For the second time in as many years, American fascist organization Patriot Front is facing a humiliating leak of internal communications, messages revealing a trove of evidence pointing to coordinated criminal activities in multiple states, including New York, Washington, Indiana, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Oregon.
Experts consulted by Gizmodo say the material is likely to seriously damage Patriot Front, which the Anti-Defamation League has identified as one of the biggest sources of white supremacist propaganda in the U.S. and mostly recently was in the public eye for a march of an estimated 100 cadres on the National Mall in Washington, DC, last month.
A hostile offshoot of the defunct neo-Nazi group Vanguard America, Patriot Front formed in late August 2017 less than three weeks after the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. (James Alex Fields Jr., who was convicted in December 2018 of killing 32-year-old anti-racist protester Heather Heyer at the rally, was seen there holding a shield emblazoned with the VA logo. VA later denied he was a member.) The split from VA followed months of infighting between Thomas Rousseau, the Front’s founder, and VA leader Dillon Irizarry, who was seen accusing Rousseau in leaked chat logs of staging a “literal coup” in June 2017, according to the ADL.
According to Rousseau at the time, the betrayal was necessary to rebrand the movement and eschew the explicitly racist and anti-Semitic imagery blatantly advertised in Charlottesville. Preferring his hate group with a more sanitized, pro-American visage, Rousseau’s plan was to “inspire sympathy” among those “inclined to fence-sitting” —young, impressionable bigots across the country who, conscious of it or not, were already believers in his cause: erasing a century’s worth of racial progress and reverting the U.S. back into its former condition as strictly a white ethnostate.
The leak, some 400 gigabytes of data published first on Friday by Unicorn Riot—a nonprofit media outlet that chiefly covers far-right, white supremacist, and neo-Nazi organizations—offers considerable insight into the rewards and reckonings of Rousseau’s master plan. The many thousands of pages of internal conversations, which originated on internal Rocket.Chat boards for prospective recruits and members, depict a group highly focused on the recruitment of ardent nationalists and segregationists, and of Hitler-worshiping fascists who’ve grown tired of concealing fantasies of enacting his Final Solution.
The internal communications further reveal an organization that, despite having been publicly accused repeatedly in the commission of crimes across the country—namely, the defacement and destruction of public works of art that confront and illuminate racial and social inequality—has simply continued unabated, routinely planning and executing what are essentially hate crimes, in spirit if not under the law, while facing virtually no personal or legal consequences.
“As our recent actions have shown we can walk down busy avenues at prime time in Seattle and deface the largest most well protected mural in shitlib Olympia without so much as being accosted once,” a member who goes by Clarke WA wrote on Nov. 18.
Patriot Front did not yet respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment about the leak and its contents.
In the chats, Rousseau and senior members, known as network directors, who help oversee regionally organized Patriot Front cadres, insisted on the importance of regularly conducting “actions” or offline activity in service of the group. These acts of so-called “activism” include stickering and flyering campaigns, spreading the Front’s propaganda into public spaces, and installing large banners in highly visible locations. More serious acts of vandalism include defacing murals, memorials, and statues that triggered the racists, including depictions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, among other art supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and opposing police brutality.
The leaks show that Rousseau and his directors were not only emphatic in pushing this kind of activity, but ordered members to film and photograph themselves committing vandalism. Patriot Front leadership not only demanded this media as proof an action had occurred, but released it on platforms such as Telegram in an effort to drive up recruitment. The chats also show, however, that senior members had ulterior motives for enforcing quotas and demanding documentation: ensuring obedience among lower-rung members and identifying those reluctant to participate. Those who failed to obey would be tagged as uncommitted, as cowards, or as possible infiltrators.
“You can only retain your membership and prove to your brothers your holding of your beliefs by your efforts in organizing,” Rousseau wrote in a primer for new members. “Inactive accounts are subject to regular deletion.”
Despite extensive efforts to shield the identities of members engaged in criminal activities, including the adoption of fake names, the leaked messages provide sufficient evidence in some cases to positively identify the culprits. One member, Paul M. Gancarz—who shared his actual name and address in private messages and later revealed he was employed as an engineer in Virginia—openly confessed in the logs to tampering with construction signs stationed alongside roads. The same member repeatedly shared links to a private folder containing evidence of his crimes—videos, which publicly accessible until moments before publication.
Attempts to reach Gancarz for comment were unsuccessful. Calls to a phone number listed under his name went unanswered..
Logs from November allude to a group quota of at least “10 big actions a month,” and indicate that acts of vandalism were recorded by directors in a spreadsheet. This insistence on documentation combined with sloppy infosec—hosting raw media on unprotected, public folders on file-sharing sites, for example—means the leak includes dozens if not hundreds of videos and photos of members apparently committing crimes. In Olympia, Washington, for example, Patriot Front members vandalized a “Respect & Love Olympia” mural by covering it up and stenciling the group’s name on it.
“Their hate is not a story worth sharing,” Olympia Mayor Cheryl Shelby told reporters at the time.
Numerous pieces of media, including footage of crimes like the Olympia vandalism, were left up as Rocket Chat attachments or on unsecured Mega folders. Many contain metadata that members failed to remove and that could prove useful in identifying the culprits—should any law enforcement take up interest in the case.
The leak also puts on display tensions within Patriot Front, ranging from accusations that certain members were incompetent or infiltrators to frustrations with security lapses or their public perception.
Fears of being infiltrated are shown to breed paranoia among the Front’s uppermost ranks, many of whom seemed obsessed over perceived spies lurking in every bush. Constant suspicion weighs heavily over nearly all of the group’s decisions, regardless of how mundane. Members at camps sites and at potluck gatherings, for instance, were instructed to memorize cover stories. “We’re a youth group hiking these trails,” a member from Maryland wrote. Others carried out reconnaissance to scout public parks ahead of gatherings to ensure the fewest witnesses possible.
The text of questionnaires put to potential recruits was a point of frequent debate by higher-ups determined to find reliable methods of fingering saboteurs. Many of those dismissed by the Front failed to acknowledge an “ethnic component” to the nation’s problems. Conversely, those who accused wealthy Jews of a global conspiracy to “brown down” the world populations were stamped as “accepted.”
“This kind of leak is devastating, not only because it lays out bare for the world internal maneuvering and gossip, but also more substantial things,” Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, told Gizmodo. “It furthers internal dissension because previously internal, but institutionally divisive private communications about members and strategy are now open up to view from the entire membership, along with the rest of the world for that matter.”
Many Patriot Front members are displeased, for example, with Rousseau’s practice of charging premium prices for official “promat” (promotional material like stickers and flyers) for use in the mandatory actions; some referred to their promat bills paying for their leader’s rent, or allowing him to avoid getting a real job. After the Dec. 4 march in DC, a number of Patriot Front members expressed to each other their anger over accusations from InfoWars’ Alex Jones, QAnon aficionados, and other conspiracy theorists like Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene that the rally was actually organized by the feds (as they expected Patriot Front members to be fatter).
“Of all the preposterous claims and smears from the media and peanut gallery, what I can NOT suffer without response is being compared to the feds by virtue of physical fitness,” one user going by the name “Lewis TX” wrote.
Some messages depict senior Patriot Front leaders, including Rousseau, railing on the incompetence of their recruits and regular violations of the organization’s facade of non-violence. One leader, “Jason TX,” discussed disciplining a member who had ripped a Latino person “out of a car.” After the Dec. 4 rally, Rousseau complained to a network director from Minnesota of a recruit who had “ghosted” others relying on him for a ride and “delayed the convoy,” adding the member in question “brought two fully loaded pistols to the event with additional ammunition, including rifle ammunition” and left it unattended.
Messages also show Rousseau directing anger at subordinates after a slew of security lapses resulted in the group failing to detect suspected infiltrators and losing control of potentially incriminating media, as well as several doxxes of members on the West Coast. In December, member “John WA,” a network director in Washington state, warned Rousseau he was “worried I might get a knock” over the Olympia vandalism and that “all of us” could be prosecuted. Rousseau later shot back of this and other mistakes, such as sloppy infosec practices by rank-and-file members: “The task of internal NW security and guide enforcement is one I gave to you. It did not happen to anyone. It happened to you.”
“While Patriot Front has a public face, its is a tightly managed organization that makes the most of maintaining secrecy about its membership and intimidating activities, some of which is illegal and open to full view,” Levin told Gizmodo. “Internal communications like this can really boomerang back to the leadership and members, not only respecting exposure and social derision, but the adverse employment consequences that come with it. On top of all that there is now additional exposure for potential criminal and civil liability for actions, which previously lacked a ‘return address’… these Nazi Humpty Dumpties will not be able to operate with the impunity they had as late as yesterday.”
“Groups like Patriot Front can only advance their White nationalist agenda under cover of darkness,” said Ben Lorber, research analyst at the Political Research Associates think tank. “By shining much-needed sunlight on the unapologetic neo-Nazism, unvarnished antisemitism, virulent anti-blackness, homophobia and other bigotry undergirding their organizing, this leak helps researchers attach a public cost to their toxic movement. With their unseemly innards now exposed to the public, Patriot Front will hopefully soon implode under pressure, following many similar groups before them. As White nationalist politics continue to move mainstream across an increasingly radicalized Right, next week’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds us of the need to counter groups like Patriot Front, and defend multiracial democracy in the U.S. in an uncertain future.”
In one message to Rousseau in mid-November, a user known only as “Michael IN” proposed a follow-up visit to a memorial for George Floyd in Lafayette, Indiana. Members had vandalized it, he said, multiple times before. This time, he wanted to wreck the memorial beyond repair, suggesting the use of “rubberized roofing cement.” Two men in Lafayette were standing by, he said, awaiting the green light.
“Keep me posted as to your research and practice with this substance,” Rousseau said, adding new orders would be coming down soon.