Though it’s a neo-Nazi movement built on white nationalist principles, the far-right group known as Patriot Front has worked hard to frame itself as a non-violent group of “activists” advocating around “traditional” American values.
Its founder and leader, 24-year-old Thomas Rousseau, once banned Patriot Front members from openly discussing guns and violent tactics in group communications; new applicants to Patriot Front must also agree to be in control of their physical reactions and not turn violent, even under duress. Members around the country spread graffiti and stickers that cryptically speak of white supremacy through buzzwords like “liberty,” “posterity” and “reclaiming America.”
In reality, it’s an organization full of explicitly racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic men who are constantly flirting with confrontation as a tactic — which may be why 31 Patriot Front members were arrested in the northern Idaho town of Coeur d’Alene this weekend, after police pulled them, as well as a smoke grenade, shields and “operational plans,” out of a U-Haul truck driving toward an LGBTQ Pride event.
And online, Patriot Front uses endless propaganda to affirm that its members are strong, fit and ready to brawl. Calls for members to engage in “training” and preparing for violence, including by learning how to punch, grapple and wield defensive shields, are frequent. On Memorial Day weekend, Patriot Front hosted a camping “assembly,” in which it trained members using military-style drills, ranging from group runs in formation, sparring matches and even getting pepper-sprayed in the eyes.
In the recap video of the event, you see men getting staggered and knocked out while a circle of other members, all wearing the PF uniform of beige pants, dark blue shirt and white balaclavas, scream and holler around them. “The sweat and blood you sow in these next 40 hours will be sweat and blood our opponents waiting for us weeks ahead will not get from you,” Rousseau yells in the video.
Helping Rousseau document and disseminate his group’s action is someone who is very familiar with triggering violent brawls in the name of fascism: Robert Rundo, the founder of the neo-Nazi Rise Above Movement, based in Southen California. Started in 2016, the organization became notorious for engaging in street fights with leftist activists across California, often with their faces uncovered. It culminated in federal charges for inciting riots in 2018, for which Rundo was arrested and extradited from Central America.
It’s unclear exactly where his legal case stands, as a California judge dropped the charges based on First Amendment rights, then was overturned by a federal appeals court. Rundo petitioned the Supreme Court last year to reconsider the appeal, but was denied in January, meaning federal investigators can charge him once more. To avoid all of that, Rundo fled the country for Eastern Europe, where he’s been meeting with Nazis and building up his online brand — including a pivot to focusing on visual propaganda, merchandise and smaller fight clubs.
Clips and pics from Rundo’s “Active Clubs” look a lot like Patriot Front’s Memorial Day weekend event, and for good reason: It rebrands neo-Nazi ideology and physical toughness as a holistic form of self-improvement, necessary to protect the white race in the future. As Rundo reportedly wrote in a blog post, “Active Clubs” are intended to “awake the racial bonds between kin” through “shared fitness activities, sweating and bleeding together.” There are “Active Club” channels on Telegram for groups in Europe, Canada and across America; through these channels, thousands of followers consume far-right content produced by Rundo’s media arm, Media2Rise, which has become a powerful force in white nationalist organizing.
Uncoincidentally, these channels are also repositories of Patriot Front propaganda, especially that of the brawling type:
In one November conversation that was leaked, Rousseau notes that Patriot Front’s media team can expect assistance at a planned December 4th march in Washington, D.C., thanks to Rundo’s Media2Rise project and two of his lackeys — Graham Jones Whitson, a Patriot Front member known as ‘Mason TX’ and Media2Rise videographer; and Alan Michael Goff, a Montana neo-Nazi who operates under the pseudonym “Lucca Corgiat.”
The duo, along with Rundo, operate Media2Rise together. Whitson is often responsible for Patriot Front’s official propaganda, and Goff has become a cozy ally of the crew, being frequently name-checked in official communications, per leaked chats and phone calls. Media2Rise even produced a glowing documentary about Patriot Front, dubbed Sons of the Founders.
Taken in full, the connections are clear. Rousseau was just a high school teenager when he joined and led members of the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America at the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. He marched alongside fellow member James Alex Fields, Jr., who would become infamous for ramming counter-protestors and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Vanguard America splintered and fell apart in the aftermath, with Rousseau seizing power (and control of the group’s Discord server) and announcing the formation of Patriot Front that month.
He built up the club through a barrage of recruitment built on successful agitating and propaganda, claiming it’s merely a political organization while laying the foundation for prejudice and hate. Rousseau constantly harps on the need for Patriot Front members to steel themselves for conflict, framing violent ideology as self-defense. He takes a direct page from Rundo’s book by pushing white supremacists to demonstrate loyalty and toughness through physical pain, even if it’s against one another in training.
“It is very common for the leadership of these groups to disqualify violence, while doing things that are encouraging violence,” Pete Simi, a professor at Chapman University and an expert on white supremacists in the U.S., told ProPublica in 2019. “It is part of their strategy to avoid liability, while simultaneously promoting hate. When they say they are not violent, this is a lie. They are promoting violence by their goals.”
And Rundo’s media project is ready to platform all of it, whether through direct co-production and collaboration, or simply the spreading of Patriot Front materials through a mass network that weaponizes masculine strength for the far-right, neo-Nazi agenda.