The biggest lesson from Philadelphia’s rout of Patriot Front white supremacists

In what seemed like an instant, dozens of masked men streamed across Market Street in Philadelphia, waving flags and screaming the slogan “Reclaim America.”

The fascist group Patriot Front staged a “flash mob” style march on July 3, just like they had in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 5; in Washington, D.C., following the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6; and last November across the state in Pittsburgh. These sudden marches are a well-worn alt-right strategy: By showing up suddenly, and without warning, they give any opposition little time to assemble a counteroffensive.

“They had a bunch of smoke bombs,” said Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, who stopped to document the march as it passed the Holocaust memorial on Ben Franklin Parkway. Amid the smoke, Muhammad said he saw Patriot Front members hitting people. “When they started hitting this person, and I saw what they were doing under the cover of invisibility, I had to engage. Because I didn’t know if they would fatally harm this person.”

Other people from the community heard about the mob’s presence, too, and started streaming in, forcing Patriot Front to fight its way out and eventually retreat in the Penske trucks they had arrived in. Police briefly detained the group but let them go.

The flash mob was a remarkable visual, if not a particularly surprising one given the past five years of racist violence in the U.S. The speed with which the community understood the threat and responded does highlight, at least anecdotally, a shift in collective awareness toward the threat of white nationalist violence.

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