The young fascists of Patriot Front stepped up their gathering campaign to grab public attention this past holiday weekend by organizing a march of uniformed members through downtown Philadelphia on Saturday. And while their secretive organization managed to catch everyone in the city by surprise, the whole affair rapidly disintegrated into a humiliating debacle.
A handful of counterprotesters began amassing about three blocks into the march and forced the Patriot Front marchers—about 200 strong—to retreat to the safety of the rental trucks that brought them. As they attempted to flee, Philadelphia police pulled over the trucks and began handcuffing the men.
Fascist 'Patriot Front' marchers forced into retreat by angry Philadelphians
"They started engaging with citizens of Philadelphia, who were none too happy about what they were saying. These males felt threatened, and, at one point, somebody in their crowd threw a type of smoke bomb to cover their retreat, and they literally ran away from the people of Philadelphia," Philadelphia Police Officer Michael Crum told WPVI-TV.
During the short-lived march, the Patriot Front group—who appear to have been comprised of men from outside the state—chanted "Reclaim America!" and "The election was stolen!"
All of them wore white cowl masks covering the lower portion of their faces and were attired in matching khaki pants and blue tops. As they marched outside Philadelphia City Hall, pedestrians began confronting them.
Eventually, brawls erupted, and some of the small shields the men carried were wrested from their grasp and thrown back at them as they fled. A local activist, Abdul-Aily Muhammad, told the Inquirer that the men began tossing smoke bombs and, under cover of the smoke, hit and kicked counterprotesters, and said he had been hit in the knee with a shield.
"They were prepared. They were hitting people. ... Trying to get behind you in a group, " Muhammad said. "Trying to get alongside of you. Trying to separate people."
They eventually retreated into a defensive stack formation at the site of the rental trucks in which they had arrived, but the onrushing crowd forced them to break into a panicked rush to get into the trucks, while brawls continued to erupt at their rear.
The trucks pulled away, but were soon stopped by Philadelphia police, who ordered the men out of the trucks and onto the nearby sidewalk. Several were handcuffed and detained, but police did not announce any arrests.
In a statement the next day, Mayor Jim Kenney said he was "personally appalled and disgusted" that Patriot Front marched through Center City. "White supremacy and racism are among the greatest scourges this country has faced since its founding," Kenney said. "While we respect everyone's right to exercise free speech, our administration stands against everything these groups represent."
Shira Goodman of the Anti-Defamation League's Philadelphia chapter told the Inquirer Patriot Front has recently embarked on an aggressive propaganda campaign, which includes posting stickers and fliers, handing out leaflets, and spraying graffiti throughout the Philadelphia suburbs and Lehigh Valley. As Saturday's march manifested, the group has become skilled at organizing flash mob-like meetings featuring members in uniform that then become recruiting videos on social media.
Patriot Front extremists have been busily defacing monuments to African Americans, particularly memorials to George Floyd in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, as well as a bust of a Black explorer with the Lewis and Clark Expedition in Portland, Oregon. The first such attack occurred in Philadelphia's Olney neighborhood, when vandals covered a mural dedicated to George Floyd with white paint, and then spray-painted stencils featuring Patriot Front logos and slogans over the white paint.
"It's like they're saying 'We're here. We're nearby,'" Goodman said Sunday. "The danger is always there. We know these groups have become more emboldened in recent years, and that things that have been in the shadows of the internet have come off-line."
Philly resident Eric Gilde told the Inquirer that he noticed the group while walking home from dinner with family members, and initially mistook them for a Fourth of July celebration. Then he heard their chants of "Take America Back."
"It felt like they were marching in a very energized way," Gilde said. "I saw nothing violent, but I feel like you could tell that there was a lot of aggression behind what they were doing, and I was happy that we were not close to them."
Gilde and his family veered clear of the marchers and hurried home.
"There were women walking a dog that we were chatting with immediately afterward, and they kind of had the same sense of 'Oh, it does suddenly feel a little less safe right now,'" he said.
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