- Patriot Front is a white nationalist organization that sprang from neo-Nazi group Vanguard America.
- Patriot Front has committed numerous acts of vandalism and targeted marginalized communities.
- 31 members were arrested and identified on Saturday near a Pride rally in Idaho.
Thirty-one men tied to the white nationalist Patriot Front group, including its founder and active leader, were arrested by Idaho police on Saturday. Members of the extremist group had gathered with riot gear near a local Pride event, and have all since been charged with a misdemeanor count of conspiracy to riot.
Patriot Front originated in 2017 following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The movement formed as an offshoot and rebrand of Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi group whose ideology shares many similarities with Patriot Front’s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. James Alex Fields Jr., the white supremacist who killed Heather Heyer and injured numerous others after driving into them at the rally, was associated with Vanguard America.
Patriot Front’s belief system revolves around white nationalist ideas of crusading against what it euphemistically calls “replacement populations”—a reference to the white nationalist conspiracy of non-white immigrants “replacing” white citizens, which has been cited by multiple far-right mass shooters. The group promotes a white ethnostate for America, according to the SPLC.
“Patriot Front has become one of the most prolific white nationalist propaganda organizations,” Stephen Piggott, a program analyst at the anti-extremism organization Western States Center, told Insider.
In recent years, the group has become known for public demonstrations and violent acts of vandalism. The group has defaced numerous Black Lives Matter signs and memorials for Black Americans who were killed by police. They’ve also targeted other marginalized groups such as immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community. The group has often filmed itself committing such acts, according to a HuffPost report into the organization, and posts clips of their operations on Telegram channels to celebrate and promote themselves.
In one video, Patriot Front members are shown tossing two pro-LGBTQ flags into a fire.
“To those who destroy our nation, we will destroy your symbols and all that you worship,” a member said in the clip, according to HuffPost.
The group’s public activities were once limited to “publicity stunts,” and demonstrations where members marched without engaging with local communities, Piggott said, but more recent demonstrations have shown a concerning pattern of more direct confrontation.
“The shift towards this more open vandalism is a problematic shift, and it’s an indication that the group is getting more extreme,” Piggott said.
Piggott compared Patriot Front’s rhetoric to the far-right Proud Boys group, saying a goal of both organizations is to “intimidate people of color, LGBTQ folks and communities, and that’s done by holding these demonstrations or engaging in large-scale propaganda.”
Patriot Front also has a history of planting banners and distributing other propaganda materials like fliers, and in 2019 was responsible for 80% of white supremacist propaganda incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Members of the group have showed up at numerous demonstrations this year, including the anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. The group often appears in masks with various paraphernalia and marches in columns. At a separate December 2021 demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial, around a hundred members of the group marched with shields and flags around the nation’s capital.
Patriot Front has taken measures to ensure secrecy and protect itself from public scrutiny, including having members not tell each other their real names and not simultaneously be involved with any other organizations, according to the HuffPost report.
Despite these efforts to keep members’ identities private and evade legal trouble, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office released the names and faces of 31 of the group’s members after they were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to riot in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on Saturday. Authorities detained the members, who rode into the city packed in a U-Haul truck, after a citizen tipped off police about men who “looked like a little army” and had riot gear. The Patriot Front members were assembled outside of the Pride in the Park rally, held by the nonprofit organization North Idaho Pride Alliance.
The city’s police chief, Lee White, said in a press conference they had been informed prior that disruptive groups would show up to the Pride event, and had coordinated a police response.
Among the members arrested over the weekend was Patriot Front’s current leader and founder, the Texas-based Thomas R. Rousseau, who has previously described himself as a fascist. The white nationalist was originally involved with Vanguard America but formed Patriot Front after infighting following the Charlottesville rally. Rousseau wrote the group’s manifesto and designed its visual aesthetic, according to the SPLC.
Kieran P. Morris, the leader of the New York chapter of the organization, was also arrested in Idaho. Morris traveled with Patriot Front members to meet other extremist organizations across Europe in 2019, according to HuffPost, including the German neo-Nazi NPD party.
The Patriot Front members who came to the rally and were arrested were from over 10 states, according to The Spokesman-Review, citing the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.