White Supremacist “Patriot Front” Rally Exposes Splits On The Far-Right
Alexander Reid Ross holds a PhD from the Earth, Environment, Society program at Portland State University where he teaches in the Geography Department. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Network Contagion Research Institute.
In an attention-getting action marked by US flags, shields, and khaki pants previously reported by The Daily Beast, the US-based neo-fascist group Patriot Front marched on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on Saturday 4th December. The flurry of social media posts expressing online contempt for the action was not limited to left-wingers, with anti-vaxxers and fascist accelerationists – those seeking agitation to violently overthrow the US democratic system -leaping on the opportunity to decry the demonstration as a “false flag” and label its supporters “feds” and “bourgeois journalists.”
Patriot Front emerged in 2017 from the detritus of the infamous Charlottesville Alt-Right rally, “Unite the Right,” which ended with far-right activist James Alex Fields murdering antifascist Heather Heyer as he drove his car into a crowd of antifascist protestors. When pictures surfaced showing Fields in the same costume as the group Vanguard America (khaki pants with a white knit shirt), members split to form Patriot Front in a bid to rehabilitate the “optics” of their white nationalist movement.
Today, Patriot Front’s reputation largely stems from an antisemitic sticker campaign across the US, as well as banner drops and flare-lit flash marches, which last only a short time, and are intended for sensationalist displays like Saturday’s Lincoln Memorial march. The US-based counter-extremism organization, the Anti-Defamation League, found Patriot Front responsible for 80% of all antisemitic events in 2020, largely due to the dispersed nature of their propaganda campaign.
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Far-Right Reaction: Splits within the US Far-Right Movement Online
Yet many on the far right believe the Patriot Front’s latest actions counter-productive or worse. On Twitter, the popular right-wing anti-vaxx account @ArtValley818_ asked whether the protest at the National Mall was “Another false flag?” adding, “this shit looks fake af to me. Another fed fest if you ask me.” His tweets gained more than six thousand “likes.”
Another prominent conspiracy theory account on Twitter called @rising_serpent agreed with the sentiment, sharing a photo of the Patriot Front march alongside a photograph of an impersonation of Vanguard America holding tiki torches by the center-right Lincoln Project. Their tweet, “Follow the khaki,” received over a thousand likes, showing that numerous right-wingers saw the Patriot Front as an impersonation by a nexus of Conservatives, antifa, and federal law enforcement.
Even Indian-American right-wing political commentator and conspiratorial provocateur, Dinesh D’Souza, got in on the action in a tweet with close to 30 thousand “likes,” insisting, “Take a closer look. Does this look real to you? Or does this look like a group of federal agents pretending to be right-wing extremists?”
And days later, American podcast host and UFC commentator, Joe Rogan, repeated the claim: “Tell me that doesn’t look like feds… I’m a unreliable source… maybe they’re real, but I’m calling bullshit.”
Moving from public to dark social media, on Telegram, neo-Nazi accelerationist channels that make up the loosely associated fascist network sometimes referred to as “Terrorgram” heaped additional criticism onto the more-populist sector of the far right. The channel, Corona Chan News, declared, “This overwhelming condemnation is exactly what you movementarian[s] … deserve for trying to use ‘good optics’ to appeal to the normies aka scum of the earth.”
Optics and Terror
Corona Chan is an extreme example of far-right opinion, having faced a ban by the typically laissez-faire Telegram app in the wake of the January 6 Capitol putsch, but that’s precisely the thing; the repudiation of Patriot Front from the mass-based anti-vaxxer right to the extreme accelerationist variety of fascist insurrectionaries reveals a general turn in the US right.
During 2015, the Alt Right took the US political scene by storm, promoting “better optics” to appeal to the general public of American voters who blamed the establishment of both parties for the impasses of the US’s political system. These “optics,” involving more-competent photoshop work, new podcast networks, and formal conferences, offered an air of seriousness and professionalism, underpinned by online trolling and calls to violence.
Some more-committed fascists joined the accelerationist group, Atomwaffen Division, during this period, in part as an expression of dissent from the Alt Right camp and its form of white nationalist populism, but they remained relatively marginal within the right. Yet the decline of the Alt Right after Unite the Right and the subsequent failure of the Stop the Steal movement led many to feel disenchanted with populist displays as a route to their accelerationist end game.
As one poster on Telegram declared on Saturday, “I am not here to denounce [Patriot Front]… but I cannot understand why anyone would want to attempt a march again after Unite the Right and Stop the Steal achieved nothing but put White people behind bars.”
The argument from accelerationists is not that fascist activity should be disregarded, but that fascists should scorn public actions in favor of more clandestine terror in order to bring about the disintegration of liberal democracy.
On the other hand, other remaining elements of the Alt Right manifest within the tiny National Justice Party attempted to defend the Patriot Front action against its myriad of critics, lashing out at Trump supporters in particular.
“Only thing cuckservatives feeling politically threatened can do is cope,” co-founder Joseph “Eric Striker,” Jordan stated on Telegram. “‘where are trannies? Where’s Ricky Rebel?? Where are the based blacks in maga hats? Must be ANTIFA crisis actors and feds pretending to be patriots!!!’”, he added.
Striker’s post suggests an increasing intolerance for the populist radical right within a US fascist movement that once saw Trump as, in the words of Alt Right leader Richard Spencer, “the Napoleon of the current year”—someone who could bring together populist forces toward a nationalist consensus.
But the Alt Right’s dubious progeny did get the nod from Steve Bannon over Telegram, whose War Room podcast has promoted the National Justice Party and, more recently, posted a link supportive of the DC march from a site that calls itself “an assault on jewish (sic) sensibilities.” Bannon promised to make Breitbart “the platform of the Alt Right,” so his naked support of a fascist organization marching through DC is only one fig leaf shy of his normal backroom choreography. However, the seriousness of the splits indicate continuing strains that were absent during the more-unified days of MAGA and the Alt Right during Trump’s rise.
An Unlikely Synthesis?
Today, Telegram is littered with accounts trying to pick up the scattered pieces of the far right to forge a tenuous synthesis. Disillusioned by past failures, spin-offs from groups, like the Proud Boys, now more openly proclaim fascist politics.
For instance, the Telegram channels The Western Chauvinist and the Proud Boys to Fascist Pipeline, playing host to 51,732 and 3,143 subscribers respectively, represent embattled attempts to maintain an uneasy truce between populist and accelerationist tendencies.
Yet the deep rift between the accelerationists and the populists shows no real signs of ameliorating. In Corona Chan’s response to Striker, the account declares, “The National Justice Party and their allies like Patriot Front want to profit off White decline, not prevent it. They’re controlled opposition. They fight White militancy harder than the jews and libtards,” calling Striker and his associates, “bourgeois journalists and pretend politicians.”
Ironically, what the accelerationists share in common with the comparatively tame MAGA crowd is that they adamantly reject COVID vaccines, accusing the National Justice Party and Patriot Front of “avoiding the issue… altogether. This is how you know they are fed glow ops.”
Whether or not they spread sufficient COVID-related conspiracy theories for the accelerationists, as the National Justice Party drifts further away from the MAGA crowd (i.e. loyal Trump supporters) that once brought them life, the cultural influence of the Alt Right appears more remote than ever, despite Patriot Front’s public efforts to make themselves available to antifascist doxxers.
Yet despite Patriot Front’s recent unpopular action, their increasing distance from the MAGA crowd does not diminish the extent to which those populist forces elevated and escalated the fascist movement in the US together for years. And with the refusal to sanction Lauren Boebert, the acceptance of white nationalists like Steve King and Paul Gosar, and the impunity apparently offered to Matt Gaetz, there does not seem to be any serious effort from the Republican camp to put the genie back in the bottle.