There frequently is a kind of fatalistic acceptance among local authorities faced with the ascendance of openly neofascist groups like Patriot Front and the Proud Boys—entities who are openly waging a kind of low-level insurgency against American democracy, while wrapping themselves in pseudo-patriotic bunting, proclaiming their love for their country and their hate for their countrymen all at once. All too often, local officials like police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecutors forced to deal with them shrug off their ability to do anything about it, citing the extremists’ free-speech rights.
It turns out that this doesn’t sit right with a number of the very people who have proven their dedication to defending the nation: combat veterans. An organization of such veterans is now demanding that the nation’s prosecutors buckle down and get tough in their dealings with Patriot Front—and have even prepared a 239-page report detailing both its membership as well as the myriad criminal charges that could be filed against them.
Meet Task Force Butler, the brainchild of Kristofer Goldsmith, a veteran of the Iraq War and a longtime advocate for veterans’ rights. The group is named after 1920s-era Marine Gen. Smedley Butler, and cites his credo: “My interest is, my one hobby is, maintaining a democracy. If you get these 500,000 soldiers advocating anything smelling of Fascism, I am going to get 500,000 more and lick the hell out of you.” The group’s mission, according to its website, is “to engage veterans in the hobby of maintaining a democracy.”
Toward that end, they recently released a lengthy report, called “Project Blacklist,” detailing the history of criminal activities, along with the identities of Patriot Front members, and compiled with a team of 10 volunteers. Goldsmith and his organization sent it to a number of local and state law enforcement officials around the country, part of what it calls an effort to "hold Patriot Front legally accountable for their politically and racially-motivated harassment of vulnerable minority communities, their terrorizing of local residents in cities and towns throughout the United States, their acts of violence, and their use of American cities as backdrops to showcase for the media and the nation the ethno-nationalist agenda."
"After years of looking at this, I have been more than convinced that the FBI, states attorneys general and these local jurisdictions all have more than enough evidence to make moves on this neo-Nazi terrorist gang," Goldsmith told NBC News’ Ryan Reilly. "We as veterans are tired of watching fascists run around, hurt people, and not be brought to justice. So if someone needs to do the homework to make sure that justice is found, we're willing to do the homework."
Goldsmith told Daily Kos he was inspired to act after the Jan. 6 insurrection. “All of these far-right groups like the Oath Keepers and Patriot Front and Proud Boys have polluted the meaning of patriotism in this country, and it’s past time to call it out and correct that,” he said.
Project Blacklisted is their debut project, and it focuses entirely on Patriot Front, which the report explains “remains a violent, terrorist, racketeering gang that primarily functions to plan, train, and manufacture weapons for the explicit purpose of engaging in acts of violence and harassment against minorities, the LGBTQIA+ community, and others deemed ‘enemies’” by the organization’s founder and leader, neo-Nazi Thomas Ryan Rousseau of Haslet, Texas.
The report details the group’s founding by Rousseau after the violent 2017 “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, where he marched alongside the man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman and maiming dozens. It follows the history of the group from a small gathering of online white supremacists who were explicit in their politics—“We’re American, and we’re fascists” —to a nationwide hate group with chapters around the country and a growing notoriety for headline-grabbing stunts.
And it particularly focuses on three recent incidents in which Patriot Front engaged in criminal behavior: a July 2, 2021, march in Philadelphia at which a Black man was assaulted by the group’s members; the June 11, 2022, Pride in the Park event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, at which 31 members were arrested en route to a planned riot at the peaceful LGBTQ gathering; and the march less than one month later in Boston at which they appeared without warning amid the city’s normal July Fourth parade.
The report notes the organization’s startling brazenness:
Patriot Front is not deterred from engaging in violence by current piecemeal, local legal accountability efforts, and often uses local law enforcement’s tactics of escorting the group through urban spaces to create a permissive environment for their violence. The fact that multiple members of Patriot Front who were arrested weeks prior in Idaho participated in the Boston march on July 2, 2022 illustrates this phenomenon.
Moreover, there’s no reason for law enforcement to look the other way, since the organization poses a bona fide threat both to the public at large and to police officers themselves. “Every single criminal act that a Patriot Front gang member engages in on behalf of the organization is the result of a conspiracy by, with, and through the organization’s strictly hierarchical leadership structure, and should be treated as such by law enforcement,” the report says.
Although Coeur d’Alene city officials have proceeded with prosecuting the 31 arrestees on riot charges diligently, there is some cause for concern in the case—primarily because of a stark lack of apparent involvement from the Justice Department, including the Idaho U.S. Attorney’s office, which has ignored Daily Kos’ queries about investigating the near-certainty, as the report notes, that Patriot Front members violated federal law prohibiting crossing state lines as part of a conspiracy to engage in a riot. Goldsmith says he has received no acknowledgement of the report from any of the several Justice Department offices to which it was sent.
A significant portion of the report is dedicated to identifying the known members of Patriot Front, particularly those whose identities were revealed during the Coeur d’Alene arrests [Note: the report makes full use of this reporter’s photographs of those arrests published on Twitter and at Daily Kos.] This, Goldsmith explains, is why the project is called “Blacklisted.”
“Our objective is to get the individual members of Patriot Front who’ve been involved in these criminal conspiracies held responsible not just by the courts, not just in terms of criminal cases and perhaps civil litigation,” he told Daily Kos, “but we also want a company like U-Haul that is one of the most frequently used businesses for their major flash-mob events, to understand that when a member of Patriot Front is trying to rent one of their trucks, their trucks become a tool for violence.”
Goldsmith’s hope is that if Task Force Butler gains traction, “we can help to make sure that extremists are not able to interact with businesses and with folks who, if they knew who these people were, would not want to interact with them. There’s one guy in there who works for a security company that provides security services at Jewish temples. We want that guy blacklisted from working security at an institution that he targets with hate, with genocidal intent.”
Former FBI agent Mike German of NYU’s Brennan Justice Center told NBC News that the group’s work could prove to be a valuable tool for prosecutors. “One of the frustrations that I’ve felt and that a number of other people in the community feel is that law enforcement is reluctant to use existing authorities to target white supremacist and far-right militant groups for investigations,” he said. “It’s the opposite problem when it’s anti-racism groups, environmentalists, Muslim Americans, where you see them understanding the broad scope of their authorities and using them very aggressively, even when there’s no history of violence or violent acts to point to.”
The report, he said, provides practical tools for confronting violent far-right actors. "I think a document like this is very helpful to law enforcement at all levels, to understand the nature of this group, and the criminal actions by individual associates of this group so, No. 1, they can understand the tactics and, two, structure a prosecution using all of the statutes available to them in these types of prosecution," German said.
Goldsmith thinks about Task Force Butler’s role in strategic terms. “You know, we hear so much about organizations rising up to defend democracy,” he told Daily Kos. “Well, that is great, and I am very happy to see that, but our mindset needs to change, because we’re at war right now, for the spirit of our democracy. You can’t win a war purely on defense.
“So we, Task Force Butler, are going on offense. We want to put hate groups on their back foot. We want them to stop being able to advance, and we will, within the bounds of the law, do everything we can to make space for frequently targeted populations and vulnerable folks.”