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Welcome to Leith (again). Rural property is up for grabs to the detriment of everyone.

On a day trip to do some geocaching and check out camping spots at Lake Tschida, we stopped in Leith, North Dakota.


If you saw the 2015 documentaryWelcome to Leith” which showed how white supremacists attempted to take over the tiny town, starting with Craig Cobb, you might be familiar with this tiny pinprick on the map.


The town of Leith hit national headlines in August 2013 when the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Bismarck Tribune broke the story about what Cobb was up to. Cobb had given some property to Alex Linder and Tom Metzger, who was a grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan.


He’d purchased nearly a dozen properties in Leith over a period of two years, and encouraged other white supremacists to join him there. They intended to turn a town of 16 people into a much larger, much paler, place. I’m sure the nearby town of Elgin wasn’t too excited when they realized what was going on.


Jeff Schoep, commander of the national Socialist Movement, posted a letter on his group’s website informing the world that he and some other leaders were going to go visit Leith for a fact-finding mission.1


This inspired protests by a variety of people in the region, including whites, Native Americans, and other minorities. As you see in the documentary, the plan was thwarted, but at a significant cost to the people of Leith.


Cobb wanted to try again in other small towns of North Dakota—Regan, Crosby—and actually did try to purchase land in Antler, North Dakota. He also tried in a few small towns in Nebraska. It’s easy enough to find out more about Cobb’s arrest, his stay in North Dakota (thanks to parole requirements), and what he’s been up to since then.


His idea of snatching up rural property isn’t novel anymore, nor is it difficult for any idealogue to do such a thing. It isn’t even illegal, nor should it be.


There wasn’t much to the town of Leith back in 2013 when all of this started boiling up, and it seemed even more decayed ten years later. I often wondered what people from outside of the state thought when they saw that small town in the documentary, a town like so many others in the state that I feel at home in. But even I felt tangible sadness seeing the town as it was.


I recognized the empty lots that, like my own hometown, once had homes and families and was part of a bustling community.


But Leith, like many of those towns I know, was disappearing back into time and earth. The globalist world rises, the industrial agriculture movement grows, the federal government overreaches, and the corporate conglomerate looking out mostly for ESG and DEI, followed by its shareholder benefits, have helped make this so.


Abandoned property, or property that is passed down to the second and third generations who are removed from their roots, becomes a liability in the rural areas of the nation.


If you did not grow up there, if you did not learn the rhythms of the land, if you did not see how the land could both provide and punish, you would not appreciate it. It would simply be a part of an inheritance or investment portfolio that could be sold to relieve a tax burden and get some income.


Sold to whoever would buy, whether they were culturally incongruent to the region, whether they were from China if you traced the purchaser back far enough—sold was the main thing. Money in the bank. New car. Fancy trip. College education. Who cares about the land and what becomes of it?


In my own small hometown of fewer than 50 official residents, people from all over the nation have inquired or purchased property, often sight unseen. This is not unusual, particularly since the pandemic lockdowns and urban lawlessness drove people out in search of a better life than urban Mad Max.


One fellow from the West Coast brought in a small camper and found that he’d purchased, from some seller perhaps long disconnected from the property, a small plot of land that was basically part of a slough in a wet year. At best, it had no power or plumbed water, just thousands of mice.


I felt sad that he had been stuck with that property, but also that he was an ill fit for a small town. Hanging out in the local cafe to charge your phone or use the bathroom stands out much more there than it would in a Seattle Starbucks surrounded by homeless. In a rural community where you work or have a role, that doesn’t make sense and is seen as suspicious.


You do not want property owners who do not live near the property, because as we’ve seen with the Airbnb and vacation rental movement, as well as the massive property buying sprees of China and other outside interests, owning property whose use and fate don’t affect you is very bad for those who do live near it.


It becomes a dumping ground for industrial waste, it becomes a party house for transient renters, it becomes a squatters nightmare, it becomes an industrial agricultural operation that negatively affects the community—it becomes something in the community but wholly unattached and indifferent to it. It is a community cancer.


In the late 1980s, university professors Frank and Deborah Popper suggested turning the center of the nation into a Buffalo Commons, essentially removing the people and agriculture that were struggling even back then.2


There was quite a bit of pushback from the Great Plains states, but in a way, those New York academics got their dream.


Even then, the people were leaving the rural areas and pouring into the urban areas. The farm kids left for college and debt and useless degrees, tossing off the culture and ethics of their parents, severing the cords of connection to their home community. That tough homesteader and settler culture,—a unique and endangered rural work ethic—withered at an alarming rate, hastened on by the internet bringing the moral sludge and worthless influencer culture from the urban areas right into the farmhouses.


But they weren’t replaced by buffalo.


The vacuum filled with something different.


There was value in having thousands of rural communities thriving across the vast stretches of the Midwest and Great Plains, but by today’s standards, that value is not understood. We see urban and blue-state refugees driving up housing costs, preppers and idealogues sometimes exercising Second Amendment rights in a way uncommon to previous generations’ ideas of community and connection, or the super-wealthy gobbling up massive amounts of land for dubious usage.


People connected to the earth, through growing or helping the growers, those who pay attention to the seasons and the weather, have disappeared.


Driving through Leith, the air thick and heavy from continued months of Canadian smoke, I wondered how Canada had any trees left to burn and how many more years before we had a majority of highways ending up going to nowhere across the middle of the nation.


 

1 Mike Nowatzki, "Protest planned for white supremacist’s visit to Leith, N.D.," Forum News Service, September 13, 2013, http://www.jamestownsun.com/event/article/id/195025/


2 Frank and Deborah Popper. “The Buffalo Commons: Its antecedents and their implications.” Online Journal of Rural Research and Policy, 2006. https://newprairiepress.org/ojrrp/vol1/iss6/1/

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