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Monday, April 15, 2024

Patriot Front Members Appeal Conspiracy to Riot Convictions

'The contents of a cell phone that would have corroborated that Appellants had no intentions of committing the supposedly intimidating actions the State charged them with committing...'

(Ken Silva, Headline USA) Four members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front have appealed their misdemeanor convictions of conspiring to riot at an LGBT event in Idaho in 2022—raising numerous issues on appeal, including that they were denied exculpatory evidence.

The Patriot Front appellants—Devin Center, James Johnson, Forrest Rankin, and Robert Whitted—were sentenced to five days in jail after being found guilty last July. Their case stemmed from an incident where 31 Patriot Front members, including one identified as its founder, were arrested June 11, 2022, after someone reported seeing people loading into a U-Haul van like “a little army” at a hotel parking lot in Coeur d’Alene.

But after those initial convictions last July, the state’s case against the Patriot Front began to collapse.

In August, Judge Destry Randles dismissed charges against Patriot Front member Richard Jessop, finding that a prosecutor acted in “bad faith” by failing to provide the defendant with possibly exculpatory evidence.

Then, last October, Judge Randles dismissed the charges against Patriot Front leader Thomas Rousseau for the same reason.

The appeal filed last week by Center said that the exculpatory evidence included cell phone messages that would have shown they intended to act peacefully at the 2022 LGBT event.

“The contents of a cell phone that would have corroborated that Appellants had no intentions of committing the supposedly intimidating actions the State charged them with committing,” they said in their appeal.

The defendants also raised several other First Amendment-related issues in their appeals, arguing that their plans to counterprotest the LGBT event were constitutionally protected.

For instance, the state criminalized the fact that Patriot Front members wore masks to conceal their identities. But wearing masks to protests is a First Amendment-protected activity, the defendants said in their appeal.

“One of the State’s major themes at trial was that Patriot Front members, including Appellants, sought to protect their identities by wearing masks and uniforms and using a U-Haul to travel together,” they said.

“These steps, the State argued, supposedly implicated their intentions to engage in unlawful activity. A right to associate and express oneself anonymously, however, has long been recognized in First Amendment and free speech jurisprudence.”

Idaho prosecutors have yet to respond to the appeals.

As for the exculpatory evidence, former FBI agent Kyle Seraphin has explained that the FBI obtained Patriot Front members’ phones after the arrests.

FBI officials apparently wanted to search all those phones. However, the Supervisory Senior Resident Agent in Idaho refused to write a search warrant for the phones because a federal crime hadn’t been committed.

Seraphin said in November 2022 that FBI Headquarters removed the SSRA—the Idaho Tribune identified him as Special Agent Zach Schoffstall—from his position. And earlier this month, Seraphin said Schoffstall has been fired from the bureau.

“The @FBISaltLakeCity removed him from his position, gave him a penalty TDY, and brought in a ‘company woman’ who signed off on the Search Warrant and likely violated the Constitutional protections of no unreasonable search/seizure.”

Meanwhile, the Patriot Front’s legal troubles continue, as the group faces multiple civil lawsuits. In at least two of those cases, Patriot Front leaders have been accused of going “underground” to avoid being served.

Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.

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