Last Saturday, about 100 members of Patriot Front marched through downtown Boston. In doing so, they made it clear that the liberties we hold dear as Americans are in danger.
Patriot Front is a white supremacist group, formerly known as Vanguard America, which renamed itself after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. On July 2, members of the group — wearing khaki pants, dark blue shirts, white neck gaiters covering most of their faces, sunglasses, and baseball caps — were seen in well-known spots along Boston’s historic Freedom Trail. They carried shields and Patriot Front flags and a banner reading, “Reclaim America.” Members of the group allegedly attacked a 34-year-old Black man — surrounding him while holding shields and knocking him to the ground near Copley Square.
A few weeks earlier, on June 11, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, arrested 31 members of Patriot Front allegedly on their way to engage in violence at a local Pride event. Patriot Front members from more than 10 states were arrested, along with their leader, Thomas Ryan Rousseau (and a former head of Vanguard, who was also present in Boston.)
As two of the attorneys who brought the lawsuit against those responsible for the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, we are all too familiar with Vanguard America, Rousseau, and their violent aims and tactics. More than four years ago, we sued the organizers and perpetrators of the violence at Unite the Right, alleging a conspiracy to commit racially-motivated violence in violation of state and federal law. Last November, we won a $26 million verdict against all 17 defendants. We are confident that the jury in our case understood exactly just how violent and dangerous this group is, and the continued threat it poses to our society. But we are not sure most Americans do.
Prior to Charlottesville, Rousseau coordinated with other white supremacist groups, created promotional materials for the event, and rented a 15-seat van to transport Vanguard members from Texas to Charlottesville. He helped organize the rally through the social networking website Discord, where he promoted the event with a meme of someone hitting a person with a spiked baseball bat and talked about wanting to see “jackboots on Commie skulls, blood on the pavement.” Once in Charlottesville, Rousseau led the organization’s members, marching in military formation, in the then-Vanguard uniform of white polo shirts and khaki pants, carrying shields. (They have since changed the color of their shirts to blue.) He invited James Fields — who would ram his Dodge Challenger through a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters later that day — to march with Vanguard, wearing the same uniform and with the same shield.
Vanguard was devoted to the goal of a “nation exclusively for White American peoples” — also known as a “white ethnostate.” Likewise, Patriot Front members believe that their ancestors conquered America and “bequeathed it to them alone.” Indeed, the “Reclaim America” banner that Patriot Front members carried in Boston on July 2 neatly summed up this belief. According to Pete Simi, an expert on the white supremacist movement who testified as an expert at our trial, because white supremacists believe that white people “are on the verge of extinction,” they see violence as necessary — ”it’s a necessary course of action to prevent that from happening.” Patriot Front members believe that only through a violent, necessary, and inevitable “race war” can a white ethnostate happen.
Based on the evidence from our trial, the parallels between Vanguard’s actions on and planning for Aug. 12, 2017, and Patriot Front’s actions on and planning for July 2 and June 11 are stunning. The Patriot Front group arrested on June 11 — all men — was “dressed like a small army,” according to the local sheriff. They were seen piling into a U-Haul equipped with shields (like the shields used at Unite the Right), masks, and riot gear. Then, on July 2, the Patriot Front members in Boston again wore masks and carried white-nationalist flags. On both June 11 and July 2, they wore a uniform similar to the one worn in Charlottesville. And on July 2, Patriot Front posted videos of its march on Telegram, a popular far-right messaging app, mirroring its use of far-right social networking and messaging apps like Discord leading up to Unite the Right.
An apparent leader of the Patriot Front group on June 11 was carrying a seven-page document consisting of a detailed “operational plan,” which a local police chief described as similar to an operations plan that a military group might put together. A similar operational plan for Charlottesville set forth alternative plans for the day, including “tak[ing] the ground by force.” As was also true in Charlottesville, many of the men arrested in Idaho had traveled from different states planning to cause violence.
While Idaho officials have arrested and charged Rousseau and other Patriot Front members with “conspiracy to riot,” a misdemeanor, it is unclear whether federal prosecution will follow, and we fear that these misdemeanor charges alone will be too weak to deter like-minded individuals from planning similar actions in the future.
Not enough people paid attention to Unite the Right when it happened in 2017, to the 2018 shooting that killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, or to our Charlottesville trial in 2021, when we tried to make Americans aware of the inherently violent and dangerous nature of these groups. The racially-motivated rampage by a white supremacist wearing military-style gear and brandishing an AR-15-style rifle that killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket in May and the attack on July 4 that killed seven in Chicago are additional wake-up calls.
In light of Patriot Front’s actions — in Charlottesville in 2017, in Idaho in June, and in Boston this past weekend — anyone who doesn’t think that the freedom and independence that we celebrate every year is under severe threat is sorely mistaken. We hope that Americans are finally paying attention.
Roberta Kaplan and Yotam Barkai are attorneys based in New York.