Veterans group urges state and local prosecutors to go after far-right Patriot Front

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WASHINGTON — A military veterans’ organization is calling on prosecutors to become more aggressive against the Patriot Front, a far-right, white supremacist group marching in cities across the country, arguing that existing laws provide the authority needed to file criminal charges. against its members.

Task Force Butler, an organization founded by U.S. Army veteran Kristofer Goldsmith with the slogan “Veterans Fighting Fascism,” released a report this week identifying Patriot Front members and specifying criminal statutes that can be used against them. .

The report, shared exclusively with NBC News, has been sent to several local and state law enforcement officials in an effort to “hold the Patriot Front legally accountable for their politically and racially motivated harassment of vulnerable minority communities, their terrorizing of local residents in towns and cities across the United States.” States, their acts of violence and their use of American cities as a backdrop to show the ethno-nationalist agenda for the media and the nation.”

Goldsmith, who said he worked with 10 volunteers on the 200-plus page report, hopes to spark action by describing what he believes is evidence against dozens of Patriot Front members, in addition to drawing up a roadmap for prosecution.

“After years of looking into this, I am more than convinced that the FBI, the state attorneys general and these local jurisdictions all have more than enough evidence to take action against this neo-Nazi terrorist gang,” Goldsmith told. NBC News. “We as veterans are tired of seeing fascists running around hurting people and not being brought to justice. So if someone has to do the homework to make sure justice is found, we are willing to do the homework. “

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The Patriot Front, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist hate group, split from the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. year, marching on the National Mall in Washington, DC, in December and the target of a massive data breach that exposed information that could be used to identify its members, who usually wear masks at public events. The group does not list contact details on its website.

Police in Idaho arrested 31 members of the organization in June near the site of an annual LGBTQ event. The group’s leader and other members pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to riot, and their cases are still pending.

In July, group members marched in Boston, where no arrests were made. But the Task Force Butler report says a photo showing members of the white supremacist group surrounding a black man “was used by Patriot Front in multiple videos published on the Internet to promote their group and advocate for similar actions.” personal activities.”

A year earlier, in Philadelphia, police arrested members of the group but did not arrest them after members of the public disrupted their march.

Mary McCord, former head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in an interview that there are several reasons why prosecutors have not used existing legal tools against groups like the Patriot Front: State-level statutes are quite old and have not been used. a lot, meaning some prosecutors aren’t even aware of it; many areas where incidents have occurred lack resources to prosecute; and there can sometimes be a lack of political will to tackle controversial issues.

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Image: Patriot Front in Washington (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images file)

“There’s starting to come a little bit more understanding about them and a willingness to actually think about using it in the right case where the facts match because you don’t want to file a case and lose it and make a bad law,” she said. “You want to make sure there’s a strong case.”

Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, led by McCord, has produced a guide to constitutional provisions and laws in all 50 states that regulate private military and paramilitary activities, aiming to draw attention to the “range of instruments” that states and places to use in preparing meetings that can attract armed militias.

Mike German, a former FBI special agent who worked on domestic terrorism cases, said Task Force Butler’s work could help draw attention to the ways prosecutors can mount cases against members of far-right organizations such as the Patriot Front.

“One of the frustrations that I have felt and that some other people in the community feel is that law enforcement officers are reluctant to use existing authorities to target white supremacist and far-right militant groups for investigation,” he said in an interview. . “It’s the opposite problem when anti-racism groups, environmentalists, Muslim Americans, where you see them understand the broad scope of their authorities and use them very aggressively, even when there is no history of violence or acts of violence to refer to.”

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German said the new report could help prosecutors and lead to action.

“I think a document like this is very helpful for law enforcement at all levels to understand the nature of this group and the criminal actions by individual employees of this group so that, No. 1, they can understand the tactics and, two , to structure a prosecution using all the laws available to them in this type of prosecution,” he said.

Goldsmith, who has spent years investigating how veterans have been targeted by disinformation campaigns, called those involved in the Task Force Butler project the real “oath-keepers,” describing them as people who “understand the Constitution and value democracy, not those who use their military service as a weapon to destroy democracy.”

He said he is hopeful that his military and legal background will help fuel some persecution movements against members of the Patriot Front.

“I’m sure I can use this background and skills to shame the FBI into arresting a few neo-Nazis,” he said.

CORRECTION (September 20, 2022, 3:27 PM ET): An earlier version of this story was wrong when police arrested Patriot Front members in Philadelphia. They were detained in 2021, not this year.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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