this, they’re winning, as she said,” he remarked, referring to Scott. “The amount of steps they take is ten to one. They got people nonstop. We gain two steps, they gain 12. We’re not going to win, or fight back, at a leisurely pace.”
The Panhandle Patriots are led by Mike “Viper” Birdsong, a self-described former Marine who claims his crew isn’t involved in extremist politics nor violence. Despite those claims, Birdsong is unrepentant about participating in the January 6th insurrection, and has long been a promoter of familiar far-right conspiracies around “groomers” and “antifa.” In fact, the “first annual” Gun d’Alene took place in 2020, when Panhandle Patriots organized a heavily armed “defense” of Coeur d’Alene over unfounded rumors that anti-fascist activists were headed into town via bus to riot.
The representatives of Panhandle Patriots at Scott’s event credited the legislator for being on the front lines of the cultural fight. Indeed, she has openly defended the idea of “white nationalism,” claiming it is a legitimate ideology that is distinct from white supremacy, and therefore not racist. Scott also has a history in right-wing organizing, as she is a member of the Coalition of Western States, a group led by disgraced Washington legislator Matt Shea. Shea was found guilty of participating in a domestic terror plot, but has continued to agitate around “government tyranny” and far-right ideologies.
Shea is also very familiar with Panhandle Patriots, as the group reportedly served as “security” during a rally organized by him in Spokane, Washington. And like Shea, Scott hasn’t been shy about using right-wing groups in order to boost her rhetoric and legitimize her agenda, which is explicitly anti-LGBTQ. At her April 28th rally, she stood by as Panhandle Patriot members urged others to show up and protest Pride events. “Come see what they’re doing. Come with us,” Panhandle Patriot member “Maddog” told the crowd.
Their call was heeded: Beyond a cadre of armed Panhandle Patriots and the arrested Patriot Front crew, a slew of far-right agitators and anti-LGBTQ propagandists from around the country descended on northern Idaho this weekend, including Shea and members of his Spokane church, “On Fire Ministries.” The connection goes even further, as two Patriot Front members arrested in Coeur d’Alene have close ties to Shea — Misheal and Josiah Buster appear to be related to a close associate of Shea and a leader at his ministry, Matt Buster.
Patriot Front has long displayed interest in spreading its white supremacist message through Idaho, which is itself a historical hotbed of racist far-right organizing. In the case of Coeur d’Alene, the white supremacist group likely suspected it would be welcomed with open arms. Scott and the Panhandle Patriots certainly did nothing to convince them otherwise.