The hate group Patriot Front that staged a weekend march through downtown Boston in which a Black activist was assaulted has descended on Massachusetts before, and the violence Saturday has made them a high priority for local law enforcement, according to experts.
“People are paying close attention to the group at this point in time,” said former Boston police Commissioner Ed Davis, a private security consultant whose clients have included the Boston Globe. “Where there are physical assaults occurring, you’ve got to take that very seriously.”
Davis said the fact that Patriot Front members allegedly attacked someone during the Boston march could give law enforcement license to launch a more aggressive probe.
The victim in Saturday’s attack, activist Charles Murrell III, reported getting knocked to the ground and kicked by members of the group outside Back Bay Station, according to a police report. No arrests have been made, but authorities said Tuesday that the investigation remains active.
“The physical assault is one nexus to a crime that can help in allowing police to go further than they would if this was a peaceful” demonstration, Davis said.
Noting the group was armed with shields and had their faces covered, Davis added that when members are “starting to prepare for potential violence, even if they say, sort of, in a defensive way, that really does trigger the ability [of law enforcement] to do more, and hopefully that’s happening right now.”
No arrests have been made in Saturday’s attack, but authorities said Tuesday that the case remains under investigation.
“We cannot track or monitor domestic groups or police ideology,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston office, during a Tuesday briefing. “There has to be certain elements that are met for us to even open up an active investigation and that is the existence of a potential federal crime, [or] the threat or use of force or violence in conjunction with some sort of a social or political agenda.”
Boston police Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long told reporters during the same briefing that the perpetrators of the alleged assault of Murrell will be charged, if police can identify them.
“We have mechanisms, you know, to try to identify those people,” Long said.
Around a dozen of the Patriot Front’s roughly 250 members live in Massachusetts, according to the Anti-Defamation League and leaked internal correspondence from the group itself.
“Part of their strategy is they inflate their numbers, they inflate their presence by [leader] Thomas Rousseau requiring that people drive halfway across the country to attend a flash mob,” said one researcher with ties to antifa groups who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from white nationalists.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Patriot Front as a “white nationalist hate group” that formed in the aftermath of the August 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. that claimed the life of a counter-protester.
According to the law center, the front “makes frequent reference to American historical figures, casting its politics as a revival of an allegedly authentic American identity based on ‘pan-European’ colonizers.” The law center’s website says the group often rails against so-called “replacement populations,” meaning any non-white “resident, immigrant or refugee.”
In addition, the law center says, the Patriot Front manifesto “accuses these often vulnerable communities [of being] a threat to so-called pan-European culture. PF asserts, ‘The nation will see the thin veneer of civilization begin to wane as resources are diverted from them to the replacement population.’”
After the 2017 Virginia rally, the group that would become the Patriot Front split from Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi group, and tried to cultivate an image that could appeal to a broader range of the populace, said Morgan Moon, an ADL researcher who focuses on the group.
The turnout for Saturday’s march in Boston represented a significant proportion of the Patriot Front’s total membership, researchers said, and likely drew members from other regions. According to the leaked records, which Moon said are authentic, around a dozen members live in Massachusetts.
Activists recorded video of Rosseau and another Patriot Front leader from Texas at the Boston march Saturday.
Carla Hill, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, estimated the Patriot Front has a total of around 250 members nationally. “In New England, they have to pull from a large geographic area to get the numbers to show up,” she said.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Patriot Front, which uses tactics including distributing propaganda flyers and staging flash demonstrations, has made its presence felt in Boston before.
In April 2019, the ADL site says, Patriot Front members demonstrated “outside AIPAC offices and Israeli consulates in New York, Chicago, Houston, and Boston ‘in support of national sovereignty, and in opposition to Zionist influence.’”
And last year, the front was particularly active with its leafleting in five states including Massachusetts, according to the ADL.
“The group was most active in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts, Texas and Maryland, and members were responsible for 190 of the 232 (or 82 percent) of [flyer] distributions on college campuses, as well as the majority (or 94 percent) of white supremacist stenciled graffiti,” the ADL site says.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Charles Murrell III. The Globe regrets the error.
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.