Trigger warning: This piece openly discusses racism, misogyny and other hateful ideologies.
“While white supremacist flyering and stickering by Patriot Front and others has risen steadily in Rhode Island over the past year and a half… the placement of the flyers seems to suggest individuals or small groups quickly entering and leaving an area, rather than a brazen and sustained presence.”
Perhaps you have seen them across Rhode Island- stickers and flyers in stark red white and blue, using the pretense of Americana to share ominous anti-immigrant messages or obliquely praise a white American master race. Littered across the public eye in Providence, Woonsocket, and West Warwick, these flyers are sparking a natural consternation and outrage among decent Rhode Islanders. Who is spreading such trash in our state, and why? We might hope it’s just the work of someone’s lone racist uncle, but the truth is more discomforting. These flyers are the overt activities of a coordinated group, one Rhode Islanders should understand and oppose with equal thoroughness.
That group calls itself Patriot Front; and in brief, they are some of the white nationalists from Charlottesville Virginia, wearing a new mask and a fresh coat of paint. Their message is fascism and race hatred, coated in a star-spangled veneer to try and lower the guard of regular Americans enough to listen. What follows is an accounting of their history and tactics, and some of the ways we can all take a stand against their brand of hate.
Patriot Front formed in the fallout of the violent, racist rally in Charlottesville Virginia on August 11th and 12th of 2017. One of the most prominent groups present on the tiki-torch side in the Charlottesville rally was Vanguard America, an overt and self-avowed neo-fascist organization. It was a Vanguard America member, James Alex Fields, who committed the infamous vehicle attack which killed anti-racism activist Heather Heyer and injured over twenty others.
Unrepentant in their hateful and violent beliefs but understanding that their violence and open praise for fascism had damaged their public reception and reputation, Vanguard America eventually sought to reorganize under a new name and banner: “Patriot Front.” They kept the classic fascist symbol of an axe bundled together with several wooden rods, called a “fasces,” but the rest of their iconography and rhetoric was given a red-white-and-blue, flag-stamped makeover. During this time, a threatening anti-feminist Vanguard America banner was dropped at the 2018 Rhode Island Women’s March. That banner drop was later claimed by Patriot Front members, cementing that they are functionally the same group. Later in the fall of 2018, Patriot Front attacked a book fair in Boston. Several months after the bookfair attack, three members of the group attacked police officers in East Boston with knives and other illegally-carried melee weapons, simply because the police saw them putting up fliers and approached to ask questions. Perhaps even more alarmingly, Patriot Front members openly fantasize about far right death squads, rape gangs, and the racial/religious/ethnic cleansing of North America in their online forums.
That said, while the danger of this group is as clear as the need to oppose it, there is no reason for Rhode Islanders to panic. While Patriot Front is a nationwide organization with triple-digit membership numbers, anti-fascist researchers believe there are probably no more than half of a dozen members of the group currently operating in Rhode Island. Their tentative foothold here can be decisively thwarted by a robust community response. While white supremacist flyering and stickering by Patriot Front and others has risen steadily in Rhode Island over the past year and a half, with a surge in activity corresponding to Trump’s impeachment acquittal and the Patriot Front march in Washington DC, the placement of the flyers seems to suggest individuals or small groups quickly entering and leaving an area, rather than a brazen and sustained presence.
We have compiled a partial map of these flyerings and others based on documented tips we receive, as well as our own members encountering them.
All Rhode Islanders can have a role in keeping these hateful goons from terrorizing our most vulnerable neighbors. Here’s what you can do to help:
- Check your neighborhoods for white supremacist flyering activity; particularly if you live or work in Providence, Woonsocket, West Warwick, Cranston, Warwick, Portsmouth, Tiverton or North Scituate. These are the areas Patriot Front has been known to target or where known white supremacists reside.
- Document any activity you find: Take a picture of the sticker/flyer with your phone and be sure to record the date and location it was found. Pro Tip: when taking the picture, try to take it at an angle so that both the detail of the flyer/sticker and some of the adjacent street view is visible. This way, the picture cannot be dismissed as being from another location.
- Remove or Cover the flyers/stickers: If you can remove them, do so. If not, try to cover them while taking care not to further deface public/private property. Take extra care when removing the full size flyers and do not remove them with your bare hands. White supremacist groups have been known to secure razor blades or fishooks to the back edges of their flyers in an attempt to hurt the people who tear them down.
- Report the activity. The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, The Southern Poverty Law Center, One People’s Project and the Anti Defamation League as well as this publication will all gladly receive the information you provide.
- Youth Outreach: If you can, volunteer or donate with a local group that helps young people. Center the young people who are most at risk and elevate their voices. Let them know that there are adults who care about their well being and the overall health of their communities. Patriot Front is overwhelmingly comprised of young adult men and most organized white supremacists are radicalized online between the ages of 11 and 17.
- Educate yourself; Though it may seem like it, American neo-fascism did not spontaneously appear in the wake of the 2016 election. It is the culmination of nearly a century of far-right political organizing that is connected to so much of the domestic terrorism seen in our country in modern times. Many academics have written books on the subject but there is a fairly short and sucinct podcast series about it here. Familiarize yourself with the major white nationalist groups and popular white nationalist imagery here and here. *Content Warning-much of this research contains explicit racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, images and acts.*
- Help those in need; Fascists prey upon the vulnerable, both as targets for recruitment and for hate crimes. Do what you can to reach out to people in your community struggling with substance abuse, economic insecurity, or psychological trauma. Show empathy and offer to help while refraining from judgment. Listen to their concerns and pay close attention for anyone they believe is doing harm in the community. Close-knit communities that support each other will be more resistant to fascist threats.
- Consider your needs and explore your options for personal defense; groups like the John Brown Gun Club, National African-American Gun Association, Armed Equality, Trigger Warning, The Huey P Newton Gun Club, and the Socialist Rifle Association have arisen in recent years to empower vulnerable peoples to take control over their own security. They are all willing to help you and members of your community actualize those personal defense choices. Patriot Front has demonstrated an eagerness to use violence whether the people who oppose them are civil and pacifist or not; it is up to each of you to decide what the correct steps are for you personally to be able to rightfully and lawfully defend yourself and your community from that violence.