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McFeely: Cobb fails to create white enclaves, but he wins at getting attention

FARGO -- Craig Cobb is one of the least successful white supremacists ever, a loser of epic proportions. He's now 0-for-3 in establishing all-white enclaves in North Dakota, and 0-for-5 if you count his failures in Nebraska. He's fled Canada and ...

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Craig Cobb, a white supremacist, records panelists via a webcam on his laptop computer during a University of North Dakota conference focused on his efforts. Photo by Eric Hylden/Forum News Service
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FARGO -- Craig Cobb is one of the least successful white supremacists ever, a loser of epic proportions. He’s now 0-for-3 in establishing all-white enclaves in North Dakota, and 0-for-5 if you count his failures in Nebraska. He’s fled Canada and been booted from Estonia. That’s 0-for-7. This guy makes Joe Mauer look like Joe Dimaggio.

He can’t catch a break. One day Cobb is getting himself arrested for terrorizing residents of Leith, N.D., and the next a church he partially owned in Nome, N.D., burned to the ground.

He is, however, really good at getting attention for himself, which I’m starting to think is the entire point of this exercise.

People are certainly talking about Cobb, who went from being a nobody to being a nobody who regularly gets international attention after he bought some property in the tiny southwestern North Dakota hamlet of Leith several years ago.

You have to give the guy credit. The two most common questions being posed this week in North Dakota are:

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  1. Do you think the fire that burned down the Nome church partially owned by Cobb was arson?

Easy answer: Well, duh.

  1. When will Cobb get the heck out of North Dakota?

Easy answer: Don’t hold your breath.
We have to be careful with the first question. This being a legitimate news organization and all, it’s incumbent for me to say we don’t know if somebody set fire to the church. It’d be pure speculation based on nothing more than circumstances and timing. Cobb says decisively it was arson, but what is his word worth? In fairness to him, a poll of the general public would probably reveal a 95-5 split in favor of the belief that somebody torched the place.

It seems that obvious. A white supremacist appears poised to move to a tiny town where the residents would probably not be thrilled to have him as a neighbor. As if by magic, the church he was going to move into burns down -- the same day a story about Cobb’s situation was splashed on the front page of the state’s largest newspaper.

You can’t make it up. And, since this is a respected and responsible publication run by people who don’t appreciate being sued for libel, we won’t. But you’re smart people. You can figure out all the possibilities, angles and motives without too much effort. Even Shaggy and Scooby-Doo wouldn’t need Velma’s help in rounding up a handful of solid suspects.

Fire investigators will ultimately give us the truth. I choose to wait for it, rather than having to explain to my bosses that what I really meant to write was that the guilty party was Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick.

The second question is much less dicey. When will Cobb hightail it out of North Dakota?

Not anytime soon, most likely.

Why would he leave? Cobb has everything he craves right here in North Dakota -- media attention, small towns with cheap property, and an elevated sense of importance.

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North Dakota has been good to Cobb, turning him into a household name in the state. He went from being a run-of-the-mill racist known mostly in the dark corners of the Internet to a run-of-the-mill racist getting attention whenever he wants it. He had a documentary made about his activities in Leith, for goodness sake. We used to do documentaries on world wars. Now we do them on white supremacists who can’t recruit a dozen followers.

I can’t help but feel we, the media, are complicit in this creation. Yeah, I know. No ship, Sherlock. Yes, we’re doing our jobs at the newspapers, TV stations and radio stations -- reporting the news and driving clicks and ratings. But now what do we do with the guy? Once a schmuck of little consequence, now all Cobb has to do is show up in a little town someplace and the headlines and talk-radio interviews will follow.

He’s playing us, and we’re playing along. We have to report on him and he knows it.

It all feels sort of slimy, right down to the possibility that a 108-year old church was set on fire in some way, shape or form because of Cobb.

Then again, that might be the perfect parable for this whole saga.

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