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North Dakota mayor: We must scrap city council to thwart white supremacist takeover

In this Aug. 26, 2013, photo Craig Cobb stands in an empty lot he owns on Main Street in Leith, N.D., where he envisions a park _ perhaps with a swimming pool _ dedicated to the late neo-Nazi and white supremacist activist William L. Pierce. Cobb, 61, a self-described white supremacist, has purchased about a dozen lots in Leith and over the past year he has invited fellow white supremacists to move there and help him to transform the town of 16 people into a white enclave.
In this Aug. 26, 2013, photo Craig Cobb stands in an empty lot he owns on Main Street in Leith, N.D., where he envisions a park _ perhaps with a swimming pool _ dedicated to the late neo-Nazi and white supremacist activist William L. Pierce. Cobb, 61, a self-described white supremacist, has purchased about a dozen lots in Leith and over the past year he has invited fellow white supremacists to move there and help him to transform the town of 16 people into a white enclave. Associated Press

Ryan Schock fears the past is about to rear its ugly head in his town of tiny Leith in south-central North Dakota, and as mayor of the 18 or so people who live there, he wants none of it.

Five years ago Leith made national headlines in The New York Times, USA Today and elsewhere when a man named Craig Cobb began buying up lots around town and inviting fellow white supremacists to move in.

His plan - to turn Leith into a white enclave.

The town, including Schock who was mayor then, fought back and Cobb ultimately failed. But during city elections on June 12, two people who reportedly moved to town when Cobb asked like-minded folks to move there won seats on the city council with write-in votes, reports The Bismarck Tribune.

Now Schock is determined to abolish his town's government for fear the new council members will bring more Cobb drama to town.

“We have to dissolve the town because that idiot (Cobb) showed up," Schock told the Tribune. "He wanted control of it, and now he can’t have it."

Doing away with the city council is not "wiping Leith off of the map," Schock told KFYR in Bismarck, adding that the idea was a long time in coming. "Leith is always going to be here, the Leith signs are always going to be there. It's just not going to have a council and a mayor anymore if this resolution goes through."

The newly elected council members, Michael Bencz and Deby Nelson, denied to KFYR that they are Cobb sympathizers.

Bencz, the Tribune reported, bought property in town from Cobb and moved to Leith about the same time Cobb put out the call for other supremacists to help take over the town and fly Nazi flags.

"We were plain people when we lived in Wisconsin and we're plain workers here. There's nothing special about us, we don't belong to any clubs, any organizations," Nelson told KFYR.

"Not a political party, not so here. We're just trying to help the city," Bencz told the TV station.

Leith's town officials first noticed that Cobb was quickly buying abandoned properties in the town in April 2012, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which reported that Cobb bought more than a dozen lots for a few hundred dollars each, mostly from owners who lived elsewhere.

"Cobb’s endgame is clear," the human rights watchdog group wrote at the time. "Last year, on the white supremacist online forum Vanguard News Network, (Cobb) announced his intentions to build an all-white bastion of racists in North Dakota 'post haste.'

"The grandiose plan ends with white supremacists and neo-Nazis taking over the county government, and he has even said he hopes to rename Leith 'Cobbsville.'"

Cobb, 66, recently finished serving four years of probation for "terrorizing residents of Leith in 2013" and now lives in Sherwood, N.D., according to KFGO in Fargo.

It's unclear what his plans are now, reported The Grand Forks Herald, which tried unsuccessfully last month to contact him. The mayor of Sherwood told the Herald that since Cobb moved there in mid-2014, things have been "pretty uneventful."

Schock told the Herald the same thing about life in Leith, post-Cobb.

"Things have been pretty quiet, and I'd just as soon kind of leave it that way," Schock told the Herald last month.

The mayor told the Tribune he fears that the election of Bencz and Nelson, who live together, will reopen old wounds.

For all he knows, he told the newspaper, the two might make "great" council representatives, but he said he’s tired of being stuck in the middle of this drama.

Last week, the Tribune reports, the mayor walked from door to door in town and collected 12 signatures for a petition to dissolve the town's government. The plan is to turn over Leith's governance to the county.

Residents will vote on July 23 on whether to let the county take over its government.

"We all love the town and we don't want to see it go completely, but I don't know what'll happen with it now, I just don't know," Judy Roth, who lives south of town, told KFYR.

Hundreds participated on Sunday in a rally opposing hate groups at the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. The event was organized following the violent demonstrations involving white supremacists and neo-Nazis last weekend in Charlottesville, Va.

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