When dozens of white nationalists decked out in matching garb marched in lockstep from the Lincoln Memorial toward the U.S. Capitol
in December, Joe Rogan was sure they were federal agents in disguise.
“They just pop up outta nowhere with the same sized flags, the same outfits, goose-stepping … in an orderly line? Who organized this?” Rogan posed to his 11 million-plus podcast listeners a few days after the rally. "They could be real … I'm an unreliable source, I'm a comedian, but looking at that, I'm calling bullshit."
But a recently leaked trove of chats, videos and photos from Patriot Front’s internal forums sheds light on how organized and real the ultra-right group is. More still, the leaks suggest the march Rogan cast doubt on turned out to be a recruiting magnet for the group.
Last week, Unicorn Riot, a nonprofit investigative newsroom, published 400-plus gigabytes of leaked communications between members of the Dallas-based neo-Nazi group on the communications platforms Rocket.Chat and Discord. (Both platforms are popular among other far-right groups.)
The leak also included hundreds of gigabytes of videos documenting Patriot Front members going through quasi-military training exercises, scouting for prospective new members and searching for Black monuments to target for vandalism.
The chats also reveal Patriot Front’s process for vetting potential new members through interviews with established group members. Several Patriot Front hopefuls told their interviewers that they were persuaded to apply to join after they saw the group’s march in D.C.
In multiple exchanges, applicants were admitted or denied membership based on their professed adherence to "ethnic nationalism," the belief that America and American identity belongs only to white people.
"I think when you look at that, you are able to see what the white nationalism of the next few years might look like,” said Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today
, which documents the most-recent rise of far-right political movements in the U.S.
"And it's gonna look really a lot more desperate than it used to with the Jan. 6 indictments,” Burley continued. "Patriot Front reveals a paranoid violent face of white nationalism."
Patriot Front emerged from another white nationalist group called Vanguard America after the Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. After James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his car into a crowd and killed counter-protester Heather Heyer, the rally was widely condemned. (Dallas-Fort Worth native Thomas Rousseau seized control over a faction of Vanguard America and split off to form Patriot Front.)
The Southern Poverty Law Center
lists Patriot Front as a hate group. In recent years, the far-right group has pasted flyers and hung up banners with anti-immigrant and right-wing mantras on them around DFW and elsewhere across the country.
The recently leaked chats also suggest the group's involvement in crimes
, such as vandalizing memorials and statues that depict Black historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman.
Evidence of the group's activities or not, it hasn't stopped Joe Rogan and others from baselessly dismissing them as "feds." Wendy Rogers, an Arizona state senator
, recycled the same claim in a recent tweet, as did Florida Republican Lavern Spicer
John Bachman, a host at the far-right Newsmax outlet
, also said it's worth asking whether Patriot Front is merely a federal smokescreen, adding that "we've had problems with the feds" in the past. QAnon-backing U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, called the far-rightists "movie characters."
The fact-checking website Snopes
found that claims that the group's marchers were in fact federal agents were false. Still, the video in which Rogan doubted Patriot Front was real has racked up more than 1.3 million views on YouTube. (Advice: Don't seek your political analysis from someone who's become the loudest cheerleader for consuming the anti-parasitic livestock drug ivermectin
as a way to fight COVID-19. )