Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Patriot Front members convicted again

Staff Writer | August 12, 2023 1:08 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Two more Patriot Front members were convicted of conspiracy to riot Friday, but the men will face no additional jail time for planning to incite a riot during last year’s Pride in the Park celebration in City Park.

After about three hours of deliberation, the six-person jury returned separate unanimous guilty verdicts for Wesley E. Van Horn and Kieran P. Morris.

Judge Mayli Walsh sentenced the pair to 180 days in jail with all but two days suspended and credit for two days already served. Prosecutors had recommended a six-month sentence with eight days of actual jail time.

“I hope you appreciate what a big deal this is to this community and what a disturbance this has been in Coeur d’Alene,” Walsh told the defendants.

The Patriot Front members must each pay a $1,000 fine, minus the $300 bail they posted after their arrest in 2022.

Walsh placed the defendants on unsupervised probation for one year. She also granted withheld judgment in the case, which means the charges can be retroactively dismissed after the defendants successfully complete probation. If they violate the terms of their probation, however, they can face the maximum penalty for the misdemeanor charge, up to a year in jail.

Morris and Van Horn may not come within 500 feet of City Park while they’re on probation, except to visit the offices of their attorneys.

Friday marked the second conviction related to June 11, 2022, when 31 members of white nationalist group Patriot Front were stopped and arrested on their way to Pride in the Park.

In July, five Patriot Front members were tried and convicted together, then sentenced to three days in jail for the misdemeanor offense.

Trials for the remaining defendants are scheduled into October.

“We just take them one at a time,” Wes Somerton, chief criminal deputy city attorney for Coeur d’Alene, said after the sentencing. “The jurors did the hard work.”

The defendants and their attorneys declined to comment on the outcome of the case.

In court Friday, both prosecutors and defense attorneys said free speech was at the heart of the case.

“The folks in the park had the right to be there,” Somerton said of the people celebrating Pride in downtown Coeur d’Alene that day. “They were exercising their rights peacefully.”

Prosecutors said Morris, Van Horn and 29 other Patriot Front members sought to trample the rights of those attending Pride in the Park. Somerton described the group’s plan, outlined in documents seized by police as evidence.

Scouts, already in the park, would relay information to the group inside the U-Haul truck and signal when to make the approach. Upon reaching the park, Patriot Front members were to form columns, blow smoke and push into City Park bearing shields “until barriers to approach are met.”

The group would not leave until “an appropriate amount of confrontational dynamic had been established.”

Deputy city attorney Ryan Hunter said Patriot Front came to Coeur d’Alene ready for a fight, equipped with body armor and shields that were dented and scuffed from practice.

“They came dressed as a riot squad because that’s what they intended to be,” Hunter said.

Defense attorney Richard Baughman, who represented Van Horn, came to court Friday dressed all in black, as if he were attending a funeral. He said it was intentional.

“It is a sad day when we have to come into court because someone wanted to exercise their United States and state of Idaho Constitutional rights,” he told jurors during closing remarks. “You should take offense.”

Patriot Front didn’t intend to disturb the peace, Baughman said, but rather to get the public’s attention by marching through the Pride celebration while carrying shields and chanting slogans like “reclaim America.”

Baughman said Van Horn, who served four years in the Navy and is a single father to a young daughter, traveled from Alabama to Idaho in order to exercise his rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.

“Does it surprise you that he might go somewhere to try to protect these rights for his daughter?” Baughman said. “Any father would do whatever they need to protect their children.”

Christian Phelps, who represented Morris, suggested that Patriot Front actually prevented a riot downtown by virtue of getting arrested. Tensions were running high that day, he said, and the mass arrest distracted disparate groups that might have had conflict.

“Patriot Front saved the day because those groups were directed toward all the hullabaloo,” Phelps said. “Thank goodness Patriot Front was there.”


Van Horn