On 4 August 2018, hundreds of far-right activists with Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys convened in Portland, Oregon. The rally was in support of Senate candidate Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer. This demonstration acted as a sort of sequel to Patriot Prayer’s June 30th “Freedom and Courage” rally earlier this year, which was declared a riot by the city. The August 4th rally brought even greater violence to the streets of Portland, involving a substantial amount of violence between police and counter-protesters who were demonstrating against the far-right Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys groups. Notably, one anti-fascist (antifa) counter-protester was shot in the back of the head by a police flash bang grenade. The level of violence meted out by the police towards anti-fascist activists has led to the claim that police are actively siding with fascist activists.
With the behavior of the police in Portland and the subsequent criticisms from anti-fascist groups, how do fascist activists talk and feel about police, and have any of these groups undertaken active efforts to win police sympathy? Fortunately, Unicorn Riot, a media collective that started in 2015, has spent years building a massive archive of leaked internal chat logs from various fascist, white supremacist, and far-right groups. The archive currently contains more than 760,000 Discord posts, covering a period from February 2017 to March 2018. Among many other leaks, Unicorn Riot recently published the Facebook group chat messages of the organizers of the second Unite the Right rally in Washington, D.C., led by white supremacist Jason Kessler. In total, this article’s author read through nearly 2000 posts that referenced law enforcement. Based on this information, we have determined that:
- Fascist activists have courted the sympathy of American law enforcement for more than a year.
- While many American fascists express hatred and distrust of the police, they all understand the value of working with and building positive relationships with law enforcement.
- Fascist activists actively encourage police violence against anti-fascists and regularly discuss methods of radicalizing members of American law enforcement.
- These strategies appear to be working.
Before the particular topic of the relationship between American fascists and police force is discussed, it is useful to sketch out the dimensions and shape of the modern American fascist movement, which can largely be categorized by organizations established before and after 2016.
The Anatomy of the American Fascist Movement: 2016-Present
The months following the 2016 election saw the rise to prominence of two distinct waves of American fascist organizations. The first wave included groups like the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), Identity Evropa, and Vanguard America (Patriot Front), which existed prior to 2016 and are all openly white supremacist and, often, explicitly neo-Nazi.
The second wave of fascists consists of groups founded after 2016, including Anti-Communist Action (Anticom), Patriot Prayer, and the Proud Boys. While Anticom is now defunct, Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys are still able to regularly organize hundreds of activists. Second-wave fascist groups are characterized by their public denial of white nationalism and, often, of any political ideology whatsoever. These groups often present themselves as opposed to antifa and “communism” rather than in support any specific ideology.
The first-wave fascist groups have largely split apart and collapsed since the first Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. At Unite the Right 2.0, an event Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys both refused to attend, fewer than fifty fascist activists actually showed up.
It is important to note that most first-wave fascist groups and all second-wave fascist groups deny being fascists. This decision is a conscious marketing ploy, rather than the truth. Members of these groups regularly talked on Discord about “hiding” their “power level”, a term which one user defined as meaning “how redpilled you are”. In this thread, in the Traditionalist Worker Party Discord from September 2017, users discuss the difficulty of hiding their beliefs on social media.
In this chatlog from March 17th, Anticom founder “Haupsturmfuhrer Pepe” suggests the formation of a political party based around National Socialist principles that “hides our power levels” by claiming to just be nationalist.
There are many clear examples in the archive describing the same tactic of disguising the groups’ beliefs. In this thread from the Vibrant Diversity Discord server in late August 2017, users discussed the wisdom of labeling themselves “paleo con[servative]s” in order inculcate “normies” with their fascist beliefs. One user states, “Hiding your power levels isn’t cucking” and adds that, “It really doesn’t matter what you call yourself it’s the ideas that matter.”
On 2 March 2017, The Hidden Dominion published an interview with “representatives” of Anticom. The representatives claim the organization started “on 4chan’s /pol/ board in early February. Many users of the site, including myself, were concerned with the levels of violence being employed by the radical left in recent weeks.” They went on to say that Anticom “will never have an official political platform” and that “the political and racial makeup of our members varies wildly (we have Korean libertarians, gay anarcho-capitalists, Latino nationalists, and even some liberal centrists)…”.
Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys and co-founder of VICE, has publicly denied that the group is part of the alt-right. Instead he calls them a “fraternity” and “drinking club” for “Western Chauvinists”. He claims they are not anti-Semitic and hold no racial biases. He notes that there are “NO racial requirements” for Proud Boys membership, or “special rules for black Proud Boys” but then he states, “this overrides anything previously published about black PBs”, so it seems that at one point there were racial requirements for membership. Gavin also claims that the Proud Boys are a non-violent group, but his own words on The Rebel, a Canadian far-right website, belie this:
“We’re the only ones fighting these guys, and it’s fun. When they go low, go lower. Mace ’em back, throw bricks at their head. Let’s destroy them. We’ve been doing it for a while now and I gotta say, it’s really invigorating.”
Patriot Prayer was founded on 2 May 2016 by Oregon resident Joey Gibson. He says the idea came to him when he saw Trump supporters fighting with protesters outside of a rally. Their first march in Portland on 29 April 2017 was a “March for Free Speech”. The group has continued to march since then and came to its own in several bloody clashes in 2018. The group’s exact size is hard to pin down: while they have 16,556 followers on Facebook, they generally draw fewer than two-hundred members to actual protests. They have held rallies in Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco.
Gibson, who identifies as a person of color, claims that Patriot Prayer exists to “stand against” Antifa, as well as “white supremacists, the Nazis, whoever it may be”. However, there are well-established ties between himself, his organization, and more explicitly racist first-wave fascist groups. The anarchist news site It’s Going Down has documented Joey Gibson’s connections with at least two white supremacist activists, and has also pointed to a speech he gave on a livestream under the logo of the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK).
Gavin McInnes has called FOAK the “militant” arm of the Proud Boys. The group was founded by Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, a white nationalist activist who was present at the first Unite the Right rally along with several other “Alt-Knights” and Proud Boys. (Chapman was arrested in July 2018 for felony assault, unrelated to his presence at protests.) Jason Kessler, who organized both Unite the Right rallies, is also a former Proud Boy.
Both first and second-wave fascist groups are very porous, and it is not uncommon for people to affiliate with, or hold memberships in, multiple groups. Vasillios Pistolis, a Marine who was imprisoned for his assaults at Charlottesville, was a member of both the Atomwaffen Division and the Traditionalist Worker Party. The Anticom Discord server has been banned, and both the website and Twitter went defunct in early 2018, but members of the group continued to post in the Discord channels for other groups. In December 2017 on the Traditionalist Worker Party channel, “Haupsturmfuhrer Pepe”, who created Anticom’s official twitter and likely founded the group, discussed with another user how they would carry off a Dylan Roof-style shooting at a black church without getting caught:
Both the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer do somewhat more open-minded than first-wave fascist groups, which accounts for their larger membership. However, open fascists and white supremacists often attend their rallies. Jeremy Christian, the white supremacist who stabbed two people to death on a Portland MAX train in May 2017, had attended a Patriot Prayer rally in Portland one month earlier.
“Police officers are our natural ally.”
On 2 February 2017, a user in the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) discord posted a link to an Independent article about President Trump’s desire to remove white supremacist groups from the terrorism watch list. This action apparently has not taken place, but the story generated a lot of excitement. One user said “WE ARE OFFICIALLY OFF THE ZOG WATCHLIST”, while another said, “That’s just one tentacle of the police state, but good news nonetheless.”
Fascist attitudes towards the police have varied widely between different groups and over time. For example, Anticom members tended to express the most positive reactions to law enforcement, with users listing police as one of the only good functions of government. Positive references to police among Anticom include:
- Sharing many videos of police beating up anti-fascists (“UNLEASH THE POLICE”), cheering for police to start “cracking skulls”
- Assertions that police support Trump, are “pro-Confederate” and hate antifa.
- Declaring that police in the southeastern United States are “Pinochet-tier”.
Anticom members discussed how to act and dress in order to make a good impression on law enforcement. They urged each other to thank police while out at protests and events, and much of the gratitude and respect they express online seems genuine.
Some Anticom members do express negativity (“FUCC THE POLICE”), particularly when they perceive themselves as having been treated unfairly at a rally. But generally, even dislike towards law enforcement was usually tempered by a willingness to work with the police. When police were seen as being sympathetic to antifa or counter-protesters, online Anticom members would generally blame this as an aberration, with the responsibility falling on the chief of police, the mayor, or “political allies of Antifa” in the local government. Police officers in general were seen as being sympathetic to the aims of fascist activists and white supremacists.
Members of more extreme groups, like the TWP, expressed less sympathy and more fear of police raids or searches. In the Charlottesville 2.0 channel (meant to plan and coordinate for Unite the Right) police are described as “not on our side”, with statements that the police “are not your friends” repeated in a variety of ways. Jason Kessler advises the use of “defensive tactics” in Charlottesville because “the police are against us just like in Berkeley”.
Since Charlottesville included a mix of fascist activists from different groups, it demonstrates the clash between ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ law enforcement sentiments among American fascists.
“Total betrayal and disaster from the police”
The Unite the Right rally on August 12th in Charlottesville was a watershed moment for American fascists. The police handling of the event was considered a “total betrayal and disaster”, and members of the Southern Front Discord attacked police for their impartiality. In Anticom, law enforcement was declared to have been “working against” them. Members of the TWP also called it a betrayal and their leader, Matthew Heimbach, wrote the following text in a fit of rage:
Prior to Charlottesville, Heimbach had not exactly been pro-law enforcement. In April, he asserted that the U.S. was a police state, but the months after the rally saw him descend into increasingly vitriolic rants against law enforcement, at one point apparently quoting the lyrics of a song: “Cops and feds are now in bed with reds”. Two different members of the TWP, Fash Dragon and Michael, credited Heimbach with convincing them that the police were not allies of the fascist movement.
In the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville, there was even discussion that anyone who talks with cops should be “exiled as a traitor”. Police were referred to as “the enemy of national socialism” and disgust was expressed with alt-right police worship. Even outside of TWP, reactions to the police were often brutally harsh.
As the months passed after Charlottesville, anger began to subside and a consensus began to emerge among many activists that getting the police on their side was a matter of absolute necessity. By January 2018, fascist activists began to report being consistently outnumbered by antifa and counter protesters. Police support was no longer spoken of being just desirable, but necessary for survival.
TWP members continued to express regular negative opinions of the police, including this heartbroken March 2018 rant that, “No one is upset our rights are infringed upon. No one cares we are de-platformed and forsaken by the police.” Even so, that same month another user praised the police for charging antifa during a demonstration.
The evidence suggests that, despite his hatred of law enforcement, Matthew Heimbach worked to maintain a somewhat positive relationship with the authorities. On 13 March 2018, Tennessee Homeland Security analyst Misty Phillips praised TWP’s communication with law enforcement and noted that, “TWP is not the issue, typically opposing groups.”
Ironically, that same day, Matthew Heimbach was arrested for assaulting the party spokesman, Matt Parrott, and his own wife. This event led to the dissolution of the Traditionalist Worker Party. By that point, time had long since passed the group by, and more moderate groups of fascist activists had seen even greater success in courting police opinion. On November 28th one user in the Front and Center Discord noted, “Unless you have a lot of factors such as overwhelming numbers, group cohesion, and a friendly police force or local govt, it’s going to be a Cville [Charlottesville]. Cville, quite literally, was the end of the movement that went into it, and another one emerged on the other side.”
The movement that emerged on the other side of Charlottesville was more cautious, more circumspect with their racism, and more willing to embrace a symbiotic – or perhaps parasitic – relationship with law enforcement.
“One good start is mass converting White Police”
On 3 February 2017 on the Anticom channel, a user named bungu suggested that Anticom should create “groups” to “work with police and counter antifa”. Anticom’s founder suggested that the best way to appeal to police was to portray “antifa as thugs”. The idea of recruiting or red-pilling American police appears regularly over the next several months. On 24 July 2017, a user in the Discord channel for planning the first Unite the Right rally posted this image macro of Joseph Goebbels:
Several users chimed in their agreement with the quote, including one who suggested “mass converting” white police.
In July and early August 2017, users in the Charlottesville 2.0 discord talked about aiming propaganda at or otherwise converting police. It is possible that this is all meaningless chatter and boasting, unattached to any real-world activity, but there is evidence of fascist activists successfully propagandizing to law enforcement.
On 22 April 2018, American neo-Nazis met in Newnan, Georgia to burn a swastika and an Othala rune. The counter-protesters, numbering roughly 100, were met by 700 police officers. Ten counter-protesters were arrested for refusing to remove their masks, based on a law that had originally been instituted to fight the Ku Klux Klan. On 26 April 2018, a citizen’s FOIA request revealed the “intelligence” used by the Georgia police in planning for this rally.
One of those sources comes from came from the Facebook account “III% Security Force Intel”. III%ers (Three Percenters) are a far-right militia organization that provided security for the first Unite the Right rally. The post, made on April 19th, includes a great deal of patently false information, including the claim that “4,000 to 12,000 antifa/communists/anarchists” planned to show up at the protest, and that they planned to target the cars, homes and businesses of people who showed any sign of “supporting the United States, trump, or anything right leaning”.
The success of this propaganda is shown in Newnan Times-Herald interviews with several local police. Captain Warren Campbell of the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office justified pointing rifles into the crowd of anti-fascists by saying that, “Based on reports, we weren’t entirely sure if they were armed so it was a legitimate concern – especially being outnumbered,” Police were actually not outnumbered at the event, with about seven times as many officers as anti-fascist protesters.
Sheriff Mike Yeager added, “They came here with a purpose. They came here to antagonize, take control of our community and incite fear.”
The other post used as evidence by the police appears to be from an obviously sarcastic post from an alleged antifa account, given its claim that activists would be “erecting a statue of Pauly Shore”, that activists would be “leaving cakes with weapon stashes in them all around the city”, and that “there will be 10,000” anti-fascist activists present at the April rally.
It is hard to say if the neo-Nazi activists who rallied at Newnan provided the police with any of this false information. As always, the exact ties and amount of coordination between groups is a matter of debate. Unicorn Riot has tied the information in the III% Intel Force post back to Newnan resident Clay Perry, who is affiliated with the militia and has expressed sympathy towards the fascist activists who marched in Charlottesville.
How much coordination and how many other activists were behind this attempt to influence Georgia law enforcement is unclear, but it is entirely possible that Perry actively sought to influence Georgia police against antifa without coordinating at all with the neo-Nazis who planned the Newnan rally. He identifies himself as “anti-Antifa”, and seems to have embraced utilizing law enforcement as a weapon against them.
“WE ARE GOING TO AID THE POLICE”
For more than a year, fascist activists on Discord have talked about aiding the police. On February 5th, during a discussion about how to dress and act at a protest, a user named Esgee said “WE ARE GOING TO AID THE POLICE, NO ARRESTS SHOULD EVER HAPPEN”, and suggests making citizen’s arrests. Throughout the months, there are numerous examples of fascist activists talking about bringing zip ties to protests to ‘cuff’ counter-protesters, both before and after Charlottesville. This post is representative of many such suggestions:
This tactic has been observed being used recently by the Proud Boys. On 4 August 2018, the “Official Alt-Left” Twitter account posted a video of several Proud Boys preparing to protest in Portland. They have zip ties with them, and one activist says, “When you get ‘em and we zip tie ‘em, get their fucking masks off, okay?” There are no well-known examples of this actually happening, but at that same protest, a member of a III% militia did help the police restrain and handcuff a protester.
This recording of a 23-minute segment of the June 2018 Portland protest, from the side of the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, provides an example of how law enforcement in Portland have acted towards protesters from those groups during rallies.
Starting at 23:13, we see a group of uniformed police officers walk through the crowd, towards the cameraman. One voice off-screen says, “You about to get talked to.” Another voice laughs casually at this. The police officer says, “I just talked to [Portland Police Sergeant Jeff Niiya] and he asked me to tell you that he has probable cause to arrest a couple of the guys here. They’ve arrested the other side, so it’s not singling you guys out. But it’s time to go. You guys can go home now, there won’t be any arrests. But if he’s forced to make arrests…”
This encounter stands in contrast with much of the police treatment of anti-fascist demonstrators and counter-protesters during this and subsequent rallies. One clear example of this would be from an August skirmish that saw a protester shot in the back of the head with a flash bang grenade, though police claim that tear gas and flash-bangs were only deployed after anti-fascist activists began throwing things at them.
Unedited video evidence seems to contradict this claim. We see protesters chanting “Who do you protect, who do you serve?” until, at around 8 seconds in, we hear the loud ‘BANG’ of a tear gas grenade. There is no sign of the crowd throwing anything at 7 seconds.
The first object thrown towards the police comes from a man in white, at the far-left side of the frame, ten seconds into the footage and two seconds after the first flash bangs were fired. You can still see what appears to be a water bottle arcing through the air above him in this clip.
Taken together, this information suggests that, despite the tiny number of activists at Unite the Right 2.0, fascist groups in the United States have grown more organized in the year since Charlottesville, especially with the success of their efforts to make law enforcement instrumental to their efforts, unwittingly or not. First-wave groups like the Traditionalist Worker Party are now defunct, but out of their failures, second-wave groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys have developed strategies to turn their dependence on police into strength in street battles against their enemies, namely anti-fascist activists.