Tuesday, the month of October creeps in, a time of year known for wizardry, haunted houses, and the monsters within them. It’s the perfect time to tell you the story of Leith, North Dakota, and the good people who live there.
Evil incarnate has come to Leith, in the form of a man named Craig Cobb, and he has caught the citizens of Leith in a web so cleverly constructed, every move they make to free themselves only strengthens the cancer that has metastasized in their midst.
There is no more perfect a setting for a modern day ghost story than Leith, North Dakota. The ill-fated General Custer and his men are said to have camped on the banks of the Cannonball River near Leith in 1876, on their way to the battle of Little Big Horn. In 1910, it was a thriving stop on the Northern Pacific Railway Line; now, it has the dubious honor of gracing the pages of a photo-journal of North Dakota Ghost Towns. In fact, the very house now inhabited by the monster of Leith (left) is pictured there.
In 1960, 100 people lived in Leith. Now news reports put that number somewhere between 17 and 24. In fact, there are only about 2300 people in all of Grant County where Leith is located, and that number has been steadily shrinking. It is a rural county where they grow sunflowers, and graze cattle. But Leith still has a town council, and a mayor, Ryan Schock, a farmer who has lived there all his life.
It was Ryan who had the first inkling that something might be wrong. The county tax assessor, Muriel Ulrich, mentioned casually that someone was buying up vacant property in Leith. Like all good horror stories, that news seemed innocuous at first. Perhaps it even seemed like it had the potential to be good news. I can imagine the locals in the bar that is the only business still open in downtown Leith, speculating on the mystery over mugs of beer. Had some rich businessman chosen Leith for a new venture that would bring the county back to life? The natural gas business was booming in the western part of the state, maybe fracking had finally found their town. Was the mysterious buyer keeping his plan a secret so as not to drive up prices on the old ramshackle houses he was gobbling up for a few hundred dollars a piece?
The anonymous buyer bought a total of 13 properties in Leith, all abandoned houses with owners who live elsewhere. Then a stranger quietly moved into one of them; a man in his sixties with long flowing hair. The rumor mill said he had bought the property sight unseen for $5000 and had moved in in the dead of night. The house had no running water, no flush toilet, but the stranger lived there for a year without requesting service. He kept to himself for the most part, working at a road construction job, and people let him be. They considered him odd, but they never suspected him of being the enemy within.
It was Muriel Ulrich, the county tax assessor, who began to uncover the true identity of the old man in the dilapidated house. His name was Craig Cobb, (right) an avowed white supremacist, wanted in Canada for “willful promotion of hatred”, and he had come to the attention of Muriel Ulrich only when he began reselling the houses he had bought – without making a profit.
Tom Metzger, who leads a group known as the White Aryan Resistance, bought a house from Craig Cobb for one dollar. So did Alex Linder, who runs the VNN neo-Nazi Website. Cobb gave the graveyard adjoining his property to Jeff Schoep, leader of the National Socialist Movement. Cobb also convinced April Gaede and her husband Mark Harrington, pioneers of the concept of a “Little Europe” community for “racially conscious” whites, to buy property in Leith.
The news swept through Leith like a dust storm. They were appalled. They wanted no part of him or the Aryan groups he wanted to bring to Leith. But Craig Cobb had his foot in the door, and he was not about to leave quietly.
Leith asked the county for help, but all they could do is to demand Cobb hook up to water and sewage or face a condemnation of his property. When he heard of Cobb’s plan, his boss fired him, but that only allowed Cobb to play martyr. He says he will sue his ex-employer for a violation of his religious rights. The town begged the Grant County sheriff, Steve Bay, to do something. But Cobb had broken no law. His hands were tied.
“Been waiting quite a few months to spring this.” Craig wrote on his website after being outed to the town. “Now is the time.” Cobb speculated that all he needed were about 17 like-minded newcomers and he could change Leith to Cobbville. Then he extolled the virtues of living in Leith, inviting other white supremacists to join him, writing: “There is water, electricity, satellite internet via Hughes at $50 per month, satellite TV from at least 3 companies, trailers, 5th wheels, campers legal, car insurance as little as $141 for 6 months and most importantly –– a surfeit of very good paying jobs in two different cities within normal commutable distances.”
Facing the prospect of losing control of their town, last Sunday, Leith held a protest. About 350 people, some of them from as far away as Minnesota and South Dakota, traveled by bus to stand with the men and women of the tiny town. Chase Iron Eyes, (right) one of the organizers, led a delegation of about 200 from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The group gathered in the park across from Cobb’s home and called him out. Chase Iron Eyes was heard to yell:
We’re just the mouthpieces. The warriors are not even here.”
Cobb’s forces held a counter protest. Jeff Schoep, who lives in Detroit, brought a group of his NSS soldiers and stole the spotlight from Cobb. For his part, Cobb seemed content to play the doddering old fool grateful for NSS support “to help a senior citizen such as myself keep my civil rights.”
Jeff Schoep stood outside Cobb’s home surrounded by shaven-headed men dressed in black, taunting the protesters. While he harangued the crowd, Cobb showed reporters the guns and the bullet-proof vest he keeps in the corner of his living room.
Between the two groups stood Sheriff Steve Bay, his deputies, and 14 state troopers dressed in riot gear. Another 10 were stationed throughout the town. Sheriff Bay warned the NSS goons that the sheriff and his department would handle security, not them. Cobb stood among the assortment of white supremacist flags he put up for the occasion, saying of the protesters:
“They’re loud, so what? They’re literally not human to me,” he said. “I feel good.”
“How come we go all over the world with B-52s and B-1s in the name of democracy and call it world-building?” Cobb said to reporters “I’m doing village-building, except I’m not using violence. Here’s this white guy trying to get 17 people together in a democracy who think like he does and they just go bananas, while there’s 50 million Mexicans running around.
Jeff Schoep (right) asked to meet with Mayor Schock, to discuss their plan for taking over Leith, but the mayor ignored him, so he wrote Schock and the town an open letter on his website instead. In it he says he has a simple message for Leith: Craig Cobb “will NOT be ousted from the community.”
“Craig is not breaking any laws or ordinances, and has a right to reside in Leith just as any other American does.”
Mayor Schock chose to stand outside the council hall with his fellow-citizens when Schoep attempted to hold a town meeting. Schoep claimed the meeting was meant to “set the public’s mind at ease”.
“They’re going to have their meeting and I hope that no one supports them,” the mayor said. Our “message is that they are behind us. No one will put up with them.”
Bobby Harper, the town’s only black citizen, along with his white wife Sherrill, both of whom are council members, also stood outside in the crowd, thanking people for coming out to support them. Eight people ventured inside the meeting. Schoep and his skinheads welcomed them from behind a flag with a Nazi swastika.
“The people of Leith do not want your shit here.” James Testemary, a member of the Lakota tribe told them. Schoep taunted him in return saying he had never seen “Indians” at a protest before. “You’re stumbling, and obviously drunk. Have you been drinking?” He asked. ” You have your sovereign land and your own nation. Why is it wrong for us to have our sovereign land?”
An angry husband and wife who shouted at Schoep were escorted out by police. An army vet grabbed the microphone to yell “Creepy Nazis, Ku Kluxers, get the hell out of here!” before officers hauled him to the back of the room. Melissa Nicole Hite asked Schoep, “What happens to us if we’re not pure white? Will I be exiled from Grant County if I’m not pure white?” Schoep replied, “We’re not talking about exiling anybody. We do not advocate genocide. If anything, whites are being genocided.”
The day ended peacefully enough, but no answers were found. The town of Leith is still under threat of being legally taken over, if Cobb can attract enough new white supremacists to Leith to vote themselves in. The town is united against them, but their only defense is publicity. They hoped national attention to their plight would bring support, but they have found that publicity also brought attention to Cobb and his call for like-minded Aryans to move to Leith to form a “Little Europe.
What to do next remains a puzzlement. (I wonder if anyone has considered taking Craig Cobb on a midnight ride to the Canadian border where the Mounties can arrest him for hate speech not considered a crime here?) Perhaps it’s time to start a fund to buy up property in Leith and then donate the homes to non-white families, or even veterans willing to relocate.
So as we begin the season of ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night, give a thought to little Leith. North Dakota, and the monsters in their midst.
Cobb House: Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp Ghosts of North Dakota
Craig Cobb from his Facebook page
Chase Iron Eyes from his Facebook page
No Hate photo from the Bismark Tribune Facebook page
All other photos via Twitter @uneditedmedia
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.