By Mike Weland
A former Hollywood comic now living in Sandpoint is allegedly offering his “Bears,” or fans of his right-wing blog who “donate” $400, the use of a Boundary County property recently purchased on Earl Lane for paramilitary-style training. It’s drawing sharp concern from not only neighboring property owners, most of them retired elderly, but from many in the community concerned of an “Aryan Nations” style compound springing up along the Moyie River.
A group met with Boundary County Commissioners this morning after filing a land-use complaint six weeks ago and hearing nothing back.
In a letter April 14 to county contract planner Clare Marley, Ruen-Yeager & Associates, Sandpoint, Terry Auten wrote of selling a ten-acre portion of property he owns on Earl Lane Road to Struggle Bear LLC.
“I’m telling you this because I was recently made aware of an unsettling situation with potential unpleasant outcome and want to do everything I can to prevent it,” he wrote.
He provided a screenshot taken from a social media site dated April 4; “You may now go to Owen’s property! Here’s the address to Bearteria Sanctuary,” the headline reads. “Comedian Owen Benjamin has officially secured land at 774 Earl Lane Rd, Bonners Ferry, Idaho for his new Ruby-Ridge-style compound and has invited EVERYONE who contributed $400 (or any amount) to begin making their way here. We can now begin creating the beautiful dream bear village Owen promised us. See you there, guys!”
“Owen Benjamin Smith is an American comedian, actor, and alt-right political commentator,” his Wikipedia entry reads. “He has repeatedly had his social media accounts on various services suspended or removed for his statements, including hate speech and antisemitism.”
In a packet of information for Marley’s consideration and presented Tuesday to county commissioners was an August 19, 2020, press release issued by Stand Against Supremacy, a citizen’s advocacy group opposing “Owen Benjamin’s White Nationalist Compound in Sandpoint.”
“Former West Hollywood piano comic, turned white supremacist cult leader, Owen Benjamin Smith is raising funds from his followers to purchase over 200 acres in Northern Idaho …” they wrote. “Working with licensed real estate agent Brandon Verrett of Verrett’s Tactical in Bonners Ferry, ID, Smith currently has his eyes set on a large property in Northern Idaho. With plans to ship in 5,000 supporters/cult members that refer to themselves as “bears,” each donating $400 and paying rent to live in trailers on the property while Smith builds a castle.”
Attorney Alison Dunbar, representing Verrett, wrote Wednesday in a letter requesting “a correction be published immediately,” that her client is not a real estate agent and has had no involvement in any real estate transactions with Smith.
“Stand Against White Supremacy may have valiant goals,” she writes, “but their website is not a reputable source of information and provides no sources for the information published.”
That purchase apparently fell through, paving the way for the 10-acre sale, allegedly involving Black Rifle Real Estate, Sandpoint, which caters specifically to the American Redoubt, “the Last Refuge of the American Patriot!”
“Whether you plan to have a bug-out survival property, a full-time family homestead or retire and build your dream home, Rural America gives you ultimate freedom and safety far away from the Sanctuary City,” they write on their website. “Living on a rural property in a Free State also gives you the best chance to survive major events such as an EMP or nuclear strike, invasion by foreign powers and even a possible coming Civil War. Better to be Safe than sorry …”
The firm, it says on their website, “supports and recommends Brandon Verrett, lead instructor for VerTac Firearms Training based in Northern Idaho.”
Verret’s Tactical is said to be the agency set to provide the “bears” tactical firearms training.
“In it (Ursa Rio update #1126 April 27, 2021) he announces that he has selected dates to begin building ‘infrastructure’ and holding a two-week-long documentary event that will ‘include people flying in’ and tactical ‘firearms training by Verrett’s ‘VerTac’ Tactical,” part of the complaint provided planning and zoning and commissioners reads. “All his followers are are invited to attend this ‘epic’ event.”
“While Mr. Verrett does know Mr. Smith,” Dunbar writes, “they have not discussed that Verrett’s Tactical will provide any trainings for Mr. Smith in any capacity.”
In Tuesday’s meeting, neighboring property owners urged expedited action, to include consideration of a cease and desist order, estimating that up to 700 “bears” have donated and are planning to attend the property.
“Owen has purchased 40 cords of wood and 2,000 bags of concrete,” they wrote in a handout given to county commissioners. “He said he will be hauling water from the river to mix concrete … Immediate action on your part needed to prevent escalation. You are the only people who can prevent this reenactment of Ruby Ridge.”
“This poses a clear and present danger,” one long-time Earl Lane resident, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne who saw combat in Vietnam, said. “This is a commercial enterprise offering training in weapons and tactics and not a use allowed in this zone. There is no conceivable reason to allow this use. If we wait too long, it will be too late.”
Commission chair Dan Dinning said they must follow the established process, but commissioners agreed to coordinate with Marley and the prosecutor’s office to move forward as fast as possible.”