So Many Ways to Glow
Patriot Front may not technically be staffed by FBI agents, but the effect is the same.
To many on the Left, the group known as “Patriot Front”—known for its surprise marches while wearing a uniform of khaki pants, blue t-shirts, and white balaclavas, displaying American flags and banners reading “Reclaim America” or similar sentiments—is a terrifying example of how rapidly fascism is metastasizing across American conservatism. Miles of column inches have been written about the group, both by professional “hate-watchers” such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and by various fear mongering journalists at Slate, Daily Beast, and the like, nearly all of whom exclusively cite and quote these so-called experts.
Meanwhile to the Right, given that Patriot Front dresses like cannon fodder for COBRA—the eternal (and always incompetent) enemy in the cartoon TV series G.I. Joe—the group is regarded as an FBI office costume party. Patriot Front, from this perspective, is a thinly-disguised “op” to trap foolish right wingers into supporting a criminal conspiracy in order to meet the Bureau’s statistical need for white supremacist terrorist arrests. According to FBI whistleblowers, special agents can receive substantial cash bonuses for hitting white supremacist arrest targets, so official perfidy seems plausible.
The group’s marches or stunts, which circulate prolifically online, are met by howls of derision from conservatives. They’re easy to mock, after all, as the small handful of Patriot Front members who show up are nearly always surrounded by a swarm of “anti-fascist” protestors and numerous police, who are present to ensure that the supposedly terrifying and dangerous fascists don’t get torn limb from limb.
So who are Patriot Front? Are they in fact insidious fascist stormtroopers and a grave threat to Our Democracy? Or are they a Lincoln Project political campaign stunt with a larger budget?
The truth is slightly more complicated than the online caricature, but in many ways no less ridiculous.
By all reporting, the founder of Patriot Front is Dallas-raised high school graduate Thomas Ryan Rousseau. According to the SPLC’s breathless dossier, Rousseau’s only notable accomplishment is having once served at The Sidekick, the student newspaper of Coppell High School, where he “honed his propaganda skills” and “propelled his rapid ascension into the leadership of the racist right.” Though he started his career while still in high school, Rousseau is by no means the youngest would-be Mussolini identified by terrified fascism spotters. In 2020 Estonian police arrested the “Commander” of the dreaded Feuerkrieg Division of the notorious white supremacist group Atomwaffen, who turned out to be a 13-year old boy.
Rousseau wasn’t so much “propelled” into leadership as he was stuck picking up the pieces of a previous group to which he belonged, Vanguard America (VA), which imploded following the “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville. James Fields, who was convicted of killing anti-fascist activist Heather Heyer with his vehicle during the protest, had marched with VA during the event.
Rousseau, previously VA’s Texas Chapter head, sought to clean up the group’s image with the Patriot Front rebranding and a new emphasis on an Americana aesthetic rather than ostentatious Nazi symbolism following the Charlottesville debacle. So, if the Patriot Front looks like a cheap, low-IQ imitation of conservative patriotism, that’s because it is.
As far as can be determined, there has never been a time when Patriot Front’s communications, which take place primarily on the gaming chat platform Discord, were not infiltrated by Antifa activists, including even before the group was created.
Patriot Front information appears to have first leaked in early 2018 by the Torch Antifa Network, according to the SPLC. Torch Antifa is the oldest Antifa group in the country, going back to the eighties, and its leaders included a former member of the notorious domestic terrorist group, the Weather Underground.
Subsequent leaks happen regularly every few years, typically through the Antifa-aligned media outlet Unicorn Riot, which has received so many hundreds of gigabytes of Patriot Front data over the years that it built its own online search system just to deal with it all.
Patriot Front events are routinely disrupted by Antifa activists, who slash their tires, vandalize their cars, and broadcast their names, faces, and license plates on websites. The notion some conservatives have that the identities of Patriot Front members are a carefully-guarded FBI secret is simply factually incorrect. Anyone who cares to can find the names, faces, and home addresses of multiple Patriot Front members, thanks to Antifa doxxing.
This set of circumstances is common, as naïve white supremacist groups display limited knowledge of operational security or counterintelligence practices. For example, the group the Base, which at one time was the preferred white supremacist group for the media to scare people, had its Telegram channel run by an Antifa member and was riddled with Antifa activists, undercover journalists, and FBI agents.
When a Patriot Front event was broken up by law enforcement in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, police had perfect knowledge of where the group was going to be and their alleged intentions to instigate a riot after a “concerned citizen” provided a tip. Multiple journalists with close ties to Antifa were on hand to record the arrest of Patriot Front members. It is reasonable to assume that the “citizen” who tipped off police was actually an Antifa activist.
There are even examples of Antifa deliberately orchestrating white supremacist events as “honeypots” for the sole purpose of identifying their online opponents.
Efforts to expose Patriot Front have been so extensive that in 2022, Washington, D.C. Police Lieutenant Shane Lamond was catfished by an Antifa activist who was posing as a Patriot Front member while seeking intelligence on the group. The two farcically went back and forth trying to acquire intelligence on each other’s ties to far-right extremism.
After the January 6 Capitol riot, however, the Antifa activist was granted anonymity by the Washington Post in order to leak the contents of his conversations with Lamond. That leak was conveniently timed, as the defense attorney for Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio desired to call Lamond to testify about his liaison duties, which they believed would show that the Proud Boys had earnestly sought to work with law enforcement to avoid trouble during protests. The DOJ then threatened Lamond with possible charges to discourage his testimony and subsequently indicted him for alleged obstruction. He has pled not guilty.
That the DOJ would take the word of an Antifa activist pretending to be a Patriot Front fascist over a local police officer tasked with intelligence collection is scarcely surprising. The Biden Administration and congressional Democrats, backed by leftist media, have made slandering and purging local law enforcement a top “countering domestic terrorism” priority.
There’s less and less daylight between Antifa activists and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. For example, a recent Media Research Center report documented how Michael Loadenthal, an “antifascist” and supposed counter-extremism researcher at the University of Cincinnati, presented a panel on far-right extremism alongside an agent of the Department of Homeland Security.
Loadenthal, a self-identified anarchist whose masters thesis was on “Clandestine Direct Action and Economic Sabotage,” openly encourages Antifa members to infiltrate, expose, and disrupt political enemies, including using illegal means. Loadenthal admits that he has had “many conversations” with the FBI about the use of illegal tactics.
Increasingly the Biden Administration has sought to involve both non-profits (like Antifa!) and for-profit contractors in its efforts to extend surveillance over its perceived opponents. As CNN reported in May of 2021, the Biden Administration was interested in utilizing private contractors to “circumvent” restrictions on spying on perceived extremists. As Lee Fang reported on Substack, private contractors, including foreign threat intelligence firms, have furnished intelligence to the FBI by means of creating fake accounts and personas to gain the trust of subjects, sometimes as young as 13 or 14, in Discord gaming chats and Reddit, among other platforms.
All of this is being done as part of the Biden Administration’s Countering Domestic Terrorism strategy, which calls for “a new systematic approach for utilizing pertinent external, non-governmental analysis and information that will provide enhanced situational awareness of today’s domestic terrorism threat.”
So, it’s increasingly likely that the so-called “feds” infiltrating various groups, ranging from Patriot Front to COVID-19 vaccine skeptics, may not actually be feds at all—at least, not technically. As a result, they aren’t subjected to even minimal legal restrictions faced by federal law enforcement. And perhaps more importantly, it allows DOJ and FBI officials to deny illegal domestic spying and provocation with a straight face.
So are the Patriot Front actually “feds” in the strictest definition of the term? Almost certainly not. They are most likely what they appear to be, a small handful of very online, socially awkward ignoramuses, marching to the beat of a former high school newspaper writer who makes a living selling Patriot Front merch.
Are they riddled with informers of all kinds, each one diming every move they make to the FBI, or various left-wing media, all of whom are anxious to make Patriot Front the fascist beating heart of conservatism?
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