Protest against white supremacist group's leader's visit planned in Leith
FARGO -- Three former residents of the Fargo-Moorhead area are organizing a protest of this month's planned visit to the western North Dakota town of Leith by a man who claims to lead a white supremacist group.
Jeff Schoep, commander of the National Socialist Movement, stated in a letter posted on the group's website that he, some of his executive staff and affiliates plan to visit the town about 70 miles southwest of Bismarck on Sept. 22-23 for a "fact-finding tour."
One of their goals is "to make clear a simple message that Craig Cobb will NOT be ousted from the community," the letter states.
Cobb has purchased a dozen properties in Leith in the past two years and has encouraged fellow white supremacists to join him there to turn the town of 16 people into a white nationalist community.
Leith landed in the national spotlight last month after the Southern Poverty Law Center and Bismarck Tribune broke the story about Cobb's plans, including that he had given property to two well-known white supremacists, Alex Linder and Tom Metzger, a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Scott Garman, who grew up in Casselton, and Cade Ferris and Jeremy Kelly, both Moorhead, Minn., natives, are organizing the protest.
They became friends in high school through the F-M punk music scene and are past members of Anti-Racist Action, an activist group that got its start
in Minneapolis in 1988, said Garman, now a 44-year-old special education teacher in Little Falls, Minn.
"So we all have a history of this, of not letting Nazi hate speech go unanswered," Garman said, adding that Cobb's story didn't seem like a big deal until he saw that the National Socialist Movement was coming to North Dakota. "We decided it was time to let them know that it's not welcome."
Kelly said the Sept. 22 protest "is about what's right and protecting the people who live in this state from hatred."
It's unknown how many people will take part in the protest, Garman said. He said he sent out about 180 invitations via the Facebook page he created to promote the protest, which he said has been "just going nuts with messages and comments and likes." He said he's soliciting donations through the page so that people otherwise unable to afford the 530-mile round trip can attend the protest, adding he'll be "super happy if 50 people" make the trip from the Fargo-Moorhead area.
"I've had offers of donations from lots of people originally from Fargo who now live out of state and stuff because they can't make it, so I mean, just tons of support," he said.
Kelly, who lives in Bismarck and works at an emergency shelter, said he's borrowing a 15-passenger van from a friend who also has a bus if needed.
"I'm really hoping that a lot of people from around here, this region, in the Bismarck community, will go," he said.
Ferris, a former tribal historian and now an archeologist in Belcourt on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, hopes to get Native Americans involved in the protest, Garman said.
Kelly said the protesters will rendezvous at noon Sept. 22 at a truck stop in the southeast corner of Exit 161 off Interstate 94, the Bismarck Expressway exit, and then caravan to Leith.
Garman said he contacted the Grant County Sheriff's Office to inform Sheriff Steve Bay about the protest, which he said will be peaceful.
"We are not going to seek violence, but anything that happens there is going to be their fault," he said, referring to the National Socialist Movement.
Bay did not return a phone message left Wednesday afternoon.
A listed phone number for Schoep could not be found. He did not respond to an email sent Wednesday to the address listed for him on the group's website.
Brian Culpepper, who holds the rank of captain in the National Socialist Movement and serves as its director of public relations and "stormtroops" leader, said he couldn't give out Schoep's phone number. Culpepper said he hasn't been involved in planning the Leith visit and that only Schoep could release details about it.
Told about the planned protest, Culpepper said, "That's just another day in the office to us, so what?"
Culpepper said the National Socialist Movement is "not trying to reform the Third Reich in America," but rather is looking for reform of certain government programs closer in line with the group's ideals - though he added there are "solid lessons to be learned" from the economic policies of the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler's leadership.
Culpepper, who said he lives in the Knoxville, Tenn., area, called Anti-Racist Action "a domestic terrorist group." He criticized counter-protesters for wanting to silence the opposition while having their own viewpoints heard.
"The disciples of tolerance and diversity are the ones that have become the true fascist wing in America today and seek to suppress other people's First Amendment freedoms," he said. "It's not us. We encourage debate."
Schoep claims in his letter that he owns property in Leith: the old meatpacking/creamery building and a lot next to Cobb's residence. Cobb is still the recorded owner of the property, according to the Grant County tax director.
Garman said the protest is planned for just the one day, but there may be more in the future.
"We'll see how it goes and then we'll see where the story goes from there, and if we have to go back and back and back and back, we will," he said.