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North Dakota town pushes back against white supremacist takeover try

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FILE 2013: White Supremacist Craig Cobb, 61, hopes to recruit more like-minded people as his neighbors in Leith. (Mike McCleary, Bismarck Tribune)

A small town in North Dakota has reportedly formed a legal defense fund to stop a longtime white supremacist from taking over the town-- population 24-- and turning it into an all-white enclave.

"We need people from across the state to come alongside of us and show support that they don’t believe in what this guy is doing," Lee Cook, a Leith City Council member told The Bismarck Tribune. "There are a lot of people who could speak up. It’s not tricky. Silence, to me, means that whatever he’s doing is OK."

Cook was talking about Craig Cobb, a 61 year old, self-described white supremacist, who moved into a house in Leith in Grant County. The county has a 97 percent white population.

"I only need 17 people. You have to have a majority to win an election. If we get 22 we've got a landslide."

- Craig Cobb, a 61 year old, self-described white supremacist

The Southern Poverty Law Center says Cobb has been on something of a real estate shopping spree, buying more than a dozen lots in the town for a few hundred dollars each.

The report says Cobb announced his plans last year on Vanguard News Network, which was described as a white supremacist online forum.

Cobb, who is wanted in Canada for willfully promoting hatred, even made a sales pitch to the like-minded. He praised the area's good paying jobs and the selection of satellite TV providers.

Some white supremacists have already been buying up property from Cobb.

This weekend, state residents have planned a "peaceful show of solidarity" with the town.

"We cannot accept this racist hatred they are bringing here. Leith is in a crisis and is crying out for help," Jeremy Kelly, a resident of Bismarck told The Tribune.

Cobb spends his days in his ramshackle two-story home with no running water, posting online comments advocating for white supremacists to join his settlement.

"I only need 17 people," he said with a chuckle. "You have to have a majority to win an election. If we get 22 we've got a landslide."

Cobb's neighbors across a back alley are Sherrill Harper, who is white, and her husband Bobby, who is black. Bobby Harper, a 52-year-old welder, said he has spoken to Cobb only once, and that Cobb's plans don't bother him much.

"The most extreme thing you can do is hate another man because of the color of his skin, (but) I don't think we should get too excited," he said. "I believe right will prevail."

Ryan Lenz, a writer with the Alabama-based nonprofit law center, said his organization has long tracked Cobb, who is wanted in Canada for willfully promoting hatred in Vancouver in 2010 via a blog.

"It's a pipe dream for white nationalists to have an entire area in which their neighbors are Aryan," Lenz said.

That's hard to achieve, Lenz said, but Cobb has made strides because he has gobbled up land — even transferring some to Tom Metzger, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and founder of the White Aryan Resistance.

That doesn't mean he's any closer to enacting his plan. Metzger said he likes Cobb but that declared plans for white enclaves never work and that he will not be joining Cobb in Leith.

"I think it's better just to have people move in quietly, have a job, operate a regular daily life and get along with their neighbors," he said. "I wouldn't go into a town pushing my weight around."

Cobb, a native of Missouri, fled prosecution in Canada and chased the promise of high-paying jobs in the booming western North Dakota oil fields. He said he was fired from a job because of a dispute with a co-worker and that he lost a job with a Fargo-based paving company after media coverage of his settlement plans.

Canadian authorities have not approached the U.S. to extradite Cobb. Cpl. Normandie Levas of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the white supremacist can't be extradited because the charge against him in Canada doesn't exist under U.S. law.

Deputy North Dakota Attorney General Tom Trenbeath said authorities are aware of Cobb, and the Grant County Sheriff's Office has increased patrols in the area. But Cobb hasn't broken any laws there, and Schock acknowledges that he has a right to live in Leith, no matter his views.

Cobb's comments and writings indicate he believes in a superior white race, distrusts both Jews and Christians, and questions the intelligence of women. He declines to talk about his upbringing and gives no indication as to why he adopted his supremacist platform.

In an interview outside his house, he was calm, cheerful and even jovial, making comments that raised questions about whether he believes his plan could succeed — or if he's just seeking publicity.

"If I'm the only one in Leith forever, white consciousness has already been raised," he said.

Click for more from The Bismarck Tribune

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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