Grant County sheriff ready for white supremacists, protesters
LEITH -- Grant County Sheriff Steve Bay said he's not sure what to expect Sunday when Jeff Schoep, the leader of a national white supremacist group, drives into town.
But Bay says he is ready for upwards of 300 to 400 people in Leith, the town of 24 residents about 70 miles southwest of Bismarck that another white supremacist is eyeing as a haven for those who share his beliefs.
"We'll just have to wait and see," Bay said, adding that he has extra help lined up in case it is needed.
Bay wouldn't provide details about backups, but said two to four Highway Patrol officers will be monitoring the roadways.
Schoep, who's traveling from Detroit with other members of the National Socialist Movement, has planned a 3 p.m. town hall meeting and news conference to talk about his group and answer any questions from residents.
His main intentions are to show support for Craig Cobb, a white supremacist who has purchased land in Leith to turn it into a small all-white enclave. Cobb has given land to Schoep; Tom Metzger, a onetime grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan; and Alex Linder, creator of the Vanguard News Network, a white supremacist website.
Schoep said he hopes to "knock out the misconceptions people may have about us and set their minds at ease."
Schoep sent Leith Mayor Ryan Schock a letter announcing the visit and town hall meeting.
Schoep said he has held other town hall meetings before that went well and hopes there is a good turnout of area residents.
"The only thing they may know about the movement is that we are a bunch of violent, crazy people out there doing something harmful," Schoep said. "When they have a chance to interact with us and see we are just like your neighbors, with some political beliefs, but aren't here to force our agenda down your throat."
Although Cobb and Leith residents both have told Bay they intend to keep the meeting peaceful, Bay is still worried.
"I'm worried for all concerned because it has the potential to turn into something bad or it can be a peaceful demonstration," he said. "It's one of those things you don't know until it starts."
One large concern is the planned protest by former members of the Anti-Racist Action group.
Scott Garman, who grew up in Casselton, and Cade Ferris and Jeremy Kelly, both of Bismarck, have formed UnityND.
Garman said Thursday they plan to counter each step the National Socialist Movement makes, but he doesn't know what that might be since he doesn't have any details about the group's visit.
"We're trying to find out more about the Nazi schedule," he said. "We have talked to residents and we are welcome on some of their properties, so we plan on being as close as possible to wherever the Nazis are to make sure they feel our presence."
He said the group has some plans for a protest but isn't ready to share them.
He said a bus will be loaded up at 1:30 p.m. at the Stamart Truck Stop off Interstate 94 in Bismarck on Sunday, or people can caravan from there.
He did say the group plans to have a peaceful protest and use a speaker system for protesters to share stories.
It's unknown how many people will take part, but Garman said they have received more than 500 messages from people sending their best wishes from more than 30 states.
"It's tough to tell, but I'd be happy if 50 show up, but now there could be anywhere from 200 to 300 people," he said. "That's probably going to fill every square inch of the town."
The group has been soliciting donations through its Facebook page so that people otherwise unable to afford the 530-mile round trip from Fargo can attend the protest. So far, he said they have collected more than $1,000 in the past week.
But Schoep said he is not too concerned about the protesters.
"The main thing with them, and what the police department should be concerned about, is it's not so much they are going to come in and fight with us, what they tend to do, come in the night before and vandalize things."
Schock, the Leith mayor, could not be reached for this story.
The town has created a legal defense fund that will go toward attorney fees for the town and individuals, as Cobb has threatened a lawsuit "to bleed the town dry," according to the Bismarck Tribune.
Schoep said once the media hype goes away, everything will be back to business as usual and with more people planning to move into the area, "it's important people get a chance to know their neighbors."