by Henry De Groot
De Groot shows last weekend’s fascist demonstration as part of serious escalation in fascist organizing around the US. He discusses the threat of fascism, the strategies and tactics required to defeat it, and the differences in ideology and class-basis between fascism and other far-right movements.
Patriot Front Marches In Boston
This past Saturday, around 100 members of the violent neo-Nazi organization Patriot Front marched through downtown Boston, assaulting one black activist. Dressed in khakis, blue t-shirts, and white face-coverings, the far-right activists marched to the beat of a snare drum holding shields, American flags, and banners that read “Reclaim America.”
Patriot Front members allegedly assaulted Charles Murrell, a black man who was present. In Murrell’s description of the situation he said the group had been shoving Murrell around and when he pushed back he was knocked to the ground and the group began hitting and kicking him on the ground. No arrests were made. At a press conference on Tuesday, Mayor Wu said that the Boston Police Department’s Civil Rights Unit is investigating the attack.
The group gathered in front of the Central Branch of the Boston Public Library, and marched through Back Bay, Downtown Crossing, and along parts of the Freedom Trail.
Unlike previous far-right demonstrations planned publicly on social media, the organization appeared to maintain the element of surprise. The group used the MBTA to travel into Boston from a staging area near the Oak Grove MBTA station in Malden. Anti-fascist activists followed participants to their vehicles, showing out-of-state plates from as far as Oklahoma and Michigan. The group also used a UHaul truck to move personnel, a tactic they have used in Idaho and Pennsylvania.
Although not everything went smoothly for the fascists, including their UHAUL being towed, these tactics nonetheless show a concerning level of coordination, planning, and discipline. And they show the relationship between local fascist activities and a growing centralized movement.
Neo-Nazis Increasingly Organized
Patriot Front emerged from Vanguard America in the aftermath of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. Despite being small and thinly spread across the United States, they are one of the most influential neo-Nazi groups in America, producing more than eighty percent of the nation’s white supremacist propaganda according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Patriot Front is not vaguely alt-right, but openly fascist; unlike the Proud Boys, Patriot Front more directly embraces white supremacy and neo-Nazi ideology. Their flavor of white supremacy specifically embraces the heritage of New World white settler-colonialism, rather than traditional themes of an Aryan race. Rather than Adolph Hitler, their manifesto features George Patton, Calvin Coolidge, Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt, Samuel Adams, Henry Ford, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E Lee, and Charles Lindbergh.
The Patriot Front flag combines the 13-star “Betsy Ross” flag of the original US colonies with the fasces, a direct homage to Mussolini’s original fascist movement. This flag demonstrates the Patriot Front’s strategic wedding of Americana and traditional Fascist imagery. Truly “when Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
The organization has come to Boston before; in February of 2019 it claimed responsibility for distributing hundreds of anti-immigrant flyers in East Boston calling on residents to report undocumented immigrants to ICE. Three members were arrested in relation to the incident, and police recovered a number of weapons on their person. A separate neo-Nazi group, NSC-131, held a banner “Keep Boston Irish” at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade; NSC-131 members were also present at Saturday’s event.
The current tactic of coordinated ‘flash-mob’ marches appears to have grown substantially over the past four years. A 2018 attack on a San Antonio ICE encampment seemed to have only two dozen participants. In February 2020, around 100 members marched in Washington D.C. This was repeated twice in 2021, including another demonstration of around 100 members in December of 2021.
But especially over the past month, the organization has launched a concerning series of public mobilizations. On June 6th, around 60 members marched in Nashville. On June 11th, 31 Patriot Front members from 11 states were arrested in a UHAUL on their way to protest an Idaho pride event, and charged with conspiracy to riot. On July 2nd, they marched in Boston. And the next day, they marched through downtown Philadelphia.
Also throughout June, Patriot Front has hosted weekend training schools for training “mind, body, and spirit,” has handed out flyers, held banners, painted stencils in addition to their larger mobilizations. Since June 1st, the group has mobilized 13 separate actions just in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Apparently NSC-131 members also participated in last weekend’s event.
Any organizer knows that such a series of mobilizations requires capable and trusted leadership, financial resources, a well-organized membership, and moderate logistical know-how.
In 2021, leaks indicated that the organization had plateaued at around 220-230 members, but either this rut has been broken through, or members are increasingly dedicated, or both. During March and April, the organization self-reported 1,721 “Instances of activism including, but not limited to, posters, banners, stencils, hikes, food drives, training meets, trash pickups, and flyer handouts are marked with gold triangles.” At 141 “instances,” Massachusetts was second only to Texas (211). Their telegram channel has over 15,500 subscribers.
Patriot Front’s demonstrations are part of a propaganda effort to ultimately drive online recruitment. Their website PatriotFront.US is professional, aesthetically pleasing, and far more streamlined than the DSA’s website.
Neo-Nazis and the Far Right Threat
Fascist organizations are a threat in themselves, and also in relation to the larger right wing movement.
By themselves, fascist organizations are a direct threat to both marginalized communities and the political organizations which seek to organize and represent them. The Patriot Front has already demonstrated their ability to facilitate deportations, assault people of color, and disrupt queer spaces. As their strength grows, there is the potential for the targeting of left-wing groups and leaders with online harassment, physical intimidation, and outright violence and potentially even assassination.
But, as with any vanguard organization, Patriot Front’s power is not limited to the actions of their own members. Rather, they have the potential to influence and inspire larger sections of the far-right through innovations in strategy and tactics, propaganda-of-the-dead, and by setting a combative tone for the movement as a whole.
While Patriot Front has revived traditional Neo-Nazism by abandoning most Nazi aesthetics in favor of Americana, the Republican Party has also undergone a serious shift. Trump’s “Big Lie” and the January 6th attempted-coup show that the right-wing of the mainstream conservative forces have all but abandoned constitutionality while embracing insurrection. The result is that the gap between the leading fascist organization in the US and the Republican Party is thinner than ever before.
Although our current post-COVID economic recovery is not without its deficits, on the whole employment is strong. But if and when a new economic recession drives increasingly layers of the white middle and lower classes towards economic ruin, desperation, and despair, Patriot Front will be there to capitalize on that energy and build out its ranks. And if and when powerful capitalists decide that a full break with bourgeois democracy is required, their funding will likely provide intense scalability of the Patriot Front project.
The Socialist Response
The arrests of Patriot Front members in Idaho show that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is tracking – and has likely penetrated – the Patriot Front organization. It should not be lost on us that administration does matter; persecuting and prosecuting fascists is not at all the same as working with them to coordinate an insurrection or using them as private security a la Roger Stone.
Nonetheless, socialists know that the capitalist state will not do enough to protect marginalized communities, and cannot solve the root cause of the appeal of fascism. What strategies and tactics are crucial for socialists to meet the rising threat posed by the Patriot Front? What will it take to keep workers and socialists safe here in Massachusetts?
First, in order to organize our defense, we need to understand the threat. Bravo to the anti-fascist organizers who for years have tracked fascist activities, penetrated their organizations, and shared this content across social media. We need more of this intelligence, and should make efforts to systematize these efforts further. Those interested in countering fascists in Massachusetts should join Boston DSA, which has a team dedicated to anti-fascism.
Second, we need to educate our membership and our larger communities based on the results of this intelligence gathering. We need to imbue our membership with an understanding of the physical and political threat posed by groups like the Patriot Front, and to consider ways to engage unions and other coalition partners in anti-fascist work. That is the intention of this article.
Third, we need to confront and disrupt fascists wherever they appear. No fascist should feel safe in our community. Confrontations are also a useful propaganda tool to show to larger layers of anti-racist youth and workers that the socialist movement is the organized spearhead of anti-fascist resistance. Recall when 30,000 rallied at Boston common in the aftermath of Charlottesville.
Fourth, we need to understand that anti-fascism counters fascism, while socialism defeats it. Efforts should be made to channel those mobilized in the struggle against fascism into concrete organizing projects in the labor, electoral, and community organizing fronts.
But all of these efforts are limited to the degree to which our organizations are powerful and effective. Anti-fascist analysis and strategy is powerless if it is not backed-up by the ability to recruit, mobilize, organize, communicate, and develop leaders.
Our success in contesting fascism will be determined by the degree to which we overcome our own amateurism and professionalize our organizations. The 100-strong march of fascists through downtown Boston is a reminder that we are not organizing in a vacuum, with unlimited time to grow our movement. We are in a competitive race against the far-right and the billionaire class for control of the revolutionary forces unleashed by the death-agony of capitalism. If Patriot Front is getting serious, so must we.
The Ideology and Class-Basis of Modern Fascism
Reviewing the Patriot Front manifesto reminds one that fascism is a particular ideology and movement which should not be confused with all other forms of right-wing authoritarianism.
While fascist ideology does draw on traditional conservative values of nation, religion, and family, it is also fundamentally a revolutionary ideology which apes socialism in its calls for a break with the current system and for a revolution against the state, as well as its rejection of individualism and embrace of collective struggle and collective identity. As the Patriot Front manifesto states,
“Individualism, while originally good in concept and proposition, has been allowed to run rampant in our modern society, where it has become a plague in its amplification… …it must be noted that you exist as an individual, but you do so in accordance with your family, community, nation, and race. You must never exist in spite of them. ”
The manifesto also speaks to the alienation of modern society, writing that
“People without a natural identity will find an artificial one. Instead of identifying with a natural classification such as family, community, nation, or race, one will identify with a corporate brand, a materialistic political viewpoint, or a commercialized facet of culture.”
It concludes, stating that
“To the American people our movement is revolutionary, yet familiar. We bring forth the traditions of our past imbued with new vigor to bring us closer to our grand vision. Our tradition is revolution, and our land is where tyrants come to die.”
These messages, framed over aesthetic graphics, underlined by powerful-looking public mobilizations, group hikes, physical training, and a general spirit of camaraderie have a dangerous appeal to young, white American men. Paired with a stream-lined onboarding process, they are a serious threat to the country generally and POCs, queer people, immigrants, and the socialist movement specifically.
The difference of fascism from other right-wing movements is not only that of its ideology, but also its class-basis.
Jane Mayer’s Dark Money shows how the billionaires have astro-turfed the Neoconservative movements including the Evangelical right; Neoconservatism is a billionaire revival of traditional conservative movements, and despite seeming to focus on conservative cultural issues like abortion and gun rights and a large mobilization of middle and lower class Americans, the movement actually defends the Neoliberal status quo and serves – and is controlled by – the upper layers of the bourgeoisie.
In the 2016 Republican primaries, Trump hijacked this movement by mixing a classic neo-conservative agenda with populist appeals to reform health care and trade policy, allowing him to win over the most dispossessed sections of the Republican base. But these populist appeals were largely dropped as Trump pivoted back towards the interests of the billionaire class. For example, Trump’s seemingly anti-Neoliberal trade war against China and the European Union was actually about pushing those regimes to uphold free trade principles like cutting subsidies, allowing for unrestricted capital flows, and protecting international intellectual property rights. Trumpism is a step in the direction of fascism, but not itself fascist.
Fascism is a movement growing spontaneously out of the middle and lower classes of society (in Marxist terms, the petty-bourgeoisie, proletariat, and lumpenproletariat), with new leaders from the rank and file. As Trotsky writes in Fascism: What It Is and How To Fight It
“Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat – all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.”
The classical fascist movements in Italy, German, and Spain developed independent of and against the established ruling classes; it was only later in their development that they reached an accommodation with and cooptation by the big capitalist powers. From June 30th to July 2nd of 1934, Hitler accomplished such an “accommodation” through the Night of Long Knives, when he liquidated the more revolutionary wings of the NAZI party which called for a “second revolution” of wealth redistribution, thereby appeasing established bases of conservative power including the leaders of the German military.
The root causes of fascism and its appeal to the middle and lower classes can only be resolved through the establishment of a political and economic system which deals with the crises of capitalism by organizing society to meet everyone’s basic needs, and which puts workers interests above those of elite: socialism.
Historically and today, fascism is a serious threat to our communities, our organizations, and our persons. Now more than ever, we must understand what it is, and how to fight it.