Dangerous Organizations and Bad Actors: The Patriot Front
| by CTEC
Patriot Front (PF) is a white nationalist group that aims to establish the United States as a nation of people linked by white, European-American identity and traditional values. The group was founded by Thomas Ryan Rousseau, who left the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017. Rousseau describes PF as a representation of “extra-political organizing,” where people frustrated that tenets of white nationalism do not exist in the traditional body politic can hold court. PF is similar to its predecessor Vanguard America in that both focus on white nationalism, but PF places a greater emphasis on professionalism, publicity, and growth, while publicly avoiding more overt expressions of racism and hate. In this capacity, particularly through its forced exposure to deeper extremist propaganda, the group has morphed into a de facto feeder entity for more pernicious ideologies and organizations.
Offline, the group conducts planned and flash marches, disrupts protests, and attends rallies carrying flags, all while wearing the Patriot Front “uniform” — a tan hat, white face covering, blue top with PF patches, khakis, and military-style hiking boots. They also conduct simulated hand-to-hand combat training outside of formal demonstrations and marches. At formal gatherings, PF members can be seen performing practiced battle formation drills, wielding shields adorned with the group’s logo.
This regimented style was an intentional decision made by founder Rousseau. In a 2021 episode of “Just Joe Radio” – an alt-right and nationalist-aligned podcast – the PF leader said that following the “unfortunate, messy aftermath” of Charlottesville, he formed PF as an “increasingly organized, disciplined” nationalist group. Rousseau explicitly stated that PF wants to avoid the “Nazi” label. He believed that, beyond Vanguard America’s lack of organization and its association with Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville, its label as a “white supremacist” and “neo-Nazi” group drew public and law enforcement scrutiny, which contributed to its disintegration. Leaked documents show that as part of the terms of association, PF members are forbidden from using slurs and gestures “that may be suggestive or otherwise morally degrading,” violations of which can “result in revocations of privileges, or suspension.” Despite this, racist, anti-Semitic language and gestures are common within internal PF chats and private videos demonstrating that the careful outward branding does not necessarily reflect the group’s inward sentiments. One leaked video of PF members showed them throwing Nazi salutes and saying “Sieg f***ing Heil.”
Thus, at its core, PF is a white ethno-nationalist group with anti-government and anti-immigrant convictions. The group aims to seize control of America to establish a fascist, white ethno-state. PF also serves as a physical manifestation for hateful, violence-inspiring rhetoric and beliefs that persist rampantly online, of which the anti-immigrant “Great Replacement” theory stands as one of the most dangerous. As such, online communities that are heavily radicalized have an offline outlet in PF. Moreover, PF’s careful, growth-based activism may demonstrate its patient aspiration to establish itself as a more powerful, underground movement – perhaps to build its strength and numbers before taking more direct action to actualize its mission to “Reclaim America.”
PF describes its “Reclaim America” mission as a “hard reset on the nation we see today – a return to the traditions and virtues of our forefathers.” It seeks to build a membership of “heritage Americans” – those born in America, of European descent – with a “common cause and common identity.” The group’s official manifesto is brimmed with ultra-patriotic language similar to the American revolutionaries of the 18th century:
Tyrants, with delusions of infinite power, have declared the American people too weak to revolt. The damage done to the nation will not be fixed with the approval of the dysfunctional system which remains American in name only. Democracy has failed this once great nation. The resurgence of the American Spirit will bring with it the death of tyranny. The torch of revolution has been lit.
Referencing the American Revolution frames the current political situation and PF’s mission as a patriotic obligation to “re-establish” the country as one owned and controlled by white European-Americans, described as the “founding stock” of America. Doing so separates PF from other white nationalist or neo-Nazi groups that also seek state collapse, but who do so under the explicit frame of white supremacy. PF focuses instead on the concept of “national sovereignty,” a call to a country of Americans free from foreign influence. PF advocates for the restoration of America’s ‘glory days’ when Americans were united by a common enemy and held a collective sense of country.
Nationhood cannot be bestowed upon those who are not of the founding stock of our people, and those who do not share the common spirit that permeates our greater civilization, and the European diaspora.
Using language of the American Revolution and avoiding slanderous rhetoric are attempts to obfuscate the group’s core exclusionary nature and their endorsement of the elimination of non-white, non-European, non-Jewish, non-heterosexual people living in the United States. Instead of a revolution against occupation and taxation advocated by anti-government groups that also utilize American Revolution rhetoric, PF revolts against those who do not fit within its own very specific and warped definition of the American identity and its values.
Thus, PF’s narratives align closely with “Great Replacement” and “globalist” Deep State conspiracy theories, through which the group characterizes minorities and Jewish people as enemies of the state who aim to crush traditional American values, culture, and identity. In fact, during his affiliation with Vanguard America, Rousseau often participated in and led marches on university campuses, chanting slogans such as “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.” The notion that immigrants enter a country and begin replacing that nation’s citizenry with contradictory cultures and races, commit crimes, and steal jobs, can mobilize xenophobic extremist movements to violence, particularly when these narratives are paired with conspiracy theories that the replacement is orchestrated by the government, the Deep State, or alleged Jewish cabals. Many of the recent targeted mass shootings have been inspired by these same anti-Semitic and racist narratives, committed by people who see immigrants and minorities as an imminent threat to their livelihood, nationhood, or those of their children.
Conscientious of the threat, PF serves as a platform and means for change for those ultra-nationalists who believe in these dangerous conspiracy theories. PF members consider the current American political system as too dysfunctional to be able to sufficiently respond to these threats, as well as unwilling to affect the changes that reflect the will of the people. Therefore, the group attracts individuals who consider the American political system incompatible with their views and desires. Of course, their membership is limited to those who fit with PF’s defined parameters. Again, we turn to PF’s manifesto:
E Pluribus Unum was the new creed that bound our people together with their pan-European identity as Americans. To be an American is to be a descendant of conquerors, pioneers, visionaries, and explorers. This unique identity was given to us by our ancestors, and this national spirit remains firmly rooted in our blood.
By establishing an in-group of so-called heritage Americans united by blood and national spirit, PF is able to swiftly and widely declare those not in that group (e.g. people of color and immigrants) as enemies worthy of removal by any means necessary, including means existing outside of normal American political mechanisms. PF rhetoric and propaganda makes it clear that this process may involve civil unrest and/or a broader social clash. In fact, the PF manifesto insists that modern-day America will not last, whether by its own internal failings or some external source. The “rebirth” of America, then, falls to hands of the white nationalists:
The hard truth of the coming struggle is that America, as we know it, is already dead or will not survive. This age of our people will instead be seen as an era of rebirth and the beginning of a new chapter in history.
By insisting on America’s inevitable demise, PF creates an accelerationist mindset among adherents. Additionally, PF portrays those that survive this civil unrest or broader social clash as emerging with a superiority. By virtue of this violent clash against their enemies, adherents are said to grow into a stronger person and man, achieving a return to traditional masculinity through warriorhood and heroism. This is a repeated theme of militant Traditionalism and neofascist accelerationism and one that appears clearly in the PF manifesto:
The life of the average American will change during this transition. It will be a great change. A change that will imbue struggle in his soul. He will emerge on the other side of this great national upheaval as a new man; a stronger and more dedicated servant to his people; and, a staunch protector and defender of his family.
He will no longer know the age of material, of illness, and of disunity. His neighbors will fit the term in more than just a nominal fashion. He will be removed from decadence and given community. He will be protected from barbarism and given civility. His nation will be an extended family, not a collection of strange faces passing by him on the way to a shallow grave. He will no longer be sold a life that will never come; a life of working for something that is neither rewarding nor spiritually beneficial.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Rousseau was a participant on the Iron March forum prior to its collapse in 2017. A review of the leaked PF chat logs further confirms the presence and influence of militant Traditionalism, specifically Julius Evola’s texts such as “Revolt Against the Modern World,” within group recruitment interviews. PF recruiters noted Evola and William Luther Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, as examples of prospective members’ familiarity with fascist ideology.
An Interviewee must claim at least 75% European ethnic lineage, and be born within
America to qualify. Single-generation assimilation is possible with Canadians or other
similar post-colonial nations, but this must be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Maintaining a strong foreign accent or claiming to be another nationality but American is
an example of non-assimilation and is not to be tolerated.
Our review of leaked PF chats show that the recruitment process is somewhat selective. Candidates endure a round of pointed questioning before senior members discuss the candidate’s possibility of joining the group. Several candidates were denied for incompatible ideological views, presumed insincere white nationalist beliefs, suspicious or vague backgrounds, and lack of intelligence. Open source estimates suggest that more than 20% of the group’s applicants are active or former U.S. military service members..
Disqualifiers for membership include any history of employment by law enforcement and recent charges of violent crimes. “Multiple felonies,” one note says, “place the Interviewee at greater risk of law enforcement pressure.” The group also catalogues any instance of employment with government-owned entities, including “public universities, political positions, postal service, etc.”
PF establishes various rules for members to abide by in an attempt to ensure the group maintains its minimally conspicuous image and lowers its risk of law enforcement infiltration or crack-downs. These rules are outlined in a leaked, poster-type document called “General Conduct.” Members are forbidden from involving one another “in any way with firearms of any kind,” including selling, using, or displaying them. Members are forbidden from engaging in PF activism in any way under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They are strongly encouraged to avoid slurs and curses. Promoting or suggesting illegal or violent actions is also prohibited.
Moreover, the group has a dedicated program, called the Lifestyle Recovery Program, through which members work to lose weight or wean themselves from nicotine, drugs, and alcohol. Much like other white nationalist groups throughout the world, PF stresses a straight edge lifestyle for its members.
The current extent of PF membership, while difficult to estimate, appears to include residents of nearly every state in America, if group promotional materials are to be believed. As of May 2022, the PF main Telegram channel has just over 14,000 subscribers. For comparison, the group’s main Telegram channel had just around 2,500 subscribers in June 2020 (according to the Counter Extremism Project). As of May 2022, its Gab page has 8,800 subscribers. While subscriber numbers certainly do not equate to membership numbers, these numbers certainly demonstrate that the group has a considerable following that appears to have increased between 2020 and 2022.
Post-2020 PF has deepened its partnership with the Active Club networks, a newer manifestation of Robert Rundo and Rise Above Movement’s neofascist street fighting network. PF training activity and rhetoric on Telegram and other social media presences have clearly illustrated the growing relationship between the two movements. Given the Active Club network’s overt accelerationism and likely desire to engage in violence, it is concerning that PF has aligned itself and trained alongside these Active Clubs. Such an infusion of violent ideology and preparation for social collapse from Rundo’s network suggests violence from within PF may not be as unlikely as in the past.
Much like the Boogaloo movement and factions of the broader Patriot-militia movement, PF seeks to aesthetically gain “political and moral legitimacy by tapping into (and distorting and hijacking) the United States’ founding narrative of a struggle against tyranny.” The iconography of the group combines traditional American symbology with fascist or white supremecist dog whistles – as shown below with the ‘Betsy Ross’ 13-colonies flag that is surrounded by the Roman fasces, a bundle of sticks lashed around an ax. The fasces symbol appeared previously on Vanguard America imagery and has historically represented fascist ideals since Mussolini named his National Fascist Party (Partito Nazionale Fascista) after the symbol.
PF relies on visual propaganda and self-promotion as its main form of activism. Members are highly encouraged to put up stickers, flyers, stencils, flags, banners, and conduct acts of symbolic vandalism in their local areas. These campaigns represent the bulk of PF’s public activism — photos and videos of these activities occupy nearly all the space on PF’s social media pages (Gab and Telegram). The group boasts a self-reported tally of 1,721 separate propaganda acts in 46 states through March and April 2022. The promotional materials feature the group’s website, logos, imagery, and slogans like “Reclaim America,” “Revolution is Tradition,” “Not Stolen, Conquered,” “One Nation Against Invasion,” and “For the Nation, Against the State.”
As part of the group’s branding, and to avoid unwanted negative attention, PF’s public rhetoric mostly omits vulgarity and slurs, and the group actively avoids acts of violence and crime. Additionally, the group largely structures their digital content to adhere to the rules and policies of the social media platforms on which they have a presence. As a result, they better avoid deplatforming.
Directed acts of vandalism against civil rights symbols, politically left-leaning social movements, and racial justice symbols serve as a key mechanism for Rousseau and other PF leaders to maintain control over their dispersed membership network while simultaneously aligning members’ radical views. Acts of vandalism, and the risk of legal reciprocity associated with the act, can help solidify in-group identification by those that commit the acts while also providing a ‘thrill’ for young men looking to conduct low-risk edgy behaviors that fall short of overt violence. Propaganda activism thus serves as a pillar of PF’s feeder status within the broader alt-right and neofascist accelerationism landscape.
Often, descriptions of PF follow its association with Vanguard America and the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA where one Vanguard affiliate drove into a group of protesters, killing demonstrator Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Rousseau, as part of a deposition in a civil rights suit following the event, admitted he incited Vanguard members attending the rally to commit violence, writing “I want to see jackboots on commie skulls, blood on the pavement.”
Analysts and researchers should not dismiss the potential threat posed by PF despite the group’s most prominent activities including propaganda operations and generally peaceful get-togethers. These activities and mobilizations serve as possible radicalization mechanisms and physically reinforce in-group adherence among participants. The group’s founding manifesto signals a longer-term vision for the group’s impact on American society, and suggests that PF may pose a security threat to achieve their goals:
Much in accordance with our beliefs, there will not be a single moment where victory will be achieved, so much as there will be a long lasting effort to ensure an enduring victory … The patriots of today may not see the culmination of their grand vision, but rather in their lifetime set the nation and its people upon this task with the multigenerational spirit to stand the test of time.
PF’s growth mindset is evident in the manifesto’s description of a “multi-generational effort,” their focus on propaganda and advertisement, and the group’s careful choices of legal and minimally vulgar actions. All of this suggests that PF aims to increase its base and capabilities before taking more direct action to fulfill its mission to “reclaim America”.
Additionally, post-2020 PF has deepened its partnership with the Active Club networks, a newer manifestation of Robert Rundo and Rise Above Movement’s neofascist street fighting network. PF training activity and rhetoric on Telegram and other social media presences have clearly illustrated the growing relationship between the two movements. Given the Active Club network’s overt accelerationism and likely desire to engage in violence, it is concerning that PF has aligned itself and trained alongside these Active Clubs. Such an infusion of violent ideology and preparation for social collapse from Rundo’s network suggests violence from within PF may not be as unlikely as in the past.