White nationalist group in Metro Detroit caught spreading hate in leaked videos

Leaked videos, images never before seen

A group of white nationalists in several Metro Detroit cities were caught spreading hate after images, videos and documents were leaked online.

Hate, once again, making itself known in Michigan. This time it’s a group of white nationalists standing in a dark patch of a wooded area in Metro Detroit.

The young, white men are clad in matching uniforms, dark polo shirts, khaki pants, white masks and tan hats. The group is standing around a bonfire holding two striped flags with the colors of LGBTQ+ and diversity pride. A member heard in the video bragging what they were about to do was a three-for-one act of hate.

“We will destroy your symbols of all that you worship. To think we will lay down and perish, you are mistaken. Burn ‘em,” A masked man reading from a manifesto says as other members of the group drop the flags into the flames. The group of just over a dozen then breaks into song -- the Nazi anthem “Blood and Soil” to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.”

“…For our great race can’t be replaced for ours is blood and soil,” the clan sings off-key, but in unison.

The disturbing vignette is one of the hundreds of images and videos taken in Michigan by the group Patriot Front (PF) in cities like Detroit, Sterling Heights and Ferndale. They had not been previously seen in Michigan until leaked and published online by the non-profit group Unicorn Riot. The organization, which defines itself as an education media organization, leaked tens of thousands of images, videos and documented chats from the white nationalist group’s Discord from around the county.

Members of PF have been recorded on video at rallies in 31 states and Washington D.C. Some of those events have been extremely high profile including the 2022 March for Life rallies in Washington D.C., Boston, and Chicago. Last June, 31 members of the group were arrested in Boise after threatening a pride celebration.

The videos of Metro Detroit stretch back to the fall of 2021. In one set of videos, the members dressed in their PF-branded uniforms, sprayed white paint over graffiti and the eyes and mouth of a Native American man depicted in a mural in Detroit’s Lincoln Art Park.

“Pretty sure this is something Native American related,” a man in the video is heard saying. “And it’s satanic,” said another quickly followed by another voice heard making a double-edged, racist joke, “Get the whites!” before all the men begin to laugh. After covering the mural, they painted on a stencil in the colors of the American flag that read “Not stolen. Conquered.”

In Sterling Heights, another set of PF members covered up graffiti with their own, specifically targeting Jewish symbols.

“If we see a [expletive] Star of David, I don’t care how high risk it is. We’re covering that [expletive] up,” one member said. Another is heard excitedly agreeing with an enthusiastic “yes!”

“In 2021, there were more than 163 incidents of white supremacy propaganda reported to our office . . . 138 of them were from Patriot Front,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Michigan’s Regional Director Carolyn Normandin said. “It’s a big problem.”

The ADL Michigan has been closely watching PF’s activity in the state since before the videos surfaced online amid a rising tide of well-documented hate and antisemitism.

“It’s got several hundred members across the country. When you say several hundred that doesn’t seem like a lot of people. But when you think about what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to propagandize and espouse racism and antisemitism and intolerance,” Normandin said “It doesn’t take very many people. It just takes dedicated individuals.”

From New York to Los Angeles, hate crimes have been on the rise in major American cities. In 2022, preliminary police data from at least six metropolitan areas recorded levels not seen since the 1990s, according to a new report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino.

The rise in hate has roots in the U.S. and Michigan’s long history of hate groups and anti-government activity. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there are currently 733 active hate groups and 488 active anti-government groups across the country. In Michigan, there are 33 active hate groups and anti-government groups, as of the center’s latest tally.

PF was founded in 2017 after neo-Nazis marched through the streets of Charlottesville. The group, now based just outside of Dallas, is considered by observers to be more radical than those in Virginia and also image obsessed. They’re focused on making their rhetoric more palatable to the American public. Its members are required to do weekly acts of propaganda to remain part of the group. Their graffiti, stickers and banners often use mainstream slogans and ideology like “America first,” “united we stand,” and “better dead than red.”

“They sort of co-opt the idea, again, you know, wrapping themselves in the American flag and using this language that is sort of an insidious kind of undercurrent,” Normandin said. “When people get involved with them, they get radicalized to this idea of reclaiming America as a white nation.”

Local 4 did reach out to the FBI for a comment on the PF videos, but they declined to comment on whether PF members were currently under investigation. A bureau spokesperson also reiterated that simply being a member of a hate group is, in and of itself, not a crime.

Multiple requests for interviews with Attorney General Dana Nessel, her office or her newly created Hate Crimes Unit (HCU) about the new trove of videos were also made. A spokesperson said no one from the HCU was available and her office was unable to schedule a time for an interview with Nessel.

“The FBI and the Department of Justice, they might not want to admit they are looking at extremism like that, but I can guarantee you the Justice Department is looking at extremism in all of its forms and this is certainly one of those groups,” former U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said.

He said the structure of a group like PF and other white nationalist groups could make them a target for a federal investigation like those into the mafia, drug cartels and motorcycle gangs, known as racketeering.

“They’ve committed assaults. They’ve conspired to riot. Each individual might be guilty of that crime, and you go after them, arrest them, lock them up,” Schneider said hypothetically. “The longer-term, broader scheme is to see if you can try and charge the entire organization as an entity and that could be a federal racketeering charge but that takes years to develop.”

Schneider -- like Normandin -- added, PF’s membership is small and the group hasn’t escalated locally yet, but the former prosecutor said the history of American and Michiganian violence doesn’t always come in numbers. “It’s not necessarily the size of the organization that matters because even small organizations can commit horrific acts of violence.”

For hate watch organizations like the ADL and SPLC, the fear goes beyond what’s simply illegal, it’s about what’s become normal.

“[Hate] has become commonized (sic),” Normandin said. “I think what we’ve seen in the last several years is this idea that it’s okay. But make no mistake, the idea of patriotic or patriot nationalism is really a white supremacist ideology and reclaiming America as a white nation is white supremacy pure and simple.”