In just three years, a white supremacist group called Patriot Front has became a nationally active hate group with a network of extremists training for violence. A recent BuzzFeed report put Patriot Front on the public radar. The report describes the group as men who believe “The United States is a nation that belongs only to white people.”
The report relies on a trove of messages exchanged by around 280 Patriot Front members on Rocket.Chat, an encrypted group messaging app.
The messages quoted include:
“What are your beliefs that led you to join the org?” —Vincent KY
“At the core of my position are these principles: The categorical rejection of the notion of equality. The categorical rejection of universal democracy. Explicit In-Group preference.” —Logan TN
“In short: I cannot stand by idly while my people fall into despair, degeneracy, and ethnic replacement.” —Anthony IL
“I feel like jews immigrants and mustims are a malicious threat to the united States and it’s economy that’s why the people are in current state of civil unrest these n!##3π’$ are causing them selves to be shot by the police and Making the split even bigger I feel as if there’s going to be a huge race war and us whites will come out on top. How do you feel about this statement?” —Vincent KY
Men in the group wear uniforms made up of navy-blue bomber jackets and beige khakis and baseball hats. They are expected to lose weight and engage in intensive workouts, including practicing hand-to-hand combat. Except for the group’s founder and leader Thomas Ryan Rousseau, members also wear extensive white coverings wrapped around their faces and necks.
Rousseau started the group when he only 19 in the aftermath of the the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. At the time, Rousseau was the leader of another white supremacist group, Vanguard America. Following bad press associated with the rally — especially because James Alex Fields, who was responsible for killing a counter protester and injuring 19 others in a vehicle-ramming attack, was seen marching with the group — Rousseau left the group and started Patriot Front. (He had already taken control of Vanguard’s web server and Discord channel weeks before the rally.)
Most of the members of Patriot Front were were former Vanguard members and rally participants, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Vanguard America’s online platform (that has since been taken down) espoused the belief that the U.S. is supposed to be an exclusively white nation and support the “repatriation of all African peoples back to their African nation of choice” as well as “full resignation, renunciation or relinquishment of their U.S. citizenship.”
The Vanguard platform also stated that “the dangerous and divisive thinking that all ‘men’ are created ‘equal’ is hopeful thinking at its most destructive and worst. The racial stock of this nation was created for white Christian Anglo/Europeans by white Christian Anglo/Europeans. All other ethnicities, races, religions and demographics are absolutely not compatible with with this nation’s original culture …”
Patriot Front’s website studiously avoids this type of language. Rather its manifesto is couched in phrases like, “The previous era has been spent in diluting the definition of what an American is” and “This nation is unique in its newly realized pan-European identity which has allowed it to succeed.”
Carla Hill, senior investigative researcher at the ADL’s Center on Extremism, speaks to this strategy as follows:
“…some, such as the Patriot Front, lean heavily on ‘patriotic’ imagery, incorporating American flags or red, white, and blue color schemes. They all tend to use toned-down language about how ‘diversity destroys nations’ and the need to take pride in ‘Western’ culture. This is purposeful; it gives white supremacists an opening to a population of curious young people who would most likely be turned off by explicit neo-Nazi rhetoric or overtly racist language…
While the language may be intentionally vague, it does the job. It’s a hat tip to those who recognize and embrace ‘globalism’ as an anti-Semitic trope and other such hate-filled dog whistles, but it also serves as a more subtle invitation to people with no established ties to extremism whose curiosity may have been piqued…”
It’s members are similarly instructed to keep a low profile on above-board social media.
Patriot Front’s Distorted Interpretation of Patriotism
Though it may seem like a pale comparison, the parallels between the last century’s ideological movements and the new rise of white supremacists extremist groups is echoed in the rhetoric of the latter.
In their propaganda materials, Patriot Front describes America as “Not Stolen, Conquered.” This is combative language takes a human rights principle of “belonging” and inverts it into the concept of “possession.” It’s language that draws a perimeter around identity in the same way that nations draw perimeters around their territories. Rather than believe in the American concept of a “melting pot,” Patriot Front believes that America belongs to “white people.”
Language that alienates is always at the heart of extremism, which cannot tolerate any other way of being. In recent times, in a push from the Left, patriotism has become a value to question. However, it is our failure as a culture to delineate between commonly shared national values and toxic nationalism that has blurred our understanding of what patriotism means.
It is in this environment that groups like the Patriot Front are busy framing the concept for next generation of American identity. Moreover, when our political leaders (elected and non-elected) are not careful with language — either by being too inclusive of broader communities without process or merit or too exclusive by using pejorative language that dismisses human value through swathes of negative stereotypes — extremist groups are emboldened.
Investigations into the group also reveal that its leadership believes in “the dream of a white ethnostate, in which all that was good and true and pioneering about the America of long ago could be restored.”
It’s a vision that laments in the beliefs that:
- The American democracy is dead
- The government had been taken over by Jews and other “elites”
- The land, originally settled by whites, has been surrendered to immigrants of color
Race Obsession and the Dying Democracy
Despite draping their extremist propaganda in American iconography, Patriot Front rejects the upcoming American elections, since it believes that “America suffers under the rule of an occupied government.” It’s leader Rousseau, says elections:
“Casting a ballot is a submissive gesture to legitimize tyranny. It is fundamentally amoral. it is done as an insult to the nation’s cause and the organization.”
In Clarion Project’s podcast Endeavor Against Extremism, former commander of the National Socialist Movement (the largest American neo-Nazi group), Jeff Schoep, speaks to the mindset of these extremists. Schoep, who now heads Beyond Barriers, an organization dedicated to helping people leave extremist organizations, explains why Patriot Front rejects the democratic system America upon which the country was founded:
“The idea that ballot casting is a submissive gesture to tyranny is pretty common in hard-Right type groups and thinking. Many in the hard Right see the current political system or democracy in general as corrupt or not legitimate.
“I used to say constantly that the Republicans and Democrats are the same thing and both were equally corrupt and basically the same. I would say, flip a coin on which party is different and what will their candidates argue over who’s suit and tie looks better because on the issues they are the same.
“Of course, they are not the same, but from an extremist perspective they are, and I felt that way back then, and so do the majority of people in the hard Right who don’t vote or believe it’s a sham.
“So, by casting a vote for Republicans or Democrats, from their perspective, is adding legitimacy to a corrupt, foul, and dying regime. In their perspective it’s aiding the enemies of their race and ideology. A submissive gesture inadvertently aiding their perceived enemies.
“They also see the U.S. Government as ZOG (Zionist occupational government). Why cast a vote for an occupational force is the mindset, so low voter turnouts at the polls were looked upon favorably by many in the movement. They considered low voter turnouts as a lack of faith by the general populace in the occupational system. An occupational force would also be viewed as tyrannical, so that is why they use those terms and language.”
Schoep also remarks on the pattern of race obsession:
“It shows how fractured and conflicted these groups are, as they would be stronger with other races involved, but most national-socialist type groups are obsessed over race and can’t see beyond it.
“It’s their Achilles heel in more ways than one and will result in continued failure for them, and in turn perhaps more aggressive desperate actions the more paranoid and isolated they get.
“I am concerned for an uptick in violence, maybe not from organized groups at this point in time, but from lone wolf actors.”
The Complex Identity Structures of Next Generation White Supremacists
As crude as Patriot Front’s belief system is, at its core, it speak to a crisis of identity and belonging. This is because an identity constructed entirely out of the fantasy of race is primed for alienation because, at its root, it had already isolated itself from any other source of belonging.
The totality of what Patriot Front members believe in — of how they see themselves — sits on a very narrow, fixed point. That, in itself, is extreme.
Yet, the next generation of white supremacists have one thing in common: presenting complex identity structures to the public at large. Meaning, they are not easy to identify if the litmus test what for constitutes a white supremacist is defined by the last century’s standards, namely a hood and cloak.
The next generation has adapted and integrated — blending into public spaces, choosing to move marches through the dark and appearing non-threatening to law enforcement personnel.
Patriot Front advises members to wear semi-uniformed attire. Veteran and founder of High Ground Vets, an organization that trains veterans to become come leaders and advocates, sees the structured clothing as another tactic.
Thomas Rousseau, the narcissist 22-year old kid in Grapevine, Texas who runs this gang is image-obsessed. The uniforms are supposed to look paramilitary, but non-threatening. The intent is to lure cops into letting their guard down so Patriot Front can act with impunity. https://t.co/8GzFGAwt8j
— Kristofer Goldsmith (@KrisGoldsmith85) October 27, 2020
Public acts that let the group blend in are not limited to what Patriot Front wears, but also what Patriot Front does, including acts of service, like a park cleanup, which along with disseminating print media, is part of an “orchestrated and choreographed” propaganda stunt that disorients public opinion while serving as a soft recruitment drive. That “Boy Scout” image extends to how they integrate messaging into discreet print propaganda.
In Texas, Patriot Front’s leader Thomas Rousseau was arrested for placing stickers with the group’s URL on public property. The stickers read “reject poison” and included a picture of drugs. While it may not be specific to Patriot Group given the group is largely comprised of Gen Z, an embrace of wholesome “traditional” values is a tactic used by extremist groups of all types to confuse and complicate the public’s perception of the group.
Those “wholesome values” — or at least the appearance of them — is also a characteristic that draws in traditional women, often as a place where they may be accepted for leaning into the nurturing role of women as mothers and housewives.
Yet, in Patriot Front’s case, few members have wives or girlfriends. Undercover investigations discovered the average Patriot Front member is about 25 years old, a gamer and looks like “the nerdy boys that sit next to you in high school.” Patriot Front is not unlike other misogynistic extremist groups that believe women are weak, as expressed in their internal dialogues.
Patriot Front also claims to disavow violence. A public rejection of violence is a common practice with these groups, and a strategy Schoep also recognizes as a disinformation tactic. Speaking with ProPublica, Dr. Pete Simi of Chapman University adds that Patriot Front stewardship via Rousseau is familiar. An expert on white supremacists, Dr. Simi observes,
“It is very common for the leadership of these groups to disqualify violence, while doing things that are encouraging violence. It is part of their strategy to avoid liability while simultaneously promoting hate. When they say they are not violent, this is a lie. They are promoting violence by their goals.”
Indeed, undercover infiltration into Patriot Front yielded disturbing pro-violent ideologies, as ProPublica reports,
“The person who gained entrance to the group said Rousseau was one of three Patriot Front members who interviewed him on the telephone when he applied. He was asked to explain his political evolution, to say which political figure he hated and admired the most, to state the circumstances in which the use of violence would be OK and to articulate the greatest threat to America. He was told Mussolini’s “The Doctrine of Fascism” would be required reading.”
The Anti-Defamation League also reports Patriot Front members saying,
“The American identity is not merely given upon birth, it is seized through the potential of one’s blood, and the extent to which they fulfill their natural duty to their people.” – Patriot Front, Gab.ai, October 1, 2017
“America is a nation, passed down to us by our forefathers, and so long as we live, the enemies of our people will not stand unopposed.” – Patriot Front, Twitter, November 6, 2017.
“The American identity was forged in a struggle between civilizations that ended in victory for our ancestors.” – Patriot Front, Twitter, September 17, 2017
There is an undeniable appeal to violence, moreover, a belief that violence is necessary. It is a message that resonates with Gen Z and millennials. Patriot Front’s last estimated recruitment rate was at roughly a member a day. That membership drive has no endpoint.
“There is no ‘endgame.’ The nation doesn’t ‘end.’ We’re not conventionally political to the point where there’s a defined ‘end’ of service. It’s not an office, a seat in congress, a law, or a percentage of representation.” – Thomas Rousseau
Essentially, Patriot Front sees the current system of government as a crumbling institution with extreme social polarity being a useful tool to build their “white power movement.”
How Much of a Threat is Patriot Front Currently?
Like other white supremacists groups, Patriot Front has able to amplify themselves through digital and print propaganda. Their brand of messaging can be best coined as nascent American fascism. Socialists describe nascent American fascism as middle-class angst rooted in capitalism; historians note that middle-class frustration drove fascist movements in Italy and Germany.
At present, Patriot Front’s main activities, besides menacing rallies and rhetoric, consist of “putting up stickers bearing their logo in cities and college campuses, covering pro–Black Lives Matter billboards with their own propaganda, and marching in the middle of the night through empty streets,” according to BuzzFeed.
However it is clear that they are building and biding their time. Eerily, exactly like both violent and non-violent Islamists, Patriot Front believes that time is on their side. They need to simply outlast America as it stands.