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18/06/2023 | US - Opinion: ¨More extreme, more violent¨: experts’ warning over khaki-clad Patriot Front

Adam Gabbatt

Their button-up shirts and chinos have prompted mockery but experts say the far-right group is becoming increasingly violent.


For years, there has been an element of the ridiculous to Patriot Front and their rallies, which can look like a sort of cosplay version of a white nationalist movement.

At a Patriot Front demonstration in Washington in May, more than a hundred Patriot Front members marched along the National Mall wearing matching outfits of beige or brown chinos and blue button-up shirts.

The ensemble was topped off with the sort of affected accessorizing that parents subject children to at weddings: each man was required to wear sand-colored suspenders, with matching hats and sewn-on arm patches.

In their hands, the Patriot Front members carried shields that were a derivative version of Captain America’s defense system, and they had tight white fabric wrapped around their faces. The goal of their activity – Patriot Front aims to create a white ethno-state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center – is serious, but they found themselves ripe for ridicule.

“You wear Walmart khakis!” one bystander heckled. “You are sloppy! You are not even matching! You all have different types of pants on! Cargo pants are out! Reclaim your virginity!”

In the years following Patriot Front’s 2017 inception, however, they have slowly grown in influence and threat, experts say. In 2023, those who monitor hate groups say Patriot Front is increasingly moving towards public displays and violence.

“If you asked me about Patriot Front in 2017 or 2018, I’d say they’re looking for attention. They’re putting up some stickers, and doing some banner drops here and there, and it’s all about just getting in the news. But now it’s gone well beyond that,” said Stephen Piggott, a researcher at Western States Center who focuses on white nationalist, paramilitary and anti-democracy groups.

“I think the group is morphing from a solely propaganda-based outfit to a much more violent one, based on what we’ve seen over the past couple of years. They’re trending to much more violence, more in-person direct actions, versus putting up stickers under the cover of night.”

Patriot Front formed in 2017, having splintered from the white nationalist group Vanguard America in the wake of the deadly Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Led by Thomas Rousseau, Patriot Front initially focused on clandestine propaganda efforts: dropping racist literature in neighborhoods and posting stickers in public places.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Patriot Front was responsible for the vast majority of “hateful propaganda” in the US in 2019, 2020 and 2021. In the past couple of years, the group has begun to venture more into the daylight, and held more rallies and demonstrations.

The leadership has stayed the same, under Thomas Rousseau, a Texas-based extremist. But Patriot Front has changed.

“I think it’s indicative of the movement. The white nationalist movement more broadly is getting more extreme, more hardcore, more violent,” Piggott said.

That violence has been seen across the US. In May, Joe Biden described white supremacy as “the most dangerous terrorist threat” to the country. This week, a University of Chicago poll found that 12 million American adults, or 4.4% of the adult population, believe violence is justified to restore Donald Trump to the White House.

Antisemitic incidents, meanwhile, rose in the US in 2022; there was an increase in anti-Asian American hate crimes over the past two years; and a recent FBI report found that hate crimes as a whole rose by nearly 12% from 2020 to 2021.

“There’s a backlash to gains made by marginalized communities: I think marginalized communities are more represented, and have become more a political force as well. The white nationalist movement also sees what’s going on in terms of demographics, and are not happy with the diminishing white majority of the country,” Piggott said.

“And then also really since the election of Donald Trump, we’ve seen white nationalist discourse being much more mainstream. That’s provided a bump for these groups in terms of they’re very happy to see when elected officials and others are kind of speaking their language, using their rhetoric.

“I think it’s almost like a green light for them to conduct the activities that they’re engaged in.”

For Patriot Front, those activities have meant scenes like those in June last year in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Police arrested 31 members of the group after they were found packed into the back of a rental truck with riot gear. The men, who an eyewitness told police “looked like a little army”, were charged with conspiracy to riot.

A month later Charles Murrell, a Black artist, was attacked during a Patriot Front march in Boston, Massachusetts. The group has since held marches in Indianapolis and a rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This year, a group of about 25 Patriot Front members protested against a drag brunch in Nashville and conducted their Washington march.

“Patriot Front worries me a lot more than other groups because of the amount of public activism that they commit to,” said Jeff Tischauser, a senior research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.

“Any time you get these volatile, unhinged people coming into close contact with the public, situations can escalate. That’s what I worry about, because they’re in public space more than any other group.

“And you’re gonna have courageous people like Charles Murrell stand up and say, ‘We don’t want you here.’ That’s going to be a combustible situation with the people that they have within the organization.”

There has been a rise in white nationalism and far-right politics in countries around the world in recent years. In Germany, the far-right, anti-immigrant ​​Alternative for Germany has surged in recent polling, while last year Giorgia Meloni, whose radical-right Brothers of Italy party has neo-fascist roots, was elected prime minister of Italy.

In the US, though, there is an extra threat. About four in 10 adult Americans live in a household with a firearm, and mass shootings are commonplace. A year on from Patriot Front’s march in Coeur d’Alene, the targeting of LGBTQ communities is a continuing risk, Tischauser said.

“We’re worried about Pride Month. We’re worried about teachers. There are groups that are out in public, that are showing up at LGBTQ-inclusive events, harassing and intimidating participants, which include children,” Tischauser said.

“And I’m worried about the high concentration of guns that we have in this country, and this contentious movement that’s becoming more hostile and more aggressive, it seems, by the day. And Patriot Front is right in the middle of that.”



The Guardian (Nigeria)


Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House