In its secret chat, the group that sprang from Charlottesville is creating a new generation of white supremacists.
“What are your beliefs that led you to join the org?” —Vincent KY
“At the core of my position are these principles: The categorical rejection of the notion of equality. The categorical rejection of universal democracy. Explicit In-Group preference.” —Logan TN
“In short: I cannot stand by idly while my people fall into despair, degeneracy, and ethnic replacement.” —Anthony IL
“I feel like jews immigrants and mustims are a malicious threat to the united States and it’s economy that’s why the people are in current state of civil unrest these n!##3π’$ are causing them selves to be shot by the police and Making the split even bigger I feel as if there’s going to be a huge race war and us whites will come out on top. How do you feel about this statement?” —Vincent KY
“😬” —Arthur TX
Those are just some of the hundreds of messages exchanged by the members of Patriot Front, a 3-year-old white supremacist organization that has grown into one of the most active hate groups in the United States. The messages reveal a sophisticated network of extremists who are training for violence.
The men, who believe the United States is a nation that belongs only to white people, wear uniforms made up of bomber jackets, face coverings, and beige khakis, mandate weight loss and intense workouts, and regularly practice hand-to-hand combat. Some openly call themselves “supremacist” and revere Hitler and Mussolini.
BuzzFeed News has received a cache of hundreds of messages exchanged by Patriot Front members on Rocket.Chat, an encrypted group messaging app. In logs of the chats, all from this year, around 280 members of the group discuss grandiose goals — creating a white ethnostate from the existing United States. The group wants to expel immigrants, people of color, and Jews, remaking the fabric of America.
And while what Patriot Front does in the meantime — putting up stickers bearing their logo in cities and college campuses, covering pro–Black Lives Matter billboards with their own propaganda, and marching in the middle of the night through empty streets — may seem small, it has recruited 21 new members in the last 30 days.“Casting a ballot is a submissive gesture to legitimize tyranny.”
As the United States hurtles toward the presidential election, the country seems ready to forget that its own homegrown fascism predated President Donald Trump — and to ignore that it will last after he leaves office. Yet for its part, Patriot Front couldn’t care less about the results of the upcoming election.
“It does not matter what people personally believe about it,” wrote the organization’s leader, Thomas Rousseau, who did not respond to a request for comment, in one of the chats. “Casting a ballot is a submissive gesture to legitimize tyranny. It is fundamentally amoral. It is done as an insult to the nation’s cause and the organization.”
In Vermont, Patriot Front has been active since 2018. One of its most disturbing incidents came in 2019, months after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, when the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, an LGBTQ center, and the Burlington Free Press, which had been doggedly reporting on the group, were vandalized.
As the home of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Burlington is often seen as a liberal bubble, which made Patriot Front’s attacks all the more shocking, Rabbi Amy Small of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, told BuzzFeed News.
“A few months before the incident on our property, one of our synagogue members told me that on a nearby road she saw Patriot Front posters pasted on the streetlights and street signs, one after the next,” said Small. “She was beside herself with fear.”“This was just raw intimidation.”
Authorities were called, but nothing could be done because no laws were broken. Then, one late afternoon in February, Small was driving up to the synagogue after some meetings.
“As I was approaching the synagogue, I saw the Patriot Front poster pasted onto our front sign,” she said. “It’s very jarring, in a time when I know there’s so much hate.”
Police removed the poster and launched an investigation, which eventually ended without charges. The response from the community was uplifting, Small said, as people left cards and signs of love and support. Together with other religious and LGBTQ community leaders, Small organized a rally on the steps of City Hall.
“All of a sudden this big pickup truck came loudly down the street honking. It had Patriot Front signs all over it,” Small said. “I saw all the officers that had been standing right near where I was go running toward it, but by then it tore away […] This was just raw intimidation.”
Patriot Front formed from the failure of another far-right group, Vanguard America. As one of its two leaders, Rousseau attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, during which a man who marched with them killed counterprotester Heather Heyer. In the aftermath, Vanguard formally dissolved, allowing Rousseau, then 19 years old, to push out a rival and rebrand the group around a cult of personality.
He and his followers are mostly zoomers, born in the late ‘90s or early ‘00s, and circle frequently around topics that include traditional masculinity, weight loss, and white power.
Rousseau keeps strict rules on the conversations in the forum, and his word is gospel. On a typical day, the chats are filled with lies they believe to be real (like antifa starting forest fires), paranoia, and machismo.
“While we were sparring, a van full of baptists from the area pulled up and piled out,” said Anthony IL. “They had a bunch of young boys with them. They stood there with their father and watched on as we fought each other in masculine competition. We got to show those boys something that they won’t see elsewhere, and a healthy dose of masculinity that is otherwise shunned nowadays. We make the change in the nation that we want to see, men.”
Like members of any social network, they also trade photos. Recent images from Rousseau’s garage in Grapevine, Texas, out of which he sells extremist paraphernalia, show muscled men standing next to punching bags. The pictures were filtered in red, white, and blue.
Unlike extremist organizations like the Proud Boys that seek headlines, Patriot Front has a sparse aboveground presence. New members are carefully vetted and are given strict instructions on social media use.
The vetting takes place first online and then in person. New members undergo a rigorous process, in part because the group has been frequently infiltrated. One member, Michael IN, said he had to drive for four hours for his interview. Another was vetted by Patriot Front members carrying concealed weapons.
The chat is also a place they share videos of themselves that they also share on Twitter, Telegram, and TikTok, where a recent propaganda video received more than 1 million views.
TikTok removed the videos in response to questions from BuzzFeed News, saying “Hate speech is not permitted on TikTok.” Twitter and Telegram did not respond to requests for comment.
Rocket.Chat responded to a request for comment after this story was published, saying it had no avenue to remove Patriot Front from its open-source platform because the group chat is being hosted on a private server.
Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told BuzzFeed that Patriot Front is among the most prolific spreaders of “white power” propaganda in the United States, having put up flyers in over 1,000 places around the country in 2020 alone.
“[Rousseau] wants to really focus on spectacle, and he thinks that a performative show of strength is the most effective kind of propaganda that they can engage in,” she said.
Carla Hill, a researcher with anti-hate organization Anti-Defamation League, also said Patriot Front’s propaganda sets them apart. “In the United States, they lead white supremacist propaganda distributions,” she told BuzzFeed News.
On the chat logs, that propaganda plays out in real time.
On Sept. 28, Rousseau wrote, “Billboard coverup video is dropping today, keep an eye out.”
Fifteen minutes later, he posted a link to the video in which at least two Patriot Front members use climbing equipment to scale a billboard bearing the Black Lives Matter slogan in Houston. As thumping, testosterone-fueled music plays, they unfurl a homemade cloth banner that blocked the billboard with the words “The United States is no longer of America now we are on our own” written in red, white, and blue letters.
Members were excited: “I hope to do something that based one day,” one wrote.
Although the status of an investigation, if any, into the alleged Houston vandalism could not be determined, law enforcement has arrested several members on suspicion of vandalism in the past.
Most recently, Rousseau was arrested this August in Texas on suspicion that he, Cameron Rathan Pruitt, 21, and Graham Jones Whitson, 29, had vandalized county property by putting up stickers. According to the police report, Rousseau claimed that “he was promoting the group listed on the stickers but not part of it.” (Rousseau and his associates were fined and released.)
In February 2019, three members, one of whom was 18, were arrested in Boston. According to Mass Live, they were allegedly putting up posters that said, “Reclaim America” and “your speech will be hate speech.”
Police said one of the men arrested, 26-year-old Matthew Wolf, was a former member of the National Guard. Among those arrested were two men carrying a knife and a trowel, leading to weapons charges for both. In court, the lawyer blamed their actions on “youthful stupidity,” while the Boston mayor issued a statement against hate.
Several members have also been arrested on charges of illegally possessing firearms.
The same month as the Boston arrests, Joffre James Cross III, whom the SPLC determined was a Patriot Front member, pleaded guilty to gun charges. Authorities found a Vyatskie Polyany 7.62 caliber rifle and three home-assembled weapons: a .45 caliber pistol, an AR-15-style rifle, and an AR-10-style rifle. Cross is a former private in the US Army who previously had served time in prison after selling drugs to an undercover FBI agent.
In 2018, the Daily Beast reported that 19-year-old Jakub Zuk was arrested for owning five guns without a license in Illinois. Zuk also allegedly threatened a judge in anti-Semitic flyers, according to the Daily Beast.
Despite their bravado, Patriot Front is also paranoid.
That fear sometimes manifests discussions on how to deal with the girlfriends that some of them claim to have, whom they often see as liabilities.
“Generally, if you are a man of action and confident in what you believe in your woman will naturally follow,” wrote Vincent MA.
“Ideally, if you can get away with lying to your significant other about your activism, you should do that,” wrote Paul TX. “From what I’ve heard women are a weak point in terms of OPSEC and could very well hurt you if they find out.”
The obsession with secrecy also led to a Wikipedia editing war in September.
On Sept. 11, an editor added Patriot Front to the list of groups opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Three days later, Anthony CA noticed, saying, “We got name dropped here.” Later that day, the edit was removed. “NO KNOWN ACTIVITY BY GROUP KNOWN AS PATRIOT FRONT (they’re pussies)” the person wrote in Wikipedia’s change log.
That removal was reverted, after which the same person took the name of the group out again, saying, “Patriot Front is not an active participant show proof otherwise or stop reverting it.”
By the end of the day, the Wikipedia editors lost, and Patriot Front no longer appeared on the page.
In their chats, members of Patriot Front revealed the real reason they wanted their name removed. Not because they weren’t opposed to BLM, but because they were mad at being listed together with the so-called boogaloo boys, the loosely knit extremist group tied to the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“Boog boys r a joke most of the time,” wrote Mark ND. “I’ve seen maybe 10 who don’t simp for BLM or Antifa.”
“The whole ‘Boogaloo’ thing is a reminder that if you joke about anything long enough, you’ll stop joking,” Rousseau responded. “A offhand forum slapstick joke could become something that someone shoots someone over if its left to fester and rot like the mold-like idea it is.”
They’re also not impressed with the Proud Boys, whom they repeatedly call “cucks.”“There is no ‘endgame.’”
“They are nothing but Republicans with slightly higher T levels,” wrote Calvin CO, referring to testosterone. “I have zero respect for their organization, although some of their members might be able to be salvaged. If we do take on a large number of PBs, we need to knock the cuckshit out of them first.”
“And Proud Boys are a bunch of cucks,” wrote Arthur TX. “They call themselves ‘Western Chauvinists’ which means they are a bunch of liberals who don’t like PC culture and ‘snowflakes’ yet they are too scared to actually stand up to these things in a meaningful way lest they be called RACISTS!!!!”
“In many ways, a lot of people in the white power movement are not fans of Trump, but they do see him as useful to their movement, introducing some of their ideas and carrying out some of the policies that they favor,” said Miller, the analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “But in some ways, they see him as buying them time.”
To them, Trump is an old man holding up crumbling institutions, enacting policies that incrementally forward the cause without remaking the institutions themselves. When he’s gone, the rubble will remain, and to many he’ll be nothing but a tool they used to build the white power movement up.
The members of Patriot Front think that time is on their side. And with a leader still in his early twenties, they take a long view.
“There is no ‘endgame,’” Rousseau wrote. “The nation doesn’t ‘end.’ We’re not conventionally political to the point where there’s a defined ‘end’ of service. It’s not an office, a seat in congress, a law, or a percentage of representation.”