Why right-wingers claim white nationalist group Patriot Front is an FBI sting
Patriotic Front. Illustrated | Getty Images
The white nationalist group Patriot Front held a march in Boston on July 2. Rightists believe the group is secretly run by the FBI. Here's everything you need to know:
What happened in Boston?
Dozens of masked members of the group known as the Patriot Front marched through the streets of Boston on Saturday with flags and police shields. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Patriot Front is a "white nationalist hate group."
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu condemned the march on Twitter. "To the white supremacists who ran downtown today, when we march, we don't hide our faces," she wrote. "Their hatred is as cowardly as it is disgusting and goes against everything Boston stands for."
What does the Patriot Front believe?
The group's manifesto envisions an anti-democratic future for the United States. "The Republic's days are over in America as the system becomes too weak to do its duty," it says. “The damage done to this nation and its people will not be undone if every matter requires the approval and blessing of the dysfunctional American democratic system. Democracy has failed this once great nation.”
The document also expresses the group's white nationalism: "An African, for example, may have lived, worked, and even been classified as a citizen in America for centuries, but he is not an American... The same rule applies to others who are." are not from the stock of our people."
At a rally in 2017, one of the group's spokespersons repeated a version of the Great Replacement theory. "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," he said.
What else has the Patriot Front done?
Patriot Front split from white nationalist group Vanguard America (VA) after the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. James Alex Fields Jr., the man who killed Heather Heyer by ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, was a member of the VA.
The VA contingent that attended Unite the Right was led by a high school student named Thomas Rousseau, but shortly after the rally he got into a power struggle with the VA, according to messages from the group's Discord server, which were later released -Guide Dillon Irizarry online. By September, Rousseau had formally parted ways with VA. The new Patriot Front splinter group will adopt a hyper-American aesthetic to appeal to “those who sit by the fence” and be more palatable, Rousseau announced.
Former alt-righter Matt Forney said in a recent blog post that this fragmentation is part of a larger trend. "After Unite the Right, many of the key alt-right figures showed their lack of character, turned on each other, got each other out of jobs, and even turned themselves in to the police and FBI over petty disputes," he wrote.
The Patriot Front then remained relatively obscure for over four years before erupting with a December 2021 rally in Washington, D.C. made headlines. Only about 100 people attended -- marching down the National Mall without a permit, wearing white face coverings, sunglasses, hats and khakis, and carrying shields and American flags -- but the event received extensive media coverage thanks to a clever ruse.
Ahead of the event, organizers appear to have set up a fake Twitter account with an AI-generated profile picture under the name of Sheryl Lewellen, the Washington Post explains. The account sent its first tweet — "HAPPENING NOW About 500 men with riot shields are marching in #WashingtonDC" along with video of the protesters — on the day of the event. Several mainstream media outlets picked up the tweet, broadening the account's reach. Then, after the event, the account changed its name to "Reclaim America," dropped the fake image, and began posting Patriot Front content.
On June 11, 2022, a group of Patriot Front members, including Rousseau, were arrested near an LGBT pride event in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The 31 men were found in a U-Haul truck along with several shields and at least one smoke grenade. They were charged with conspiracy to riot, a misdemeanor.
Why do some say the Patriot Front is an FBI covert operation?
A few days after the Patriot Front demonstration in D.C. podcast host Joe Rogan suggested that the protesters could actually be federal agents in disguise. "They just appear out of nowhere, with same-sized flags, same outfits, goose-stepping...in an orderly line? Who organized this? ... I'm calling cops – t,” he said. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) voiced a similar theory, arguing that true right-wing protesters would never cover their faces the way Patriot Front protesters did. Other media outlets and individuals, including right-wing news site The Gateway Pandit, repeated these claims after the Idaho arrests. Coeur D'Alene Police Chief Lee White strongly told reporters that the men who arrested his officers were not "FBIs in disguise."
The group didn't "appear out of nowhere," as Rogan suggested. "Far from being an 'unknown' entity that arose suspiciously...in December 2021, both the Patriot Front and Rousseau have been the subject of surveillance and reporting since 2017," reports Snopes. Gigabytes of leaked emails and Discord server messages from the group also appear to be genuine.
And yet the theory remains. After the march in Boston, former Fox News producer Kyle Becker joked, "The feds are doing off-Broadway musicals now. Coming to a town near you: 'The Patriot Front!'" Daily Wire host Michael Knowles shared the tweet, adding, "It literally says 'Front.' A bit on the nose, Quantico!"
This would not be the first time the American right has tried to blame the FBI for the actions of extremists. In January 2022, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) implied during a Senate hearing that a man named Ray Epps, who was involved in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, was actually an FBI informant involved in instigating the assigned to the uprising.
A spokesman for the Jan. 6 committee later said the committee "interviewed Mr. Epps," who told them that "on Jan. 5 or 6, he was not employed by, cooperating with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency." other time and that he was never an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency. But that wasn't enough to quash the rumor. Last month, Cruz again shared video from the hearing, asking when the House Committee would begin "finding REAL answers about what happened to the FBI on Jan. 6."
Of course, it's also not uncommon for federal agents to actually trick members of the far right into committing crimes. In April, a jury acquitted two men accused of kidnapping Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) two years earlier and failed to convict two others. The alleged conspirators argued that they had been trapped by the FBI. A July 2021 investigation by Buzzfeed News appeared to corroborate these claims, concluding that "the level of involvement [of FBI whistleblowers] raises the question of whether, without them, there would have been a conspiracy at all."
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