COEUR d’ALENE, June 1, 2020 — — Reports and rumors that groups bent on rioting and violence in Coeur d’Alene brought out men and women with guns on Monday determined to stop them if they arrive.
Dan Carson was patrolling Sherman Avenue with an AR-12 semi-automatic 12-gauge across his chest, an AR-15 strapped to his back, two 9mm handguns holstered and a .38 special, too.
“I heard there are some people on the way who shouldn’t be here,” he said early Monday evening.
Those people, he said, were Antifa and Proud Boys, militant far-left and far-right groups.
Carson said he was in Spokane Sunday night helping protect business there. He said he supports the right to protest and is also upset about the death of George Floyd.
“By all means. I’m on their side. I disagree with what happened,” he said. “What I don’t agree with is when you turn to violence, and you start rioting and destroying businesses and hurting people who have nothing to do with anything.
“That’s what I’m here to hopefully prevent,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to be alone. There’s a lot more on the way.”
He was right. Soon, more armed men, self-described as a loosely formed group of patriots, arrived. They took up posts at corners on both sides of Sherman Avenue.
Later, they were joined by hundreds of citizens packing rifles, semi-automatic weapons, handguns, and bows and arrows.
The sidewalks were packed with people walking up and down Sherman Avenue, firearms proudly displayed for all to see.
They carried guns, had them holstered around their hips and had them strapped across their backs.
It was literally a call to arms — and people responded. Armed citizens proudly turned up with guns and American flags. They sent a clear message: North Idaho will protect its own.
Brothers Austin Machado, carrying an AK-47, and Arick Machado, packing a 6.5 x 55mm Swedish rifle, stood in front of the Moose Lounge about 10 p.m.
“I just want to protect my favorite bar,” Austin Machado said. “I used to be a bouncer here. It’s my favorite bar and I’m going to protect it.”
Arick said they were also there to observe and act as a deterrent to any potential trouble.
“To show that you don’t throw cinder blocks through a bar window,” Austin said.
A few businesses had windows boarded up.
Four friends stood in front of All Things Irish holding an American flag.
“To support Americans and police that are protecting us,” said Hunter Williams when asked why they were there.
None of them had firearms.
“Peaceful protest, man,” said Caleb Hvizdos.
Earlier, more people gathered to protest outside WinCo on Appleway Avenue Monday afternoon.
Christy Robinson, holding a sign that read, “Black Lives Matter,” said “Many of the people I love are people of color. They’re part of my family, they’re part of my life and they’re in my heart.”
She said she understands why people are upset — and can feel their pain — about the racial injustice that continues to go on in America.
“It’s making me angrier and angrier,” Robinson said. “Instead of a horrible outlet like burning things or destroying them, I’m trying to have a positive outlet and just get my message out there.”
One woman holding a sign and wearing a mask declined to give her name.
“Everyone is equal in this world,” she said. “If people aren’t going to accept that, then we’re going to make it happen.”
Mylieanna Agee, who recently moved to Coeur d’Alene, said their goal was to create awareness of police brutality that’s going on in the world.
All lives matter, she said.
Her group had no desire to start trouble, Agee said.
“We’re just trying to keep it peaceful,” she said.
Earlier, in the WinCo parking lot, a group of about 40 men and women, some carrying semi-automatic weapons and handguns, stood watch due to what they said were threats of left-wing militant groups coming to start riots at the store.
“We came here as a show of force and as a deterrent to prevent that from happening,” said Trevor Treller, who had an AR-15 and a Glock 19 handgun. “Nobody here wants a confrontation and everyone here is wiling to engage in one if it ever should it come to that, or need to be. But nobody wants it and everyone prays it will never happen.”
Treller said they had been there for a few hours and nothing much had happened, expect some people “clad head to toe in black” drove by and shouted obscenities at them.
“They left. It’s quite possible they left because we’re here,” he said.
Treller described the group he was with as “a loosely joined group of patriots who love our state, love the city of Coeur d’Alene and won’t tolerate seeing any violence being perpetrated against it.”
“We just want to make sure nothing violent or nothing criminal happens in our city,” he said.
Like Carson, he said he had heard reports, verified by people in positions who would know, that people with Antifa were being bussed in “for the purposes of causing trouble and rioting.”
He noted that Spokane, where there were riots and looting late Sunday, is only 35 miles away.
“It’s not inconceivable that some very foolhardy, idiotic people in Spokane who are of a mind to commit violence would think they could get away with trying it here,” Treller said. “We’re here to tell them different.”
Pastor Tim Remington also was on hand.
“We’re just here to minister to people in case it starts getting heated,” he said. “We don’t want anybody getting hurt.”
Police arrived and told the group they had to leave the WinCo parking lot, as it was private property, so they went to Appleway, across the street from those holding Black Lives Matter signs. The two sides later reportedly came together.
As he walked away, a man who said his name was Rescue said he was there to make sure “everybody has a chance to speak their mind but not get out of control.”
Rescue carried an AR-15 and two .40-caliber handguns. He said he and his counterparts were prepared if trouble came to Coeur d’Alene.
“We have people all over town,” Rescue said. “The rumors are, they’re going to be in numerous places and they had a scout in here earlier counting our numbers and reporting to somebody.”
Brett Surplus of Coeur d’Alene, a former police officer, said he was there to defend people’s businesses and protect people’s right to free speech.
He said a show of force by armed citizens may prevent problems.
“We sit back long enough and see America not help their blue line because of the fear factor or they’re not armed,” he said. “This is where the end of the line stops in this state.”
Surplus said he is a hunter and fisherman and loves Idaho.
“I want to protect our way of life,” he said.
COEUR d’ALENE, June 6, 2020 — — A Friday afternoon letter signed by Mayor Steve Widmyer and the Coeur d’Alene City Council expressed support for the rights of armed citizens who have been patrolling downtown since Monday.
“It’s tough,” said Councilman Dan Gookin, “because the cops want to stay neutral. The cops want to do their job. We are the ones who take positions on this. But everyone’s been behaving marvelously. There’s been a lot of people downtown — I’m going to call them ‘militia,’ because I don’t know what else to call them. There’s been a lot of militia downtown, and they’ve been acting responsibly.”
Rumors of the left-wing anti-fascist protest movement Antifa coming to Coeur d’Alene drew hundreds of men and women with firearms to the downtown district in the past four days. They said they were there to protect businesses and the rights of Black Lives Matter protesters.
Protests over the death of George Floyd have swept cities across the country, sometimes leading to violence, property damage and looting.
Gookin said city officials have been getting emails over the past few days from citizens who are concerned about people openly carrying rifles and handguns on Sherman Avenue.
“I know there’s a lot of people who are uncomfortable and don’t feel safe,” Gookin said. “We’ll never know if the militia dissuaded outside agitators from coming here. But they behaved very well, and nothing happened to our town.”
Those calls of concern to City Hall led the council and Widmyer to collaborate and craft the message showing support for Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White, the Coeur d’Alene Police Department and the armed response.
Councilwoman Kiki Miller said she was encouraged by the unified message.
“The entire council has confidence in our local law enforcement agencies to manage these situations,” she said.
The full text of the letter is below.
“A message to our citizens:
Over the past tumultuous week, our citizens have experienced many strong emotions and witnessed several demonstrations over the senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of members of the Minneapolis Police Department. The majority of protests have been peaceful, but cities around the country have also endured violence, looting, and riots. This is understandably frightening and disturbing.
The message from Mayor Steve Widmyer and Chief of Police Lee White has been a consistent one of equal protection under the law for all citizens and an expression of remorse for all victims of racial injustice. We continue that message today and are committed to providing peaceful, calm avenues of protest for all citizens.
We are fortunate to have a Chief of Police and command staff that routinely train on use of force. They are considered experts in their field and strongly support accountability for any actions inconsistent with the honor of being a law enforcement officer.
Many citizens have inquired about the armed individuals who have been seen intermittently in the downtown area throughout this week. We support the rights of all citizens to express their freedoms granted to them under the U.S. Constitution and Idaho law. We realize that to some citizens the sight of heavily armed individuals is unnerving, yet to others it is reassuring.
Government must always remain content neutral and not pick and choose whose rights to protect. We, the Mayor and Council, have the utmost confidence in the Coeur d’Alene Police Department (and their coordination with other local law enforcement agencies) in their ability to protect our community, and keep our citizens safe. They are expertly trained, well-staffed, and capable. We trust that they can skillfully manage any situation that may arise.
The City of Coeur d’Alene has a long history of supporting and promoting human rights, civil rights, and dignity for all. We continue to be committed to these ideals and ask for all citizens to show compassion for those who are hurting. Please continue to be good neighbors and let’s all work together to effect positive change.”
Mayor Steve Widmyer
Councilman Woody McEvers
Councilman Dan Gookin
Councilwoman Kiki Miller
Councilman Dan English
Councilwoman Amy Evans
Councilwoman Christie Wood
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Bill Buley and Craig Northrup are staff writers at the Coeur d’Alene Press