‘Task Force Butler’ Veterans Share Skills to Track Far-Right Groups

Unicorn Riot chatted with Kristofer Goldsmith, the founder of a nonprofit called the “Task Force Butler Institute” which is recruiting U.S. military veterans to monitor fascists and far-right hardliner movements around the country. Last year he and the group worked on tracking Patriot Front neo-nazis on the ground at the January 21, 2022 March for Life in Washington, DC; by coincidence, Unicorn Riot released more than 400 gigabytes of leaked Patriot Front material during the same march.

New Guide Offers Generic & Specific Tips for Tracking Fascists

In advance of this year’s March for Life, Task Force Butler is releasing a seven-page guide to share tips and techniques monitoring far-right public events. It’s tailored specifically to tracking Patriot Front (who practice ‘entryism’ by joining events like March for Life), but also meant for those watching other violent far-right street crews like the Proud Boys.

The guide stresses taking photos of shoes, belts, patches, hats, and similar details to help ID anonymized far-right members; this could assist in documenting far-right harassers at recent LGBT events, Goldsmith notes. It also notes some obscure U.S. laws that could harm Patriot Front’s legal position. (Who knew that there’s a law against traveling “in disguise on the highway” with an aim of bias-motivated crimes against other’s civil rights?)

We shared the guide with a few sources who have long tracked Patriot Front to get their take. One of our sources pointed out a big catch: Patriot Front usually operates “flash mob” style. They don’t announce events ahead of time so it’s hard to catch them out in the open. (Last year Goldsmith was inside Patriot Front’s RocketChat server, so he was able to organize an effort to shadow them at the DC event.)

Lauren Pespisa, an antifascist knowledgeable about Patriot Front, weighed in:

“An impressive, comprehensive guide based on specific experiences the antifascist community has had in encountering these CHUDS. I appreciate the work Task Force Butler has been doing and I hope this info helps more and more people stand up to fascist hate groups like Patriot Front. This is great reading for anyone looking to defend their community from Patriot Front and I appreciate the emphasis on Opsec [operational security] and teamwork as those are critical in an environment growing more and more tolerant of hate and where law enforcement will not help.”

–Lauren Pespisa (@splendidspoon)

We also heard from Eugene Antifascists, who have monitored Patriot Front since 2017, and were one of several sources for our original 2018 expose on Patriot Front‘s leaked Discord chats.

“The Task Force Butler’s document titled ‘What To Do When Patriot Front Shows Up’ details many important historical operational strategies Patriot Front has used increasingly over the past few years when appearing unannounced and uninvited at Right Wing events. Exposing these details should aid in disrupting any upcoming appearances, but we must be prepared for them to change plans at any time.

“The guide is addressed, in very general terms, to anti-fascist researchers and community safety practitioners firstly, on the ground locally. The advice laid out is framed for individuals and teams geared towards mainly observing and monitoring Patriot Front’s activity — a largely passive role that can yield a big impact. This is crucial work and often operates alongside more active roles such as underground, anonymous militant direct action and above-ground liberal counter-protesting. Together, a solid response to Patriot Front demands a diversity of tactics.

“When pairing up and forming groups, individuals should take inventory of their and others’ skill sets, risk, comfort, and trust levels. This should determine the group’s activities, size, and communication method. It is important to consider on the ground medical care and individual or team extraction from any location. …Storage of electronic files and notes should be treated with priority. Off-cloud storage is important for preservation. It is best to store files in multiple locations: duplicity is key. Cloud based storage is easier for sharing but provides less privacy. Be sure to do all redacting and erase all metadata before sharing files.”

Eugene Antifascists, monitoring Patriot Front since 2017

Investigations Highlighted; Richmond Unicorn Riot Report Contributes to Lawsuit

Another one of Goldsmith’s investigations in Texas directed at the Aryan Freedom Network was covered by an NBC crew; that report was released on January 6, 2023. That event led to a short-lived lawsuit leveled by Jason Lee van Dyke, a high-profile attorney for Proud Boys and others who has repeatedly espoused racist and white supremacist beliefs. (Van Dyke is suspected of using the handles “Big John”/”Big Jon” in leaked Patriot Front chats published by Unicorn Riot, but has denied this connection repeatedly.)

The NBC report highlights footage first obtained by Unicorn Riot which helped us identify Nathaniel Noyce (aka ‘Roger VA’) and Thomas Dale (aka ‘Kenneth VA’) as they filmed themselves destroying a mural of Arthur Ashe in Richmond, Virginia in October 2021. Goldsmith tells us that his research has contributed to an ongoing lawsuit against Patriot Front and the members involved. (We reached out to an attorney on the case for comment and did not receive a response by press time.)

January 6 Attack Spurred Field Work

Goldsmith added that his private single-person LLC had been formed after the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. He said that as a private “hobby” he had been infiltrating the American far-right in the lead-up to January 6th and distributed reports about the impending attack. However he said this did not make enough of an impact to forestall the attack. So, he said he decided to form a company to perform research and monitoring projects directed at far-right and fascist groups in the field, for nonprofit organizations that keep tabs on this kind of issue in the public interest; this year he is transitioning that work to the Task Force Butler nonprofit. He said his goal was to avert events like January 6th by better organizing these efforts and publicizing them to the media and other interested parties.

Goldsmith also said that law enforcement and attorneys had shown an interest in ‘Project Blacklisted.’ He provided us a copy of the large report about Patriot Front that was released for limited distribution to government, researchers and journalists last year. He said that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, an FBI agent detailed to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the city of Philadelphia, and local prosecutors in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, had requested copies. (31 Patriot Front members were arrested near a Coeur d’Alene Pride event in June 2022.) He said this level of interest was a bit of a surprise.

Regarding how the investigation last year turned up another obscure far-right group called the “New Columbia Movement,” Goldsmith added:

“These in-person intelligence gathering operations offer researchers like those of Task Force Butler opportunities to spot budding fascist organizations before they’re well known, and to witness and understand fascist groups’ evolving violent tactics and techniques as they’re still in development. This allows us to spread that information to community stakeholders early so that new threats can be identified as they evolve and spread across the country, and so that local communities can develop countermeasures that fit their neighborhoods. Fascists feel safe and powerful when their actions surprise, confuse, and intimidate onlookers and the press — and more people engaging in intelligence gathering operations like this takes that away from them.”

–Kristofer Goldsmith, Task Force Butler Institute

Learn more about January 6: Documents Reveal Plans to Overturn 2020 Election as Military Questions DeepenDiscord at the Capitol

Law Enforcement, Veterans and Anti-Fascist Research

One section in the new guide calls for giving local police and similar authorities detailed dossiers on far-right groups — partly to deter law enforcement from falling for their commonly used disinformation tactics. Goldsmith acknowledged a lot of people likely to review his group’s new guide tend to avoid interacting with law enforcement — many antifascists are guided by the “three-way fight” perspective which is informed by a long, painful experience of law enforcement bias in favor of far-right groups. However the bulk of the guide has nothing to do with law enforcement.

An observing and monitoring role does not guarantee an injury or arrest free experience. Considerations for arrest, jail, and legal support should be done as in advance as possible. Make sure everyone gets out. While some in this role might feel comfortable communicating with law enforcement or calling 911, know the risks. Reports and calls are both attached to personally identifying information and could be released with pending litigation.

— Eugene Antifascists

Task Force Butler seeks to reach as broad an audience as possible and bring a new veterans’ organization into antifascism. This includes trying to leverage veteran status to reach audiences that have been fed lies about “Antifa” and falsely believe that “Antifa” burned down American cities.

Goldsmith feels that antifascist research has given him a sense of purpose after becoming disillusioned with other forms of political activity like antiwar-style street protest marches. By working as an organized team, whether observing in the field or from home, he believes the efforts are effective against Patriot Front. He also believes this can offer an alternative view to veterans that are being enticed to join far-right groups.

He told NBC, “Veterans are not innately drawn to these extremist organizations but these extremist organizations know how to manipulate veterans. They know how to identify veterans who are vulnerable like I was, and they fill these questions that we have with conspiracy theories as answers.”

Smedley D. Butler addressing the Bonus Marchers in Anacostia Flats, Washington, D.C., July 19, 1932. (Still from Fox Movietone News outtake, Moving Image Research Collections, University of South Carolina). Via MilitaryTimes.com.

Smedley Butler and the Business Plot

Task Force Butler is named after Marine Major General Smedley Butler, who became entangled in a conspiracy known as the “Business Plot” to topple President Franklin D. Roosevelt around 1933. The website quotes Butler’s testimony from a conversation with one of the alleged conspirators, Gerald MacGuire. Butler stated to the Congressional McCormack-Dickstein Committee that he said to MacGuire, “My interest, my one hobby, is maintaining a democracy. If you get these 500,000 soldiers advocating anything smelling of Fascism, I am going to get 500,000 more and lick the hell out of you, and we will have a real war right at home.” (Interestingly this passage comes amid a discussion where the conspirators proposed placing Butler as a ‘secretary general’ after a right-wing coup that would render the presidency a figurehead position.)

A journalist, Paul Comley French, related that MacGuire also told him, “We need a fascist government in this country to save the Nation from the Communists who want to tear it down and wreck all that we have built in America. The only men who have patriotism to do it are the soldiers and Smedley Butler is the ideal leader. He could organize one million men overnight.” Butler instead blew the whistle on the plot and Goldsmith’s organization says this is “the closest historical parallel to what occurred on Jan. 6, 2021.” Butler is portrayed by Robert de Niro in the 2022 feature film “Amsterdam” and a book entitled with Butler’s famous phrase, “Gangsters of Capitalism” by Jonathan M. Katz, was also released last year.

The group is also named after a “Task Force Butler” led by Brigadier General Frederic B. Butler in the phase of World War II immediately after the D-Day Normandy landings. In the “Operation Dragoon” campaign in southern France, the unusual combined-arms task force led a successful push against German military. (More info in a US Army Command and General Staff College thesis.) The Butler group formed the central axis of the August 1944 campaign as charted here.

Operation Dragoon in World War II. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Department of History at the U.S. Military Academy

“I’m having a blast,” Goldsmith told Unicorn Riot. “It’s OK to think antifascism is fun.” Now that he is trying to establish a nonprofit, with a team of around two dozen volunteers, he is “swinging for the fences” and trying to build a viable donor base. This also includes prototyping advanced pattern recognition technology for processing imagery, although he says he is an “analog person” who’s been digging through footage the old-fashioned way.

Goldsmith has stressed the international connection between Thomas Rousseau’s Patriot Front and Robert Rundo, the leader of the violent Rise Above Movement, suspected to reside in Serbia or more recently Bulgaria as a fugitive. Goldsmith’s group has argued that the Rundo-Rousseau operational relationship could open legal vulnerabilities that the Department of Justice could leverage to roll up Patriot Front.

Eugene Antifascists added:

“Over the past 5 years, Thomas Rousseau has shaped this organization into an income earning business. Despite murder, death, and arrests, Rousseau continues to lead Patriot Front further right. Increased focus on physical fitness and collaboration with Robert Rundo’s ‘Active Club Network,’ shows Patriot Front radicalizing further. These groups are training to fight. They want to fight. In fact, they want to kill.”

— Eugene Antifascists

LeftCoastRightWatch explored the links between Rundo, the Rise Above Movement, and its media spinoff called Media2Rise which has assisted Patriot Front, while BellingCat has used open-source investigative methods to trace Rundo’s Serbia activities, more recently into Bulgaria.

Rundo was prosecuted in California for Rise Above Movement activity. A district court initially found prosecutors had overstepped First Amendment speech protections. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found in March 2021 (PDF) that while the Anti-Riot Act may have been overbroad in restricting First Amendment protected incitements to violence, those parts of the law are “severable” and therefore Rundo and three other defendants were still liable.

Cover image courtesy P. Nick Curran on behalf of Task Force Butler. Illustration design by Dan Feidt.

More from Unicorn Riot 🦄