White supremacists deface “Black Lives Matter” mural in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park

Late last night, under cover of darkness, members of a white supremacist group called the Patriot Front appear to have painted over the large “Black Lives Matter” mural in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park. This, apparently, is something that this particular organization — a group which splintered away from the neo-Nazi organization Vanguard America after 2017’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — is known to do. They seek out public art relating to racial injustice, and they do their best to obliterate it. This past June, they desecrated a mural of George Floyd in Philadelphia. Later that month, they did they same to two statues of George Floyd; one in Brooklyn, and one in Newark. Then, a few days later, they destroyed a “Say Their Names” mural in Louisville depicting Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, and George Floyd. In each instance, the words “Patriot Front,” as well as slogans used by white power group, were scrawled on the defaced pieces of public artwork. And, now, it would appear, they’ve found Ypsilanti.

I’d like to think the individuals responsible for this act were not from our community, but I suppose it’s possible. There is ample evidence that the Patriot Front has been recruiting in the state, and I heard from someone this morning that, this past Wednesday night, several men identifying as members of the Patriot Front attempted to shut down the public outdoor viewing of the film “Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America” in Ypsilanti’s Frog Island Park. If that’s the case, I suspect we may well have a local group operating right here in Washtenaw County. [The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “hate map” shows the Patriot Front as being active statewide in Michigan, but doesn’t note the existence of any individual chapters.]

I should add that I was hesitant to post this, as I know organizations like the Patriot Front feed on this kind of exposure. They love being talked about. They love being feared. And they love the idea that, in the wake of an action like this, they may very well see an uptick in interest from possible recruits — angry white men who, unhappy with the way things are going in their own pathetic lives, are out there, actively looking for scapegoats to pin the blame on. But I suspect, in this instance, the good may outweigh the bad… especially as the community is beginning to come together to discuss what our response should be. [As I understand it from the Ypsi BLM Street Mural Project Facebook group, there’s going to be a City Council discussion on Tuesday about the response, after which the graphic will be repainted by volunteers.]

As for background on the Patriot Front, I found the following writeup from the Southern Poverty Law Center to be helpful.

Patriot Front (PF) is a white nationalist hate group that formed in the aftermath of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, of August 12, 2017. The organization broke off from Vanguard America (VA), a neo-Nazi group that participated in the chaotic demonstration. PF’s founder, Thomas Rousseau, led VA members during “Unite the Right,” including James Alex Fields, Jr., the young man accused of murdering anti-racist protester Heather Heyer after fatally driving his vehicle into a crowd of protesters.

Rousseau and his loyalists broke away from VA after a months-long feud with VA’s leader Dillon Irizarry…

PF’s formal break from VA came amidst a movement-wide debate over the effectiveness of public demonstrations and the issue of optics in the wake of “Unite the Right,” which resulted in widespread condemnation from the mainstream public. In the midst of this contentious feud, Rousseau formally broke with VA on August 30, 2017, just 18 days after the rally, in an announcement posted to the VA’s southern region Discord server…

Rousseau’s conscious rebranding under the banner of PF was a direct consequence of “Unite the Right” organizers’ inability to control the rally’s presentation. Swastikas and other Nazi-era imagery was prominent among attendees who were also chanting slogans such as “Jews will not replace us.” PF 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.

PF’s manifesto makes frequent reference to American historical figures, casting its politics as a revival of an allegedly authentic American identity based on “pan-European” colonizers. As Rousseau notes in his internal announcement of the organization’s split with VA, PF’s rebranding was aesthetic, not ideological. The group’s politics remain staunchly white nationalist, albeit less explicitly.

PF’s manifesto states, “Our people must learn to internalize their natural identities and come to connect that re-emerging identity with their homeland. Americans are descendants of Europeans, but at the same time they are not European. This nation is unique in its newly realized pan-European identity which has allowed it to succeed.”

The manifesto continues with a call for the formation of a white ethnostate…

And, yes, this is what it apparently took for me to return to this old blog of mine. I didn’t write about my wonderful daughter’s 17th birthday, or mark the occasion of my restaurant’s first year in business, but a few racists announce their presence with a bucket of paint in the park where my son and I look for birds every day, and feel the sudden urge to plug the computer back in and return to work.

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  1. anonymous
    Posted September 20, 2021 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s on the Detroit TV news.


  2. Josh
    Posted September 20, 2021 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry this is what it took to get you to post again, but as always your writing is well-researched and demonstrates just how good local reporting can be. It’s a template for how ‘the big guys’ should be doing it.

    Oh, and f*&% racists. That’s also very important to note.

  3. Lynne
    Posted September 21, 2021 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    This is just breaking my heart. And pissing me off. I am soooo tired of white men/women who can’t accept that others are just as important as they are. I also appreciate that I can make this comment here. I keep getting in trouble on FB for making similar comments.

  4. anonymous
    Posted September 23, 2021 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I bet they were from the Township.

  5. Jean Henry
    Posted October 1, 2021 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Just leaving this here in case FF comes around.
    Hey, everyone else.


  6. EOS
    Posted October 2, 2021 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I’d like to see the evidence that members of a white supremacist group called the Patriot Front did paint over the large “Black Lives Matter” mural. I didn’t hear a word of protest when they painted the pro-communist message in the park back in June. It’s more likely that a member of BLM painted the stencil and the white-out of the message. The vast majority of racist graffiti crimes are found to be perpetrated by minorities themselves: Jussie Smollett, Eastern Michigan, etc.

    Seems that overt racism is so hard to find these days many stage “incidents” to raise awareness of non-existent problems.

  7. Robert Bennett
    Posted October 2, 2021 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Sorry that these idiots did this. However, very glad to see you back! Missed your updates and hope all is well.

  8. Stokely Carbuncle
    Posted October 11, 2021 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    In response to a racist epithet found written on a dormitory whiteboard at UM in 2017 and the resulting protests and demonstrations, president Mark Schlissel told the Daily, “provocateurs realize they can use us as a platform,” and (focusing on perpetrators is) “not productive.”

  9. iRobert
    Posted December 6, 2021 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Have you ever seen a more pathetic attempt to deface anything? The suspect you’re looking for will be of abnormally low intelligence and unskilled in even the most basic tasks – tasks which the average person performs without the slightest difficulty. You’d likely feel a sense of pity almost immediately for this person if you were to encounter them.

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