- Hate crimes fugitive Craig Cobb buys up 13 lots in Leith, North Dakota
- Posts on neo-Nazi forum appear to invite white supremacists to join him in creating racist commune
- Mixed race couples say they have become targets of online neo-Nazi abuse
- Residents fear Cobb has plans to take over local government
By ELLIE BUCHDAHL
PUBLISHED: 14:57 EST, 23 August 2013 | UPDATED: 16:16 EST, 23 August 2013
Fears of a neo-Nazi takeover have sparked a land war in a North Dakota town as residents say a hate crimes fugitive has launched a stealthy buy-up of properties.
The mayor of Leith says residents of the 19-person town are demanding more information about Craig Cobb’s recent investments in real estate.
Craig Paul Cobb, 61, was arrested in 2010 in Canada on federal charges of willful promotion of hatred, has purchased 13 lots in the mostly abandoned Grant County town.
Residents claim they have proof that he plans to fill the town with other racists and haters.
Cobb, who has been called one of the most extreme white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the country, has been living in a small house in Leith since he arrived in Grant County last year.
Residents have known he was buying up other lots last year but say it was not until the past few days that they learned of his scheme to let people fly Nazi flags and target city elections with the aim of introducing racist, neo-Nazi laws.
According to North Dakota daily newspaper The Bismarck Tribune, Cobb posted on the white supremacist website Vanguard News advertising the plots and inviting like-minded extremists to join him.
The post read: ‘A few well know (sic) WN (White Nationalists) know of this plan; fewer still know the exact place. Suffice to say, you could also make it into the Bakken area to go for a job there too. I want people to move now and quietly get going here without letting the cat out of the bag
‘I want people to move now and quietly get going here without letting the cat out of the bag,’ he wrote.
In response, Leith residents are buying up vacant lots to keep them out of Cobb’s hands.
Cobb was arrested in 2010 in Canada on federal charges of willful promotion of hatred.
He was living in Montana under dual citizenship until his arrival in Grant County.
He began to buy properties from absentee owners for a few hundred dollars each.
When county court employees asked Cobb why he was buying so many, incredibly Cobb said he was aiming to rename the town ‘Cobbsville’, according to Tax Director Muriel Ulrich.
County records show that Cobb has since transferred ownership of two lots: one to Tom Metzger, a former grand dragon of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in California, which founded the White Aryan Resistance, and another to Alex Linder, originator of the Vanguard News Network website.
Mayor Ryan Schock said his phone has been ‘ringing off the hook’ since the paper broke the story on Wednesday night.
‘Everybody’s wound up,’ Mr Schock said.
Concerns were raised when two men from Wisconsin arrived in Leith before dawn on Sunday to clear trees and do work on a run-down house Cobb had purchased.
The men identified themselves to Grant County Sheriff Steve Bay as Michael Bencz and Tim Westergard on Sunday evening and weren’t found to have any criminal warrants or apparent association with Cobb, the sheriff said.
Bay said he was still investigating Bencz and Westergard and said he would be keeping a close watch on Leith.
He said he had asked the Border Patrol for information, and had been told that Canadian authorities had no interest in extraditing Cobb on the hate crime charges.
Speaking to the Bismarck Tribune, Bencz said he found Cobb’s property on Craigslist and made a down payment on it because he was looking for a prairie home in a quiet and peaceful place.
He denied any relationship with Cobb, or white nationalist beliefs.
‘If he thinks he can do a conversion, he’s barking up the wrong tree,’ he said.
Cobb has not returned any phone calls or text messages to the cellphone number he posted on Craigslist with his Leith property listing.
Mixed race couple Bobby and Sherrill Harper, who live in Leith, said they had already been vilified in a white activism Internet site stormfront.org as a result of the Tribune story, with one writer saying, ‘A … race-mixing white woman like her has no place in a White nation.’
Mrs Harper said: ‘I’m not sorry it’s out there. The more people who know, the better.’
Mark Potok, an expert on extremism and editor of the Intelligence Report and Hatewatch blog, a project of the Alabama-based civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center, said people should be concerned.
‘He’s one of the most vicious neo-Nazi activists around,’ Potok said.
Potok said Cobb is trying to turn Leith into ‘Pioneer Little Europe’ – a concept used by white supremacists.
Others such as April Gaebe, who attempted to set up a white community in Kalispell, Montana, have tended to be thwarted far earlier.
‘This is much further advanced than anything we’ve seen,’ Potok said.
Potok believes Cobb picked Leith because North Dakota is 90 percent white and Grant County is 97 percent white, according to the U.S. census.
Other factors that make it attractive are cheap land, few people to stand up to a takeover and employment in the Bakken oil patch.
‘Most of these guys don’t have two dimes to rub together,’ Potok said.
‘He can’t take away the community,’ Potok said. ‘People will resist this. My best guess is that it will fall apart as a result of being exposed.’
Mrs Harper said she’s learned a lot about extreme racism in just a few days and welcomed Potok’s prediction.
‘I can only hope that he’s right,’ she said.