White Supremacists Making Bid to Take Over North Dakota Town
Ryan Lenz on August 22, 2013
LEITH, N.D. –– Abandoned houses lean with the weight of years on city blocks connected by gravel roads. A grain elevator still operates on the edge of town, but it hasn’t seen good business in decades. The only storefront business is a bar, and on most afternoons it sits empty like the roads that disappear among sunflower and wheat fields in the distance.
While the economy in North Dakota has boomed in recent years due to the discovery of oil in the miles of shale beneath the state, business in Leith has been in decline for the better part of a century. So when officials in April 2012 noticed that one man was quickly buying up abandoned properties in what had become close to a ghost town high on the Great Plains, it was strange.
“I didn’t have a clue who the guy was until he showed up. All I know is he bought that house sight unseen, $5,000 cash, and had no idea what it looked like, where it was, other than he knew the directions to get to Leith,” Leith Mayor Ryan Schock, a farmer who has lived here all his life, told Hatewatch.
That strange man was Paul Craig Cobb, 61, a bearded neo-Nazi who moved into a ramshackle two-story house without running water, and quickly began buying properties around Leith, population 19. According to county tax records that were first obtained by Hatewatch, Cobb has since purchased more than a dozen lots for a few hundred dollars each, mostly from landowners who live elsewhere in the country.
Cobb’s endgame is clear. Last year, on the white supremacist online forum Vanguard News Network (VNN), he announced his intentions to build an all-white bastion of racists in North Dakota “post haste.” The grandiose plan ends with white supremacists and neo-Nazis taking over the county government, and he has even said he hopes to rename Leith “Cobbsville.”
“Been waiting quite a few months to spring this. Now is the time,” Cobb wrote at the time. Then, in what appeared to be a pitch to those who might have reservations about moving so far north, Cobb touted the benefits of his new home. “There is water, electricity, satellite internet via Hughes at $50 per month, satellite TV from at least 3 companies, trailers, 5th wheels, campers legal, car [insurance] as little as $141 for 6 months and most importantly –– a surfeit of very good paying jobs in two different cities within normal commutable distances,” he wrote.
Cobb’s plan in Leith is to build a Pioneer Little Europe –– an idea long favored on the racist right as a way to escape what is seen as a multiculturalist agenda at work in larger and more racially diverse cities. First proposed in a 2001 pamphlet by H. Michael Barrett, the vision is to consolidate white residents in existing cities and towns and create all-white enclaves. Northwestern states including Montana, Idaho, and now North Dakota, have historically been considered appealing places to start because of lack of racial diversity.
According to the most recent U.S. Census data, 90% of the population of North Dakota is white. That increases to 97% in Grant County, where Cobb has settled.
Already some of the most active white supremacists and neo-Nazi leaders in the country have come calling.
According to county tax and property records, Tom Metzger, of Warsaw, Ind., a viciously racist propagandist who leads a group known as the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), purchased a lot for one dollar from Cobb in June 2012. Four months later, Alex Linder, who runs the VNN neo-Nazi Web forum, did the same. Additionally, Cobb claims to have donated buildings in Leith to the National Socialist Movement (NSM), the largest neo-Nazi group in the country. Grant County tax officials say Cobb could have sold more and not recorded a deed transfer.
News of Cobb’s plan spread quickly this week, when two men moved into tents on one of Cobb’s properties, alarming residents who were unaware of his racist plans.
“He’s worried people over here. In a community like Leith, you get someone strange in and they’re always kind of worrying,” Grant County Sheriff Steve Bay said, adding that he could understand the benefit of an isolated town in North Dakota for someone like Cobb. “What better place to pick up some land if you want to get something established?” Bay asked.
This isn’t the first time Cobb has tried to build a homeland for whites. In 2006, he moved to Estonia and established Podblanc, a video-sharing service for white supremacists. America was beyond help, he warned then. “I believe that the Democrat[ic] and Republican criminal syndicates that run the U.S. with international jewry’s [sic] criminal syndicate cannot now be stopped,” he wrote. “Media barrages too much control the minds of White Americans.”
But four years later, Cobb returned to the United States and reportedly settled in Montana’s Flathead Valley, where other racists including Christian Identity proponent Karl Gharst and neo-Nazi April Gaede had begun working to build a similar Pioneer Little Europe community of white supremacists. Cobb moved to North Dakota in April, where he has reportedly been working on road construction crews.
Cobb’s racist dreams for North Dakota are not isolated to Grant County. As there are nearly limitless job opportunities as a result of the oil boom happening in the western half of the state, other white supremacists have made their presence known in Williston, which has dubbed itself “Boom Town, USA.”
There, at a NAPA auto parts store, Shane Myers sells assault rifles and tactical gear out of the back hallway. He wears a ring with Nazi SS lightning bolts, and white supremacists online have claimed he will offer a deal to other white nationalists in the state. And if there is any confusion about his worldview, a single Post-It note on the wall behind his desk clears up any misconceptions. It reads simply, “Diversity=Division=Disunity.”