Their button-up shirts and chinos have prompted mockery but experts say the far-right group is becoming increasingly violent.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
leadership has stayed the same, under Thomas Rousseau, a Texas-based extremist.
But Patriot Front has changed.
it’s indicative of the movement. The white nationalist movement more broadly is
getting more extreme, more hardcore, more violent,” Piggott said.
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.
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.
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.
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.
it’s almost like a green light for them to conduct the activities that they’re
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”