The Most Notorious Neo-Fascist Hate Group in Texas Can’t Catch A Break

Under the cover of a cool October night in 2021, two masked men wearing gloves and carrying cans of spray paint entered a pedestrian tunnel in a public park in Richmond, Virginia. They proceeded to spray over a mural dedicated to Arthur Ashe, a Black hometown tennis legend, while a third person filmed. Their target was not incidental, and their actions were not mere graffiti tagging nor petty vandalism. They’d come to leave an ominous message: stencil designs of the white supremacist neo-fascist group, Patriot Front, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist hate group. 

While the Ashe mural was eventually restored in early 2022, the destruction of the original caused a stir in the neighboring community, Battery Park, where over 77 percent of the residents are Black. Concerned parents told their children to avoid the park, and the vandalism was roundly condemned by activists and authorities in the Richmond area. Unfortunately, it was not an isolated incident. Members of Patriot Front have been active in the Richmond area since at least 2019, posting their propaganda stickers and committing acts of vandalism well into 2022. Many of the incidents occurred in the weeks leading up to a civil trial in nearby Charlottesville against the organizers of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally that saw one counterprotester killed in a deliberate car-ramming attack and 49 others injured.

A couple months after the Ashe mural incident, members of Patriot Front marched through Washington, D.C. on December 4, 2021. While they goose-stepped through the capital city, anti-fascist saboteurs rendered many of their cars damaged and inoperable. They then called the police, and some of the subsequent interactions involving Patriot Front members were captured on police body camera footage—including several of them saying their full legal names. This debacle led anti-fascist researchers and journalists to unmask several members and link two of them to the Ashe mural vandalism.

“Our clients are defending their neighbors in the face of naked harassment and intimidation. It takes courage to stand up to hate.”

Now, a full year after Ashe’s mural was defaced, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and partners filed suit against several named and unnamed members of Patriot Front, including the two who were filmed committing the act. The lawsuit claims conspiracy to violate civil rights under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, as well as intimidation based on racial animosity under Virginia state law. Several of the “John Doe” Patriot Front members listed in the lawsuit have already been identified by anti-fascist researchers.

“Our clients are defending their neighbors in the face of naked harassment and intimidation. It takes courage to stand up to hate,” said Arthur Ago, director of the Criminal Justice Project in a press release. “Patriot Front’s attempt to erase the life and achievements of Arthur Ashe, a revered son of Richmond, will not go unpunished.”

Patriot Front is a top-down, neo-fascist extremist group that has its roots in the deeply racist, so-called “alt-right” movement. It emerged as a distinct group in the aftermath of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Texas leader of Patriot Front, Thomas Ryan Rousseau, was there that day leading members of Vanguard America, labeled by the Anti-Defamation League as a neo-Nazi group. Photos appear to show James Alex Fields Jr., the man accused of murdering Heather Heyer after fatally ramming his vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters, rallying with the group. Following the rally, Rousseau and core members of Patriot Front splintered from Vanguard America amid a leadership feud. Since 2017, Patriot Front has sought to rehabilitate fascist ideology and mainstream racist conspiracy theories like the “great replacement.” 

The Lawyers’ Committee lawsuit against Patriot Front is but the latest set of legal troubles facing the beleaguered neo-fascist group. On June 11, 2022, 31 Patriot Front members piled into the back of a U-Haul truck in a parking lot in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Shortly after, they were pulled over by police and arrested near a park where the North Idaho Pride Alliance was holding a Pride event. All 31 members, including Rousseau and six other Texans, were charged with conspiracy to riot. 

Patriot Front’s legal troubles are not just recent. In 2020, three members of the group, including Rousseau, were arrested for placing stickers near the county courthouse in Parker County, Texas. Several Patriot Front members who were arrested in Idaho are being represented by Jason Lee Van Dyke, a North Texas lawyer and former Proud Boy. In May, we found evidence suggesting Van Dyke may also be a member of Patriot Front, a connection further corroborated by a Southern Poverty Law Center report published in September. Van Dyke denies the report and denies that he is involved with Patriot Front beyond being its lawyer.

Members of the hate group Patriot Front display their flag across the street from Drag Queen Bingo at First Christian Church of Katy, Texas as churchgoers arrive on September 24, 2022. Numerous members of Patriot Front currently face criminal charges or a civil lawsuit stemming from incidents across the country. Reginald Mathalone/NurPhoto via AP

Some members of Patriot Front have also faced difficulty maintaining stable places to live. Kris Goldsmith, the CEO of the nonprofit Task Force Butler Institute, has been closely tracking Patriot Front activities and found that two of the houses their leader has used as a home base now appear to be vacant. Goldsmith, a veteran-turned-anti-fascist researcher, created Task Force Butler Institute to fight back against what he sees as a rising tide of fascism by researching and exposing fascist groups. Their name and mission statement reference the legendary Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, who famously said his main hobby was maintaining a democracy. “If you get these 500,000 soldiers advocating anything smelling of Fascism, I am going to get 500,000 more and lick the hell out of you,” Butler said in 1934.

Unfortunately, the arrests, lawsuits, and lack of housing stability for some Patriot Front members have not stopped the vandalism related to the group. In October, Patriot Front insignias were spray-painted on the campus of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, just a 40-minute drive from Coeur d’Alene. And in September, Patriot Front members were spotted outside a drag-themed bingo fundraiser for the trans community held at a church in Katy. Although their exact membership is not known, a 2019 ProPublica profile noted at least 300 members, meaning as many as 10 percent of their members, are currently facing civil or criminal cases. With researchers and journalists closely tracking Patriot Front’s activities and its members increasingly tied up in legal proceedings, their ability to mobilize large groups publicly may be on the decline. At least, one can hope.

 

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