Thirty-one members of one of the most active white nationalist groups in the U.S. are facing criminal charges after a local Idaho police department made a mass arrest in response to a 911 tip over the weekend. Members of the fascist group, Patriot Front—formed in late 2017 in the wake of the racist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—were booked in jail by police in the town of Coeur d’Alene on misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to riot Saturday. Police officials said the group, which they discovered packed into the back of a U-Haul truck, had been equipped with shields and riot gear and had planned to disrupt a local Pride celebration. Here’s a look at what we know about the organization, its members and objectives.
‘Unite the Right’
Patriot Front is an offshoot of another neo-fascist organization, Vanguard America, now reportedly defunct. Vanguard, which at its height was estimated to have around 200 members, was one of several racist groups that rioted during the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, where anti-racist protester Heather Heyer, 32, was murdered. The perpetrator, James Alex Fields, who received a life sentence for killing her in July 2019, was photographed marching with Vanguard members, though they claimed he was not a member. Nevertheless, the violence in Charlottesville (and subsequent bad press) led to the splintering of Vanguard. Orchestrating the breakup was former Vanguard member Thomas Rousseau, who would go on to found Patriot Front in the weeks after the rally.
‘Image Obsessed’ Fascists
“Patriot Front is an image-obsessed organization that rehabilitated the explicitly fascist agenda of Vanguard America with garish patriotism,” writes the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks activities of hate groups across the U.S. Infighting among American fascists over the effectiveness of their violent tactics led Rousseau to devise a group that would mask its racist beliefs and love affair with Nazism under the guise of patriotic American branding, according to the SPLC. Rather than violence, the group generally prefers acts of criminal vandalism, proof of which it circulates on apps like Telegram and Discord to encourage recruitment. Leaks show the group has even set quotas for its members, requiring them to vandalize a certain number of statues and murals celebrating the accomplishments of civil rights leaders. The group also loves U-Hauls: the Idaho arrests occurred after a single U-Haul disgorged the 30-odd members into the streets of Coeur d’Alene, and the group used similar transportation for a march on the Lincoln Memorial last December that left them stranded.
Leaked Chats Expose Organized Crimes
A series of internal leaks published by the nonprofit media outlet Unicorn Riot and analyzed by Gizmodo have left few of Patriot Front’s secrets unexposed. Members, who use code names but are nevertheless doxed on a routine basis, are shown regularly bragging about their crimes. Last year, members vandalized a mural in Olympia, Washington, which read “Respect & Love,” covering it with the the group’s motto: “Reclaim America.” Members arrested in Idaho last week also wore t-shirts bearing this phrase. The group has flaunted their ability to get away with these crimes. One wrote in a leaked chat last November: “As our recent actions have shown we can walk down busy avenues at prime time in Seattle and deface the largest most well protected mural in shitlib Olympia without so much as being accosted once.”
Patriot Front Fears Antifa Infiltrators
Leaks also show Patriot Front has grown deeply paranoid over the years, reducing its ability to recruit online. Infiltration is a major concern. Anti-fascists groups around the country have repeatedly targeted Patriot Front members, exposing their identities, which has led to those same members, now linked to Nazism, losing jobs and being ostracized. The group’s recruiters have attempted to devise ways of interviewing potential members with the aim of filtering out infiltrators who might expose its private communications, a common occurrence, or who might report their activities to law enforcement. The group has also concocted cover stories when operating in public and attempts to train members in remote public parks to avoid being observed.
Conspiracy Theories Motivate Group’s Hateful Ideology
Patriot Front recruiters typical target young men with deeply conservative beliefs, but those who fail to at least hint at a belief in the “Jewish Question” (as Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich framed it) are usually turned away, according to internal chats and the SPLC. While the group outwardly brands itself as “pro-American,” internally it propagates conspiracy theories claiming Jews secretly control the world’s economies, according to leaked chats. Patriot Front’s foremost objective is to perpetuate calls to “cleanse” the U.S. of any non-White, non-European elements and fulfill its dream of establishing a White ethnostate, according to the SPLC. As a fascist organization, it’s also ideologically opposed to democracy. The group’s manifesto states the “time of the Republic has passed in America” and that democracy “has failed in this once-great nation.”
Patriot Front Leader Hails From Texas
Patriot Front’s founder and current leader, Thomas Ryan Rousseau, grew up in Coppell, Texas, a suburb a few miles north of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. He was among the 31 arrested in Coeur d’Alene last week while trying to disrupt the Pride event. Rousseau was previously arrested in August 2020 in Parker County, Texas, after being caught placing stickers advertising his group’s website on a signs outside of a courthouse. Members arrested last week hailed from Texas, Utah, Washington, Colorado, South Dakota, Alabama, Wyoming, Oregon, Illinois, Arkansas and Missouri. (According to a ProPublica report from 2019, Rousseau’s group had, at the time, roughly 300 members.) Following the arrests in Idaho, police officials said Monday they’d been bombarded with death threats.