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Investigator says fire that destroyed Craig Cobb's property in Nome, N.D., was intentionally set

BISMARCK -- The March 22 fire that destroyed an unoccupied former church in Nome was intentionally set, Deputy State Fire Marshal Ken Sisk said in a report released Thursday, April 6.

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Smoke rises from the rubble that remains of an old church Wednesday, March 22, 2017, in Nome, ND. Dave Wallis / The Forum
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BISMARCK - The March 22 fire that destroyed an unoccupied former church in Nome was intentionally set, Deputy State Fire Marshal Ken Sisk said in a report released Thursday, April 6.

“It is my opinion an unknown person or persons intentionally set fire to the area near the southeast walk-in door of this building using an undetermined open flame device; therefore I am labeling the cause of this fire to be incendiary,” Sisk said in the report

Sisk noted that the wood-framed church had no electrical service, no heating and was secured, with new locks installed just one day before the fire.

The 108-year-old Zion Lutheran Church building at 295 3rd Ave. N. was reported purchased by white supremacist Craig Cobb before the fire.

Sisk’s report lists Kevin Richman and Alexis (Wolf) Haseleu as the owners.

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Cobb, of Sherwood, N.D., said Thursday that he wasn’t informed about Sisk’s report.

“Why didn’t they use the word arson? Is that too incendiary?” Cobb asked.

Still, he was glad the fire was ruled deliberate.

“I’ve very pleased, because I was afraid they were going to say indeterminate” for a cause of the blaze, he said.

Cobb said he paid Richman $8,000 for the property.

“I’m recorded. Go check the county,” he said. “I own it.”

However, he was unable to get insurance for the church.

“I had a great loss. It’s very maddening to me,” Cobb said. “It was a very bold-faced sociopath that walked in broad daylight and did it.”

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Sisk was not available for comment, said a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office.

“We do not discuss these reports,” Liz Brocker said. “The report stands by itself.”

There were no injuries or fatalities reported because of the fire.

Sisk said the Barnes County Sheriff’s Office had requested help determining the origin and cause of the fire. He said he arrived in Nome on March 23 and was assisted by the sheriff’s office, the Nome Volunteer Fire Department and Derek Hill, a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Everything combustible had been consumed by the fire, and the basement of the structure was filled with ashes and non-combustible material, Sisk said in the report.

Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin said Thursday that “we’re looking at every aspect” in the investigation.

“We’re talking to everyone around there,” McClaflin said.

Cobb said he’s pleaded to have the FBI investigate the blaze.

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“These are sociopaths working in concert, in my opinion. I don’t believe that no one in that community doesn’t know who did that,” Cobb said. “It’s horrific, this kind of hate. …. I don’t go to people’s homes and burn them down.”

Cobb, who had been convicted of terrorizing and menacing residents in Leith, still has a year of probation on those charges, he said.

He said he still likes the state.

“I’m going to stay up here. … I like North Dakota in general. They do tend to leave people alone,” Cobb said.

Cobb, 65, previously tried to establish white supremacist enclaves in two other North Dakota towns, including Leith, southwest of Bismarck.

Cobb is involved in the Creativity Movement, a non-theistic religion that believes in the superiority of white people.

He has said that unless the arsonist turns him or herself in, he will continue his efforts to remain in Nome.

“If they want to keep pushing, I just may very well retain the lot and build a building there and still make The President Donald J. Trump Creativity Church of Rome, not Nome,” Cobb said in a previous interview.

Related Topics: FIRES
Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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