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Rise of Patriot Front reflects social crisis of U.S. capitalism

By ERWIN FREED

Patriot Front is a white supremacist organization that came into life following the backlash against more prominent organizations that had taken part in the fascist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

They claim membership in the hundreds and participate in regular “actions,” including fitness training, propaganda, and other public and private activities. Their “program” is for the “regeneration” of the United States through a fascist revolution led by white men, “reconstituting” the American state on the basis of shared national and racial identity. In actuality, their perspective is to deepen all of the worst tendencies of U.S. imperialism and smash the militant wing of the labor movement.

Patriot Front hits the streets

The period since the pandemic began has seen an acceleration of fascist and far-right mobilizations and activity around the country. The Patriot Front in particular has been increasingly visible. While they are on the smaller end of the spectrum, with less cache than groups like the Proud Boys or Oathkeepers, they have maintained regular activity, especially in the Northeast.

According to their website, Patriot Front members have carried out “1515 instances of activism, averaging 25 per day” in September and October. The exact meaning of this is unclear, since they count anything from “protests” to “hikes” as activism, and the numbers are likely inflated, but either way this signifies a troubling escalation in the public activity of an openly fascist organization. Patriot Front is somewhat notable within the “alt-right” milieu for their embrace of openly fascist imagery, promotion of violent anti-communism, and homages to “American Workers.” Most versions of their logo include a classic fasces symbol, often in combination with more mainstream U.S. “patriot” iconography; a regular slogan in their wheat-pastings and banner drops is “Better Dead than Red;” and they appear to have recently begun using “Defend American Labor” on lawn signs.

Since the summer, Patriot Front has been in the news for attempted or real acts of violence. Members attempted to attack an Idaho pride parade in June. Ultimately, this ended with the well-publicized arrest of 31 fascists who were caught heading to the parade in a U-Haul full of weapons. On July 2, the organization carried out a march of 100 through Boston as a means to declare their presence and try to threaten the community in the city. That march ended with an attack on Black activist and artist Charles Murrell. According to activist reporting, Christopher Hood, former Patriot Front member and current leader of the Nationalist Social Club-131, was also present at the Boston demonstration. Workers’ Voice has previously reported on NSC-131’s activities in Rhode Island, where they used Nazi propaganda to harass a reading of the “Communist Manifesto” at Red Ink, an activist space and community library.

Despite the setbacks of member arrests and legal scrutiny following these incidents, around 60 Patriot Front members and/or supporters demonstrated on Sept. 3, Labor Day, in Indianapolis. Marching in a military fashion with drummers, columns, and metal shields, the group passed by Indy Laborfest, an annual celebration of the working class that sees thousands of diverse participants every year. This is a common tactic to provoke unprepared street fighting and intimidate workers.

In the wake of the notoriety facing larger organizations following the Jan. 6 riots and the ensuing legal battles, organizations like the Patriot Front are poised to be alternatives for radicalizing fascists. While it is unlikely that the Patriot Front will become the next major national fascist organization with deep ties to sections of the ruling class, it serves as an important example of the activities and ideologies of the neo-fascist movement.

Social base of fascism and U.S. crises

Fascism is the tendency within capitalism towards complete destruction of the basic rights and organizations of working people. The ruling class always allows fascist organizations some basic level of organizational existence and continuity, in order to be able to draw from them in times of reaction. Fascist groups develop a program of “national revival,” which papers over class divisions and replaces capitalism’s crisis tendencies by blaming immigrants, Jews, people of color, disabled people, queer people, socialists, and other oppressed and minority groups.

Ideologically, fascism reflects the precarious situation of the middle classes. On the one hand, due to their position in relation to production, sections of the professional, shop-keeping, etc. parts of society have strong hopes for stability. On the other hand, capitalism is a fundamentally unstable system and, save for a handful of the richest billionaires, makes the conditions of life for everyone more alienated and under constant threat of complete immiseration. In the United States, there are massive squeezes from medical, small business, and personal debt; skyrocketing rates of foreclosures and homelessness; and inflation eating away at whatever savings people are able to accumulate. Large landowners and corporations are engulfing the traditional sectors of the petit bourgeoisie.

Working-class and oppressed people are feeling the effects of the world crises of capitalism. Not only economically, but also politically, workers—especially those from marginalized communities—are being squeezed by the ruling class. The growing crackdown on LGBTQIA+ people, immigrants, social reproduction, and basic democratic rights bring with them bipartisan support for expanding policing—and with it, police violence. Amidst a world-historic pandemic, tens of millions of people hit the streets in 2020 to demand racial justice and an end to police brutality, a virtually unprecedented uprising.

Fascist groups have been organizing directly against the real struggles for liberation, with the sometimes tacit and sometimes explicit support of the police. For example, on Oct. 17, the Missouri chapter of the Patriot Front posted pictures on the group’s Telegram channel showing members who proudly “took down a pro-abortion banner in Kansas City, Missouri.”

Attempting to set themselves up as a “radical” right-wing alternative to workers’ organizations and develop a white-nationalist movement for “liberty,” the Patriot Front has been carrying out “community building” activities paralleling left-wing mutual aid efforts—for example, carrying out and publicizing food drives and disaster relief efforts in heavily majority-white communities.

A manifesto and faking history

Daniel Guerin, in his essential text “Fascism and Big Business,” pointed out: “The petty bourgeoisie is economically dependent and politically atomized. That is why it cannot conduct an independent policy. It needs a ‘leader’ who inspires it with confidence. This individual or collective leadership, i.e., a personage or party, can be given to it by one or the other of the fundamental classes—either the big bourgeoisie or the proletariat. Fascism unites and arms the scattered masses. Out of human dust, it organizes combat detachments. It thus gives the petty bourgeoisie the illusion of being an independent force. It begins to imagine that it will really command the state. It is not surprising that these illusions and hopes turn the head of the petty bourgeoisie!”

On a page titled “Manifesto,” the group attempts to lay out its basic ideas. In a fashion common to fascist “doctrine,” the “Manifesto” is a collection of self-serving, contradictory, and idealistic myths claiming that today’s social ills are a product of the “failure of democracy” and introduction of “foreign influence” on the American nation state.

Fascist ideology is based on a certain form of demagoguery meant to elevate and give a common identity to a section of the population to a superhuman status based on a combination of asserted racial, historical, and spiritual characteristics. The purpose of these formulations is to shift the main antagonism in society from the fight between capital and labor to maintaining and expanding the territorial and political influence of the dominant racial group.

The “Manifesto” claims: “When our pre-Columbian forefathers left their European homes, they found a savage continent. They held a variety of purpose [sic], yet against the harsh life on the frontier and the common enemy in the strange and unexplored reaches of America yet to be touched by civilization, they found a common cause and a common identity as Americans. From the varied nations and cultures of Europe a new nation was forged in the flames of conquest. E Pluribus Unum was the new creed that bound our people together with their pan-European identity as Americans. 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.”

Breaking down this statement, the Patriot Front is thus making a claim that their understanding of the “American Nation” is that of a pan-European settler alliance developing a common identity through conquest of the frontier, which had “yet to be touched by civilization.” Of course, this is not how the white takeover of what was to become the United States happened. Instead, that was accomplished through a series of lies, destruction of common cultures that did exist between American Indians and settlers, and massive speculation in land by the burgeoning U.S. ruling class. At no point was there ever a unified vision of nation-building or national identity by the ruling class, let alone the oppressor nation as a whole.

In actuality, the project of U.S. nationalism is one of justifying the expansion of the exploitation of large swaths of the international working class for the benefit of a handful of corporations and their major stockholders. This was always to the detriment of workers, farmers, and even small business owners.

Fake anti-capitalism

Fascist groups understand the need to recognize to some extent the class divisions in society, if only to ultimately deny them. This serves multiple functions, including the attempt to break the unity of the working class as a class and subordinate a section to the fascist movement, which is fundamentally directed by big capital.

As Daniel Guerin explained in “Fascism and Big Business,” “The middle classes’ opposition to the big bourgeoisie differs sharply from that of the working class. The middle classes do not desire the elimination of the big bourgeoisie as a class. On the contrary, they would like to become big bourgeois themselves. When fascism proclaims itself anti-bourgeois, and when it denounces the “degeneration” of the big bourgeoisie, it has no intention of attacking the existing social order; rather, it wants to rejuvenate that order by injecting fresh blood, plebeian blood. Thus it flatters the middle classes, while at the same time diverting the masses from the class struggle and proletarian socialism.”

The Patriot Front Manifesto maintains this tradition, stating, “The nation will see the thin veneer of civilization begin to wane as the current plutocracy diverts the toils of Americans to extranational masses. … America is a bleeding carcass bereft of the moral foundations which made it powerful. The America of modernity is little more than an economic zone in which the dollar is used. A unified culture no longer exists due to internationalized migration. … The State has situated itself on an ever growing pile of parasitic rules and regulations. Bloated to the point of breaking by bureaucracy, each action taken to solve any problem is done solely as a means to delay the inevitable. Nothing about the current system is sustainable.”

Here we see a slightly hidden call for economic deregulation, harkening to an imagined time before bureaucracy. Ironically, the men highlighted for special recognition and quotations throughout the piece were virtually all bureaucrats in their time. The intended meaning of this section is to on the one hand recognize that there is a “plutocracy” and “parasitic rules” governing production, while on the other saying that the main problem of these are that they have a negative effect on “a unified culture” and encourage “extranational masses.” The implication is that a revitalized American capitalism under the leadership of true “Patriots” would smash “bureaucracy”—safety measures for workers, state subsidies for housing and medicine, etc.—and deny immigrants and national minorities basic rights. More on this below.

In a series of statements on participation in rallies since 2020, the lingering “anti-plutocrat” sentiment appears again and again. All of these are based on contesting “international” capital and the ruling class losing its “American” spirit and identity.

A statement following a June 2021 march in Salt Lake City blames the “faltering” of the American spirit for causing a situation in which: “A man’s work no longer has meaning or connection to a cause. It is instead a cynical subservience to the power of capital that guides modern labor.” The statement goes further to claim that “where once there was opportunity, adventure, and conquest in life’s work, now there remains only senseless toil to keep illness and starvation just a few inches from the door.”

In July 2020, Patriot Front and other right-wing groups went after the “financial tyranny” directly, demonstrating at branches of the Federal Reserve. The problem with the Fed to these people is not that it subordinates the interests of the working class and petit bourgeoisie to the dictates of the largest capitalists but rather that it attacks “national sovereignty and collective liberty … [as] America’s [white] sons [are set] against each other under the sunken gaze of billionaires.”

Taken together, these statements paint a picture where the problems of capitalism are actually due to the downfall of the “conquering spirit” of the American nation, which has been subordinated to “international finance.” The issue is not the inherent class exploitation of workers by capitalists, but rather the “tyranny” of a multi-racial society imposed by greedy “plutocrats” who are poisoning the national sentiment—based on perpetual conquest—of the white petty bourgeoisie.

A program?

Due to the opportunism of its middle class base, “unlike socialism, fascism does not have—and cannot have—a definite and coherent doctrine” (“Fascism and Big Business”).

Patriot Front’s ideology is based on a “vision” of national rebirth through replacing the current leadership of the United States by a new cadre drawn from the white middle classes, who gain their position through struggle against “foreign influences” and their supporters causing the “degeneration” of the white nation.

The meaning of this “vision” is left purposefully vague. PF goes so far as to counterpose their “vision” to politics as such, stating, “Politics have played a large part in destroying this nation, and it will not be politics that will save us. The State that governs us is wholly resistant to the change that is required to save the nation as it convulses and devours itself with unprecedented corruption.”

The reason for this is so that they can adapt piece-meal and half-heartedly different and even contradictory political positions at different points. Logical consistency or historical accuracy are not an important part of Patriot Front’s “vision.” The organization defines “family, race, and community” as natural and eternal aspects of the human condition, rather than historical, changing, and temporary social forms.

Ultimately, the depth of the program of the Patriot Front is a call for struggle against the “Nation’s” enemies, most explicitly communists, immigrants, Black people, and other racial and ethnic minorities.

Fighting fascism

The pernicious existence and increasing boldness of Patriot Front and other fascist, neo-Nazi, and far-right groups is a reflection of the deep social crises piercing through U.S. capitalism. The only force that can both smash the rightist danger and solve the economic and political crises of capitalism, of which fascism is one part, is the organized working class.

Workers are leading struggles against the bosses with a revitalized intensity, partially inspired by the mass uprisings of 2020 for Black liberation and against police violence. At the same time and in reaction, the ruling class is taking increasingly drastic measures to roll back democratic rights; threaten the safety of women, queer, and other marginalized peoples; and give more and more open support to groups like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters.

Revolutionary socialists have an obligation and a burning need to unify the struggles against the bosses while winning workers’ organizations to take the lead in forming united front coalitions dedicated to isolating and out-mobilizing the fascists at every moment. This can only be done with a program not only in the negative—against fascism—but also positive—for socialism—that shows how the working class can solve the various problems of capitalism by taking power, and gives a road map to building the social movements to get there.

Photo: Patriot Front marches in Washington, D.C., in 2020. (Zach D. Roberts / DCist)

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