Leith, N.D., residents want white supremacist out; he says he is staying
LEITH, N.D. -- Residents "want him out," but a white supremacist says he plans to stay in this tiny North Dakota town where he bought up property with the vision of creating a white nationalist community.
In an interview Friday, Craig Paul Cobb said he was fired from his road construction job but doesn't plan to leave Leith, about 70 miles southwest of Bismarck.
"I plan on staying and that (losing his job) freed me up to get more propaganda and bring more people to Leith," he said. "I would love to see the White Nationalists flag flying in town."
Leith Mayor Ryan Schock and many residents became aware of Cobb's plans Aug. 15, after a reporter from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, came to town to look into Cobb's alleged secret attempt to turn the town into a Pioneer Little Europe, an enclave of white supremacists. Cobb had bought a dozen properties since 2011 and was trying to subtly advertise them on the Internet and draw in like-minded people.
"Everybody has the right to live anywhere they want in the U.S., but when people come together to live together in a community, they should be working for the common good instead of the hate," said Sherrill Harper, the wife of Bobby Harper, the only African-American in Leith. "If we are going to do something about it, then we will have to work together."
Leith is in Grant County, with a population of 16, according to the 2010 U.S. census. The county had only 2,394 residents in 2010, with one African-American, three Asians and 27 American Indian or Alaska Natives.
Muriel Ulrich, the Grant County tax director, said Cobb bought four lots in September 2011, five lots in June 2012 and three more in October totaling $8,490. The town is remote, but close enough to North Dakota's oilfields to provide access to good-paying jobs.
When Ulrich asked why he was buying the land, Cobb said he wanted to rename the town "Cobbsville." Cobb says he believes there are differences between blacks and whites in America, including hormonal differences, and that a pretension exists that all races are the same.
He refutes that notion and says violent crime is directly related to the black population, referring to a high percentage of black Americans living on government assistance.
"Welfare dependency is breeding killers and violent subhumans," Cobb said. "People need to love their race and their own people."
Cobb, who said he grew up as a Christian, thinks a lot of Christians are scary.
"I don't understand Christians. They have a need to be morally superior than the next guy," he said. "They are very threatened by anything with racial cohesion."
Evidence of Cobb's plans can be found on a Vanguard News Network forum, an anti-Semitic, white supremacist website.
Cobb can be seen in photos standing in different locations around Leith and highlighting his plans for a white nationalist community that advocates a racial definition of national identity for white people -- though the location is not identified.
In one photo, he says once he becomes mayor, he wants to remove an old, rusty tractor that's sitting across the road from his house and put a World War II German tank in its place as a memorial to a Nazi armored tank division.
"Had the Panzers won, we wouldn't be chock full to our ears with Hottentots, Aztecs and Chozenites," he said on the forum.
In another photo, Cobb stands in tall grass he wants to turn into a park to memorialize Adolf Hitler. He writes about rewriting city ordinances to discriminate against minorities and leftist journalists.
"People are scared," Schock said. "It's a shock because we've never dealt with something like this in our community before. People want to get to the bottom of it and get some answers."
He said what stirred up the most excitement in town was after they were notified about Cobb's intentions, two men showed up days later claiming to be from Wisconsin trying to settle down in a small, quiet town.
The two men have made payments toward a dilapidated home on property owned by Cobb. Both claim not to align with Cobb's beliefs and have nothing to do with any plans he might have.
Schock said it was cause for concern, as the two men and Cobb have been the only three people without family ties to the area to move into town in the last 10 to 15 years.
Grant County Sheriff Steve Bay said he periodically checks in with the county recorder's office about new people moving into the area, and now, nobody will be able to buy land in Leith without him knowing.
"I'm not trying to stop anybody from doing it, I just want to know who is doing it," he said.
And so far, Bay hasn't had any interactions with Cobb.
"He's been as legal as anybody around here," he said.
He hasn't broken the law
As they continue to piece together the news, Leith residents have one problem: They can't do anything about Cobb's purchases.
Cobb said Friday that nobody can interfere with someone's housing, pointing out laws under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Schock said he has talked to three attorneys since the news broke, including the Grant County state's attorney. All have said there isn't anything they can do.
"As of now, he hasn't broken any laws. All he has done is buy property so far," Schock said. "Even the people he is selling it to haven't done anything wrong, they're not criminals."
The North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights can't do much either.
The department's Human Rights Division is responsible for enforcing the North Dakota Human Rights Act and the North Dakota Housing Discrimination Act, both primarily focused on discrimination in the workplace and housing.
Commissioner Bonnie Storbakken said the only way officials would step into the issue is if Cobb was in the rental property business or sold multiple dwellings and discriminated against someone and a complaint was filed.
"It definitely caught our eye," she said about the news. "But, much like everyone else, there is not a lot that can be done unless he fits within our jurisdiction of the statutes."
Nettie Ketterling has owned and operated the Leith Bar the last 24 years just down the road from Cobb's house.
She said the only time she interacted with Cobb was more than a year ago, when he first moved to town and came into the bar to briefly charge his cellphone.
She said he seemed like a nice guy.
"He wasn't opinionated or anything that I could tell, he was just nice. I didn't think anything of it," she said. "Now I don't know."
Sherrill Harper, who has lived in Leith for seven years, hopes now that Cobb's plan has been found out, nobody will move to Leith.
"I hope no one else will come up here and bring this hatred to our little town," she said. "It's not just a little town, it's the whole area around here, everything will be affected with that."
People are treating him differently now that they are aware of his beliefs. "I used to wave at people but now they have basically stopped," Cobb said. "It's rather childish."
Cobb's plans for Leith were exposed after the Southern Poverty Law Center caught up with them.
Mark Potok, editor in chief of the Hatewatch blog and Intelligence Report, both published by the law center, said the center has been tracking Cobb for years.
He said it was the names of two well-known white supremacists, Tom Metzger, a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and Alex Linder, that court records showed Cobb gave land to that drew a red flag.
Cobb said Friday he plans on giving a lot to Golden Dawn, a Greek neo-Nazi group, and would like to give a lot to David Duke, the most recognizable figure of the American radical right, according to the law center.
Once they realized what was going on, Potok sent a reporter to town to expose Cobb's efforts and inform Schock and residents.
"This is a small community that certainly didn't remotely expect an invasion of white supremacists and neo-Nazis," Potok said. "Our purpose isn't to needlessly raise alarms, but this is a remarkable thing. These people -- we are talking about some of the leading players on the extreme right in this country -- are apparently moving, or setting up property."
Potok said Cobb's plans are part of an ongoing attempt by many white supremacists to set up small enclaves around the country, predominantly in the heavily white areas of the northwest United States.
Potok pointed out Cobb's advertisements that focused on the small town and close proximity to the Oil Patch, where people could find a steady source of income like Cobb had been able to do.
"Most don't have two pennies to rub together, so the prospect of good-paying work is very attractive to them," Potok said.
Potok said once attempts to create white supremacist enclaves are exposed, they usually don't make it much further.
Arrested in Canada
As surprised as area residents were, Sheriff Bay said his office has known about Cobb's past for a while after stumbling onto a warrant Canada issued for Cobb's arrest, but nobody knew about his plans for the town.
Bay said if he finds out there's a warrant out for anybody in the county, his office will usually follow up with it.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Normandie Levas, a member of the British Columbia Hate Crime Team, said in a statement that Cobb was charged Dec. 31, 2010, in Vancouver for the willful promotion of hatred. Cobb fled to the Unites States prior to his first court appearance and a Canada-wide warrant was issued for Cobb's arrest.
Cobb can't be extradited back to Canada because there is no similar law for the offense in the U.S., he said.
Levas said Canadian authorities are in regular communication with U.S. law enforcement in regard to Cobb, who will be arrested if he ever enters Canada again.
Kevin Cederstrom, a freelance photojournalist living in southwestern North Dakota, contributed to this story.