'Too great for hate'
Staff Writer | June 13, 2022 1:09 AM
COEUR d’ALENE — Many local citizens are grateful to Coeur d'Alene police officers for their actions Saturday in maintaining peace in the city's downtown area.
Many, but not all.
“It’s disheartening to read that people think this was antifa in disguise or a false-flag FBI operation,” said Police Chief Lee White. “That is absolutely false. These people belong to the Patriot Front.”
White was referring to the 31 men police discovered Saturday in a U-Haul truck they pulled over on Northwest Boulevard after receiving a tip from a watchful citizen. That tip led to the arrest Saturday of the individuals associated with the Patriot Front, a white nationalist hate group.
Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond is among those praising the city’s police personnel.
“To the men and women of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, I extend my gratitude and appreciation for Saturday’s service. Thank you for your proactive response, your professional presence and your cooperative efforts with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, Idaho State Police and the FBI,” said Hammond in a message shared with The Press. “Cyndie (Hammond's wife) and I are grateful for your dogged dedication and your continued integrity when protecting the safety of our community. Idaho is too great for hate; kindness and acceptance will continue as pinnacle principles in Coeur d’Alene.”
White said it was a team effort, and that he remains extremely proud of his department.
The police chief also commended the citizen who tipped police off to the potential threat headed for the city’s downtown area in a U-Haul truck.
The arrests were made not far from City Park, where the North Idaho Pride Alliance’s Pride in the Park event was taking place.
“We have no doubt that had that U-Haul made it to City Park … that it would not have been peaceful,” White said. “That was clear in their operation plans and their gear.”
The men who were arrested were reported by police to have shields, shin guards and at least one smoke grenade. They are each facing a charge of conspiracy to riot, a misdemeanor.
White said the citizen who called in the tip, whose name has not been released, did the proper thing by reporting it to the police and then allowing local law enforcement personnel to do their jobs.
Things could have gone much differently, he said, had that citizen done what many people do these days — record an incident on a cell phone and share it on social media in search of momentary internet fame.
“That’s not what this is about. It’s about community safety,” White said.
And the police chief acknowledged not everyone is happy about the arrests.
He said the police department’s tipline has “blown up” with people voicing support.
“Conversely, we’re also hearing from a lot of people who are mad at us for arresting a hate group who wanted to riot,” White said.
He said two other arrests were made Saturday. Both people came from Portland.
“They may have been loosely associated with antifa, but that group was not problematic for us at all,” White said.
He's happy, he said, that Pride in the Park took place largely without issues.
There were protesters in the park Saturday, White said, with views that differ from that of the LGBTQ community; people who disagree with each other did interact, but most were respectful of each other.
Christie Wood, a retired Coeur d’Alene police sergeant, city councilwoman and president of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, said local law enforcement agencies are well-trained in monitoring large-scale events, since this is a resort town.
She said Chief White puts a great deal of effort into planning, which adds to his department’s effectiveness.
Both she and Tony Stewart, a founding member of the human relations task force, praised the message of zero tolerance sent by Saturday’s arrests.
The task force was formed in Coeur d’Alene in 1981 after the now-deceased Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler and his group settled in the region and community members — a Jewish restaurant owner in Hayden and a biracial family in Coeur d’Alene — were victimized.
“I hope the message going out today is, ‘If you’re going to commit a crime as a hate group, don’t come here. You’re not going to find a receptive audience here,’” Stewart said.