Patriot Front is a white nationalist hate group that broke off from Vanguard America in the aftermath of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, of August 12, 2017.
Patriot Front is an image-obsessed organization that rehabilitated the explicitly fascist agenda of Vanguard America with garish patriotism. Patriot Front focuses on theatrical rhetoric and activism that can be easily distributed as propaganda for its chapters across the country.
In their own words
"The time of the Republic has passed in America as the system grows too weak to perform its duty. ... The damage done to this nation and its people will not be fixed if every issue requires the approval and blessing from the dysfunctional American democratic system. Democracy has failed in this once great nation."
— Patriot Front manifesto.
"The American Identity was something uniquely forged in the struggle that our ancestors waged to survive in this new continent. ... To be an American is to realize this identity and take up the national struggle upon one's shoulders. Not simply by birth is one granted this title but by the degree to which he works and fulfills the potential of his birth."
— Patriot Front manifesto.
"An African, for example, may have lived, worked, and even been classed as a citizen in America for centuries, yet he is not American. He is, as he likely prefers to be labelled, an African in America. The same rule applies to others who are not of the founding stock of our people as well as to those who do not share the common unconscious that permeates throughout our greater civilization, and the European diaspora."
— Patriot Front manifesto.
"America our nation stands before an existential threat. The lives of your children, and your children's children, and your prosperity beyond that, dangle above a den of vipers. A corrupt rootless, global, and tyrannical elite has usurped your democracy and turned it into a weapon, first to enslave and then to replace you."
— University of Texas at Austin demonstration, November 3, 2017.
Patriot Front (PF) is a white nationalist hate group that formed in the aftermath of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, of August 12, 2017. The organization broke off from Vanguard America (VA), a neo-Nazi group that participated in the chaotic demonstration. PF’s founder, Thomas Rousseau, led VA members during “Unite the Right,” including James Alex Fields, Jr., the young man accused of murdering anti-racist protester Heather Heyer after fatally driving his vehicle into a crowd of protesters.
Rousseau and his loyalists broke away from VA after a months-long feud with VA’s leader Dillon Irizarry. Excerpts from leaked internal communications that were later posted to several online forums, including Kiwi Farms, reveal that tensions between Irizarry and Rousseau were coming to a head as early as June 2017.
On June 20th, Thomas underhandedly and deceitfully exiled me from all of the Vanguard discord servers that HE controlled due to "security reasons". … I logged off of discord and when I got back on an hour later I was banned from every single server, including the women's server. It was a literal coup with the guise that I left to handle family matters. So Thomas literally assumed control and is now cobbling and holding vanguard together with the fragile scaffolding of a lie and deception. He had been working out the plan for weeks, if not months, slowly taking the most miniscule steps under false pretenses such as "security" or "ease". … He had already basically assumed control over Vanguard even before the large Austin event happened. He even went so far as you tell the coordinator of the event that HE was leading vanguard which is why he gave a 10-minute speech about bullshit and when I went up there to give MY speech some people were confused. So, this was all a very lengthy and elaborate plan for an 18-year-old kid to treasonously assume control of a disgruntled internet group so he could accomplish.... nothing. Thomas did all this of his own accord. Thomas is a traitor and should be regarded as such.
— Dillon Irizarry, CEO/leader of Vanguard America
PF’s formal break from VA came amidst a movement-wide debate over the effectiveness of public demonstrations and the issue of optics in the wake of “Unite the Right,” which resulted in widespread condemnation from the mainstream public. In the midst of this contentious feud, Rousseau formally broke with VA on August 30, 2017, just 18 days after the rally, in an announcement posted to the VA’s southern region Discord server.
Due to the unwillingness to meet any semblance of a compromise to resolve ongoing disputes with disagreeing parties, we are rebranding and reorganizing as a new entity. Vanguard America, as you know it, will now be the "Patriots Front." ... Our website is under construction, and will be back online via the same domain. Our focus will remain much the same, as will our overal [sic] goals, this restructuring will happen alongside the creation of an extended manifesto, and a top-down reform of the entity's ranking system. ... This change comes alongside many new visuals, and a new overall look. The new name was carefully chosen, as it serves several purposes. It can help inspire sympathy among those more inclined to fence-sitting, and can be easily justified to our ideaology [sic] and worldview. The original American patriots were nothing short of revolutionaries. The word patriot itself comes from the same root as paternal and patriarch. It means loyalty to something intrinsically based in blood.
Rousseau’s conscious rebranding under the banner of PF was a direct consequence of “Unite the Right” organizers’ inability to control the rally’s presentation. Swastikas and other Nazi-era imagery was prominent among attendees who were also chanting slogans such as “Jews will not replace us.” PF was one of several hate groups that sought to recast itself as mainstream, patriotic Americans by dressing up their propaganda and rhetoric in Americana.
PF’s manifesto makes frequent reference to American historical figures, casting its politics as a revival of an allegedly authentic American identity based on “pan-European” colonizers. As Rousseau notes in his internal announcement of the organization’s split with VA, PF’s rebranding was aesthetic, not ideological. The group’s politics remain staunchly white nationalist, albeit less explicitly.
PF’s manifesto states, “Our people must learn to internalize their natural identities and come to connect that re-emerging identity with their homeland. Americans are descendants of Europeans, but at the same time they are not European. This nation is unique in its newly realized pan-European identity which has allowed it to succeed.”
The manifesto continues with a call for the formation of a white ethnostate.
“The state has long since ceased to advocate for the interests of the descendants of its creators, and thus a State which will be, above all else, a reflection of the national interest must be implemented fully and absolutely.”
PF’s manifesto is also explicit in its exclusion of people of color from its conception of pan-European identity:
An African, for example, may have lived, worked, and even been classed as a citizen in America for centuries, yet he is not American. He is, as he likely prefers to be labelled, an African in America. The same rule applies to others who are not of the founding stock of our people as well as to those who do not share the common unconscious that permeates throughout our greater civilization, and the European diaspora.
PF frequently inveighs against “replacement populations,” meaning any non-white resident, immigrant or refugee, as a direct threat to its mission. Its manifesto accuses these often-vulnerable communities as a threat to so-called pan-European culture. PF asserts, “The nation will see the thin veneer of civilization begin to wane as resources are diverted from them to the replacement population.”
Roughly a dozen members of PF turned this xenophobic platform into street activism at a San Antonio, Texas, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center on July 28, 2018. PF members marched up to an “Occupy ICE” protest encampment chanting “Strong nations, strong borders” before filming themselves vandalizing the protesters’ tents and signs. Rousseau, who is based in Texas, was among PF members filmed in the encounter.
PF’s activism typically consists of anonymously posting flyers, dropping banners off buildings or overpasses or performing miscellaneous acts of public service such as park cleanups. When PF orchestrates protests or public appearances, they are typically tightly choreographed and scripted to maximize propaganda value. Virtually all its activities are undertaken with propaganda value in mind.
Such was the case at a PF demonstration at the University of Texas at Austin on November 3, 2017, with roughly 30 members gathering around a statue of George Washington on campus with torches and flares while Rousseau delivered a speech stating, “America our nation stands before an existential threat. The lives of your children, and your children’s children, and your prosperity beyond that, dangle above a den of vipers. A corrupt, rootless, global, and tyrannical elite has usurped your democracy and turned it into a weapon, first to enslave and then to replace you.”
In a similarly theatrical performance, members of PF besieged a group of Houston anarchists at a book fair at the Multicultural Education through the Arts community center on September 24, 2017. A group attending a seminar on “refusing fascism” titled “Punching Nazis” barricaded themselves in the building while masked members of PF and local affiliates of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer and the white nationalist radio network The Right Stuff lit flares and chanted outside the building.
Rousseau maintains strict control over PF. Members are barred from holding membership with any rival organization and must regularly engage in activism — such as posting flyers in their local communities — or risk expulsion. Members’ typically mundane local activism is then distributed across PF’s social media accounts alongside ostentatious quotes from PF’s manifesto. To amplify their message, PF requires its members to post a certain amount of racist propaganda a month according to leaked documents. PF also requires members to drive up to 50 to 100 miles to post racist propaganda, which allows the group to appear larger than it is. In practice this means that to fulfill their monthly quotas members often cross state lines to post racist propaganda that intimidate targeted groups.
PF takes cues from the larger conservative movement that it seeks to influence and recruit from. Following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, PF followed conservative hysteria over racial justice protests and went on a hate rampage across the U.S. Between May 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, PF destroyed 35 murals and memorials across the U.S. that honored Floyd and other Black victims of police violence, as well as murals that depicted Black historical figures, LGBTQ pride, Hmong culture, and Chicano culture.
In 2022, as the conservative outrage machine shifted focus and began to target LGBTQ inclusive programming and health care, PF followed suit. That year PF protested against LBGTQ inclusive programs six times, including three events in Texas. Most notably, the group’s first attempt to protest a Pride event failed. On June 11, 2022, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho stopped a rented box truck near a Pride event packed with PF members after receiving a call from a concerned resident who reportedly saw a “little army” get inside the back of the truck. Including the members in the cab of the truck and in another vehicle, 31 PF members were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot.
About a month later many of the same members charged in Idaho stormed through the narrow streets of Boston chanting “Reclaim America” while wielding shields and flag poles. Along their way, the group was confronted by Charles Murrell, a Black artist and activist who was enjoying a lunchtime stroll. As Murrell stood his ground; PF members inflamed the situation by lobbing invectives and racist dog whistles, according to video Patriot Front posted online. The video then shows an irate mob of masked white men surround Murrell and use their shields to stop his escape. After allegedly assaulting Murrell, PF members continued their march. Eventually, the group hopped on the subway to return to their vehicles in the suburbs. After exiting the train station, the Patriot Front group was met by antifascist activists Rob Webber and his wife Lauren Pespisa who have documented local far right extremist groups for years. After exiting the train, PF members sprinted to their vehicles and can be seen on Webber’s video trying to conceal their license plates. However, according to their Twitter posts about the incident, Webber had already captured video of each license plate after they found a line of parked cars from out of state, including from states PF members are widely known to reside like South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Michigan
The strategic and tactical failures in Boston and Idaho make it harder for PF to maintain brand consistency with white nationalists, but PF continues to engage in the most street activism of any white nationalist group, which provides PF many opportunities build their base of support. A look inside the organization, however, shows the limits of PF and the radical nature of its members.
Inside Patriot Front
Like other hate and extremist groups, the need to recruit and grow their members makes PF a target for antifascist activists who attempt to infiltrate white nationalist groups to expose and disrupt their activities. Since 2018, antifascist activists have infiltrated PF at least five times, which has led to journalist and activist networks obtaining thousands of documents, including internal chat logs, audio and video recordings, and photographs. The laxed operational security measures of PF that are responsible for these infiltrations led to the identification of more than 130 current and former members since 2019.
PF keeps records of members’ exercise regiments, weight, meeting attendance, event participation, and logs when a member attends events with affiliated white nationalist groups, such as the National Justice Party. Leaders publicly and privately shame members who do not adhere to exercise routines, attend events, or do not purchase enough PF branded promotional material. According to leaked documents, members are expected to post of certain number of racist flyers and banners per months. Patriot Front members purchase PF branded flyers, stickers, and stencils from Rousseau at a premium. A few members have taken to private chats to complain about this arrangement, including a member on Nov. 16, 2021, who claimed his chapter was “singlehandedly paying Thomas’ rent.”
Owing to these security failures and the stress placed on members, Patriot Front churns through people and has trouble growing its numbers, according to leaked audio and internal chats. However, members of PF who remain appear to be deeply committed to the personality cult around Rousseau and the group’s tactics. Their belief in Rousseau underpins the group’s sense of invincibility despite disregard for their safety, not to mention the safety of the public. After one member fell asleep at the wheel while driving through the night in Utah on a propaganda run, Rousseau hid the accident from members. The February 2021 accident occurred when Ryan Stoneburner fell asleep while driving a rented minivan, which caused the car to careen into a ditch and flip over. One PF member was killed. Stoneburner and five other passengers were severely injured, including Rousseau who needed to have emergency surgery, according to an investigation by SPLC’s publishing arm, Hatewatch.
Images of unmasked PF members sitting handcuffed on a grassy knoll in Idaho with their rented box truck in the background captured mainstream attention in the summer of 2022, and has come to symbolize a summer that saw white nationalist and general hate groups fixate on LGBTQ inclusive programs and events. However, PF routinely relies on box trucks to transport its members, which demonstrates the lack of concern for their own safety and the unquestioned authority of Rousseau.
Renting a box truck is a cheap but a hazardous and potentially deadly option for transporting people. Inside the storage compartment, which has no seat belts and little ventilation, PF members stand toe to toe according to leaked video. Temperatures can climb to over 110 degrees. Members have arrived at their destination and exited the rented trucks feeling dizzy and sick according to leaked chats. However, instead of questioning this tactic. members praise Rousseau in private messages and recommend conditioning members for extreme temperatures. Writing to Rousseau in a private message on Dec. 6, 2021, a Patriot Front member suggests the group should “take guys to a sauna to try and get them accustomed to heat and humidity for sustained periods of time. Also, many people are under the impression they will suffocate in the truck...I think the real issue is heat not oxygen ultimately, in addition to people panicking. How American is meditation? Not very I suspect.”
PF has rented box trucks to shuttle members to and from drop off sites on numerous occasions, including in Philadelphia on July 3, 2021, and Washington D.C. on Dec. 4, 2021. In Philadelphia, residents chased the group into a parking lot where PF members frantically opened smoke grenades to conceal their escape by the rented trucks, then quickly shutting the door to the storage compartment where about 25 PF members were standing. As the truck was driving away, video of the incident Patriot Front posted to its propaganda channels appears to show much of the smoke still trapped in the back of the truck. Members can be heard on video coughing and struggling to communicate in the tight space on what was a particularly hot and humid summer night. Police stopped the rented box trucks a short time later, forcing PF members to find alternative modes of transportation back to their vehicles.
In December 2021 in D.C., more than 100 PF members marched around the U.S. Mall after being dropped off in several rented box trucks. After the march, PF members waited more than three hours for the box trucks to return. According to leaked chat logs and video of the incident, an antifascist infiltrator who joined the organization in the months preceding the D.C. march leaked the planning documents to local activists who immobilized the rental trucks. After waiting three hours and finally being able to cram into the box trucks, PF members returned to the vehicle pickup location in Fort Washington, Maryland to find 15 of their vehicles vandalized.
Despite these failures, the group’s top-down discipline, brand consistency, and appeals to the larger conservative movement have found success while many peer groups have struggled to maintain relevance. The fallout from “Unite the Right” left many other white nationalist groups completely alienated from mainstream politics. PF, through its garish patriotism, has also managed to rehabilitate the explicitly fascist agenda of VA with a foothold in alt-tech platforms for a nationwide membership.