Cybersecurity & Tech Terrorism & Extremism

“Fed Front”: Conspiracy Theories About Federal Government Involvement in Far-Right Extremism Resurface

Gia Kokotakis
Friday, March 15, 2024, 1:00 PM
Elon Musk endorsed a dangerous right-wing conspiracy theory accusing the FBI of controlling the white nationalist group, Patriot Front.
The Patriot Front (Joe Flood,, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED,

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“This does seem odd. Why no mask removal after arrest?” tweeted Elon Musk on Jan. 20 in response to an X user called Champagne Joshi

Musk’s tweet came in response to Joshi having referred to a group called Patriot Front in his post, which showed a photo of arrested Patriot Front members from a foiled effort to spark a riot at a 2022 Pride celebration in Idaho. The premise of Musk’s tweet turned out to be wrong; the men in the photo were, in fact, unmasked as part of their arrest. But that’s not the point. The point is that 588,000 users viewed Musk’s post, a thousand of whom reposted it—and a large number of people were thus exposed to a weird conspiracy theory that has been creeping through the American white nationalist movement for more than a year but has suddenly hit the big time.

The conspiracy theory, to make a long story short, is that a white nationalist group called Patriot Front is really an FBI plot.

“For the life of our nation, for the liberty of our people, and for the victory of the American spirit! shouted Thomas Rousseau, leader of Patriot Front, in New York City. On Friday, Jan. 19, Rousseau led a Patriot Front demonstration at the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall; the next day, he directed a Patriot Front march by the 9/11 memorial and outside the National Archives in New York

The demonstrations were consistent with Patriot Front’s history of offline mobilization—between 30 and 70 men in matching uniforms marching in neat rows, all led by Rousseau shouting the group’s racist, anti-immigrant, antisemitic, and sexist ideology into a bullhorn—but they prompted a strange response on social media: the allegation that Patriot Front, which has been nicknamed “Fed Front” by its foes on the far-right, is a fake extremist group created by the FBI. The indirect endorsement from Musk helped force this conspiracy into the public consciousness

The Fed Front conspiracy theory may seem harmless. Who cares, after all, if far-right groups suspect one another of complicity with the “deep state”?

But the ease with which this conspiracy has gained traction across the right-wing social media ecosystem represents a growing phenomenon that undermines the authority of federal agencies and has the potential to inspire acts of violence. 

Patriot Front is a Texas-based neo-Nazi group founded in August 2017. Rousseau leads it, having previously occupied a prominent position in a small neo-Nazi organization called Vanguard America (VA) that focused on spreading racist propaganda across college campuses. Rousseau also directed VA’s members at the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. In the subsequent fracturing of the nascent alt-right, Rousseau split from VA in late August 2017. He rebranded VA’s website, replacing VA’s openly neo-Nazi “blood and soil” rhetoric with Americana-style messaging more palatable to larger audiences, such as the group’s current slogan, “Life, Liberty, Victory.” And thus Patriot Front was born.

Today, Patriot Front’s ideology “is built on the perception that White American culture and heritage are under threat from multiple angles and are facing complete annihilation if no action is taken.” The group views Jews, immigrants, non-whites, the LGBTQ+ community, abortion, and women who do not conform to traditional family structures as responsible for this destruction and therefore their primary enemies. Patriot Front promotes an “ethnonationalist understanding of identity,” connecting American citizenship and identity solely to blood inheritance. The group aims to inspire a revolutionary spirit among Americans to forcefully fight back against the tyrannical and corrupt government, eventually replacing it with an ethnically defined nation-state

Just as the Unite the Right participants donned polos and khakis in an attempt to make hate appear to be “the stuff of everyday American life,” Rousseau’s rebranding of VA to Patriot Front reflects a broader trend among white nationalists attempting to tailor their optics to better appeal to mainstream conservatives. Although more traditionally classified as a white supremacist group, Patriot Front’s deep roots in the American neo-Nazi community through Vanguard America and the antisemitic core of its messaging that remains even after rebranding call for it to be more accurately labeled as a neo-Nazi group.

Patriot Front was thrust into the nation’s media spotlight in June 2022 after the incident that led to Musk’s recent tweet. Thirty-one members—including Rousseau—were pulled out of a U-Haul truck and arrested en route to a Pride parade in Idaho. The arrested members were charged with conspiracy to riot, and Patriot Front’s name continued to grow in response to the infamy. In 2022, Patriot Front, in combination with the so-called Goyim Defense League (GDL) and White Lives Matter (WLM), was responsible for 93 percent of white supremacist propaganda activity nationally, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League. Patriot Front hosts offline demonstrations and training camps for members every month, and its membership has grown enough to divide into 15 regional networks that span the entire country.

The conspiracy theory actually arises out of one of the group’s signature sartorial choices: the face coverings worn by Patriot Front members during demonstrations. These are meant to conceal the identities of members against a government they believe—as Rousseau himself has said—has “proven itself not to protect free speech” or “the right of individuals to protest those in power.” But according to Matt Novak, writing in Forbes magazine, it has “allowed the conspiracy theory that they’re actually a bunch of federal agents to proliferate online.” This conspiracy theory—which has often redubbed the group “Fed Front”—claims that the FBI created Patriot Front as a way to sow “discord and racial hatred among Americans.” 

Let’s be clear: There is no evidence to support the Fed Front conspiracy theory. Of being an FBI front, the group is innocent. They are legit racists. 

Yet though completely untrue, the theory has blossomed on right-wing social media. Specifically, “right wing influencers on X” have promoted it, as have Trump supporters and members of Nick Fuentes’s “Groyper Army.” Jesse Kelly, a right-wing radio host, tweeted a video of Patriot Front in New York on Jan. 20, captioning the clip, “Why would the feds run an op like this?” At least 1.6 million users viewed Kelly’s post, and 3,800 users retweeted it. Similarly, Fuentes has a history of supporting the Fed Front conspiracy theory, claiming in May 2023 that “calling Patriot Front a fed op is directionally accurate, even without knowing the specifics.” Thirty thousand users in Fuentes’s Telegram channel viewed the post. In a post that amassed 1.8 million views and 8,000 eight thousand retweets, Alex Jones, a right-wing radio host and “prolific anti-government conspiracy theorist,” alleged that “FED Front” is led by
“NGO operatives from groups like the SPLC/ADL” who take direction from the CIA and FBI. Combined with posts by countless other micro-influencers in the right-wing social media ecosystem, in one weekend alone, the Fed Front conspiracy was viewed by millions of users and shared by tens of thousands. Musk was the icing on the cake.

Patriot Front has rejected this conspiracy theory, calling the claim “slander,” but it seems to have little effect in quelling Fed Front’s circulation on social media. 

The Fed Front conspiracy theory ties into an existing trend of conspiracy theories pushed by right-wing individuals that accuse federal law enforcement of orchestrating far-right extremist activity. Three years after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, “twenty-five percent of Americans say it is ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ true that the FBI instigated” the violence witnessed that day, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, and 34 percent of Republicans allege that “the FBI organized and encouraged the attack.” Similarly, Republican politicians have implied that the FBI and the Justice Department played a role in orchestrating the Jan. 6 attack or have outright denied that any violence occurred that day. Former GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said during a primary debate that Jan. 6 appears to have been “an inside job.” 

Although not directly accusing the FBI or the Justice Department of pulling far-right extremists’ strings, former President Trump has doubled down on comments that similarly paint federal agencies as corrupt and illegitimate. Trump specifically accuses the FBI and the Justice Department of being “weaponized” by his political opponents, most prominently President Biden. Trump claims that the FBI and the Justice Department illegally and unfairly targeted him by searching his Mar-a-Lago residence for classified documents and indicting him in numerous court cases, including one in Washington, D.C., for his involvement in Jan. 6. 

In addition to delegitimizing federal agencies, conspiracy theories like Fed Front have violent, real-world consequences. In August 2022, a gunman tried to enter the FBI’s Cincinnati office and posted on social media that federal agents need to be killed “on sight.” The posts and attempted attack came shortly after the search for classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. Last October, an Atlanta man was indicted for transmitting interstate threats “to injure Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat” because of their connection to the county’s investigation into the former president. Earlier this month, “a bomb threat was made against the home of the New York judge overseeing a civil trial against former president Donald Trump.” All of these incidents can be traced to right-wing conspiracy theories that accuse federal agencies of nefarious, corrupt activity. 

By comparison, conspiracy theories like Fed Front may seem harmless, directed at other right-wingers, not at law enforcement. But they are anything but harmless. Notice how the puppet masters in the Fed Front conspiracy tweets are always federal officers, not the white supremacists themselves. More broadly, they are part of a culture of mistrust in which dark powerful deep state forces control everything, even those organizations designed to oppose them; you can’t even trust your friendly neighborhood white supremacist not to be an FBI puppet anymore. With the 2024 election looming and public trust in federal institutions like the FBI and the Justice Department tanking, recognizing the danger posed when conspiracy theories about federal agencies spread online and are bolstered by public figures is important—even when the targeted parties are some of the worst among us.

Gia Kokotakis was an intern at Lawfare and is a senior at Georgetown University, where she studies government, French, and Jewish civilization. She received an Attestation d’Études Politiques from Sciences Po Lyon in May 2023.

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