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Patriot Front and the Next Stage of the Culture War

The militias have a plan.
June 13, 2022
Patriot Front and the Next Stage of the Culture War
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

The 20 million people who tuned in to the prime-time January 6 Committee hearing last week saw proof that right-wing extremist groups played an essential role in planning and executing the attack—specifically, the Oath Keepers, who entered the Capitol in two “stacks” wearing full tactical gear, and the Proud Boys, whose preparations for violence were recorded by documentary filmmaker Nick Quested. Days before the hearing, the Department of Justice indicted former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four other members of the group on charges of seditious conspiracy and other offenses, while members of the Oath Keepers, including leader Stewart Rhodes, were arrested on similar charges earlier in the year.

As has been the case at other times in history when political instability has drawn extremist groups into open street-fighting—a Proud Boys calling card—these groups represent the sharp end of the ax that the far right is driving into American society. On Jan. 6, 2021, their goal was to overturn the results of the recent presidential election. In June 2022, however, their goals have shifted. The arrest of dozens of members of extremist group Patriot Front over the weekend shines a light on the new agenda for the militant factions of the far right. Their energies are now being focused on another goal: prosecuting a renewed culture war against sexual minorities.

Packed tightly into the back of a rented U-Haul truck with their flags and weapons, members of the accelerationist fascist group were en route to the Coeur d’Alene Pride rally when they were pulled over and arrested; police made the stop on the basis of a tip from local residents. Images of the men, kneeling and zip tied in a field next to their truck, spread quickly on social media:

Thirty-one Patriot Front members from across the country have been charged with conspiracy to riot including Thomas Rousseau, who founded the group in 2017 after breaking off from Vanguard America. Vanguard might not be a familiar name, but images of their members were broadcast all over the world during coverage of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Marching in their characteristic uniform of slacks and white polo shirts, Vanguard members made their neo-Nazi ideology unmissable with chants of “Blood and Soil.” Rousseau was among them, but broke off from Vanguard to escape negative associations following the murder of Heather Heyer by a Vanguard-adjacent rally participant. Rousseau brought other members of the group along with him when he founded Patriot Front.

As an offshoot of an older neo-Nazi group, Patriot Front locates itself in a long history of open neo-Nazism in America, from George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the Aryan Nations of the ‘80s and ‘90s. And while it’s tempting to compare every American fascist group to the Nazis, the United States has its own white supremacist and fascist tradition that ranges from the Second Klan to Father Coughlin to the original America First movement and Charles Lindbergh, who gave a speech on September 11, 1941 that blamed World War II on the Jews.

Patriot Front inherits both its style and its ideology from these figures and movements, and their manifesto states their goals unequivocally: They call for an active overthrow of the government.

The damage done to the nation will not be fixed with the approval of the dysfunctional system which remains American in name only. Democracy has failed this once great nation. The resurgence of the American Spirit will bring with it the death of tyranny. The torch of revolution has been lit.

Patriot Front members believe themselves to be the ruling heirs to the continent by dint of their racial connection to its European colonizers and consider their racial identity essential to American identity more broadly. Of course, this is just the sort of blood genealogy nonsense one expects from Nazis and it has predictable ramifications for them: Echoing Great Replacement ideas, they write, “Our national way of life faces complete annihilation as our culture and heritage are attacked from all sides.”

Patriot Front, then, advocates a mix of standard right-wing extremist ideas, and its membership is fairly limited. What makes them significant, however, is their media savvy. For example, white supremacist propaganda distribution nearly doubled in the United States in 2020, and Patriot Front was alone responsible for about 80 percent of the total volume. That same year, they began transitioning away from the overt anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi language of their origins in their public appearances, instead favoring dogwhistle slogans such as “America First,” “Better Dead Than Red,” “Reclaim America,” and “Not Stolen. Conquered.” The group uses“flash demonstrations,” planned marches and events that are not announced in advance, to great effect as part of their larger media campaign. For example, in 2018 they attacked an “Occupy ICE” encampment in San Antonio, making sure it was filmed. These demonstrations continue to grow in size—some 150 to 200 members marched through downtown Philadelphia on the eve of the Fourth of July in 2021 while chanting “Reclaim America” and “The Election was Stolen.” They received significant media attention in December 2021 when approximately 100 members marched down the National Mall in Washington, D.C., carrying flags with the Patriot Front symbol—a fasces surrounded by 13 stars. Among other banners was a prominent one saying “Victory or Death,” and a number of members carried shields, before leaving in U-Hauls. And they’ve carried on, crashing a March for Life rally in January in Chicago carrying signs saying “Strong Families make Strong Nations.”

These marches serve a purpose. Processions are a political act; they are the claiming of legitimacy, the claiming of space in the public sphere. They are a means of intimidation, propaganda, and recruiting. Thomas Rousseau has an apparent fear that a member will do something to discredit the organization—which he wants to grow and organize nationwide. We know an awful lot about their internal organization and ideas, because their information security is poor; vast quantities of data have been leaked. Unicorn Riot, a decentralized nonprofit journalism group, has been covering the leaks and investigating the data in depth, and their guide to the leaked media files is an important entry point to studying Patriot Front. Among other details worth noting is that one in every five applicants to Patriot Front has a military background.

Patriot Front’s distinctive outfits are deliberate. They make it easy to poke fun at them, but they are serious, organized, and dangerous. They actively believe that America has already fallen, and that “patriotism” means burning down the rubble and building a new ethnostate on the ashes. We are lucky the group this weekend was arrested before they could attack the rally. We’re lucky that one of the leaders was there when the police rolled up. But there are more members out there. And Patriot Front is just one (distinctive) group of many.

Other extremist groups gathered in Coeur d’Alene to watch and harass the pride march, including Three Percenters, Ammon’s Army, PDX Liberation, Proud Boys, and Atomwaffen. These groups have their own ideologies, own brands of violence, and many of them—Atomwaffen being an incredibly clear example—are much readier to engage in violence first, foremost, and often.

The Coeur d’Alene pride event was not the only target. Christian fascists in Dallas protested at an LGBTQ bar at the beginning of the month as part of a coordinated far-right assault on Pride month. American Nationalist Initiative, a neo-fascist group, planned to link up with Proud Boys to flash mob outside of a Planned Parenthood in Plano, Texas, this weekend, while other planned to harass a Pride Drag event in Arlington.

And while these are the groups we should be monitoring and worrying about as attacks on minority communities once again ramp up in America, the problem goes beyond the white supremacists and militias. Dillon Awes of the Stedfast Baptist Church in Watauga, Texas, opened Pride Month by saying that the government should execute gay people:

“They should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head! That’s what God teaches. That’s what the Bible says.”

Violent fantasies about murdering marginalized communities and overturning democracy are not new. We have seen them before.

Thomas Lecaque

Thomas Lecaque is an associate professor of history at Grand View University. Twitter: @tlecaque.