Coeur d'Alene's Pride in the Park was biggest event yet, despite the threats, organizers say

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Jun. 22—The North Idaho Pride Alliance's sixth annual Pride in the Park celebration was its biggest and most successful event yet, despite an anti-LGBTQ campaign against the June 11 gathering that began back in April and the arrest of 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front on the day of the event, the organization said in a statement .

Without specifying names or groups, the North Idaho Pride Alliance said multiple interconnected anti-LGBTQ groups and individuals, including "media provocateurs, local political organizers, and even a few Idaho elected officials, lobbyist groups and churches," worked to disrupt the Pride in the Park event and create a national media sensation. The organization said its supporters, partners and vendors received an "onslaught" of harassment on social media, over the phone and via email leading up to the event in an attempt to pressure organizers to cancel.

The level of sophistication, organization and the intensity of rhetoric was unlike in any previous year, said Jessica Mahuron, outreach director at North Idaho Pride Alliance.

"It's something that a lot of different agencies in the community need to have a conversation about: Where things go from here," she said.

A little more than an hour before Pride in the Park was scheduled to end at 3 p.m., Idaho law enforcement stopped a U-Haul filled with 31 members of the Patriot Front after a citizen tipped them off. They were arrested about a quarter-mile from the Pride in the Park event on suspicion of conspiracy to riot. Police discovered riot gear, a smoke grenade, loudspeakers, as well as a tactical document inside of the U-Haul, among other items.

Despite how close the group was to the event, the vast majority of people at Pride in the Park were unaware of the arrests until they were in the news, Mahuron said. About 2,000 people attended Pride in the Park throughout the day, she estimated.

"It was a great success. The energy that was felt throughout the venue was overwhelmingly positive and full of love and connection," Mahuron said. At one point there was even a marriage proposal, she said. "It was safe, even given some of the challenges on the fringes of our event and sometimes interfering in our event."

Various counter-protesters were also seen at Pride in the Park, some of them carrying weapons and anti-LGBTQ signs. Spokane-area pastor and former state representative Matt Shea, who was expelled from the Washington Legislature for his role in what lawmakers deemed domestic terrorism several years ago, led an alternative 'prayer walk' in Coeur d'Alene.

The Panhandle Patriots group was scheduled to host a public event in opposition to Pride in the Park. In a video posted in May, a member of the Panhandle Patriots, at the invitation of North Idaho Rep. Heather Scott, said that "good people need to stand up," and that they should "go head-to-head with these people" at Pride in the Park.

Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Lee White said the rhetoric preceding Pride in the Park is likely what led to the events that Saturday.

"I do feel like that call to action was materialized," Mahuron said. "What we experienced this year, the type of targeting, hate and disinformation, and the level of sophistication, had never happened to us in years prior."

Much of the rhetoric also stems from the increased attempts to target the LGBTQ community in the media and in legislation on the national level, Mahuron said. None of the Patriot Front members who were arrested on June 11 were from Coeur d'Alene, although three were originally from Spokane: Mishael J. Buster, 22; Josiah D. Buster, 24; and Conor P. Moran, 23. Spencer T. Simpson, 20, is from Ellensburg, and Winston W. Durham, 21, is from Genesee, Idaho.

Despite the arrests, Patriot Front still managed to succeed in some ways, Mahuron said. Some of its members managed to record their arrest, which was later used in a propaganda video they recently published. Patriot Front also filmed themselves distributing racist pamphlets in Coeur d'Alene after the arrests. The group's leader, Thomas Rousseau, 23, said in the video they would return to Coeur d'Alene .

"It's highly organized attempts at psychological intimidation," Mahuron said.

The North Idaho Pride Alliance said it was successful in creating a peaceful atmosphere at its Pride event for several reasons. The organization implemented a "do not engage" policy among attendees who come into contact with counter-protesters. The organization also formed a safety committee to communicate with law enforcement about any potential dangers.

Mahuron said she was grateful for law enforcement's help during the event, and that she was proud of the organization's team for the safety measures they developed in 2022.

"I personally would like for us to see the hope that is in our story, about a small community organization that faced enormous challenges that are not normal for even a Pride organization to experience," she said.