After march on Independence Mall, many are asking: What is Patriot Front?

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- About 150 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front marched through Center City Philadelphia over the July 4th weekend.

It was a frightening scene for those like Shaune Bass.

"Be honest I was scared. I didn't know what the hell was going on. I felt like we were back in the 60s," said Bass.

Bass performs overnight security at the federal courthouse. He watched as the group marched around Independence Mall.

"They were walking in a standard military operation saying, 'The cadence 'take back what's ours, reclaim America,'" he said.

According to anti-hate groups, Patriot Front was formed in 2017 by Thomas Rousseau, a young man from Dallas, Texas who uses an authoritative voice to control its messaging and activity.

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Prior to forming Patriot Front, he was connected to Vanguard America, which gained infamy after the deadly white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"He split off from that group because of the optics of that event," said Cassie Miller with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

She calls Patriot Front arguably the leading white supremacist group in the country, with 42 chapters including here in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She says the group has also posted propaganda in Delaware.

"They believe the country must go through a chaotic rebirth to be restored to a mythical racially pure path," added Miller.

She says Patriot Front recruits on college campuses with flyers, conducts flash protests, and even commits acts of vandalism.

The group uses encrypted chat rooms to communicate and there's an extensive vetting process to join.

Joanna Mendelson of the Anti-Defamation League believes the group chose to protest in Philadelphia because of its patriotic and historic significance.

Mendelson says Patriot Front moved away from its Neo Nazi roots in 2018 and began using a more patriotic message.

However, he has a warning.

"What we've seen in most recent years is that white supremacists try to sugarcoat their message to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience," Mendelson said.

The group's protest here in Philadelphia was short-lived. Citizens ran them off to their cargo trucks.

Still, the brief display of hate left some like Bass saddened and frustrated.

"I know it exists," he said. "I try to overlook it, ignore it, but something like that I can't ignore."

No one was injured nor arrested during this past weekend's events.

Attempts to reach Rousseau and Patriot Front members were unsuccessful.

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