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'We would've ended up in a riot situation': Coeur d'Alene police chief discusses arrest, investigation of 31 men with ties to hate group

The 31 men with ties to a national hate group were scheduled to make first court appearances on Monday, but they are no longer scheduled to appear.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Lee White and Mayor Jim Hammond held a press conference on Monday morning to discuss the arrest of 31 men with ties to the white nationalist hate group, Patriot Front.

The men were arrested on Saturday afternoon, blocks away from the Pride at the Park event. Police found the 31 men hiding inside a U-haul truck after someone spotted them loading up and called to report what "looked like a little army."

Other vehicles were seized during the arrest, but White could not specify which vehicles.

Police said they recovered evidence that the group was planning to riot in downtown Coeur d’Alene. All 31 men were arrested on charges of conspiracy to riot.

During Monday's press conference, Mayor Hammond said the city of Coeur d'Alene would not return to "the days of the Aryan nations."

"We are the same city that we were last week and that city is a city that respects everyone," Hammond said. "We are not a city that wants to discriminate, we are not a city that wishes to bring any hurt on anyone. We will do everything we can to make sure we continue to stay past those types of problems."

White also spoke about the arrest and gave minor details regarding the investigation into the incident. During his comments, White said the police department has been receiving death threats through online comments.

"Of the 149 calls that we know of so far, they're about 50/50 split between individuals in our community who are happy to give us their name and tell us that they're proud of the work that we did," White said. "And the other 50% who are completely anonymous and want nothing more than to scream and yell at us and use some really choice words, offer death threats against myself and other members of our police department."

White added that the police department had no knowledge about Patriot Front coming to Coeur d'Alene until that initial 911 call was made. In fact, White said the police department has had no issues with these types of hate groups in his eight years with the department. 

"Anytime you have an event like [Pride], there's opposing groups who decide to make some threats," he said. "We had some information that there might be some individuals who were loosely affiliated with some of the groups who were planning to protest the Pride event that day and so we were adequately staffed."

The biggest lesson White said he learned from this situation is that one concerned citizen can stop something horrible from happening.

"This one concerned citizen, rather than pulling out their phone and videotaping this for their 15 minutes on YouTube or Snapchatting it, took the time to call 911 and report some suspicious activity," he said. "And as a result, we likely stopped a riot from happening downtown."

On Sunday, the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office released the identities of the men who were arrested. It includes Thomas Rousseau, who several national news outlets have reported is the Patriot Front Founder.

RELATED: Names of 31 arrested for Conspiracy to Riot in Coeur d'Alene

Court appearances were scheduled for Monday afternoon for each of the 31 men, but KREM 2 confirmed Monday morning that all men will not appear since they bonded out. According to the Kootenai County Jail Inmate Roster, each man's bond was set at $300, as they were all charged with misdemeanors.

All 31 men have until June 30 to contact the court and set up a court date. KREM 2 learned that Mishael Buster, the 22-year-old from Spokane, will appear in district court on July 18, 2022 at 1 p.m.

Those arrested come from 13 states, including Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Texas, Michigan, Alabama, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas.

The evidence police collected from the U-haul included shields, protective equipment, at least one smoke grenade, and details about the group’s plan to riot.

White was asked about the group's documented plans but was not able to provide additional information as the investigation is ongoing. He did say that the plan did not specify whether the group planned to confront event staff or law enforcement.

The New York Times reports that the leader of the group had a seven-page document that outlined their plan. The Times reports it included details about how smoke would be used: “a column forming on the outside of the park, proceeding inward, until barriers to approach are met” and “once an appropriate amount of confrontational dynamic has been established the column will disengage and head to Sherman.”’

Watch the moment police opened the u-Haul to find dozens of men hiding inside

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Patriot Front is a white nationalist hate group that broke off from Vanguard America in the aftermath of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. During that event a young counter protester, Heather Heyer, was killed when a member of the neo-Nazi group drove his car into the crowd.

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