White supremacist Cobb to be released on probation
BISMARCK – A white supremacist who pleaded guilty to terrorizing and menacing people in the small North Dakota town of Leith will serve four years of supervised probation but no additional jail time, a sentence one of his victims called “a failure of justice.”
Judge David Reich accepted a plea agreement Tuesday in the Grant County case against Craig Cobb, who purchased a dozen lots in Leith in 2011 and 2012 with hopes of creating a whites-only community.
“I regret my actions. I know I was wrong, and I accept responsibility for my actions. It was an unfortunate confluence of circumstances and bad decisions on my part,” Cobb said in court in Bismarck.
Leith Mayor Ryan Schock said he wanted Cobb to serve at least four years in prison, which he said would have made it more difficult for Cobb to contact his “cronies” who have made threats toward Leith, a town of about 20 people southwest of Bismarck.
“The only sense of closure I got out of it is that it’s over today, but on the other hand, it’s really not over,” he said. “Because when will it be over, you know? When are we going to know that we’re safe back in our homes back in town? Are we ever going to be safe again?”
Cobb has sat in the Mercer County Jail in Stanton since he and follower Kynan Dutton were arrested Nov. 16 and charged with seven counts of felony terrorizing in connection with four incidents in Leith that included approaching residents while on an armed patrol of Cobb’s property. One of the charges was later dismissed.
Under the plea agreement, Cobb must refrain from alcohol and have no contact with the victims while on probation, including indirect contact via the Internet. He’s prohibited from possessing firearms while on probation and for the rest of his life under federal law, and his long guns he carried in Leith will be forfeited to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.
Schock said his biggest question is where Cobb is going to go. Cobb said he plans to apply to serve out his probation in Missouri so he can take care of his mother, but Missouri must agree to take him.
“So do we get to stay up for the next month 24/7 because him or his cronies are going to swing by or what? It’d be nice to know,” Schock said, adding, “I can’t imagine another state wanting to take this guy.”
Grant County State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz said he didn’t know Cobb’s immediate plans but noted Cobb will be on GPS monitoring.
“So if all of a sudden he’s within 500 yards of Leith, he’ll be back in jail immediately,” he said.
Schwarz said Cobb’s victims can contact the state Division of Parole and Probation if they want to know his whereabouts.
Cobb entered guilty pleas Feb. 27 to one charge of felony terrorizing and five counts of misdemeanor menacing, but Reich said he wanted more information before accepting the plea agreement and ordered a pre-sentence investigation, including a psychological evaluation.
Reich said Tuesday he had reviewed the report and the objections raised about it – Schwarz and Cobb both said it contained errors – as well as victim impact statements and a number of unsolicited letters and emails. Reich said a majority of the impact statements favored the plea agreement, though he noted it wasn’t unanimous.
Lee Cook, a Leith City Council member and one of Cobb’s two victims who opposed the plea deal and wanted Cobb brought to trial, called the sentence “a failure of justice.”
“I mean, this guy got off. He made our lives living hell, me and my family, his family,” he said, motioning toward Schock. “And now he’s walking the streets again.”
Schock also criticized Schwarz’s handling of the case, saying, “He let the ball go.”
Schwarz, noting Cobb served 167 days in jail, said his critics “need to look at the whole circumstance.”
“I have to look at what the law allows, what’s appropriate with the facts in this case and what the likely outcome (of a trial) would have been, and this is the likely outcome,” he said.
While Cobb no longer owns property in Leith – he sold his house in February and then deeded his remaining lots back to the city – Schock and Cook noted Tuesday that the lots Cobb deeded to white supremacist Alex Linder, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Tom Metzger and National Socialist Movement Commander Jeff Schoep remain under their ownership.
“Where does that leave us?” Cook said.
Metzger said by email Tuesday that he intends to keep his lot and has no specific plans for it at this time.
Schoep said in a phone interview Tuesday that he isn’t sure what he’ll do with his Leith property, an old creamery building next to Cobb’s former house. He said he wanted to talk to Cobb first.
“I don’t want to hurt his chances of transferring probation (to Missouri) or anything like that,” said Schoep, who called the case “a political witch hunt.”
Cobb told Forum News Service in an April 14 interview from jail, “I want to retire from white nationalism because I’ve had it.”
Dutton, 29, pleaded guilty in January to misdemeanor menacing and disorderly conduct and received two years of supervised probation. He and his girlfriend live in Underwood.
Media reports about Cobb’s ultimately unsuccessful plan to create a whites-only Pioneer Little Europe in Leith dragged the southwestern North Dakota town of about 20 people into the international spotlight, which perhaps shined brightest when about 300 people protested Schoep’s visit to Leith last September.
“He has made his mark in our lives,” Schock said of Cobb. “It’s going to take a long time to get over.”
Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM