LEITH, N.D. | A man wanted in Canada for hate crimes has been quietly living in a small Grant County town, slowly buying up lots and property with plans to create a white nationalist community off the radar and close to good-paying jobs in the Bakken.
Craig Paul Cobb, 61, owns a two-story house in Leith, a town of 19 people between Carson and Elgin, and 12 other lots, according to county records.
Cobb is a known white supremacist who advocates racial holy war and is promoting his property in Leith to others like him.
Cobb didn’t answer his door Tuesday and it’s believed he works during the week on a highway construction crew in the Killdeer area. Numerous efforts to reach him on his apparent cellphone were unsuccessful.
In a posting on the Internet, Cobb invites like-minded nationalists to join him in Leith to fly Nazi flags and other racialist banners and bring more “hard core” white nationalists.
He said anyone moving to Leith should become a resident and vote in the local elections.
In the posting, threaded through the white supremacist Vanguard News website, he writes: “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.”
Cobb has been living in town for about a year and until recently, people knew little, if anything, about him, except that he was buying up vacant property, mostly from absentee owners, for a few hundred dollars a lot.
His reasons for owning property in Leith became public during one of his frequent stops at the Grant County Courthouse. Asked by county employees why he was buying so many lots, he said he planned to buy up as much property as he could and rename the town “Cobbsville,” said Tax Director Muriel Ulrich.
Fearing some sort of takeover, but still in the dark about his larger plans for a community of white nationalists like himself, local residents started buying up vacant lots to prevent Cobb from buying more, Ulrich said.
“After that there was a lot of activity. I’ve been here 34 years and there have never been any transactions in Leith. Pretty much all the lots are sold now,” she said.
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, a white supremacist website.
The full scope of Cobb’s plans for Leith became even clearer to residents when Ryan Lenz went to Leith last week.
Lenz is a writer for Hatewatch, an investigative magazine published by Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights group.
Lenz met with Leith Mayor Ryan Schock and Schock said he had trouble believing what he was hearing.
Lenz told the mayor about Cobb’s plans to fill Leith with white supremacists and take over the town through property ownership and elections.
The mayor, a family man who farms and drives the local school bus, said the whole thing sounded like “a flippin’ fairy tale. None of us had checked out this guy. Nobody paid attention for a whole year, is why it’s gotten as far as it’s gotten.”
It didn’t seem so much like a fairy tale Sunday, when the few people who live in Leith woke up to find that two men had come in before dawn and set up a tent on one of Cobb’s lots.
The tangled overgrown property on the far northwest side of the village contains a small white house that has stood empty and dilapidated for decades. The roof is partially caved in and the inside has an overpowering smell of decay and animal urine.
By then, word had gotten around that Cobb, whose straggling gray hair and beard had been attracting attention in nearby Elgin, along with his habit of sitting on a main street bench to use free Wi-Fi from the public library, had plans for Leith.
Within hours, Grant County Sheriff Steve Bay got a call to check on the two men, who were already at work clearing overgrowth from around the old house on Cobb’s property.
“It was pretty out of the ordinary, the out-of-state license plates and living behind the trees in a tent,” he said.
He identified the men and ran their names through police databases.
“They are from Wisconsin and they have no criminal warrants. They said they were here to rejuvenate the lots. They’re not trespassing,” Bay said.
In the days between when Lenz, the magazine investigator, came to town and visited with the sheriff and before the two strangers showed up with their tent Sunday, Bay said he’d done some checking on Cobb.
He said the Border Patrol told him Canada is not interested in extraditing Cobb on 2010 federal charges of willful promotion of hatred.
Bay said Cobb has dual citizenship and the two countries would have to formally agree on extradition, apparently a moot point because Canada isn’t pursuing the matter to the extent of formally moving him back into Canadian custody, even though Cobb is no longer in hiding.
The sheriff said he can’t simply arrest him and present him to Canada on its charges, nor does he have any reason to take action in Leith.
“He hasn’t broken any laws here,” the sheriff said.
He plans to keep a close watch on Leith, which will get more patrol time than it ever has.
Bay said he’s made further inquiries about the two men living in the tent, but as of Wednesday, had no information that they’re associated with Cobb.
Michael Bencz, in his 40s, and Tim Westergard, in his 60s, were still working Tuesday to clear the yard of overgrowth and debris and junk from inside the house.
The two men — who say they’re stepfather and son — said they have no relationship to Cobb and have no affiliation with or interest in white supremacist politics.
Bencz said his only contact with Cobb was to buy the property, which he found on Craigslist.org, an Internet site.
The ad lists the house for $4,300 and the other two lots for $3,300 each. It gives a lengthy location and description and says, “This edifice can still be saved. You can run livestock or horses in town. You could use an electric compost toilet.”
The ad says nothing about Cobb or his political beliefs. It lists what’s apparently Cobb’s cellphone number, but the phone’s voicemail box is full and no one answered repeated calls by the Tribune.
Bencz said he’s made a down payment on the house and two adjoining lots, but the property is still listed under Cobb’s name at the courthouse, according to the county tax director.
He said his only interest in Leith is to live the dream of a prairie house in a quiet peaceful place away from the tourist trap of Wisconsin Dells, where he lives now.
Bencz, who said he’s employed in hotel maintenance, wanted the whole story about Cobb and why he (Bencz) is being linked with him in local thinking. He said he got a whiff of Cobb’s politics when he saw him in Leith.
“If he thinks he can do a conversion, he’s barking up the wrong tree. I don’t believe in hate crimes. We really want to get this cleared up. We’re not here for that,” he said.
Westergard said he was in Leith to help Bencz get a handle on the work the house needs. He said Cobb is Cobb’s problem, “as long as it doesn’t affect (Bencz) to be here with his wife in the environment they chose.”
Westergard said, “If there’s trouble that touches us here, then we’re going to go on the side of the authorities.”
Since Cobb isn’t available to explain, it’s a mystery why he chose Leith, though a small, mostly ghost town would be attractive for its cheap, unwanted property and few neighbors.
Some of his thinking might be explained by the following excerpt about his plans for a white nationalist community in North Dakota:
“Until political control were established, there would be the slight possibility that new local regs designed to limit our expansion might be tried. We could oppose those if that happenstance were implemented. The numericals are absolutely miniscule. However, dedicated, hard-working folks are needed. Imagine strolling over to your neighbors to discuss world politics with nearly all like-minded volk. Imagine the international publicity and usefulness to our cause! For starters, we could declare a Mexican illegal invaders and Israeli Mossad/IDF spies no-go zone. If leftist journalists or antis come and try to make trouble, they just might break one of our local ordinances and would have to be arrested by our town constable. See?”
Perhaps Cobb wants to set up his community in a place that has a very small, if any, non-white demographic.
However, there is one black man who lives in Leith and the revelations of the past few days have been unsettling to say the least, said Bobby Harper and his wife, Cheryl Parsons Harper. The Harpers have been married for 11 years and have been caring for Cheryl Harper’s elderly mother in Leith.
Cheryl Harper said she’s worried about the possibility that Leith could become a community of white supremacists like Cobb envisions.
“That does put a different spin on it because my husband would be a target,” she said. “They are not welcome as far as I’m concerned.”
Bobby Harper said the situation’s already had an effect on him.
“I’m more aware of who I speak to, and if I stop speaking to people, they already took something from me,” Bobby Harper said. He said he would do what he had to do were Cobb or others associated with him to show disrespect or harm him.
“They can have that ugly stuff in their mind as long as they’re not bringing it toward me,” he said.
He said he wants everyone to understand what’s going on in Leith.
“The more the word gets out, the better chance that we can move him out. People are welcome if they’re here to improve our community, but they’re here to bring hate,” Bobby Harper said.
Schock, the Leith mayor, said he’s making inquiries about the city’s rights and responsibilities and said Cobb has a right to live in the community and think what he wants.
“I’m trying to find out what we can do. I guess I want to get to the bottom of it and find out what his intentions are and what he stands for, if it is his plan to take over the town,” the mayor said.
The sheriff said Cobb is not associated with violence and he isn’t worried about public safety.
“But if we see strange names and strange license plates, we’ll run them through (databases). It starts legitimate, but Waco (Texas) started little and look what happened,” Bay said.