Dozens of white nationalists were arrested near a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Saturday.
A city council member told Insider that the arrests come after years of rising tensions.
He said “transplants” from other states have arrived in Idaho, eager to fight in culture wars.
A lawmaker in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, said his community had seen tensions building beneath the surface leading up to Saturday, when dozens of white nationalists were arrested near the city’s Pride event.
Police arrested 31 members of the extremist Patriot Front group on Saturday after a concerned citizen reported seeing the masked men loading riot gear into a U-Haul near a Pride event in northwest Idaho.
Coeur d’Alene City Council member Dan Gookin told Insider on Monday that the weekend’s Pride event “became a focus” for rising “anger and hatred” fueled by people’s desire to engage in so-called culture wars — debates surrounding topics like LGBTQ rights, COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and how race is taught in schools.
Gookin said “transplants” who arrived in historically conservative Idaho from left-leaning states in recent years have been eager to air out grievances that they previously couldn’t back in more progressive states.
“They feel they have to come here and fight those battles,” Gookin said. “It’s been building — it really has.”
Gookin said the recent trend has created a “real ugly mood” in the area, which has seen “an embarrassing shift to the hard right in the past two years.”
He said city council meetings have featured angry citizens who shout disruptive and threatening remarks, adding that it’s a tone “set by the local Republican party” and “some local churches,” which are “really lathering people up and getting them to be on edge — spreading a lot of fear and hate.”
Gookin, a moderate who considers himself “fiscally conservative” and “socially liberal,” said a majority of those who are upset don’t end up acting on their anger or rhetoric, and the primary concern for law enforcement is monitoring the people or groups who will actually “push it” further.
Dan English, another Coeur d’Alene city council member, told Insider that the local culture-war discourse has escalated in the last few years — providing a “fertile ground” for possible outside agitation.
Most of the 31 individuals arrested on Saturday are from outside Idaho and hail from 13 states, local media site KREM2 reported. It’s not immediately clear what local ties — if any — the individuals may have to Coeur d’Alene. But English said he believes “they have to feel like somebody here is kind of beckoning them.”
“I do believe they have a sympathetic local connection of at least some folks that are very much encouraging the mayhem,” English said. “They have similar values and have very open arms to them.”
Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said in a press conference over the weekend that the 31 individuals arrested “had shields, shin guards, and other riot gear with them, including at least one smoke grenade.”
All of the men were charged with a misdemeanor count of conspiracy to riot.
White told reporters on Monday that since the arrests, his department has fielded many anonymous calls with death threats aimed at police officers.