Long before its members marched — masked, uniformed, and 100-or-so deep — through downtown Boston early this month, Patriot Front had been quietly making its presence felt in New England.
Stickers bearing the right-wing group’s slogans such as ”Better Dead Than Red” and “One Nation Against Invasion” had been popping up in towns across the region in recent years. At Framingham State University, such propaganda prompted offers of a $5,000 reward and eventual criminal charges against two of the group’s local leaders on charges of vandalism and conspiracy.
Internal videos released this year by a nonprofit media group showed Patriot Front members in action — boxing in the woods in Sutton, spray-painting graffiti in Quincy, draping their banner from a Storrow Drive overpass in Boston, slapping on stickers in Providence’s Waterplace Park.
Despite New England’s reputation as a deeply blue region, those who’ve studied Patriot Front say that its local faction is among the group’s most active nationally, along with Virginia and Texas, where several of its leaders are based. The group, rooted in a notorious far-right rally in Virginia in 2017, is finding a receptive audience for its white supremacist ideology among certain young men — and has targeted colleges for recruitment.
In fact, there have been hundreds of incidents involving Patriot Front members in Massachusetts and Rhode Island this year alone, according to statistics compiled by the Anti-Defamation League. In addition, at least nine Patriot Front members or associates from across the region have faced charges stemming from their work for the group.
“These extremists perceive New England to have favorable racial demographics, which supposedly presents more opportunities to find like-minded people,” said Jeff Tischauser, a senior research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center, in an e-mail. “Extremists around the U.S. also take inspiration from New England history before, during, and immediately after the American Revolution.”
The July 2 march in Boston, which caught law enforcement and much of the public by surprise, represented something of a coming out party for the organization in New England, drawing members from all over the country to the city’s streets on a bustling holiday weekend. The noisy march of young white men banging drums and hoisting Patriot Front flags along the city’s storied Freedom Trail made national headlines and drew a sharp rebuke from Mayor Michelle Wu.
But Thomas Rousseau, the group’s national leader, was delighted, declaring on an Internet livestream show a few days later that the Boston event reached an audience of “thousands and thousands.”
“There were very few people in that city that did not hear about Patriot Front that day,” Rousseau said during the two-hour show. “The chants were just bouncing off all the walls of the big skyscrapers. It was an amazing demonstration. Really cut and clean. Perfectly done.”
The core number of Patriot Front members is relatively small — estimates range from around 150 to 200 nationally, with 15 to 20 across New England — and their tactics can sometimes seem amateurish. But that, experts say, should not distract from the group’s virulent ideology and its potential for violence.
Rhode Island native and Patriot Front member Kyle Morelli, 28, wrote in a group chat that was obtained and publicly released by the media organization Unicorn Riot last November that he had little patience for anyone in the group who lacked his devotion to the cause.
“People come here because we are disciplined and serious,” wrote Morelli, whose comments include antisemitic rhetoric as well as remarks disparaging Pope Francis. “It isn’t a big deal to set proper expectations, I was forward, we are fascists.”
In June, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, arrested 31 Patriot Front members suspected of planning to riot at a Pride celebration, including Rousseau and another Texas leader, Graham Whitson, who handles video production for the group. Both men also participated in the Boston march, according to the ADL.
In Boston, Patriot Front members carrying large metal shields surrounded a Black man near Back Bay Station. The man, Charles Murrell, said he was assaulted and reported the confrontation to police.
While Boston police investigate, public pressure is mounting for federal intervention. Last week, 17 civil rights organizations sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Department of Justice to investigate Patriot Front’s activities in Coeur d’Alene and Boston.
“It’s clear that the group is promoting a hateful and bigoted agenda while also actively promoting violence,” Lindsay Schubiner of the civil rights group the Western States Center said in a statement accompanying the letter to Garland.
Patriot Front was born in the aftermath of the violent 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., where hundreds of torch-carrying white men chanted, “Jews will not replace us” and counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer was run down and killed.
Rousseau, then a member of the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America, led marchers during the rally, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and was also photographed with James Alex Fields Jr., the man convicted of first-degree murder in Heyer’s death. But disputes among Vanguard America’s leadership ultimately led Rousseau to start Patriot Front, said the SPLC, and today, its members crisscross the country carrying Patriot Front’s white supremacist message.
From the beginning, experts say, Patriot Front was intended, to portray a more “moderate” image compared to other white nationalist organizations. The group’s organizing materials stress that members should dress “politically neutral” and, in contrast to similar groups, they avoid carrying overt symbols of hate, such as Confederate flags and Nazi swastikas.
But a massive trove of Patriot Front videos and documents released earlier this year by Unicorn Riot, a media collective that investigates the far right, leaves little doubt what the organization is about.
Patriot Front members perceive Black people, Jewish people, and LGBTQ people as enemies and worry that the United States is becoming an increasingly hostile place for white people thanks to immigration and higher birthrates for people of color, according to experts who study the group as well as members’ own private correspondence.
“Our nation’s families [are being] ripped apart,” one member from Washington wrote last year in a leaked discussion. “Bloodlines ended. Our people backed into a corner.”
The group has built a reputation as a highly organized, disciplined organization that expects much from its members, including out-of-state travel to events, where they march in formation. In public, members typically wear matching shirts, pants, and military-style boots, sometimes carrying shields as though girding for battle.
Their meetings are meticulously planned, sometimes down to 10-minute intervals, and members are encouraged to give up vices, from cigarettes to pornography. Secrecy, too, is woven deeply into the group’s ethos. Members use code names online and face-coverings during public demonstrations — and are paranoid about outsider infiltration, with detailed policies for meeting potential new members.
At times, the group’s activities can seem like little more than play-acting — a far cry from the intimidating presence members seek to present publicly.
Members’ weight loss totals are meticulously tracked via spreadsheet (“Lost 3 lbs fat, gained muscle,” reported one member from Texas in the leaked documents). Group chats include detailed discussions of the latest online fantasy video games.
When members in the Pacific Northwest were planning a Thanksgiving meet-up last year, according to leaked internal chats from Unicorn Riot, a member in Idaho said his attendance was dependent on “how our new kitten’s health looks in the coming weeks.”
Still, to write the group off as computer geeks or wannabe soldiers would be a mistake, say experts who have tracked the group’s behavior in recent years.
“You look at the stuff, and it’s a bunch of [guys] who are working out, and they’re sharing information about who’s losing weight,” said Robert Trestan, ADL New England’s Regional Director. “But these are also people who come together, train, plan to do something, show up, are responsible for a Black man (in Boston) being assaulted, [and] disseminating hate into dozens of communities.
“We should not underestimate the danger that they pose.”
Despite the group’s public disavowals of violence, several of its members and associates have disturbing histories.
A 19-year-old Illinois man with reported ties to the group was arrested in 2018 after he was discovered to be in possession of five guns without a license. Another man identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a Patriot Front member — Joffre James Cross III — pleaded guilty in 2020 to federal gun charges in Houston after authorities found several homemade or self-assembled guns, known commonly as “ghost guns,” in his home. Cross is still in prison.
Several others New England members or associates have also racked up criminal charges.
Last month, 28-year-old Alex C. Beilman of Meriden, Conn. — identified in court records as the group’s New England leader — pleaded not guilty to criminal charges related to Patriot Front stickers that were found last December on the campus of Framingham State University.
Beilman owns a condo in Meriden, where he registered to vote as a Democrat in 2016 and then switched to the Republican Party in 2019, according to city records.
Police also identified and charged Brian D. Harwood, 24, a former Brewster resident now living in Spencer, as a leader in the group’s New England faction. Court records show Harwood has successfully defended himself against vandalism charges related to his Patriot Front activities in two cases on Cape Cod. He pleaded not guilty in the Framingham case.
Both men are licensed to carry firearms, according to police reports, and internal videos published in January by Unicorn Riot show Beilman and Harwood boxing with other Patriot Front members during outdoor gatherings in Wellesley, Hopedale, and Sutton.
Police also allege Beilman and Harwood directed a third man, Matthew Smaller, 24, of Maynard, to deface the grounds of Framingham State with Patriot Front stickers. The incident resulted in the school offering a $5,000 reward for information. Smaller has pleaded not guilty also.
In online chats, Harwood, using his code name Henry MA, urged members to target colleges and universities, which he regards as fertile ground for recruitment.
“Everyone should pick a campus close to them and [stencil Patriot Front slogans] weekly no matter what. The youth is our greatest potential,” he wrote last November, according to a report by Framingham State University police.
Beilman, Harwood, and Smaller didn’t return messages from the Globe. Attorney Francis Doran Jr., who is representing the men in the Framingham case, declined to make his clients available for interviews.
“Everyone deserves a defense,” he said.
Last year, police officers at the MBTA station in Salem, Mass., charged that Morelli — a former middle school honor student in Coventry, R.I. — defaced public property. Though he refused to answer officers’ questions, his hooded sweat shirt and the images stenciled in red and white paint on the wall gave him away: “Strong Families Make Strong Nations — Patriot Front” and “Defend American Labor — Patriot Front.”
Morelli’s lawyer, Christopher B. Coughlin of Boston, did not respond to a request for comment. Beilman is also facing charges in the Salem case.
It’s the group’s big-picture plans, however, that experts say should raise alarms.
“The goal of Patriot Front and its members is to create a white ethnostate, which is an inherently violent proposition,” said Tischauser, of the SPLC.
The group’s documents and physical training programs suggest its members are preparing for the possibility of physical altercation. In addition to the sparring videos, the group’s documents include instructions for fashioning a splint, a walking ankle cast, and a forearm and wrist cast.
And Patriot Front leaders do not appear deterred by negative publicity. In fact, blowback from the group’s recent high-profile actions in Boston and Idaho seems to have energized them.
In his comments following this month’s Boston march, Rousseau suggested that the backlash has served as a catalyst to reinforcing the organization’s efforts.
“One of the most wonderful things to see is that outside pressure only causes the ranks to close,” he said during the appearance online.
“It only makes us stronger.”
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Dugan Arnett can be reached at email@example.com. Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.