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What is the Patriot Front?: White supremacist group plotted to attack Coeur d'Alene Pride

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Photo by Georji Brown / AP
Photo by Georji Brown / AP

What is the Patriot Front?

Coeur d'Alene police now say that all 31 of the men they arrested on June 11 were members of that organization — including eight from the group's home base in Texas.

According to the police, they responded to call about "a little army" of people with masks and shields getting into a U-Haul van near the local Pride event. On investigating, police say they found riot shields, shin guards, and other equipment in the van, and "at least one" smoke grenade.

The 31 suspects are charged with conspiracy to riot at Coeur d'Alene Pride.

Photo by Georji Brown / AP  

"I think some of us were a bit surprised by not only the level of preparation that we saw but the equipment that was carried and worn by those individuals, along with the large amount of equipment that was left in the van when the stop happened," Lee White, Coeur d'Alene's police chief, said at a June 13 press conference.

"That level of preparation is not something you see every day."

Among those arrested was Thomas Ryan Rousseau, the leader of the Patriot Front. Although only 23, Rousseau is a veteran white nationalist organizer. As editor of his high school newspaper, Rousseau was known for running racist and nationalist stories and cartoons.

He later joined Vanguard America, one of the far-right groups that organized the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. James Alex Fields, convicted of the murder of Heather Heyer at that rally, was also a member of Vanguard America.

In the aftermath of the rally, Vanguard America fell apart due to internal infighting. Rousseau reportedly seized control of the group's Discord server and social media accounts, and used those to create the Patriot Front, of which he is the undisputed leader.

According to the Texas Tribune, the Dallas-based organization has hundreds of members nationwide." Jeff Tischauser, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Texas Tribune that the group tries to incite hatred nationwide. Compared to other states, Tischauser said, the Texas chapter is "the most active."

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the group also has active adherents in Utah and uses the deserts near Salt Lake City for tactical training exercises.

"They espouse racism, antisemitism, and intolerance under the guise of patriotism and preserving the ethnic and cultural origins of European ancestors," Stacy Cushing, the deputy regional director of Anti-Defamation League's Texas/Oklahoma branch, said about the Patriot Front.

"Their goal is to reclaim America as a white nation. They are white supremacists with neo-Nazi roots."

Last year, nearly 5,000 racist, antisemitic, and other hateful messages were identified across the country, with the Patriot Front responsible for more than 82% of incidents nationally, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Sophie Bjork-James, an assistant professor in anthropology at Vanderbilt University, said her research into the white nationalist movement and its associated hate crimes has led her to see a connection with anti-LGBTQ violence.

"There is a very clear relationship between normalizing this hateful content and having extremist groups try to mobilize around that in hateful actions," she said. "We can see a direct relationship between the spectrum of anti-LGBT rhetoric from statehouses into these extremist groups."