Leith not only ND home to white supremacists
BISMARCK - As Craig Cobb works to turn the small North Dakota town of Leith into an all-white enclave, three other white nationalist groups with similar beliefs are said to be around the state.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, maintains a hate map with the names and locations of groups or individuals in each state it considers to be extremist or hate groups.
The map shows three groups in North Dakota, in addition to Cobb.
"None of these groups are in question; they are blatantly white supremacist organizations," said Heidi Beirich, director of the law center's Intelligence Project, which tracks these groups.
The law center believes the American Third Position, a white nationalist political party that recently changed its name to the American Freedom Party, has a presence in Grand Forks led by Jamie Kelso. Two chapters of the Crusaders for Yahweh, a white supremacist group affiliated with Aryan Nations, are said to be in Bismarck and West Fargo, and a racist skinhead group, Vinlanders Social Club, has a chapter in Alexander.
Currently, the law center believes 1,007 known hate groups are operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others.
The law center describes these groups as having "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."
California is said to have the most, with 82, followed by Florida with 59 groups and Georgia with 53. The center believes six groups are in South Dakota, 12 in Montana and 12 in Minnesota.
Beirich said the center knows the Crusaders for Yahweh are active through a confidential source and the Vinlanders' North Dakota chapter through the Facebook page of a man in Alexander wearing a Vinlanders Social Club shirt and comments made on the page.
'I'm a red-blooded American'
In Grand Forks, Kelso, a 65-year-old man with two young children and an ailing wife, is a local leader of the American Freedom Party.
"I'm the guy up to my eyeballs in this movement," he said. "If there is anything going on in this movement, I'm the guy to know it."
The law center calls Kelso "an extremely hyper organizer and serial joiner of religious sects" who spent two years living in former Klan leader David Duke's house working as his personal assistant.
Kelso says the party is like every other tiny patriot organization, and that all of them are one of mind.
"We want to preserve our country as a people, not as a place or location," he said. "We have to preserve our family, which means we don't turn over our real estate to Africa, we don't give our jobs to people from Mexico and don't give trade secrets and skills to greedy capitalists in China."
Kelso does not call himself a neo-Nazi or a terrorist. "I'm a red-blooded American."
He said the real issue is the little attention given to stories such as the recent drive-by shooting of Christopher Lane, a 22-year-old Australian baseball player, in Oklahoma. Two black teenagers have been charged in the killing, along with a white teen charged as the getaway driver.
He said what pushes him further to the right than other conservative groups is when he mentions race.
"We live in an absolutely scaredy-cat society. If you are white, you can't talk about race," Kelso said. "If you're other colors, you can talk about race until your face turns blue and everyone says 'Hallelujah brother.'"
Law center keeps watch
Beirich said monitoring these groups is an ongoing, year-round process for the law center, with people scouting websites and looking at news articles.
Beirich said the center obtains a lot of information from law enforcement and other tips. "We make sure there isn't just one guy," she said.
The law center also sends journalists out to investigate and expose stories, such as Ryan Benz, the reporter who traveled southwest of Bismarck to Leith to expose Cobb and his plans to buy up property and recruit other white supremacists to join him there.
The law center, through confidential sources, believes the Crusaders for Yahweh, affiliate of the Aryan Nations and Christian Identity, has chapters in Bismarck and West Fargo.
Pastor Paul Mullet of Bainbridge, Ohio, a leader with the Aryan Nations, a group with neo-Nazi leanings, said the group has the same mission and vision as any organization that believes in white pride.
He said chapters are spread out around the country and hand out literature, hold rallies, fill backpacks for kids and contribute to food banks.
But Mullet wouldn't comment any further. He said he rarely speaks to the media because they do not report racism toward white people.
"I'm sick of the media for not portraying the truth and taking what we say and get it across to our brothers and sisters," he said.
He said the country was founded by whites and for whites, and is now "a cesspool of a society," with its diverse population.
Mullet said he has known Cobb for many years.
"I love his plans. Where else are we going to be able to congregate and have our own congregation of people and not have to worry about people coming in and doing something to us?" he said.
Not breaking the law
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said his office is aware of these groups.
"We're not doing surveillance on them, but we have offered assistance to local authorities," he said. "We'd be ready to help in any way they need."
But, as in Cobb's case, the state can't do anything about them or what they do unless they conspire to break the law, or do break the law.
Stenehjem said any crimes committed by the groups or individuals are not widespread.
"You don't see the Mississippi burning (cross burnings) and those kinds of things in North Dakota," he said.
"Our actions and mission are to look at whether people are committing crimes or not," he said. "As long as (Cobb) doesn't do anything in violation of the law, there isn't anything we can do about it, although we are watching the situation closely, and I think he knows that, too."
Stenehjem said the easiest thing for the town to do and draw attention to his efforts is to "shun him."
"Our First Amendment recognizes the marketplace of ideas and you shine the spotlight on folks like these, the vast majority of people will realize they are crackpots," Stenehjem said.