Led by an 18-year-old Texas man, the far right splinter group born from the fallout over Charlottesville connects flyer-plastering activists online around the country.
When the flyers first began appearing around Kitsap County — a mostly rural place in Washington’s southwestern Puget Sound, centered around the midsize city of Bremerton and its U.S. Navy shipyard — officials just quietly took them down. But then someone plastered them along a busy boulevard in suburban Gig Harbor, forcing local police to peel them off lampposts, and attracting local news reporters.
In large black letters, they read, variously: “Resurrection Through Insurrection,” featuring a large fascist symbol, and “Conquered Not Stolen,” accompanied by a map of the United States. They all direct readers to the “Patriot Front” website at “bloodandsoil.org”.
Local residents were shocked and baffled at the prospect of neo-Nazis in their midst. “I didn’t even know there were any in Gig Harbor, or anywhere else in this area,” one woman told a KIRO-TV reporter.
The flyers, and other harbingers of white-supremacist organizing activity, were not just relegated to one small rural county in western Washington, however. All around the United States — in Texas, Maryland, Florida, California, South Carolina, Kansas and Delaware — identical flyers were appearing, plastered onto lightpoles and windows, all of them touting the same “Patriot Front” and its website.
What people were seeing, in fact, was not just a tiny local faction of neo-Nazis, but the first manifestations of a new nationwide network. Although still relatively small in number, they were eager to band together as a white-nationalist army working to create “the new American nation state.” As their website promises: “Democracy has failed in this once great nation, now the time for a new Caesar to revive the American spirit has dawned.”
“Patriot Front” and the “bloodandsoil.org” website are the brainchild of a cluster of Texas-based neo-Nazis who created their new entity — a blend of traditional white-supremacist ideology, alt-right sensibilities and activism, and militia-style armed insurrection — as a result of internecine quarreling within their original organization, Vanguard America (VA), in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer, when one of their marchers drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and maiming 19.
The leader of Patriot Front is an 18-year-old Texas man named Thomas Rousseau, who became radicalized as a teenager at online forums such as IronMarch.org and other alt-right forums where neo-Nazi ideology was exchanged freely. Rousseau formed Patriot Front in late August as a spinoff group dedicated to bringing white nationalists together under an activist banner.
So far, the bulk of that activism has revolved around guerrilla plastering of flyers of various public locales at nighttime, as well as setting up freeway banners on overpasses that advertise their website to drivers.
In Gig Harbor, police chief Kelly Busey wound up with a pile of about 30 crumpled flyers on his desk, which he told a Tacoma reporter he threw away.
City officials said the flyers were taken down not because of their content, but because posters of any kind weren’t permitted at those locations.
There had been other recent indications of neo-Nazi organizing in Kitsap County, as well as elsewhere in the Puget Sound region generally, notably banners erected on freeway overpasses. One of those, reading “America is White,” was reported to Busey the week before, but had been taken down before an officer could arrive to remove it.
“I went on their website and read their manifesto,” Busey said. “It’s a bunch of blah, and towards the end it talks about minorities. This does not come to a free-speech issue for us. We did look to see if this was a hate crime, but the answer to that was no.”
There had, however, been a hate crime committed by a young white man who was involved in the same group in mid-September at Kitsap Mall in Silverdale, north of Bremerton. Matthew S. Holland, 26, reportedly attempted to recruit two kiosk workers at the mall into his neo-Nazi organization, and then began verbally assaulting a Filipino woman at the mall, demanding to see her green card, and then similarly abusing a Hispanic security guard. Prosecutors charged him with felony malicious harassment; he currently awaits a January trial.
Kitsap prosecutors, however, told Hatewatch that they knew virtually nothing about Holland, who they said is not from Kitsap County but recently arrived from out of state.
Wherever the flyers have appeared, authorities have wondered: Where are these neo-Nazis coming from? And just who and what is Patriot Front anyway?
The origins of Patriot Front lie in neo-Nazi organizing that began in 2015 at the messageboard IronMarch.org, itself an outgrowth of the community of dedicated fascists who commented at online forums such as 4chan and Stormfront, and allegedly founded by Russian nationalist Alexander Slavros. IronMarch in turn spun off the activist group AtomWaffen (German for “Atomic Bomb”) Division, whose members engaged in various far-right actions earlier this year. AtomWaffen activists favored plastering flyers advertising their organization, and their reach included the University of Washington campus in Seattle.
While AtomWaffen was explicit in its embrace of German-style Nazism, other fascists at IronMarch began discussing ways to broaden their reach in order to compete with alt-right and Identitarian groups such as Identity Evropa for young recruits. Out of these discussions they created a new group in 2015, first named Reaction America, then renamed in 2016 as American Vanguard. When one of that group’s leaders was exposed for offering up information to an antifascist group and IronMarch users and administrators began "doxxing" AV members, the group broke away from IronMarch. In early 2017, the organization once again rebranded as Vanguard America. After an AtomWaffen member in Florida shot and killed two other members in May 2017, telling authorities the group was planning to blow up a nuclear plant, a number of AtomWaffen participants joined ranks with Vanguard America.
The leader of Vanguard America, a Marine Corps veteran from New Mexico named Dillon Irizarry (but better known by his nom de plume Dillon Hopper), began organizing rallies at which members openly carried firearms. At its website, VA claimed that America was built on the foundation of White Europeans, and demanded the nation recapture the glory of the Aryan nation, free of the influence of the international Jews.
VA had a significant presence in Charlottesville for the “Unite the Right” rally in August, as several of its members joined in the August 11 torch-bearing march onto the University of Virginia campus. The next day, a phalanx of VA marchers chanting “Blood and Soil!” marched toward the protest at a city park, and then were recorded acting as a shield wall meant to protect the park.
Among those VA marchers was James Alex Fields, the 20-year-old Ohio man who, later that afternoon, allegedly drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters and maimed 20 people, killing one, 32-year-old Heather Heyer. VA later issued a statement claiming that Fields was not actually a member of the organization.
Another marcher that Saturday in Charlottesville – indeed, photographed only two marchers away from Fields – was Thomas Rousseau, who not only was a member but had taken a prominent leadership role in the group online. Based in Texas, Rousseau noted in chats that VA’s statement “never said that he did anything wrong.” Soon he and other participants were recommending yet another name change.
On August 30, Rousseau announced, in a major split with Irizarry/Hopper, that “we are rebranding and reorganizing as a new entity,” and henceforth be known as “Patriots Front” (the “s” was dropped in short order). “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 easily be used to justify our worldview.”
The mention of “fence-sitting” was a reference to the ongoing discussion within the online neo-Nazi community about engaging and recruiting young men sympathetic to their underlying cause but not yet fully radicalized. There have been similar discussions about drawing in “Patriots” from the far-right militia movement, who have traditionally insisted on drawing a line on participating in outright white supremacist activity.
Rousseau also made it clear that the plan was to translate online discussion into real-world actions, concrete activism: “You will be expected to work, and work hard to meet the bar rising,” he wrote. “Inactivity will get you expelled, unwillingness to work and contribute in any capacity will as well.”
The “work,” as Patriot Front’s organizing has played, has primarily comprised making their presence felt at rallies and protests, spreading the word with freeway banners, and plastering flyers in public locations, where they are often summarily removed.
So far, that ethos is how Patriot Front organizing has played out on the ground. The group first made its presence felt in Houston in late September, when about a dozen members appeared outside a book fair and demanded a fight with antifascist organizers who reportedly were inside giving a talk. (Rousseau later led a similar protest outside an Austin bookstore.)
In addition to Rousseau – who could be seen wearing a dark blue shirt and leading chants – the Houston protest notably featured the presence of longtime neo-Nazi figure Robert Ray Warren, a contributor to the alt-right website The Daily Stormer (under the pen name “Azzmador”) who had also marched in Charlottesville. Earlier that summer, Warren was involved in a heated dispute with an Oath Keeper at an alt-right rally in Houston that became a well-known marker of the division between “Patriot” militiamen and the alt-right.
Other members around the country began taking their activism public by erecting banners promoting the Patriot Front website on freeway overpasses, frequently for just short periods and removed before authorities could arrive to remove them. In Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood in September, a group of masked neo-Nazis briefly unfurled a swastika-laden banner advertising IronMarch.org; two months later, in suburban Bellevue, a similar group put up a banner advertising bloodandsoil.org on an Interstate 90 overpass, where it was shortly removed by Department of Transportation workers. In October, someone erected a Patriot Front “Resurrection Through Insurrection” banner on a freeway near Los Angeles, Calif. And in November, Patriot Front activists put up a banner in San Antonio, Texas, on the Texas-San Antonio campus.
The most widespread manifestation of Patriot Front’s organizing efforts, however, has been the appearance of its flyers in public spaces around the country. Their stark black-and-white posters – featuring a variety of slogans, including “We Have a Right to Exist,” “Fascism: The Next Step for America,” “Will Your Speech Be Hate Speech?,” as well as screeds urging “Patriots” to “reconquer your birthright,” while others urge “all white Americans” to “report any and all illegal aliens” – have been either taped or glued to lampposts, telephone poles, windows, doors, bulletin boards, and anywhere else they can be seen by the public. They have especially targeted college campuses.
Besides the flyers plastered around Gig Harbor, Patriot Front posters have been put up in such public spaces as the UCLA campus in Los Angeles; the University of Delaware in Newark; the University of South Florida campus in Tampa (twice), as well as the St. Petersburg-Seminole Campus in St. Petersburg; the campus of Towson University in Towson, Maryland; at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersy; the University of North Texas in Denton; the University of Texas in Austin; the Collin College campus in McKinney, Texas; at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth; at Olympic College in Bremerton; the Weatherford College Campus in Weatherford, Texas; and in public spaces in Seattle, St. Petersburg, Wichita Falls, Texas, and Charleston, South Carolina. The flyers also recently reappeared throughout the town of New Brunswick.
Patriot Front also has an active social media presence, with a Twitter account that apparently fits within the site’s community standards by primarily focusing on the flyers and videos from its rallies, keeping a record of its real-world activism. There are also Twitter pages devoted to state chapters, such as one for Washington state.
However, Patriot Front is notable for its utterly undisguised and unrepentant fascism. It’s also utterly lacking in the often juvenile transgressive humor, and use of pop culture and irony, that are core to much of the appeal of the alt-right online. Instead, its dead-serious advocacy of white-supremacist ideology is intended to appeal to a more militant mindset, an important byproduct of its origins in the IronMarch.org community. As the manifesto on its website explains in depth:
An African 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, or do not share the common unconscious that permeates throughout our greater civilization, and the European diaspora. The American identity was something uniquely forged in the struggle that our ancestors waged to survive in this new continent. America is truly unique in this pan-European identity which forms the roots of our nationhood. 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. No man is complete simply to live, but to do more than that, to strive to create a path onward for his people, and to connect with the heritage he is undeniably a part of. That is what completes a man. Only then is he truly deserving of the title and a place among his people.
To date, Patriot Front appears mainly to be comprised of small clusters of dedicated neo-Nazis intent on spreading their fascist gospel to other right-wing extremists, especially “fence-sitting” alt-righters potentially attracted to violent street action. It is noteworthy mainly because of the ease and rapidity with which it has spread to nearly every corner of the country, and the open appeals to young white males who are the focus of their recruitment.
For police officers and other authorities dealing with the group’s activism, the issue mainly revolves around whether the real-world manifestations of their ideology run over from putting up flyers to harassing minorities at the local mall, as Kitsap County officials have found. For the most part, they remain intent on respecting their free-speech rights while being aware that these same activists can pose real problems later on.
“If we were to see someone putting up these flyers, we would engage them,” Chief Busey told the Tacoma News Tribune. “We want to identify them and we would want to see what their endgame is.”