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Leith mayor says city's 105th birthday celebration isn't about Cobb

BISMARCK – When organizers approached the Leith City Council last spring about a 105th anniversary celebration for the small town beleaguered by white supremacist Craig Cobb, council members wanted one assurance.

“Nobody wanted it to be about Cobb,” organizer Peggy Arndt recalled. “You know, back of your mind, it is. He’s never going away. But we never wanted it to be about him.”

So, when former Leith residents and others descend Saturday and Sunday on the Grant County hamlet, Mayor Ryan Schock said there will be no formal acknowledgement of Cobb, his failed plan to turn the town into an all-white enclave or the terrorizing incident last November that landed him in jail and ultimately on four years of supervised probation.

“We’re not even going to try to bring the thing up,” Schock said.

Cobb was sentenced in April after pleading guilty to one felony terrorizing charge and five misdemeanor menacing charges in connection with four incidents in Leith, including an armed patrol of property he had purchased with hopes of attracting like-minded people to help take over the town’s government.

The 62-year-old Cobb recently moved to Sherwood, N.D., a city of about 240 people near the Canadian border, about a 220-mile drive north of Leith.

“I still have all my same beliefs, but I’d like to be left alone,” Cobb said in a phone interview Thursday.

Cobb is prohibited from leaving North Dakota without permission from his probation officer, and the state of Missouri has denied his request to serve out his probation there.

The terms of his probation also require him to seek and maintain employment or get schooling to help him find a job. He said he hasn’t tried to find a job yet, adding, “I’m pretty sure that they won’t hire me.”

“My job right now is literally real estate investment, because I can flip this house and move somewhere else,” he said, adding he also may just enroll in school online.

Schock said 200 to 500 people are expected to attend the two-day celebration in Leith, a town of about 20 people. He said he’s hoping for a turnout of 300 people, which would rival the crowd that descended on Leith last September to protest National Socialist Movement Commander Jeff Schoep’s visit there in support of Cobb.

Arndt, who lives in Flasher but grew up on a farm south of Leith and considers it her hometown, said she and her sister, Judy Roth, started talking last summer -- before Cobb’s intentions became public -- about having a family reunion or celebration in Leith. Even though the town marked its centennial just five years ago, many of its older former residents are passing away, “so we thought if we’re going to do something, we have to do it pretty soon or they’ll all be gone,” she said.

The Cobb ordeal provided additional motivation.

“At the time, we thought the town needs something happy for a change,” she said.

The celebration kicks off with a parade at 10 a.m. Saturday and will also feature a street fair, ethnic foods, a craft show, Native American dancers and live music to cap off each day’s events. A display in the community center will highlight the town’s history.

Schock said nine buildings in Leith that were dilapidated or condemned by health officials have been demolished in recent months, including the former creamery building that Cobb deeded to Schoep. Swastikas and racist themes that had been painted on trees and buildings around Cobb’s former residence were either painted over or ripped down, Schock said.

“We’ve got the town nice and cleaned up now, and things are kind of back to normal. I think it’s a good way to put an end to it all,” he said of the celebration.