LEITH, ND — A tranquil town in North Dakota could lose its serenity if one man has his way.
Paul Craig Cobb wants to transform Leith, population 24, into a community that mirrors his white supremacist views.
This weekend, white supremacists and others are expected to descend on the town in a show of support for him.
Cobb said he envisions Leith as a place where white nationalist banners will be flown, where white culture would be celebrated, and where minorities would not be welcome.
His white power takeover would begin with getting political control over Leith. But his ambitions go way beyond this one small town.
Cobb said he wants this movement to spread to other communities, other nations, even around the world, though he does not explain how he would do this.
“I don’t understand why all the different other people don’t say ‘whitey’ is pretty darn nice and clever,” Cobb said. “There are many organizations (in) which whites have to support other cultures… Where is the organization of people from around the world that says let’s keep these white people?… They’re pretty darn good, all in all.”
Cobb is one of the best known white supremacists in North America, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“He believes whites should be separate from other races,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “He’s also an anti-semite, a raging anti-semite… And he’s a member of the creativity religion, which is a religion that literally worships the Aryan man instead of God.”
Cobb’s quest to change Leith began about two years ago with the purchase of property.
Leith, a quiet town where you can hear the crickets chirp and the grain elevator run, is 70 miles southwest of Bismarck.
It is part of Grant County, North Dakota’s third largest county by land mass at more than 1 million acres, according to its website.
The communities there once buzzed with activity from nearby railroads, but all that is gone.
Cobb, 61, said he picked Leith because it was beautiful and cheap.
He has bought 12 plots of land for as little as $500 each.
He wants like-minded people affiliated with white nationalist organizations to take up residence on his properties.
“We hate that which threatens what we love,” he said. “And we’re being genocided in our own country. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you be bitter about it?”
Reaction of other residents
Other residents of Leith are trying to make sense of the developments.
“It is very shocking, because I didn’t ever know groups like this existed,” said Mayor Ryan Schock, who has lived in the town his whole life.
Miller Ferrie, a Leith resident for seven years, said the town’s peace has been shattered.
“It saddens us, because of what they stand for,” she said. “If they were coming to hold a rally for Christ we would be thrilled, but what they stand for is the opposite of what we believe.”
Leith’s lone black resident, Bobby Harper, feels under threat.
Harper’s wife said she has received messages from hate groups calling for her to leave her husband and join Cobb’s movement.
“It made me afraid,” Sherill Harper said. “If his goal is to just have only white people here, where do my husband and I go?”
Bobby Harper said he had no plans to leave, even if Cobb’s supporters came in and started controlling the town.
The sheriff of Grant County said he is keeping a close eye on the situation.
“I’m a firm believer that everyone has a right to believe what they want, just not the ability to force the issue on someone else,” said Steven Bay, also a lifetime resident of Grant County.
He said because Cobb has not broken the law, there is not much he can do.
Bay has talked to Canadian authorities several times, because Cobb is a wanted man in Canada — where he faces hate speech charges over a blog.
“They’re not going to extradite,” Bay said. “It’s not a crime for which they will extradite someone from the U.S. back to Canada.”
Town hall meeting
This Sunday the National Socialist Movement, a white supremacist group, will hold a meeting in Leith.
On its website, the group calls the gesture a show of goodwill “as we plant the seeds of national socialism in North Dakota.”
Jeff Schoep, the commander of the movement, who claims to haveproperty in Leith, wrote an open letter to Leith’s mayor announcing the group’s decision to head to Leith on September 22 and 23 in a show of support for Cobb.
He said Cobb’s efforts are a chance to revitalize the community.
Nationalist online message boards such as WhiteNations.com and Stormfront have also applauded Cobb for “doing a great job” and jibing critics as “laughable.”
Anti-racist activists are also expected to descend on Leith this weekend.
One of this effort’s organizers told the Bismarck Tribune that he and others are hoping people will join them for a peaceful show of solidarity.
Meanwhile, town and county officials said they would consider extreme measures to avoid Leith being taken over by white supremacists.
Mayor Schock said he would consider dissolving the city in order to save the city. But he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
Meanwhile, is there anything that would persuade Cobb to depart the town?
If the government decides the “send four dozen Somali families to Leith,” Cobb said, that would convince him to leave.
By Gary Tuchman and Chandrika Narayan
Greg Botelho contributed to this story.
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