On May 13, 2023, a group of around 200 men dressed in nearly identical sets of tan khakis, blue shirts, white face masks, sunglasses, and baseball caps marched through the National Mall in Washington, D.C.:
This is far from the first time the group, self-identified as "Patriot Front," has pulled off a "demonstration" like this. It's not even the first time it has happened in D.C., and it is also not the first time Snopes has addressed claims about them.
The participants' largely hidden identities, ostentatious attempts at fascist discipline, and their sometimes cringe-inducing lack of operational security have frequently led pundits — primarily on the right — to conclude that the group is part of a federal law enforcement sting.
This baseless allegation is so oft-repeated that it has become its own meme. Everytime the group makes the news, efforts to cast this overtly fascist, white nationalist movement as disingenuous come back to light. These claims are, most often, based on a series of "unanswered questions" that, generally speaking, have easily obtainable answers.
In this piece, Snopes answers those supposedly unanswered questions and debunks the lies driving efforts to describe Patriot Front as anything other than a far-right hate group openly promoting facism in America.
What Is Patriot Front?
Patriot Front, founded in 2017, is an attempted rebrand of the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America. Vanguard America was present at the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. James Alex Fields Jr., who was convicted of murdering activist Heather Heyer, wore the uniform of Vanguard America when he drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protestors.
Patriot Front founder Thomas Rousseau (left) and convicted murderer James Alex Fields, Jr., (far right, no hat), at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia wearing Vanguard America regalia. (It's Going Down / SPLC)
Patriot Front was founded by Thomas Rousseau. Rousseau had been the Vanguard America member in charge of bringing Texas members to Charlottesville. In founding Patriot Front, he sought to create a public image that did not use explicit Nazi imagery as a way to appeal to a broader audience. Describing the rebrand in an online chat in the wake of Charlottesville, Rousseau explained:
The new name [...] serves several purposes. It can help inspire sympathy among those more inclined to fence-sitting, and can be easily justified to our ideaology [sic] and worldview. The original American patriots were nothing short of revolutionaries. The word patriot itself comes from the same root as paternal and patriarch. It means loyalty to something intrinsically based in blood.
As described in reporting by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a think-tank combating right-wing extremism, Patriot Front eschews (at least publicly) swastikas for more classical American imagery. The group is, however, explicitly fascist. New recruits have been told that Mussolini's "The Doctrine of Fascism" — to which their own manifesto is greatly indebted — would be required reading, according to an investigation by ProPublica.
The group's white nationalist beliefs are self-evident in the group's manifesto, which argues, in part, that "nationhood cannot be bestowed upon those who are not of the founding stock of our people, and those who do not share the common spirit that permeates our greater civilization, and the European diaspora."
Outside of marching in loose formation, the group's primary activity centers on placing promotional stickers in public places, defacing murals, and painting slogans using preapproved stencils. The group, reportedly, is "micromanaged by their Texas-based director" — Rousseau — "who oversees every detail of the organization from its persistent campaign of racially motivated vandalism to the minutiae of clothes members may wear in public."
Despite an apparently constant paranoid fear of having their identities revealed, the group has been infiltrated and over 100 members have been publicly outed. In early 2022, the journalist collective Unicorn Riot obtained and published hours of leaked audio recording of Patriot Front meetings, photos, documents, and chats, making much of this and other reporting on the group possible.
Why Were They Arrested With Masks on?
One of the first talking points to go viral in the wake of the May 2023 D.C. march was the assertion that members of the group were allowed to keep their masks on while being arrested to avoid identification. In point of fact, nobody was arrested at the May 2023 march, and photos suggesting otherwise came from previous events involving the Patriot Front .
The above photograph came from an incident in Idaho in June 2022 and, far from being evidence of officers allowing the group to hide their identity, the arrest depicted in this photo led to the outing of that individual along with the names, faces, and home addresses of all 31 members involved in the attempted event.
As several viral videos of the same arrest reveal, the members had packed into a rented UHaul van carrying riot shields, flags and banners. They were stopped by police en route to a Pride in the Park event in Coeur D'alene, Idaho. They had been tipped off by someone who saw "a small army" of people load into a van, and were charged with intent to riot.
Several members were then literally unmasked in plain sight of the public and several reporters. Eventually, the mugshots and names of everyone involved were released. Far from being allowed to hide their identity, as suggested by using an out of context photo, police did not "allow" the group to keep their masks on.
These cases are still, in some instances, proceeding through the Idaho court system.
Who Uses Flip Phones Anymore?
Another talking point to emerge in the wake of the May 2023 march was the observation that some members of that march had what appeared to be flip phones. For reasons never fully articulated, this was offered as evidence that the participants were federal agents to some on social media:
Thanks to the massive leak of documents obtained by Unicorn Riot, we know full well why these out-of-date phones are used — to avoid creating data that could reveal a person's identity or leak information about the group's activities. The group's "Information Security" manual makes this explicit:
Understand that "smart" devices have a way of creating security breaches by storing reams of data about you that can sometimes be easily accessed by outsiders.
That document discourages phones or devices with location and other data collection capabilities at public events, and Rousseau often instructs members to use "burner" phones.
Why Do They Dress the Same?
In response to the May 2023 march, podcaster Joe Rogen pointed to, in his view, the ridiculous uniforms and props used by the participants:
How come they're all wearing the same clothes? Have you ever seen anything that looks more like feds? [...]
How do they all have uniformed outfits on? They have the same color pants for the most part. Very little variation. They have tan or brown pants, dark blue shirts with a fucking stupid flag on it.
Responding to an earlier Patriot Front event, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene also highlighted the uniforms with suspicion, tweeting that "No Patriot group I've ever seen wears khakis, Stormtrooper knee pads, and covers their faces like they're scared."
Fascist white nationalists somewhat famously hide their faces in America. Historically, the KKK was not, for example, known for showing up unmasked at events. They consider themselves a patriotic organization, however.
Further, the bland but matching attire is also common to fascist groups and part of an explicit public relations strategy. Prior to the Unite The Right rally in 2017, neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin called for a more "approachable" look for the face of the American far right.
Vanguard America, Patriot Front's predecessor, showed up in black pants and white polo shirts for their uniform, similar to the current khaki pants and blue t-shirt or polo shirt look of the present group. This look has ties to even earlier fascist movements, as reported in 2017:
For many years, Fred Perry polos have been the preferred shirt for white nationalists. It's a play that Americans took from their European comrades who began wearing the brand in the 1960s as a dig on British elitism.
In general, marching in lockstep in matching uniforms is what fascist groups do and have been doing since their inception. In the 1930s, British Fascists dressed in an identical conservative fashion for their public demonstrations.
Oswald Ernald Mosley was a British politician who rose to fame in the 1920s as a Member of Parliament before becoming the leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Mosley is frequently cited in Patriot Front materials. (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Why Are They So Fit?
Several commentators have attempted to make the point that the group of Patriot Front members seen marching are "too fit" to be regular Americans, and are therefore feds. "Look at these guys," Joe Rogan asked in May 2023. "Where's the fat people?" An obsession with fitness and physical appearance is common to fascist groups, and Patriot Front is no outlier.
Members of the American Nazi Party doing calisthenics outside their headquarters. (Lee Lockwood/Getty Images)
According to leaked chat logs and documents, fitness is an obsession among the leadership of Patriot Front. As reported by Unicorn Riot:
Another recurring annoyance is how all members, regardless of their perceived athletic fitness, are "subject to long talks and rambles over fitness. This drove now previous members up the wall, and still does for present members."
Among the leaked documents obtained and published by Unicorn Riot are spreadsheets detailing weekly fitness progress for members. At one point in the organization's history, leadership recommended that recruiters look out for "ugly" applicants." Look for ugly/dysgenic/grotesque individuals," one member suggested. "Ugly people are evil people."
According to Vice News, "Members of Patriot Front who are deemed to be overweight or have unhealthy habits are put into the group's 'Lifestyle Recovery Project.'"
Why Do the Feds and/or Law Enforcement Leave Them Alone?
As documented above, the "Feds" and/or local law enforcement do not leave Patriot Front alone, contrary to what their skeptics sometimes claim.
Thomas Rousseau, their leader, has been on the FBI's radar since he was in high school and has been arrested by local law enforcement several times. As Snopes previously reported, emails obtained by the Texas Observer in May 2017 showed that the FBI reached out to college administrators in North Texas naming Rousseau as one of four people suspected of leaving white supremacist posters on local campuses.
Further, the FBI had been tracking Patriot Front for months prior to their arrest in Idaho. As a result of the group's arrest, the FBI is presently in possession of the data of several Patriot Front member's phones, including Rousseau's.
A related trope alleges a friendly relationship between the cops and Patriot Front members they escort during their marches. While it is not unusual for law enforcement to "protect" demonstrators, this is done to prevent riots.
Further, Patriot Front has, on at least one occasion, explicitly deceived law enforcement with a fake 911 call to garner the appearance of police protection, as reported by Unicorn Riot:
According to RocketChat messages, Patriot Front secured a police escort for their December D.C. march by placing a "false" 911 call about themselves. Thomas Rousseau directed member 'Benjamin WI' to call police "from a burner [phone]" as Patriot Front left their nearby camp for D.C., pretending to be a concerned citizen. Rousseau said this step was taken to "soften the police up before our big visual contact on the bridge, and provide a little confusion and misinfo that's within the realm of honest dialogue."
They Just Pop Up Out of Nowhere?
Joe Rogan, in response to an earlier Patriot Front march, expressed skepticism in that instance because they appeared to come out of nowhere and were well organized. "They just pop up outta nowhere with the same sized flags, the same outfits, goose-stepping ... in an orderly line? Who organized this? ... I'm calling bulls--t," he said.
First, it bears mentioning that this is not some reinvention of fascism. Transporting large groups of people from a relatively safe place into and out of a city, and using flashy, efficient organization for purposes of recruitment or terrorism, has always been a part of the brand. Here, for example, is how the New York Times described Hitler's political strategy in 1922:
His [Hitler's] method is first, propaganda, then, efficient organization. He personally conducts patriotic revivals for this purpose, frequently descending from his stronghold, Munich, on other Bavarian towns, with special train loads of followers.
Patriot Front uses rented U-Haul box trucks, not trains, but both those historical demonstrations and those of Patriot Front are highly choreographed and planned. What Patriot Front may lack in persuasive oratory is more than made up for by their aggressive and sometimes deceptive use of social media. One example comes from the groups promotion of a December 2021 march in Washington, D.C., as reported by Unicorn Riot:
Members used a fake 'Sheryl' Twitter persona, as well as various "fake journo account[s]" to promote their march, with some tweets going viral. (Patriot Front is officially banned from Twitter, but various members maintain sock puppet accounts, on which they often post on the group's behalf at Rousseau's direction.)
Their social media plan for the [December 2021] D.C. march included posting about their march to 4chan and various subreddits, overstating their numbers while pretending to be an ignorant observer – "500 white men with riot shields are marching in DC….Does anyone know who this group is?"
Patriot Front, simply put, uses new tools with a decidedly old playbook. That a fascist group is following a fascist playbook is not surprising, and it is certainly not evidence that the group is a deep-state operation.
Who Funds Them?
A final allegedly unanswered question used to suggest Patriot Front is not an authentic right-wing movement suggests that the source of their funding is unclear. It isn't. Thanks to being infiltrated by reporters, we know exactly who funds it — its own (generally lower-ranking) members.
Speaking to The Guardian, Jeff Tischauser, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, described Patriot Front as "a white nationalist pyramid scheme." That's because every member of the group is required to participate in propaganda efforts involving stickers, stencils, and other printed materials. Members are required to pay for these materials at a high mark-up.
The proceeds then go to the group's leader, Rousseau. Rousseau explained this himself in a leaked recording of a Patriot Group meeting obtained by Unicorn Riot:
Patriot Front's official 'promat,' such as stickers and flyers, can only be bought directly from leader Thomas Rousseau, who personally ships it to members. "If any of the prices seem above market rate," wrote Rousseau in the group's chat in July 2021, "it's because it also goes toward paying for our servers, our digital accounts and subscriptions, and the food I can afford to eat."
The highly produced video propaganda that helps Patriot Front go viral is also, in part, apparently funded by members. The shirts and other gear worn by members during their marches and demonstrations come, by mandate, from a specific online store — Will2Rise. The proceeds of that store go to its founder — white nationalist Robert Rundo. In return, Rundo's media company "Media2Rise" provides video production and social media promotion for the group.
There is, simply put, no mystery in terms of the organization's funding.
The Bottom Line
Outside of invoking these supposedly unanswered questions, the only argument in favor of the group being some sort of false flag to make conservatives look bad is that they look like fascists, and that they are inept in managing their own information security. This is not "evidence."
Instead, actual evidence obtained by journalists makes it clear that Patriot Front is an openly white-nationalist organization advocating for fascism in America. It is manifestly not suspicious that fascists exist in America, nor is it suspicious that those fascists would look and act like the countless fascist groups that have come before them.