‘A white nationalist pyramid scheme’: how the Patriot Front recruits young members | American News

In June, Idaho police arrested 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front crammed in the back of a U-Haul near a Coeur d’Alene Pride event. The group had planned to riot during LGBTQ+ celebrations, authorities said, and were wearing riot gear, a smoke grenade, shin guards and shields.

The mass arrest not only revealed the names of members of an extremist group that had long worked to keep these people hidden, but it also provided extremist experts with new insight into how the group plans, finances, meticulously organizes and publicizes armed demonstrations at public events that celebrate diversity.

The fundraising and mobilization efforts of the Patriot Front, these experts say, reveal a business-like organization that looks more like a media production company with satellite offices than a classic neo-Nazi group.

“No other white supremacist group operating in the United States today can match Patriot Front’s ability to produce media, its ability to mobilize across the country, and its ability to fundraise,” says Morgan. Moon, a researcher at the ADL Center on Extremism. “That’s what makes them particularly concerning.”

Patriot Front was founded after the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville by Thomas Rousseau, a former member of the small neo-Nazi group Vanguard America.

Disgruntled Vanguard America members left to join Rousseau’s organization and, for two years, mostly affixed stickers on college campuses and dropped banners with slogans such as “Reclaim America” ​​on freeway overpasses.

Thomas Rousseau founded Patriot Front after the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Photography: Bryan Dozier/Rex/Shutterstock

In the 18 months since the January 6 uprising on Capitol Hill, many extremist anti-government groups, such as the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers and Three Percenters, have kept a low profile. But Patriot Front prepared. The group has made unauthorized protests its “bread and butter,” Moon says, ensuring each event is widely publicized on social media.

Since last December, the group has held five such flash demos. Two of them — the event in Idaho and a controversial march along Boston’s Freedom Trail during the July 4 holiday — have garnered national media attention.

At rallies, Rousseau typically addresses the crowd, urging onlookers to physically rise up and “reclaim your country”.

To capture different angles of a rally, several cameramen walk around and shoot video while members wear body-worn cameras, according to Jeff Tischauser, senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Then the media team edits the footage and releases a video package on alt-tech platforms like Gab, Odyssey, and Telegram.

Afterwards, Patriot Front’s social media team monitors mentions of the group, shares news coverage on private servers and tells members which social media accounts to harass, Tischauser says.

The video packages are specifically designed to appeal to younger audiences, says Stephen Piggott, program analyst at the Western States Center, a Portland-based nonprofit that promotes inclusive democracy. And while other far-right and white nationalist groups engage in meme culture and recruit people online, the group has been successful in attracting young radicals and getting them off their laptops and into the street, he adds.

Throughout its propaganda, the group is careful to create an image that will appeal to young users, promoting the “idea of ​​a young warrior” and becoming “the warrior elite,” says ADL researcher Moon. . The group emphasizes fitness, diet and training and often holds paramilitary drills before protests.

A group of men wearing balaclavas covering their faces and khaki colored caps stand in front of a row of American flags
Young recruits find the anonymity of the Patriot Front attractive. Photography: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Rex/Shutterstock

The premium the group places on anonymity is also attractive to young recruits. Banner drops and mural defacements usually happen after dark, and members keep their faces covered. Internal chats show members using codenames. At protests, Rousseau is usually the only person whose face is shown.

“A white nationalist pyramid scheme”

According to the researchers, the activities of the Patriot Front are underpinned by a rigid, top-down hierarchy.

Rousseau is in the lead. Lieutenants lead the group’s departments, including media production, recruiting and online security. Fifteen regional network directors organize local and national activities and mentor members.

Once recruits become members, they are required to attend monthly roundups, meet a weekly activism quota and show up at protests, according to Moon. If they don’t, Rousseau expels them from the Patriot Front.

Internal discussions obtained by extremist experts show members complaining about the running expenses they incur to pay for stickers, stencils and other mandatory propaganda materials, for which Rousseau charges them.

Group of men wearing blue shirts, khakis and balaclavas with the American flag
Members of the Patriot Front gather for an unauthorized rally in December 2021 in Washington DC. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Rousseau charges members a premium for Patriot Front propaganda material, Tischauser said, adding that network administrators should push members to buy flyers to participate in multiple flyer tours per month. “In this sense, Patriot Front is close to a white nationalist pyramid scheme,” notes Tischauser.

The tightly organized structure allows the Patriot Front to be responsible for up to 14 hate incidents per day, according to the ADL. Under the direction of network directors, Patriot Front members defaced 29 murals honoring black history, LGBTQ+ pride, migrant history and police shooting victims, Tischauser said.

Patriot Front did not respond to a request for comment.

“It lifted the veil a bit”

Recent events have somewhat upset the carefully constructed image of the band. Earlier this year, left-leaning nonprofit Unicorn Riot leaked audio and internal group chats, which helped investigators uncover the identities of the national team, regional managers and many other members. And following the arrest at Coeur d’Alene, the names of the 31 arrested members were released and published in local media, along with their pictures.

“They got kind of the opposite of what they wanted: they weren’t able to disrupt LGBTQ Pride events and they got a lot of mainstream media attention,” Piggott said.

Arrests in Idaho also revealed that their members flew to the state from different parts of the country, Piggott added. “It lifted the veil a bit. They may not have the numbers they say they have.

Men in handcuffs kneeling on the grass
Members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front were arrested near a Pride event in Idaho in June 2022. Photograph: Georji Brown/AP

Still, civil rights groups are increasingly concerned about the violence erupting during flash protests. At the Patriot Front’s unauthorized rally in Boston last July, for example, members of the group allegedly assaulted a black artist and activist, Charles Murrell.

Murrell did not respond to an interview request.

The ADL, Western States Center and other civil rights groups have urged the Justice Department to launch a full investigation into the group, arguing that some of its activities may violate federal law.

“More needs to be done to hold the group accountable and ensure it does not continue to bully historically marginalized communities,” the organizations wrote in a statement. letter to United States Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“This is especially true at a time when the Patriot Front is becoming increasingly emboldened and coordinating its activity nationally, targeting specific locations across the country,” they added. “The Department of Justice may indeed be the only entity capable of effectively addressing these concerns.”

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