The white nationalist group Patriot Front and its founder, Thomas Rousseau, are facing default in a lawsuit over the vandalism of a majority-Black neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia.
In 2021, members of Patriot Front spray painted over a mural of Black tennis star Arthur Ashe in a Richmond park. Located in a majority-Black neighborhood in Ashe’s hometown, the mural had special significance for the neighborhood. Patriot Front filmed themselves painting their logo over Ashe’s face and a plaque that described him as “the first African-American man inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.” One man on the video can be heard calling Ashe a “fucking n****r.”
The vandalism was an act of intimidation, two Richmond residents who live near the park claimed in a lawsuit filed last year. The plaintiffs, whose names are withheld in the case, accuse Patriot Front of targeting the majority-Black neighborhood, making residents feel unsafe.
And nine months after the suit was filed, Patriot Front and its founder have yet to respond to the case, leading a clerk to enter them as defaulting in the case. An entry of default means that Rousseau and the group have effectively forfeited their ability to fight the case, opening them up to potential damages.
Neither Rousseau nor Patriot Front returned requests for comment. The group has been besieged by recent legal challenges, including the conviction of five members last month for a conspiracy to riot at an LGBTQ pride event in Idaho. Rousseau and 30 other Patriot Front members were arrested in the alleged plot. They are being tried in small batches, with Rousseau due in court next month, The New York Times reported.
Not all of the alleged Patriot Front members in the Richmond case have been entered in default. (One, William Ring, has defaulted but was already in jail, according to court filings.)
Some defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the case, with help from attorney Glen Allen, a former dues-paying member of the neo-Nazi group National Alliance. Allen, who did not return a request for comment, was revealed in 2016 to have paid dues to the (now mostly defunct) fascist group, and bought tickets to the National Alliance’s “Holocaust Revisionist Conference.” He has subsequently worked alongside other racist groups, representing Patriot Front in a different lawsuit in Washington, and acting as a “shadow lawyer” for a racist podcaster, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported.
In a motion to dismiss, filed on behalf of some defendants (but not Rousseau or Patriot Front), lawyers argued that the defacement of the Arthur Ashe mural was understandable given the defacement of statues of Confederate generals.
“The vandalism alleged in the Complaint did not occur in a vacuum. To the contrary, it occurred in a political environment in which statues of Confederate generals such as General Lee were being badly defaced with apparent impunity. One may not approve of General Lee or the cause for which he fought, but it remains true that many citizens admire him and many more strongly disapprove of the defacement of his and other statues of Confederate Generals and political leaders,” the filing reads.
“The issue is obviously one on which emotions run high, and precipitous and poorly thought out actions may occur. In this milieu, the vandalism described in the Complaint can readily be interpreted as an ill-conceived protest against the defacement and removal of Confederate statues, not as an attempt with the conscious and specific objective […] of denying African-American persons, or anyone else, use of the park.”
The group Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is representing the plaintiffs, have argued that the case is an effort to hold Patriot Front accountable for a pattern of intimidation.
“History has shown us that, when left unchecked, hateful activity will grow and escalate. That is clear when looking at the pattern of Patriot Front’s behavior. The group has moved from flyering and stickering on college campuses to outright property destruction, to in-person marches that have resulted in alleged assaults of people of color,” Arusha Gordon, associate director of the James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate said in a statement.
“Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit to hold the Patriot Front accountable for their escalating campaign of vandalism and intimidation and to send a message that hateful activity will not be tolerated.”