An American Nazis group is trying to turn Leith, North Dakota into a White Supremacist town as hundreds of loud but peaceful demonstrators turned out on Sunday to protest the plan to take over the local government.
The demonstrators, many of them Native Americans from nearby reservations, were on hand for a visit from Jeff Schoep, commander of the National Socialist Movement, and several of his White Supremacist followers.
National Socialist Movement
The National Socialist Movement is America’s largest neo-Nazi organization, founded in 1974 by former members of the American Nazi Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The group hopes to move enough members into Leith – population 17 – to take over the local government.
“We have to start somewhere,” Schoep told Reuters. “So if we start in small towns and spread out from there, it’s sort of a test ground in that sense, where if we’re able to get off the ground here, then we’re able to get off the ground in other places.”
Schoep and his followers were in Leith on Sunday to survey property purchased for them by local resident Craig Cobb, whose yard is adorned with swastika flags.
Local officials oppose the group’s plans.
Leith Mayor Ryan Schock
Leith Mayor Ryan Schock said city officials were discussing the possibility of unincorporating the city and turning it back over to the county to scuttle the hate group’s plans.
“This is a small, quiet town,” Schock said. “Families live around here, and it’s a very close-knit community. I really wish it hadn’t gotten to this point.”
The protesters, shouting slogans like “Go Home” and “No Hate in Our State,” included more than 200 Native Americans from the nearby Standing Rock Reservation, as well as other reservations from North and South Dakota.
Members of the Grant County Sheriff’s Department were joined by deputies from several surrounding counties. More than a dozen North Dakota Highway Patrol officers also turned out in riot gear, but no violence was reported, officials said.
For more than a year, Cobb, a white supremacist activist, has been buying up properties in Leith and inviting his fellow supremacists to move in and set up a “Pioneer Little Europe,” as some supporters have called it, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In an interview with WXMB-TV in Bismarck, Cobb said he had gotten a lot of offers to buy up land from what he termed like-minded people who believe white people should not be punished for wanting to live near each other.
“It’s fine for all these other minorities, but not us,” he said in the televised interview. “If you merely speak about it, you’re going to be defamed in this country.”
Schoep said that the visitors would inspect the new property, raise ceremonial flag poles, and hold a town meeting and a news conference.
“We know that opinion is divided in the town and in the media,” Schoep said in the statement, adding that the trip was “a symbolic gesture of good will and faith.”
Schoep will be met by a grassroots group organized through social media to protest the National Socialists’ presence in the time. Organizers are hoping several hundred will attend.
“We are planning a true grassroots peaceful protest to demonstrate that we are united in a stance against hatred, violence and prejudice,” reads a statement by UnityND, an anti-racism group organizing the protest, on its website. “Join us as we take to main street rural America to fight against racism.”
350 People To Protest
Sheriff Bay said does not expect any trouble to break out among the 350 people expected at the event and protest, but he is prepared.
He has his officers, members of the North Dakota Highway Patrol and others coming to Leith on Sunday to help in crowd control.
“Both sides say they plan on having their demonstrations,” Bay said. “They have both indicated to me that they will be peaceful demonstrations. They may be a little loud, but peaceful.”
Cobb’s plans were revealed in August after the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center published a report detailing his land purchases in Leith, which is located in a county that is 97 percent white.