By Jakob Stein
On February 8, over 100 members of the fascist group ‘Patriot Front’ marched through the National Mall in Washington DC alongside a full police escort. The march ended at the US Capitol where police had completely shut down the area to everyone but the fascist demonstrators.
According to the DC Metropolitan Police, the march had not obtained a permit beforehand but by all accounts the dozens of police present did not attempt to block or repress the march as is common with other unpermitted street marches. The police in essence marched in solidarity with the fascists as they took over streets in the US capital and chanted fascist slogans like “Reclaim America.”
Patriot Front members wore matching uniforms with the group’s insignia as well as plain white masks and carried what the mainstream media falsely reported as “American flags.” Images from the demonstration show that the flags the white nationalists carried resembled the US flag but replaced the traditional 50 stars with a fasces, a symbol originally associated with the Roman Empire and later adopted by Benito Mussolini’s Fascists.
Mainstream media was quick to sanitize the march, making sure to report that no violent incidents took place at the demonstration. The lack of violence was largely due to the heavy police presence as well as the lack of a large counterdemonstration, as Patriot Front now holds its public actions without openly promoting them, catching unorganized antifascists off guard and unprepared. In video from the march, police form a tight perimeter around the fascists, using their bikes to prevent the small handful of antifascist counterdemonstrators from getting close.
Patriot Front was originally named ‘Vanguard America,’ rebranding itself in August 2017. The move came just weeks after the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia which saw a great deal of chaos and violence as fascists and antifascists engaged in street fights throughout the demonstration before 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car through a crowd of counterdemonstrators, injuring several and murdering 31-year-old Heather Heyer.
The 2017 rally prompted big headlines for its mass violence as well as the large presence of swastikas and other easily identifiable symbols associated with fascism and Nazism. The demonstration was largely a failure for the fascists and many of the groups proceeded to reorganize and change strategies after the event was unable to garner any popular support.
Vanguard America was among these groups seeking to rebrand, especially since Fields was photographed carrying a shield with the group’s logo, although the organization tried to distance themselves after his arrest. While bourgeois media has framed it as a split within the organization, the transition to Patriot Front was mainly a change in leadership, tactics, and image while retaining most of the rank-and-file membership of Vanguard America. Then-18-year-old Thomas Rousseau seized control of the group from the former leader, Dillon Irizarry, after an internal debate about image and tactics.
Since the change in leadership, Patriot Front’s activities have sought to avoid clashing with antifascists in public demonstrations and instead opted to hold quick propaganda actions without prior online or print promotion. The other mainstay of Patriot Front’s activities is sneaking onto college campuses at night and posting flyers promoting their organization hoping to recruit more disillusioned middle-class white men into their fascist project.
Both tactics demonstrate that the organization has moved further toward a more clandestine approach, with the strategy of recruiting people online through their propaganda and only engaging in public confrontation against weaker groups when they have the element of surprise.
On September 27, 2017, Patriot Front showed up unexpectedly outside of an ‘Anarchist Book Fair’ in Houston, Texas, forcing the organizers to lock themselves inside the building until the fascists left. On July 28, 2018, Patriot Front members attacked an ‘Occupy ICE’ camp in San Antonio, Texas, destroying activists tents before fleeing the area.
The biggest change for the fascists in Patriot Front since the failed ‘Unite the Right’ rally, however, has been in their imagery and propaganda. By rebranding their image to rely more heavily on US chauvinism, they have sought to combine their Hitler-style “white nationalism” with the aesthetics of the fascist ‘Patriot Movement’ typified by groups like the ‘Three Percenters’ and ‘Oathkeepers.’
The change in image is a clear attempt to appeal to the largest recruitment base for the fascist movement in the US, which at this time is largely united around Trump and his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-socialist rhetoric and policies. While the German Nazis framed themselves as opponents of the German Weimar constitution, the US fascist movement often portrays itself as the US Constitution’s biggest defender. By wrapping themselves in the US flag and appealing to the most reactionary segments of US society, these fascists are trying to bring in Trump supporters who are disillusioned with Trump’s failure to deliver on key campaign promises.
Ideologically, Patriot Front has rooted themselves in a mythology of US history which frames European settlers as heroes and all other groups in the US as “replacement populations” that have been steadily wresting power from the white petty-bourgeois over the past several decades.
The truth is that the bourgeois ruling class in the US has maintained its hold on power since the nation’s secession from the British Empire and has (since the Spanish-American War) continually expanded its dominance internationally as US imperialism, which is at this time the world’s sole hegemonic superpower.
While US fascists claim that they are ‘revolutionaries’ with a mission to ‘save’ the US from impending doom, whether it be from immigrants, Muslims, Jews, or Communists, their actions serve to more greatly enforce bourgeois law and order in the face of the deepening crisis of US imperialism, which every day pushes workers closer toward socialism and revolution.
Fascism’s twin, Social Democracy, results in this same outcome by steering the rebellious masses into the voting booths of bourgeois elections to restore their faith in US imperialism.
The march in DC is just one example of the general reorganization and increase in activity of these fascist groups that have sought to use the 2020 presidential campaign to broaden their audience.
The massive ‘Second Amendment’ rally in Richmond, Virginia showed that fascists can have a much wider appeal by doing away with swastikas and open talk of a ‘white ethnostate,’ and instead engaging directly with reactionary ‘patriots’ and Trump supporters. That demonstration even saw the participation and collaboration of ‘anarchists’ and other eclectic ‘leftists.’
Fascists have also sought to infiltrate anti-war rallies around the US in an effort to counter-recruit politically active people who have not yet been armed with revolutionary ideology. In Denver, Colorado organizers with the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) tolerated and even protected known fascists at an anti-war rally, further demonstrating the link between fascists, social democrats, and revisionist phony ‘socialists.’
While Patriot Front is a serious threat to workers and all oppressed people in the US, they are only one part of the larger US fascist movement. Along with the fascist ‘patriot militias,’ white nationalists like Patriot Front and neo-Nazi terror cells like ‘The Base’ and ‘Atomwaffen’ help to make up the civilian-based fascist movement.
The civilian fascists exist in a dialectical relationship to the further reactionization of the US state, which manifests in the form of mainstream politicians increasingly making gestures toward fascism by tacitly supporting and mobilizing civilian fascists and openly endorsing fascist policies. Both fuel and legitimize each other as a reaction to imperialist crisis.
The only way forward for antifascists in the face of this dual threat is to take the offensive, no longer giving fascist groups the initiative to make the first move. Antifascists must instead draw the masses into stable organized bodies which are capable of fighting both the civilian fascist movement as well as the fascist positions in the state: in short organizing for revolution and the final destruction of US imperialism.