Life Inside the Small North Dakota Town Terrorized by White Supremacist

Leith, North Dakota residents say Craig Cobb makes them live in fear.

ByByron Pitts, Geoff Martz, Jasmine Brown and Lauren Effron
September 23, 2015, 8:03 PM

— -- Leith, North Dakota is a town so small that blink and you just might miss it.

But this sleepy hamlet was rocked to its core after Craig Cobb, 63, showed up in this town with a population of 20 people -- and went on a mission to take it over and turn it into an enclave for white supremacists, in the fall 2012.

Cobb's clash with the local residents is the subject of a new documentary called, "Welcome to Leith."

Mayor Ryan Schock said Cobb came to town three years ago.

"I actually met him the first day he moved in," Schock said. "[He] said he just wanted to live here and he said he might have some friends joining him now and throughout the next year or two."

At first, Cobb seemed like a "lonely person," Schock said, because he had shown up by himself and without a family.

"I kind of felt sorry for him for a while, until I realized what his plan was," he said.

Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking Cobb for years and said after he moved to Leith, he started posting his plans on an online message board frequented by racists called Vanguard News Network.

"He says that he's purchased some properties and he's encouraging others to come follow him, to join him, because this was going to be the vanguard of a movement," Lenz said. "He was trying to turn it into a white homeland."

Before too long, Mayor Schock said Cobb had purchased 12 to 14 lots.

"It was scary," he said. "He could of put one family for sure on each lot… [and] would of had control of the town."

Cobb's mission drew media attention, and he gained support from the radical hate group, the National Socialist Movement. The group's visit to Leith drew hundreds of protestors and the once peaceful town became a battleground.

"They came in very strong, stating that they're going to take the town over, they're going to take the voting over," Schock said. "And if any one of us violates their First Amendment rights that they will have us arrested immediately. They were going to build the houses, set their church up."

The protesters didn't run Cobb out of town. He succeeded in moving in one family.

Armed with loaded guns, he and a friend went out on the town on foot patrols with cameras.

"I'm one of the most famous racists in the world you son of a bitch," Cobb says in one video.

In another video, Cobb is talking to his friend and says, "They have to fire the first shot."

Leith residents took shelter in their homes, worried that Cobb and his friend could turn violent at any moment.

"Just about for a whole year, we wouldn't let our kids out of our sight … because we never knew who was coming and going in the town," Schock said. "We finally sat down and we had a discussion with our kids and just to try to figure this out … we thank God every day that we're still alive."

Cobb and his friend were eventually arrested in November 2013 and charged with terrorizing and menacing their neighbors. Ultimately taking a plea deal and pleading guilty to one felony count of terrorizing, he was placed on four years probation.

Cobb has since moved to a new town called Antler, North Dakota, roughly 200 miles north of Leith -- another town with a population of 20 or so.

But Craig Cobb was not welcome there either. For now, Antler Mayor Bruce Hanson says the town came up with a plan to keep Cobb out and so far it has been working – the city bought all the land for sale to keep Cobb from purchasing it.

"You know and there's no place for this anymore," said Hanson.

Back in Leith, Mayor Schock and the local residents there are trying to start over.

"Cobb poses a threat every day and Cobb will pose a threat every day until he's no longer in existence," Schock said. "There's nothing in me that will ever trust that man."

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