More than 300 protesters marched up this small towns gravel road Sunday, chanting and carrying signs to rally against a visit by a leader of a white nationalist group and efforts to turn the town of 16 into an all-white enclave.
As they walked, more than 20 white nationalist-related flags became visible in front of the home of Craig Cobb, who has bought 12 lots in the town about 75 miles southwest of Bismarck. Cobb has been giving them to other known white supremacists as part of his plan to eventually take over the government of the town.
Scott Garman, an organizer of the UnityND protest, yelled into a megaphone as they stood across the road from the town hall and Cobb’s house.
“This is not a single day event, we will be back again and again until you’re gone,” he said.
Garman said he couldn’t have been happier with the turnout, with 150 alone from the Standing Rock Reservation.
As more protesters took to the microphone, Grant County Sheriff Steve Bay and other law enforcement officials formed a line between the protestors and Cobb’s house.
Standing in front of his house, Cobb called the protest, “pure comedy,” although it was a larger group than he expected.
He said the group “is not human.”
“They are a force of nature that has made a plan to impede on my freedom,” he said.
Cobb wants to take control of the town’s government. “When we’re in charge here, we are going to treat them a lot more humanely and civilly than they have been to us,” he said.
Schoep, who drove from Detroit with other supporters, called the protesters, “outside agitators,” as many of them did not have a connection to the town.
He said the point of his visit was to show support for Cobb and his plans.
“If somebody is going to trample on our rights or our friends’ rights, we’re going to get involved,” he said to a group standing outside Cobb’s house.
Schoep said he is proud of Cobb, who “has been doing a great thing.”
“With the economic situation in our country, we have a lot of people out of work,” Schoep said. “This is a good opportunity for people to come here and make a better life.”
Town hall meeting
Schoep, who wrote a letter to Leith Mayor Ryan Schock two weeks ago to notify him about the visit, said he just wanted to meet with Schock and the local residents to answer any questions about Cobb’s efforts and the National Socialist Movement.
Schock didn’t respond to the letter. “I don’t have to go down there and argue with him,” he said Sunday, a few blocks from the town hall. “I have 200-300 that can speak for me.”
As the meeting kicked off, Schoep and Cobb were greeted with loud resentment from those that filled the old wooden building. The resentment was quickly silenced by Bay and other law enforcement. Within minutes, law enforcement had to remove an elderly man and woman as they continually shouted expletives toward Cobb and Schoep.
Schoep, dressed in a black pinstriped suit, opened the meeting by letting them know, “the National Socialist Movement isn’t here to change your way of life.”
Schoep and Cobb then fielded over an hour’s worth of questions, including why Cobb tried to keep his plans quiet for months and how they planned to take over the town.
“We would have to do it through the democratic process,” he answered, referring to the normal election process.
Outside the meeting, protesters stayed quiet, waiting for the meeting to finish.
Lillian Jones, of Fargo, a board member with the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said nobody wants there to be trouble, “but sometimes something has to be stirred up and this is something that needs immediate attention.”
“This is something that is contaminating the atmosphere,” she said.
Spectators, such as Jim Chyle, of Park River, also filled the streets. Chyle said his curiosity brought him to town.
“I think people have a right to do what they want to do, but I’m hoping there’s another side to it than the side that’s been getting all the attention,” he said about racist message in Cobb’s plans.
Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, assured the crowd they will continue to watch Leith to make sure Cobb’s plans are not carried out.
“We are evolved human beings and I think you know you represent a dying cause,” he yelled. “You’re 30 miles from our (reservation) border, if you think you can come into our territory and threaten our children, you have another thing coming. “
Protesters carried handmade signs, some read “No hate in my state” and, “Don’t let the door KKKick you on the way out.”
As the meeting winded down, the group of protesters outside the town hall sang the national anthem and continued with their chanting.
Sheriff Bay said he planned to take a proactive approach to Sunday’s meeting, which was evident as soon as someone drove into town. Bay had all the town roads blocked off by metal fences and law enforcement vehicles.
“If something looks like it’s going to happen, we’ll take care of it,” he said earlier in the day.
More than 30 law enforcement officials were in town, including a 14-person team dressed in full riot gear that stood a few blocks from the action.
Leith residents Bobby and Sherrill Harper said they were surprised to see the amount of law enforcement and precautions taken for the protest.
But Bobby Harper, the only African American in Leith, said you can never underestimate violence.
“They are here for a purpose and I’m glad they are, I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he said.
Asked if Cobb’s plan will work, Schoep said he hopes it does.
“You have to start somewhere, this is sort of a test ground,” he said. “If we are able to get off the ground here, then we can get off the ground in other places.”
Members of the Leith community have started a legal defense fund and Schock said the city is searching for an attorney in case a legal issue does surface.
As for the protesters, Garman said UnityND has plans to not only thwart Cobb’s efforts, but, “work to confront hate and prejudice across the state.” Garman wouldn’t go into detail but say they are hoping to get businesses to refuse service to the white supremacists.
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