What we know about the White nationalist group Patriot Front

With their faces concealed behind white cloths and sunglasses, dozens of protesters marched down the streets of downtown Nashville this weekend, chanting “Sieg Heil” and “Deportation saves the nation,” according to a statement from the Tennessee Democratic Party.

“Reclaim America,” one banner at the front of the group read. Behind it, uniformed marchers in dark shirts and khaki-colored pants hoisted a plethora of Confederate and historic US flags, with some of the American flags turned upside down.

Their attire and tactics are hallmarks of the Patriot Front white supremacist group, with which the protesters are believed to be affiliated. And they’re just part of a multifaceted shift in political rhetoric purportedly aiming to drastically reshape America during this crucial presidential election cycle.

While “no criminal activity took place” during the Nashville rally, police said, the demonstration drew disdain from local critics.

“Just two days after celebrating the independence of our nation, white supremacists have taken to the streets of Nashville carrying Confederate flags and chanting ‘deportation saves the nation’ and ‘Sieg Heil,’” the Tennessee Democratic Party said in a statement posted on X Saturday night.

“This is what we’re fighting against in Tennessee,” state party chair Hendrell Remus said in the statement. “This is what we’re fighting against in America.”

While bystanders were stunned to see the White nationalist demonstration in Nashville, protests linked to the Patriot Front have popped up across the country, including in Boston on Independence Day weekend two years ago. Here’s what we know about the clandestine group:

How did Patriot Front start?

Patriot Front “is a white nationalist hate group that formed in the aftermath of the deadly ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“The organization broke off from Vanguard America (VA), a neo-Nazi group that participated in the chaotic demonstration,” the SPLC website adds.

The 2017 rally turned deadly when counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed. Later that month, Thomas Ryan Rousseau, who led Vanguard America members at “Unite the Right,” rebranded the group’s website and launched a new group called Patriot Front, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

CNN has reached out to an attorney who has represented the Patriot Front’s leader for comment.

What do Patriot Front members believe?

“Members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front believe that their ancestors conquered America and bestowed it to them, and no one else,” according to the ADL.

“Patriot Front defines itself as an organization of “American nationalists,” justifying its hate and intolerance under the guise of preserving America’s identity as a “Pan-European nation,” the ADL adds.

The group’s manifesto claims those in America who are not of European ancestry are not truly American.

“To be an American is to be a descendant of conquerors, pioneers, visionaries, and explorers. This unique identity was given to us by our ancestors, and this national spirit remains firmly rooted in our blood,” the Patriot Front’s manifesto states.

“Nationhood cannot be bestowed upon those who are not of the founding stock of our people, and those who do not share the common spirit that permeates our greater civilization, and the European diaspora,” the manifesto adds.

Earlier this year, an attorney defending the Patriot Front group in a civil lawsuit told a federal judge in an oral argument that its members are not white supremacists. Rather, he suggested they are white separatists of the “good fences make good neighbors variety,” according to a written decision from the judge. After reviewing the group’s website and manifesto, which calls for “the formation of a white ethnostate,” the judge concluded that she “cannot reasonably infer that Patriot Front seeks separation for any reason other than white supremacy.”

What are the goals of Patriot Front?

“I think when you look at the past actions of the Patriot Front, they’re varied,” former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok said in 2022, shortly after a similar group of protesters demonstrated near a Pride parade in Idaho.

“A lot of what they do is designed for image – for creating propaganda that they can use to spread their message to recruit more followers,” Strzok told CNN.

“So in the past, what we’ve seen from a lot of their activities (is) not so much intent on engaging in violence as much as engaging in protests. Certainly, hateful speech, for sure, but this is much more a group that’s designed for image and for creating a public spectacle.”

Strzok said the emergence of the “replacement theory” has played into White nationalist propaganda, and “I think that’s encouraging or accepting behavior that in the past we had moved away from.”

But Strzok said there’s always a key question with such groups: “Is there a trigger point where their intention is to move from simply protesting to violence?”

How is Patriot Front different from other White nationalist or White supremacist groups?

Members of Patriot Front are “comparatively young,” Strzok said.

“A central tactic to Patriot Front is ‘flash demonstrations’ – privately planned and unannounced events that allow groups to promote their beliefs while limiting the risk of individual exposure, negative media coverage, arrests and public backlash,” according to the ADL.

“These flash demonstrations are mainly orchestrated for a quick photo and video opportunity that is then turned into online content.”

And Patriot Front “has declined to participate in large rallies with other hate groups, preferring instead to work with small, local chapters that allow Patriot Front to remain the center of attention while controlling their message and presentation,” according to the SPLC.

CNN’s Alayna Treene, Steve Contorno, Kate Sullivan, Josh Campbell and Liam Reilly contributed to this report.

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