On the Ground in Oak Grove: statement from a long-time Boston antifascist

Jul 18, 2022 | Committees, PEWG blog

On July 2nd 2022, a large force from Patriot Front, the largest Neo-Nazi group in America, marched through downtown Boston. They assaulted an onlooker, but the situation was deescalated by FBI agents on the scene. The Nazis proceeded to ride the MBTA Orange Line to Oak Grove, where they were confronted by antifascists. They were protected by police and allowed to exit without incident. As a Boston antifascist, I say this shit sucks.

There have been a few writings published about this incident. Some are in the genre “Oh my gosh Boston is better than this!!! WTF?” Boston is not better than this. Another common genre is “Oh my gosh look at these scary Nazis why won’t somebody do something! Here’s a bunch of descriptors to make them look tough!” Boston antifascists need to set the record straight and make sure well-meaning liberals don’t end up just reproducing Nazi propaganda for Patriot Front. Patriot Front is actually very shitty, and not even in the “they’re dangerous Nazis” sense: they’re a bunch of angry children trying to look tough. They are not tough. 

Moreover, their display on July 2nd does not represent the amount of force that Patriot Front can reliably bring to bear in Boston or anywhere in the Northeast. Patriot Front locally is much more of a “stickers and graffiti” type of organization, not a marching one. 

What is Patriot Front?

PF grew out of the ashes of Vanguard America, after one of VA’s members committed a vicious car attack at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. This left Heather Heyer dead and many others wounded and traumatized. This was a turning point in the alt-right movement. It was a public relations disaster and many alt-right and alt-lite organizations fell into infighting. Patriot Front sprung from the remnants of VA and appeals to the same demographic of angsty fascist teen boys and their desire to feel like big men.

Patriot Front has been active in Massachusetts for years. Their appearance is not new. Chris Hood, their original main organizer locally, showed up to protest Mark Bray (author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook) at the Harvard Coop in 2017, alongside members of Boston Free Speech. After that, Hood showed up to several local fascist events, trying to network with, organize with, ally with and recruit from the likes of BFS and Resist Marxism.

The first time I ran into Patriot Front they were attempting to disrupt the Boston Anarchist Book Fair in 2018. Likely, the local PF had chosen the book fair as a target because PF in Texas, where it originated and has typically had its largest concentration of members, had more successfully disrupted a similar event weeks earlier. But the attendees of the BABF quickly mounted up to eject the fascists, and we chased them off without further incident.

In early 2019 Patriot Front stirred up intimidation and anxiety by flyering East Boston, a largely immigrant neighborhood. After what seemed to be great success the first night they went out and flyered again the next night. This led to a police officer confronting PF, and one of them panicking, which then forced the cop to search them. Several of them (including their local leader, Chris Hood) were carrying illegal knives and were arrested. The lesson here is that oftentimes, a fascist has to make a mistake—like annoying a cop—before the cops will arrest them. Ultimately, the charges against these PF people were minor. Catching a charge did not deter Chris Hood, who is still a fascist organizer (although not with PF, since he was later ejected for stealing money that was supposed to go toward sticker printing and instead buying weed with it).

Patriot Front’s modus operandi is to spread Nazi propaganda and deface things. As I said before, Patriot Front is the largest Nazi organization that exists in America. But it’s also important to note that the vast majority of their work is putting up stickers and going out into the woods to hit each other as “training.” Members of Patriot Front only tend to get violent when they think they can win, and in Boston we have out-organized them and left them too afraid to directly confront the “scary antifa communists.” 

One of Patriot Front’s primary tactics, which has been adopted by other Nazi groups such as Hood’s PF Spinoff, The Nationalist Social Club, is to suddenly arrive at a location in force, do a photo op to prove they went to the location, and then leave. This has the advantage of looking very scary, while also having extremely limited risk for the Nazis doing it. It’s not easy to counter events that are not announced ahead of time. But the risk level for this sort of action is not zero, as Patriot Front discovered when they attempted this trick in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Thirty-one of their members ended up arrested, including their Texas-based founder and leader, Thomas Rousseau. Nationalist Social Club found this out, too, last summer, when their attempt to march around Manchester, NH was countered: antifascists found their rally point, and the Nazis fled without any hesitation. 

What happened July 2nd

At about 12:45pm a large group of Patriot Front Nazis appeared near Haymarket in downtown Boston. From there they marched toward the Boston Public Library in Copley. One thing is clear: two FBI agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force managed to catch up to them in short order, and followed along with them.

I have to be a little bit coy discussing the details here. Fascists do not like that we resist them. Likewise, we know Boston antifascists are under surveillance by state forces. The state doesn’t necessarily like Nazis, especially ones who call for the overthrow of the government. But they treat Nazis very differently from how they treat antifascists. Often, if a Nazi is caught with an illegal weapon, their charges will go up in smoke very quickly, while just as often an antifascist who has the temerity to stand against white supremacy can very easily end up in a years-long cycle of court dates on trumped-up charges. Indeed, the JTTF agents have convened grand juries to harass local antifascist-sympathetic filmmaker Rod Webber and his family and friends. It’s also very interesting that the FBI agents from the JTTF managed to catch up to the march so quickly. Interesting and very lucky indeed, because agent and Boston cop Andy Creed was seen calming Patriot Front while they assaulted an innocent bystander.

From various news articles it appears that calls to 911 from bystanders fell on deaf ears. If the role of police in society were to protect people from violence you would expect them to come as quickly as possible and dissuade the Nazis from committing acts of violence. Instead 911 operators ignored and disconnected calls from people who saw these Nazis. For those wondering why emergency services didn’t respond to Patriot Front assaulting people on the streets, remember that when fascists organize openly in Boston the police always operate as their private security team.

The Patriot Front march was all over Twitter. Unfortunately, Twitter is a terrible source of real time information. For my part, I jumped on the Orange Line, came to the conclusion they were going toward Copley and made my way to Back Bay. By the time I reached Copley they were already long gone. By that time, there were images of them at Back Bay station on Twitter, so I jumped back on the Orange Line. I assumed they were traveling north (where they came from). Patriot Front ended up on a train which went out of service at Community College. It’s unclear if the MBTA’s rotting infrastructure is to blame or if the T wanted time to make sure there was a police welcome for the Nazis at their destination. Regardless, I managed to confirm their presence at Community College. It was still unclear exactly what their destination might be: the last three stops on the Orange Line all have large parking lots, convenient for out-of-town fascists and their cars. 

It turned out they were going to Oak Grove. When they arrived, there was a significant police presence at the station to ensure the safety of Patriot Front. There were also many counter protesters at Oak Grove. Widely available videos give a bit of a false impression that it was only Rod Webber shouting at them, which is not the case. This is because Rod has a semblance of operational security and does not want to aid the police and Nazis in their attempts to doxx antifascists. But even so, it is very difficult to organize enough people to travel to and confront a march of 75 or so Nazis with zero forewarning. That’s why Patriot Front uses this tactic.

The cars that drove Patriot Front away from Oak Grove were largely from out of state. Patriot Front is indeed active in Massachusetts, as it has been since late 2017, but this particular event was an attempt to give a false sense of scale and power. The Patriot Front marchers came from all across the country, with a few positively identified as coming from as far away as Texas (such as Thomas Rousseau himself). Patriot Front has done similar actions in other cities on past July 4th weekends, and they have been more active lately. Incidents of stickering, flag drops and other stealthy propaganda distributions have increased nationally. But unlike with other fascist groups that get less mainstream attention, this was a one-time attempt to project power, rather than part of an ongoing campaign aimed at the Boston area. 

In short: Patriot Front in the New England area sucks, both in our terms because they are Nazis, and in their terms, because they are weak. This was a puffed-up attempt to show strength, and we all can see through it once we know the facts. 

Antifascism is a long game

Fighting fascism is a long, slow process and it’s a bigger problem than just Patriot Front. Throughout late 2017, 2018, and early 2019, Resist Marxism tried to turn Boston (and then, as they started losing ground here, Providence) into an East Coast version of what Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys established in Portland, Oregon: a place to go to beat up “commies” with reckless abandon. Through the work of Boston DSA and many other organizations and comrades, we successfully repelled their efforts. Resist Marxism’s successor org, Super Happy Fun America, will now rarely show their face in Boston because they know they’ll be humiliated. I have been involved in this work since 2018 and spent many hours disrupting fascists and protecting leftist groups and events from far right attempts at disruption. It takes a lot of effort and organization, but it is worth it.

Boston DSA has been deeply ingrained in the struggle against fascist organizing for years, of which the struggle against Patriot Front is only one very small part. Social media is not nearly the whole story here. To those who weren’t at Oak Grove on July 2nd, who posture online about what they would do if they saw PF, now is the time to stop posting and start organizing. Antifacism works in numbers, and we need those numbers in the street.

Moreover, most of the media sources who have seen fit to opine on the Patriot Front march have been less than helpful to local antifascism. The editorialist in the Globe who made the July 2nd march more about the use of masks than about the violence and fascist beliefs of the marchers seems to have missed the last two and a half years entirely. I thought we were past the “masks are for cowards” thing. DigBoston requested in their “annoyed Starbucks customer” way for someone else to make an early warning system for fascist actions…but the editors have made a policy of not covering antifascism in Boston for years. Antifascist organizers, including some who have written for DigBoston in other capacities, have offered to write about antifascism for the paper, and to offer inside access to Dig reporters, and the editors have consistently rebuffed them for vague reasons pertaining to their “not naming fascists” policy. If the media would like to cover fascist stunts like the July 2nd march, they should be careful to put these events in context, and use local antifascists as their sources.

For the sake of our safety, many antifascist organizers must work anonymously. The state meets us with tremendous violence for the crime of protecting our communities, far more harshly than they come down on the fascists for terrorizing those same communities. Anonymity is important, but only goes so far. Our work is amplified when we work together, and to do that takes the sort of trust built only by shared struggle and shared vision of a better future. I have spent many years working with Boston DSA. Here, and in other organizations, is where you can find the people you can work with to make a difference. 

If you were horrified by the display Patriot Front put on, that’s the right response. The next step is to join up with comrades, find an organization in the struggle, and get involved in the work. 

Vinnie M