June 14 (UPI) -- Authorities say the 31 people accused of trying to start a riot at an LGBTQ+ Pride event in Idaho this weekend belong to an extremist group based in Texas.
The suspects were released on bond after being charged with conspiracy to riot. Police say all of them belong to Patriot Front, a White supremacist organization headquartered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The suspects include eight people from Texas, whom police identified as Thomas Rousseau, 23, of Grapevine; Robert Whitted, 22, of Conroe; Tommy Walker Jr., 24, of Godley; Josiah Buster, 24, and Connor Moran, 23, of Watauga; and Kieran Morris, 27, Steven Tucker, 30, and Graham Whitsom, 31, of Haslet.
The Coeur d'Alene City Police Department said Saturday they responded to a call about "a little army" of people with masks and shields getting into a U-Haul van near the Pride event. Law enforcement said they also found at least one smoke grenade in the vehicle.
"Some of us were a bit surprised by not only the level of preparation that we saw but the equipment that was carried and worn by those individuals along with the large amount of equipment that was left in the van when the stop happened," Lee White, the department's police chief, said at a Monday press conference. "That level of preparation is not something you see every day."
White said it was unclear why the group targeted the Pride event in Idaho.
The White supremacist organization's activity comes less than a week after the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that recent and upcoming events -- including the mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y.; the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion access; and the November midterm elections -- could be "exploited to justify acts of violence against a range of possible targets."
Rousseau, who was among those arrested Saturday, is from the Dallas-area suburb of Grapevine and founded Patriot Front in 2017 -- following the Charlottesville, Va., "Unite the Right" riot, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In Charlottesville, White supremacists stormed the city with tiki torches and rammed a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing three people and injuring dozens of others.
"They espouse racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance under the guise of patriotism and preserving the ethnic and cultural origins of European ancestors," Stacy Cushing, the deputy regional director of Anti-Defamation League's Texas/Oklahoma branch, said about Patriot Front. "Their goal is to reclaim America as a White nation. They are White supremacists with neo-Nazi roots."
Last year, nearly 5,000 racist, anti-Semitic and other hateful messages were identified across the country, with Texas-based Patriot Front responsible for more than 82% of incidents nationally, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The extremist organization has hundreds of members nationwide. They are responsible for spreading racist propaganda with the intent to invoke fear and hate, said Jeff Tischauser, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Compared to other states, he said, the Texas chapter is "the most active."
"Members from Texas regularly cross state lines to take part in racist activism, which includes harassing local residents at the Pride parade in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, as well as traveling out of state to post racist propaganda," Tischauser told the Tribune via email. "Members from Texas also travel across state lines to destroy murals that depict Black life, LGBTQ pride, as well as memorials to victims of police violence and racially motivated mass shootings."
Since the formation of Patriot Front, the extremist group's activity in Texas has included hanging a banner from a Dallas overpass that read, "Take a knee, back in Africa," and heckling attendees at a book fair in Houston with smoke bombs and phrases such as "Blood and Soil," according to the Houston Chronicle. They have also posted racist propaganda across college campuses, the Texas Observer has reported.
Tischauser said Patriot Front has been using restrictive legislation and policies in Texas to recruit people for their cause.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a directive in February instructing the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care for their transgender children as possible child abuse. An Austin judge last week temporarily stopped those investigations. Gender-affirming care is recommended by all major medical associations to treat gender dysphoria, the distress one can feel when their gender identity does not align with their biological sex.
Texas Republican officials have also waged a campaign against school material that includes the teaching of history and books with references to sexuality and race. In April, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he would prioritize a Texas version of the "Don't Say Gay" bill, a Florida law that limits classroom discussions about LGBTQ+ people.
Members of Patriot Front "think the Texas GOP isn't going far enough," Tischauser said.
For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project's 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.
Disclosure: Southern Poverty Law Center has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.