Griffin Sendek | multimedia editor
As joyous celebrations for Joe Biden’s presidential win erupted into song and dance throughout the South Side and Squirrel Hill on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 7 — the fascist, white supremacist group Patriot Front marched to the steps of the City-County Building Downtown.
The demonstration was seen before it was heard, as big plumes of red and blue smoke billowed high above Grant St. The rally itself was flashy and quick, all taking place in less than 15 minutes.
1:49 p.m.: Patriot Front reached the foot of the City-County Building.
1:51 p.m.: Multiple red and blue smoke bombs were lit
1:52 p.m.: The speech began.
1:56 p.m.: They marched down Grant St. turned on Ross Street to a parking lot, packed up their gear and belongings into a Uhaul truck.
2:01 p.m. : The members loaded into vans and left the city.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defines Patriot Front as a white nationalist hate group which is “an image-obsessed organization that rehabilitated the explicitly fascist agenda of Vanguard America with garish patriotism.”
Patriot Front formed from a splinter of Vanguard America after its collapse in 2017 following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA which resulted in the killing of Heather Heyer and injuring many others.
According to SPLC, “when PF orchestrates protests or public appearances, they are typically tightly choreographed and scripted to maximize propaganda value. Virtually all its activities are undertaken with propaganda in mind.”
Saturday’s demonstration followed that formula exactly.
This fascist rally was a “blink- and-you’ll-miss-it” affair. It was witnessed by people in roughly 50 vehicles and 20 passersby. It all took place so quickly, no other media was present. And by the time reporters from TV stations pulled up, Patriot Front was long gone — the only thing left were burned-out smoke bomb cartridges
As a result, in a city of nearly 300,000 people, Patriot Front delivered their message to virtually no one.
Most of those who were there to witness the demonstration weren’t sticking around to listen. For those who watched the event unfold, there was an immense sense of confusion about who the group was and what they were doing there in the first place.
A Duquesne student and her boyfriend happened to be driving by when the rally took place.
“We drove past it just enough to get a glimpse, the group was putting off smoke bombs and yelling into a bullhorn and lined up in front of the City-County Building. I thought it was a protest or had something to do with election results, but it wasn’t clear from the car.” said Duquesne senior Raena Smyda.
For Smyda and her boyfriend —and likely many others that drove past the demonstration— the only message Patriot Front was able to convey was vague election anger and that smoke bombs are attention grabbing.
The group held a 30-foot banner reading, “Two Parties One Tyranny.” The phrase coincides with the Patriot Front’s third position views and the desire to create an ethnostate according to the SPLC.
According to Patriot Front’s telegram page the Pittsburgh rally was a “march and demonstration against two fraudulent elections of two-party tyranny.”
Reciting the group’s rhetoric about ‘reclaiming America’ was the founder and leader of the group himself, Thomas Rousseau.
Local activist and founder of BLM Pittsburgh and SW PA Tanisha Long was disappointed by the news of Patriot Front’s presence in the city.
“Many people believe that Pittsburgh is the liberal bastion of Southwest PA, they believe that stuff like this wouldn’t happen in Pittsburgh or that it’s uncommon,” Long said. “It’s not. These people were able to come here, find a base here and find support here.”
“All this stuff exists in Pittsburgh, and it’s already been here,” Long said. “I’m not surprised. I’m not appreciative of the fact that anytime we [BLM protesters] have a rally that’s peaceful we’re met with riot cops, and we are not treated very gently, but when police there appear to be more protective of them than any counter-protesters.”
Pittsburgh Police were present nearby, but their numbers were minimal, and they were not equipped in riot gear. Just a single day prior, a small group of Trump supporters gathered to protest at the very same spot, when a group of counter-protesters approached, more than 30 police officers equipped in riot gear lined up creating a barrier between the groups.
The police presence Downtown on Saturday afternoon was no nowhere near as large.
The City of Pittsburgh released no statements regarding the demonstration; the only information released was a brief recount of what happened and the message, “The investigation is ongoing and as such we have nothing to add at this time.”
The office of public information would not say if the city of Pittsburgh had received any advance notice of Patriot Front’s arrival.
The Pittsburgh public safety Twitter account delivers messages regarding safety concerns in the city, such as shootings, road hazards and oftentimes communicates the actions and movements of protests.
Over the course of Saturday afternoon the account tweeted multiple times about the celebrations in the Southside, but not a single message was issued about the Patriot Front gathering.
The members of Patriot Front marched into town in matching uniforms consisting of combat boots, tan cargo pants and blue baggy jackets. They carried flags of the organization and circular riot shields. Whether the members had any concealed weapons was unclear.
Patriot Front was able to enter the city and was met with no force or opposition. The goal may have only been to quickly spread their propaganda, but if the 2017 Charlottesville riots are anything to go by, extremist hate groups have a history of being unpredictable and dangerous.
“And the fact that this is going on at the same time as people who are reminding us that this hate has not left the building,” Long said. “That they are going to be louder now and that they are going to be out in the open and they are going to sow this discord is just a not-so-gentle reminder that nothings changed, this is still Trump’s America.”