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Examination of Patriot Front Phone Data Delays Rousseau Trial

Idaho court records show that Patriot Front leader and founder Thomas Rousseau was granted a continuance Tuesday in his trial in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, after attorney Kinzo Mihara argued that the defense needs more time to process 4 terabytes of data the FBI has extracted from Patriot Front members’ phones.

According to cloud storage provider Dropbox, 4 terabytes of storage is enough to hold 1 million 12-megapixel photos, 1,000 hours of high-definition video, or 26 million documents – or 5,200 filing cabinets full of paper.

Rousseau had been due to make a pre-trial appearance on Friday, May 5, on charges arising from the group’s alleged attempt to disrupt a Pride event in the city last June. But Kootenai County court minutes show that his publicly appointed attorney persuaded Judge John Cafferty to reschedule the hearing. Rousseau is now set to appear before Cafferty on Sept. 8.

Patriot Front in Couer d'Alene, Idaho
A police officer holds one of the 31 men affiliated with the white nationalist group Patriot Front who were arrested for conspiracy to riot after they were found in the rear of a U-Haul van in the vicinity of a North Idaho Pride Alliance LGBTQ+ event June 11 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. (Photo by John Rudoff/Reuters)

In February minutes filed in Rousseau’s case, Coeur d’Alene deputy city attorney Wesley Somerton explained that at the time of the arrests, Patriot Front members’ phones were “seized and were in the control and custody of [law enforcement] as objects.” Subsequently they were sent to an “FBI lab to extract that data from the phones,” resulting in the massive cache that Rousseau’s defense must now contend with.

In Tuesday’s minutes, attorney Mihara, appointed as Rousseau’s public defender in December, said that an expert witness for the defense needs “an additional 45-60 days to be able to analyze [the data] and coordinate with the defense.”

Judge Cafferty agreed to give the defense more time, even though Somerton said that delays in discovery were due in part to Rousseau’s unresponsiveness.

“Within 30 days of his appearance, Mr. Mihara received discovery,” Somerton said, according to the minutes. “Prior to that date, all mailings to Mr. Rousseau were coming back.”

Hatewatch attempted to contact Somerton via phone and email to ask when that data might be publicly available but received no immediate response.

Rousseau founded Patriot Front in 2017 as a rebrand of Vanguard America after seizing control of that organization from its founder, Dillon Hopper. Earlier that year, Rousseau had marched under Vanguard America’s banner in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. More recently, legal and organizational troubles have been mounting for Rousseau and the group.

In August 2020, Rousseau was arrested during a propaganda run in Weatherford, Texas, along with longtime Patriot Front activists Cameron Pruitt and Graham Whitson. Rousseau was booked and fined on a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief.

The same year, Rousseau was deposed in the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit brought against “Unite the Right” organizers.

In 2021, Rousseau was badly injured in an auto crash involving seven members of Patriot Front in which one member died.

Last October, Rousseau was named in a lawsuit mounted by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which seeks damages for the 2021 vandalism of a mural dedicated to African American tennis star Arthur Ashe in the Battery Park neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia.

And Rousseau, Pruitt, and Whiston are among 31 members of the group who were arrested last June in Coeur d’Alene, as they were allegedly preparing a disruptive riot at a local Pride event. That event had previously been targeted by anti-transgender extremist influencers including Chaya Raichik, who runs the “Libs of Tik Tok” Twitter account.

Some of the Idaho defendants have been granted the right to attend pretrial hearings remotely via Zoom. However, Kootenai County Judge Cafferty ruled on Jan. 25 that Rousseau must be physically present in court at the pretrial conference and jury trial.

While most Patriot Front members have appeared at pretrial hearings on their riot charges, Hatewatch reported last month that five members were the subjects of arrest warrants in Idaho after failing to appear in court.

Following that reporting, one of the wanted men has presented himself in court. According to court minutes, James Julius Johnson of Concrete, Washington, appeared on April 24, telling Judge Cafferty that he had been prevented by a snowstorm from appearing at his scheduled pretrial hearing on March 20.

National Weather Service data does not record any snowstorm in the vicinity of Concrete or Coeur d’Alene on or immediately before March 20. Nevertheless, Cafferty quashed Johnson’s warrant.

Additional information on Patriot Front’s activities can be found on Hatewatch’s interactive timeline.

Banner image: Members of white supremacist group Patriot Front make a speech in front of the Boston Public Library as they march through the city of Boston on July 2, 2022, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

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