LEITH, N.D. (AP) — It has been four years since this Grant County village of about 20 people was briefly and ingloriously home to a White nationalist. However, recent events in Charlottesville, Va., brought it all back again like a movie rerun with a worse ending.
A young woman was run over and killed Aug. 12 while protesting against a Unite the Right rally aligned with racism and Jew-baiting. The death and the outright violence were never part of Leith’s White nationalist story, which started in August 2013 when a man living in town was exposed for soliciting other White supremacists to join him in a planned takeover of the town’s government.
That man, Craig Cobb, was arrested three months later for terrorizing Leith residents with a shotgun, ammunition chambered and a trigger finger away from catastrophe. This was after he brought known White supremacists to a rally in Leith, displayed Nazi-style swastika flags in the town’s old hall and opened his dilapidated home to white power skinheads.
Leith resident Lee Cook was a councilman at the time and a victim of Cobb’s terrorizing.
Cook said what happened in Charlottesville over last weekend was eerily familiar.
“It’s what we lived with. My first thought was of all those people who thought we were crazy for making such a big deal of it. We heard comments of just let him be; that’s what happens when you just let them be,” Cook told The Bismarck Tribune.
Sheryl Harper and her husband, Bobby Harper, who’s Black, were Cobb’s back door neighbors, taunted and drawn into his hate-filled rhetoric because of their mixed marriage.
Sheryl Harper said watching news out of Charlottesville was a reminder: “There’s no end to the ugliness. People have to hate people.”
She said she never feared events would escalate to a death, but, on the other hand, she didn’t think it was a good idea to be outside alone during those tumultuous months, either.
“But Bobby always said he was not afraid,” she said.
Grant County Sheriff John Foss was deputy at the time, answering dozens, if not hundreds, of calls to Leith over that late summer and fall.
He had an understandable reaction to news of the death in Charlottesville.
“My first thought was, thank God it wasn’t us. Our biggest fear was that someone would get hurt,” he said, recalling Cobb’s White nationalist rally in Leith that September.
It was an event that drew many North Dakotans to stand in protest against the White supremacists’ hate messages, similar to Heather Heyer, who was run over by a White supremacist in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. A Highway Patrol riot squad was in Leith to keep the peace and the ground and air was heavily patrolled. The day ended with a few people getting removed from Cobb’s rally in the town hall, but there were no physical altercations.
While the department did a great deal of planning for the rally and, during Cobb’s time in Leith, Foss said some of the outcome is attributed to pure luck.
“My advice to anyone else in law enforcement would be to be fair across the board. Our main job is to protect the Constitution,” Foss said.
Cobb was jailed on a felony count and released to serve a four-year probation that expires April 29, 2018. He’s been living in Sherwood, near Canada, since then. His former Leith residence is more overgrown than ever and unoccupied.
Sherwood Police Chief Ross Carter said Cobb’s keeping a low profile in the community and residents complain mostly about his unkempt yard and loose dog. One unremarkable flag flies in front of the house, unlike the many racialist flags and emblems that lined his property in Leith. Cobb was most recently in statewide news when an empty church that he purchased in Nome, near Valley City, was burned to the ground in March in an intentionally set fire. He planned to start the “Donald J. Trump Creativity Church” there.
Foss said lawsuits against his department alleging civil rights violations filed by Cobb and Kynan Dutton, a cohort in the armed terrorizing, were dismissed earlier this year, though he still fields occasional phone calls from Cobb making various complaints.
“I’m just glad it’s finally settled down,” the sheriff said.
Councilman Cook said while he’s given some thought to when Cobb’s probation ends and he’s no longer prohibited from contacting his victims or coming near Leith, it isn’t a preoccupation of his.
“He doesn’t haunt me. He’s just a loser,” Cook said.
Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com