'Patriot Front' seeks to make a name for itself in Walton County

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Stickers bearing the insignia of "Patriot Front," an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center calls  "a white nationalist hate group" were used to vandalize Biden/Harris campaign signs in Walton County in the days ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Democratic Party officials estimated nine signs had been vandalized with stickers that said "Better Dead Than Red" or simply "Patriot Front." Reports of threats were filed with the Walton County Sheriff's Office on at least two occasions, Oct. 28 and Oct. 30.

This Patriot Front sign was placed at this U.S. Highway 98 intersection in South Walton County.

One sign was vandalized after election night. 

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No arrests have been made and no one has claimed responsibility for the actions, according to officials at the Walton County Sheriff's Office. Efforts to contact a Patriot Front spokesperson were not successful.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization whose work includes identifying white supremacist organizations, states that the Patriot Front group was established in 2017 in Texas by an 18-year-old named Thomas Rousseau.

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Patriot Front "was one of a number of hate groups that sought to recast itself as mainstream, patriotic Americans by dressing up their propaganda and rhetoric in Americana" following a deadly "Unite the Right" protest in Charlottesville, Va., the Law Center website said.

A Patriot Front sign was pasted over this Joe Biden sign in South Walton County.

The Southern Poverty Law Center website said Rousseau keeps tight control over Patriot Front members and insists they "must regularly engage in activism — such as posting flyers in their local communities — or risk expulsion."

Walton County resident John Heacock said prior to election day he encountered a couple of Biden/Harris signs that had been vandalized with Patriot Front stickers as he was driving on U.S. Highway 98 in the vicinity of Mack Bayou. He stopped and peeled the stickers off.

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"These guys are as incompetent at sign vandalism as they are at everything else," Heacock said. "It didn't surprise me they'd put a sticker on someone else's sign rather than put their own sign up and attempt to compete in the marketplace of ideas."

Saturday, Heacock encountered a larger Patriot Front banner attached to a utility box at the same intersection. It said "Life for our nation, Liberty for our people, Victory for the American spirit."

He said he believes local people are behind the propaganda blitz.

A National Guardsman and Army Reservist with two tours in Iraq behind him, Heacock said he finds nothing patriotic in the rhetoric of Patriot Front, whose manifesto rails against "a corrupt, rootless, global and tyrannical elite" and is infused with racist and anti-Semitic buzz words.

"What they subscribe to is not patriotism," Heacock said. 

Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said last week that he was aware of the recent Patriot Front activity and his office was monitoring it. He said law enforcement officials have to walk the same thin line when dealing with hate groups as they do upon encountering gang "wannabes" simply looking for notoriety.

"The thing with any of these type fringe groups, you don't want to make them relevant," he said.

Adkinson said the Patriot Front activity had been reported to the Florida Fusion Center, a branch of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement established in 2007 in response to the 9/11 attack.  

The Florida Fusion Center, which is headquartered in Tallahassee, collaborates with local, state and federal agencies to "share resources, expertise, and/or information to better identify, detect, prevent, apprehend and respond to threats, crimes and terrorist activity," according to its website.

There are seven regional Florida Fusion Center branches. An official who answered the phone at the Northwest Florida Fusion Center said the agency does not comment on specific groups or activities that it may be monitoring.