Anti-hate groups in Seattle and Spokane had been hearing for nearly two months that a Pride event in a northern Idaho city was likely to be targeted by far-right extremists.

Police in Coeur d’Alene had heard similar buzz. So they assigned extra officers to be on duty Saturday in and around City Park, the site of the North Idaho Pride Alliance’s signature annual event, according to Police Chief Lee White.

Then a tipster called police that day to report a small army of masked men with riot gear loading into a U-Haul truck outside a hotel. Officers pulled over the truck’s driver a quarter-mile from the park and ultimately arrested 31 members of Patriot Front, a white supremacist group that started in Texas and is estimated to have a few hundred adherents in Washington state.

Authorities arrest members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front near a pride event Saturday in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  (Georji Brown / The Associated Press)
Coeur d’Alene police receive death threats for arresting Patriot Front members

Two of those arrested for misdemeanor conspiracy to riot are from King County, and three others are from elsewhere in Washington. The Seattle Times typically does not name people until they have been charged.

Among those arrested was a 22-year-old Spokane man who has direct ties to On Fire Ministries, a Spokane church whose senior pastor is former state Rep. Matt Shea, found by a state House-commissioned investigation to have planned and participated in domestic terrorism.


Kim Schmidt — the founder of Stronger Together Spokane, a grassroots group fighting religious extremism — said Monday it was “purely accidental” she made a connection between Shea and the 22-year-old, whose father works as Shea’s head of security, as she was scrolling through jail booking photos released by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.

The 22-year-old’s brother, who now lives in Texas, was also arrested, Schmidt said.

Shea was participating in an anti-LGBTQ+ march through downtown Coeur d’Alene on Saturday when news of the Patriot Front arrests first broke, according to Schmidt and Devin Burghart, director of the Seattle-based Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.

Coeur d’Alene is a 40-minute drive east of Spokane, and far-right extremists represent “a very loud fringe” minority in the area, Schmidt said.

“This is toxic masculinity in its absolute worst form,” she said of the Patriot Front arrests.

Group formed after deadly rally

Patriot Front is a white nationalist group that formed in the aftermath of 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization broke off from Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi group that participated in the chaotic demonstration where Heather Heyer, 32, who was protesting white nationalism, was killed, the SPLC says.


Patriot Front transitioned in 2020 from using explicit antisemitic and white supremacist language in its propaganda to more covert bigoted language, promoting a form of “patriotism” that emboldens white supremacy, xenophobia, antisemitism and fascism, according to ADL, previously known as the Anti-Defamation League. Patriot Front was responsible for 80% of all white supremacist propaganda incidents nationally in 2020, ADL’s Center on Extremism found.

Burghart, the director of the Seattle-based human rights institute, sees Patriot Front more as a rebranding than an offshoot of Vanguard America, as many of the same people have been involved in both groups.

Patriot Front is known for plastering stickers, defacing murals, committing other acts of vandalism and hanging banners off overpasses to recruit new members, particularly white men between 18 and 35.

“Membership is hard to gauge because they’re pretty secretive about their membership rosters,” Burghart said. “It’s an organization that’s largely operated without a public-facing side and their actions are done surreptitiously, with masks, under cover of night.”

He estimates there are a few hundred members in the state, with a larger on-the-ground presence in Western Washington, from Bellingham to Vancouver.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which gave rise to virus deniers and those who refuse vaccines, exposed more people to an unending stream of far-right misinformation — and groups like Patriot Front are working to bring those people into the fold of their ideologies, Burghart said.


“It’s a challenging time right now, given the massive number of people who were radicalized during this period and the sheer number of pipelines to far-right groups that have developed,” he said.

31 men arrested post bond

In Coeur d’Alene on Saturday, police found riot gear, one smoke grenade, shin guards and shields inside the U-Haul truck, along with paperwork outlining an operational plan to provoke a confrontation at the park before heading to the commercial strip along Sherman Avenue, White, the police chief, said during a Monday news conference.

The information police received from a 911 caller “would lead any reasonable officer to assume there might be criminal activity afoot,” White said, adding he has no doubt “a riot situation” would have occurred had police not stopped the U-Haul from reaching the downtown park.

“It was clear to all of us there was some ill intent there,” he said.

Police are still writing reports, analyzing footage from officers’ body-worn cameras and executing search warrants on the U-Haul and other seized vehicles before referring cases to the city prosecutor for charging decisions, according to White.

Sgt. Jared Reneau, a police spokesperson, said the 31 men arrested have each posted a $300 bond and did not make court appearances Monday. The men will be given court dates at a later time, Reneau said.

Police as of Monday morning had received roughly 150 voicemails, evenly split between local residents voicing support for the arrests and anonymous callers — at least one from as far away as Norway — who left messages “filled with colorful language,” many threatening the lives of Coeur d’Alene police officers, said Reneau.