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UA-Fayetteville student arrested with Patriot Front members in Idaho

by Bill Bowden | June 15, 2022 at 6:55 a.m.
Police lights

The Fayetteville man arrested Saturday in Idaho with 30 others in a U-Haul box truck loaded with riot gear was a University of Arkansas history major who was awarded a scholarship last year for international study.

Devin Wayne Center attended UA-Fayetteville from the fall of 2020 through the spring of 2022, said John Thomas, a university spokesman. Center isn't currently registered for the fall 2022 semester.

Last year, Center was awarded the Stokely-McAdoo Family International Study Scholarship, Thomas said. But the $3,500 scholarship never posted to his account because the history department wasn't authorizing any study abroad travel at that time because of covid-19.

The award is "for undergraduate history majors to pursue research and study opportunities internationally, excluding locations in North America," according to the UA's Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences.

Center was among 31 men affiliated with the white supremacist group Patriot Front who were arrested near a Pride event in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on Saturday, according to police and court documents. All 31 were arrested on tentative charges of criminal conspiracy to commit riot, which is a misdemeanor.

They were booked at the Kootenai County jail in Idaho and released on bond. Center's bail had been set at $300.

Center, 22, was born in Springdale and is self-employed as a painter, according to his booking sheet.

Center's arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 15, said Lisa Petersen, records clerk for the Kootenai County District Court.

On Saturday, the North Idaho Pride Alliance was holding a Pride in the Park event in Coeur d'Alene. Police believe the U-Haul truck was heading to the park.

"Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is currently celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan," according to the Library of Congress. "The Stonewall Uprising was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. ... The first Pride march in New York City was held on June 28, 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising."

Patriot Front is a white supremacist neo-Nazi group whose members perceive Black Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people as enemies, said Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in homegrown violent extremism.

Police said a tipster reported seeing people loading up into a U-Haul "like a little army" at a hotel parking lot in Coeur d'Alene.

"Officers received information that a large group of similarly dressed masked individuals armed with shields entering the back of a U-Haul van heading toward downtown Coeur d'Alene," according to the case summary in an affidavit of probable cause filed in the district court on Tuesday. "The concerned citizen reported this activity while a 'pride' event was taking place downtown which led to several nationally known groups condemning the event on various online social media platforms. Officers believed it likely the intent of these individuals was to incite physical confrontation and cause disorder."

Police stopped the van before it reached its destination.

"Based on the totality of the investigation, it was determined the subjects were part of the 'Patriot Front' and conspired to use violence and/or the threat of violence to disturb the public peace," according to the case summary. "All 31 were arrested for conspiracy to riot."

They were armed with a smoke grenade, shields, shin guards and other riot gear, according to the affidavit.

"Several wore a baseball-style cap with a plastic shell inside as if designed to protect the head from light projectiles," according to the affidavit. "Several of the arrestees had tactical medical kits, radios and cameras."

One arrested man said he had driven all the way from Birmingham, Ala.

"We go where we are needed," the affidavit quoted him as saying.

Extra police were on duty in Coeur d'Alene on Saturday because intelligence indicated groups could be coming to town to cause trouble, according to the affidavit.

Among those booked into jail on the misdemeanor charges was Thomas Ryan Rousseau of Grapevine, Texas, who has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the 23-year-old who founded the group after the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

According to the affidavit, Rousseau was cooperative and told a police officer that he had traveled there to peacefully exercise his First Amendment rights.

Police found a document on Rousseau at the time of his arrest.

"The document was typed and discussed the group being there to raise a voice against the moral depravity which permits events such as this to take place," according to the affidavit, which appeared to be paraphrasing the document Rousseau had with him. "There was also a typed organizational document outlining call locations, primary checkpoints, drill times, prep times and observation windows. There were also GPS coordinates for a drop point with two backup plans. As for operational intention, the document references using 'smoke' at the discretion of a 'column coordinator.'"

The men were standing inside the truck wearing khakis, navy blue shirts and beige hats with white balaclavas covering their faces when Coeur d'Alene police stopped the U-Haul and began arresting them on the side of the road. Some of them wore Patriot Front patches and logos on their hats and some T-shirts emblazoned with "Reclaim America," according to police and videos of the arrests posted on social media.

"They came to riot downtown," Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Lee White said at a news conference.

Besides the U-Haul Ford Econoline truck, police also confiscated a Ford Ranger pickup and Toyota Camry.

Those arrested came from at least 11 states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

It's 1,765 miles by car from Fayetteville to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

The six-hour Pride event generally went on as scheduled, including booths, food, live music, a drag show and a march of more than 50 people, the Idaho Statesman reported.

When asked if Center could face any disciplinary action from the University of Arkansas, Thomas responded in an email, "He is not currently enrolled for the upcoming semester at this time. Generally speaking, any student that is found in violation of our code of student life could face appropriate sanctions."

Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.


Print Headline: Suspect in Idaho a student, UA says

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