White supremacist Craig Cobb was listed on a recent deed as an owner of the church at 295 3rd Ave. in Nome, which is about 70 miles southwest of Fargo. Nome residents said earlier this week it didn’t appear as if Cobb had moved in yet.
Cobb has previously tried to establish white supremacist enclaves in two other North Dakota towns, including Leith, southwest of Bismarck.
Cobb told WDAY anchor Kerstin Kealy the fire was “100 percent arson” and is offering a $2,000 reward for any information related to the incident. Both gas and electric utilities were off, so he claims the fire was not accidental. He said he planned on delivering furniture to the church earlier that day but never made the trip. He considers the fire a direct threat on his life.
Jerome Jankowski lives directly south of the church in a home that was once the parsonage.
He said he looked about 3 p.m. out of his kitchen window, which has a direct view of the church, and saw that it was on fire. Because of strong south winds, it didn’t take long for the fire to engulf the structure.
“It’s kind of sad that it goes, because it’s kind of a landmark in this town,” Jankowski said, adding that the church was built in 1908, the same year as his house.
He said there were some rumors circulating around town about some people wanting to burn down the church so they wouldn’t have to deal with Cobb, “but maybe it was just an offhand comment.”
“First of all, it’s a church, so it’s almost sacrilegious” for this to happen, Jankowski said.
He said no one was thrilled about the idea of Cobb moving to Nome “after that deal in Leith.”
“Everyone has some form of prejudice,” Jankowski said, “but this guy is way off the edge and he fell off.”
The fire was reported at about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the same day a story on the church and its new owner was featured on The Forum’s front page.
Randy Langland, a firefighter with the Nome Volunteer Fire Department who was working in Lisbon, said he arrived at the scene about 4:25 p.m. and by that time the fire had pretty much destroyed the church.
“It had been going for quite a while,” Langland said.
He said officials have no idea how the fire started. The state fire marshal is expected to be in Nome on Thursday, March 23, to investigate.
All that remains of the structure are the foundation and chimney. Caution tape has been put around the smoldering ashes because of fears about the unstable chimney.
Jankowski said earlier this week that Alexis Wolf and then-boyfriend Kevin Richman bought the church in 2013, intending to remodel it into a home. According to Barnes County Recorder Jody Pfaff, a deed on file dated Feb. 21 that transferred ownership to Paul Cobb, also known as Craig Cobb, also lists Wolf as an owner.
Richman, who sold his portion of the deed to Cobb, said Wednesday he was surprised when he heard that fire had destroyed the church. “It was still a good structure,” said the rural Tower City resident.
When reached by phone Wednesday, Wolf declined to comment about the fire.
Cobb told WDAY he was considering several options about what to do with the church, including living there, renting rooms or opening a church called “the President Donald J. Trump Church of Rome,” not Nome.
The Barnes County Sheriff’s Department and Fingal Fire Department also responded to the fire.