When Craig Cobb showed up in the near-ghost town of Leith, N.D. a few years ago, he told his new neighbors that he was looking for a quiet place to live. But he was lying. Instead, Cobb was quietly buying up lot after lot as part of a plan to create a "Pioneer Little Europe" – an all-white community he hoped to rename Cobbsville.
He appeared several years ago — a ghost of a man, soft-spoken and elderly with receding wisps of silver hair. He was looking for property to buy, claiming to be nothing more than a quiet intellectual looking for a place where he could do some thinking in his declining years.
He kept to himself, which wasn’t odd behavior in the West. With thousands of men and women flocking to North Dakota to get in on the state’s oil boom, the residents of Leith — all 16 of them — welcomed their new neighbor by extending the peace and quiet he seemed to so desperately crave.
“I didn’t have a clue who the guy was until he showed up. All I know is he bought that house sight unseen, $5,000 cash, and had no idea what it looked like, where it was, other than he knew the directions to Leith,” Mayor Ryan Schock, a farmer, said in August.
That guy was Paul Craig Cobb, a vicious, 61-year-old anti-Semite who has crisscrossed the globe spreading hate toward all people who are not white.
In 2008, Cobb was kicked out of Estonia for hate speech due to the content of his website, a video-sharing service he called Podblanc, and was banned from returning for a decade. A year later, he fled Vancouver, British Columbia, after authorities in Canada began preparing hate crime charges against him. He was in Montana for a time, before heading into North Dakota for work in 2011. It wasn’t long afterward that he started asking residents there if they had property for sale.
This August, an Intelligence Report investigation found that since 2011, Cobb had purchased a dozen lots in Leith, often for just a few hundred dollars, in preparation for that moment when others would come to build a white homeland.
“I am ready now,” he finally wrote on June 10, 2012, on Vanguard News Network (VNN), an anti-Semitic and racist Web forum. “This is an open invitation to all WN [white nationalists] to come and settle in this town.”
After that, Cobb’s plans moved quickly. Last summer, he “sold” several of his lots (typically, for a symbolic $1) to some of the best-known radical racists now active in the United States. According to county tax and property records, Tom Metzger of Warsaw, Ind., a viciously racist propagandist who heads an outfit called White Aryan Resistance (WAR), took control of a lot last year. So did Alex Linder, who runs the neo-Nazi VNN forum. Cobb has since donated property to the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM), and in late September, he gave a plot to NSM leader Jeff Schoep, hoping he would one day come and settle in Leith.
Cobb’s goals go farther than simply having good, racist neighbors. His is a dream of surrounding himself with enough white nationalists that, one day, they could take over the Leith Town Council, maybe even control Grant County, where Leith is located. Who knew? Maybe one day Cobb would be elected mayor.
News of Cobb’s plan has certainly energized the racist right, whose denizens typically believe that they are witnessing the intentional destruction of a white majority in the United States. A dialogue that began on the white supremacist message board White Nations has grown to well over 200 pages long, with Cobb’s supporters feverishly determined to see a “takeover” of Leith through.
As Cobb wrote online in September: “The interest and determination of others to make Leith happen is greater than ever. … [The] Village of The Damned will have to get more damned to get strong willed, alpha Whites to quit.”
The Road to Leith
The reality is that Cobb is hardly a quiet intellectual pondering the big questions. For most of his life, he has worked tirelessly to spread mindless animosity toward blacks, Latinos, the LGBT community and, most passionately, Jews.
Bookish and angry, he declined several interview requests from the Report. But in an interview with CNN, he defended his views.
“I don’t understand why all the different other people don’t say ‘whitey’ is pretty darn nice and clever,” he said, beaming and blinking nervously.
A devout follower of Creativity, a once-over-lightly religion founded in 1973 by Ben Klassen, Cobb believes that the Aryan man is tantamount to God, responsible for all creative things in human history. He was long active in Matt Hale’s World Church of the Creator, the successor to Klassen’s Church of the Creator.
In 2003, Hale was charged with soliciting his security chief to murder U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, who had ruled against Hale in a copyright case having to do with the group’s name, in Chicago. Cobb felt Creativity was under attack — and, indeed, Hale was eventually sentenced to 40 years in federal prison. Cobb publicized Lefkow’s home address on the Internet’s largest racist message board, Stormfront. Three years later, in 2006, Lefkow’s husband and mother were murdered at that address, although the killer, who had earlier lost a case before Lefkow, had no known connection to Cobb or the radical right.
The following year, Cobb headed to eastern Europe and settled in Estonia, where he hoped to build a white supremacist movement. He started a Web page called PodBlanc, a video-sharing service that featured content including combat handgun training, instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails, and sickening videotapes of Russian neo-Nazis beheading immigrants and other atrocities. He extolled “lone wolf” terrorism and was apparently the inspiration for Keith Luke, a mentally disturbed young man from Brockton, Mass., who shot three West African immigrants, killing two of them, on the day after President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.
Writing at the time, Cobb said, “I believe that the Democrat[ic] and Republican criminal syndicates that run the U.S. with international jewry’s [sic] criminal syndicate cannot now be stopped.”
It wasn’t long before Estonian authorities tired of Cobb.
In 2009, two years after his arrival there, he was deemed a threat to public safety and morals and ordered out of the country. He showed up next in Finland before being deported back to Estonia, where he was jailed, released and finally banned from the country. Then, after two years of silence, Cobb resurfaced in Vancouver, where Canadian authorities arrested him on suspicion of the “willful promoting of hatred.”
As the Vancouver Sun reported at the time, Cobb was temporarily released after his arrest because Canadian hate crime law requires requires the provincial attorney general to approve the charge. He fled to Montana, where a small group of white supremacists had begun to gather. There he teamed up with Zachiariah Harp, the son of a former Montana legislator, to show Holocaust denial films at the public library in Kalispell. He was not charged for another six months, and Canadian authorities since have shown no interest in extraditing him.
Emboldened, Cobb boasted that his troubles would not follow him across the border and seemed to taunt the Canadians. “You can find me in the orange easy chair near the elevator” at the library in Kalispell, Mont., he wrote on his blog.
By then, Cobb already had begun inquiring about property in Leith. In June 2012, he took work on a road crew for Border States Paving and bought a tumbledown home without running water or sewerage. He used a wood stove to keep warm through the winter, according to his private posts online.
As residents recalled, he was quiet, spending his free time traveling to nearby Elgin to use the free Wi-Fi at the public library there. He started hunting for properties up for sale, and began buying many of those that were.
Some thought he was a real estate wildcatter, hoping to get in early on land values that were sure to skyrocket as a result of the burgeoning oil industry across western North Dakota. Maybe he was just a quiet man looking for a quiet place.
“I ran into him last year. He was out walking, and I was outside as well. So we introduced ourselves and just chatted. ... He asked if I had property for sale,” Leith resident Sherill Harper recounted. “I had no idea what his plans were.”
His plans, which had been kept secret, were to take over Leith and build a racially conscious white community, known as a “Pioneer Little Europe” (PLE). Such communities were first proposed in a 2001 pamphlet by H. Michael Barrett and envision consolidating white people in racially homogenous enclaves capable of repelling racial minorities.
In the mid-1980s, the similar idea of carving out a white homeland in the Pacific Northwest was highly popular among neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. The so-called Northwest Territorial Imperative, popularized by neo-Nazi Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, imagined a whole region peopled by “racially conscious” white people. The idea has reemerged in miniaturized form in the last three years as a way to escape what is seen as a “multiculturalist” agenda at work in racially diverse cities.
Cobb appears to have taken up the concept when he moved to Montana in 2011. There, he found himself surrounded by a small community of racists working to again encourage the migration of whites to the Northwest.
Neo-Nazi April Gaede had earlier moved from California to Montana and issued a call for white nationalists to “come home.” She was actively building a PLE around Kalispell, and had some success attracting a few friends. But Cobb soon left with Gaede’s husband Mark Harrington, headed for neighboring North Dakota, where an abundance of high-paying jobs connected with the Bakken oil fields were available.
With so few people living in Leith, Cobb daydreamed about the very real possibility that white nationalists could control Leith “post haste” and even take over the county government. He gushed enthusiasm — he had found a home.
In an excited pitch posted last year on the VNN forum, he called white nationalists home to North Dakota.
“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,” Cobb wrote.
If he could take over the town by populating it with white nationalists, he had a clear idea of what to do next, Murial Ulrich, the Grant County tax director, told the Report.
As she remembers, Cobb came into her office to research who owned various lots around town. “I asked him, ‘What in the world do you want with all these lots in Leith, North Dakota?’” Ulrich recalled. “And that’s when he kind of giggled and said, ‘I’m gonna buy up the town and name it Cobbsville.’”
In the immediate aftermath of the Report’s disclosure of Cobb’s plans, an aerial photograph of Leith, titled “Cobbsville: Operation Takeover,” began circulating the Internet. Patterned after a tactical military map, with an old town gathering hall identified as “Town HQ,” a battle was clearly brewing.
“Everybody’s wound up,” Mayor Schock told The Bismarck Tribune.
Groups that had shown no interest in Cobb’s plans suddenly became his biggest supporters. Jeff Schoep’s NSM, the nation’s largest neo-Nazi organization, announced it would visit Leith on a “fact-finding” mission. In a letter addressed to Schock, NSM “commander” Schoep warned residents against standing up to the NSM and Cobb’s plans for their hometown.
“Craig Cobb will NOT be ousted from the community,” Schoep wrote. “Craig is not breaking any laws or ordinances, and has a right to reside in Leith. ... If anything, you should see this for what it is, a chance at revitalizing a community, and a chance to be neighborly to your new neighbors, and vice versa.”
In late September, Schoep arrived in Leith to take possession of a building and plot of land that Cobb had donated to the NSM. Cobb adorned his properties with swastika flags, and a banner on his home read, “Anti-racist is code word for anti-white.” The “Mantra,” as it is known, has become incredibly popular in racist circles because of the idea that it is a way to defeat allegations of bigotry.
About 400 protesters gathered to counter the NSM presence, including more than 200 American Indians from the nearby Standing Rock Reservation, all shouting slogans like “Go Home” and “No Hate in Our State.”
“We will be here again and again until you are gone. This is where it ends, in that crappy white house across the street,” one protester, Scott German, bellowed through a megaphone as he pointed to Cobb’s house on Main Street.
But Cobb has proven to be a resilient presence. He has threatened to file lawsuits against the city for religious discrimination if officials attempt to oust him. And, with most people in town also sitting on the Town Council, he has threatened lawsuits alleging city-sanctioned discrimination if any resident who sits on the council speaks negatively about his presence in Leith.
Town officials are working to combat his presence, however. They have considered dissolving the town so that Cobb will have no government to take over. Custer Health, a regional health authority that oversees five counties in central North Dakota, has warned Cobb that he cannot continue to live in a home without running water and sewerage. A deadline to bring his home into compliance passed in early October. Authorities now plan to take the matter to court.
It is an ironic twist to the entire saga: that a man who works to exclude others would threaten legal action if the tables turn. That reality is not lost on Sherill Harper, whose husband is the only black resident in town.
“If his goal is to have only white people here, where do my husband and I go?” Harper said. “Because I know that I would not be welcome.”
Harper said she would not wish what Cobb has brought to Leith on any community. And with Cobb’s determination to make Leith a success for his racist objectives, she worries that what began with a lie will only get worse.
“He deceived us,” Harper said, commenting on Cobb’s efforts to conceal his plans for Leith. “But that’s been Mr. Cobb’s history here from the beginning: deception and turmoil.”