A leader of an emerging white-supremacist group is a Marine veteran who uses his military experience to train other extremist recruits in military tactics, leaked messages show.
Erik Sailors is the head of a Texas chapter of Patriot Front, a white-supremacist group that splintered from one of the main groups at the deadly white-power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year. Sailors gives “hip-pocket classes” (short, informal military class) to white nationalists, from the “gear list” of what members should bring to protests (Marine Corps-issued combat boots and decontaminate wipes) to lessons in mixed martial arts and hand-to-hand combat techniques, the leaked messages reveal.
The inner workings of Patriot Front and Sailors’ role were revealed after thousands of chat messages from Discord servers, a popular internet chat platform used by both white supremacists and neo-Nazis, were leaked to Unicorn Riot, a nonprofit media organization.
Sailors was identified the The Intercept's Shaun King in a series of social media posts in May. King and others also flagged photographs from a September 2017 Patriot Front protest outside a Houston community center that was hosting an Anarchist Book Fair.
The photographs do not show Sailors’ face, however, the intricate tattoo work on his right arm is visible. Sailors was also wearing his Marine Corps-issued combat boots during the event.
The Daily Beast compared pictures from the Houston protest to family portraits and other photographs of Sailors at different white-supremacy protests, along with interviewing multiple military and civilian sources that confirmed his identity.
Sailors wrote on Discord that he “hazes” new members of Patriot Front through physical training. Physical fitness is paramount to Sailors, who often gives advice to other Patriot Front members on how to eat or what supplements to take while in the gym in order to prepare for future missions.
“Any operations I plan in the future will involve running. Be prepared,” Sailors wrote in November 2017.
Sailors wrote being physically fit is also a recruiting method to draw women.
“We should look good and be attractive to attract women to the movement, but shouldn’t be specifically targeting them.”
Marine Corps officials said Sailors enlisted in 2011 before transitioning to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) in 2016. Unlike active-duty or reserve forces, most IRR members have been discharged but can be recalled to active duty. While military regulations prohibit personnel from “actively advocating supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes,” it doesn’t apply to the IRR.
Sailors’ veteran status was first reported by The University Star, the college newspaper for Texas State University at San Marcos.
“There is no place for racial hatred or extremism in the Marine Corps. Our strength is derived from the individual excellence of every Marine regardless of background,” said Marine spokesman Maj. Brian Block.
Patriot Front was formed a few months after the 2017 Charlottesville protests by Thomas Ryan Rousseau, 19, who has been monitored by the FBI since May 2017, when he was still a student at Coppell High School in Dallas, according to records obtained by the Texas Observer.
Since Charlottesville, Patriot Front has had physical clashes with protesters in Austin and anti-fascist groups in Houston. Last year, white-nationalist figure Richard Spencer hired Patriot Front for personal security while speaking at the University of Florida.
Rousseau led American Vanguard members during the chaos at the Unite the Right rally, and was ousted from the ranks after internal leadership dissolved into turmoil.
American Vanguard is led by former Marine recruiter, Staff Sgt. Dillon Ulysses Hopper, who rotated out of the military in January 2017. The neo-Nazi group rose to infamy after Army recruit washout James Alex Fields Jr., 20, allegedly rammed a car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, killing Heather Heyer. (American Vanguard denied that Fields was a member of the group, but Fields was seen marching with Vanguard members and displaying its logo.)
“They [Patriot Front] are not neo-Nazis,” Carla Hill, a senior investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) told The Daily Beast. “While you will see an individual or two use neo-Nazis rhetoric, it’s not their primary ideological thrust. Neo-Nazis fundamentally worship Adolf Hitler and ultimately want to change the current governmental structure in place. Patriot Front, on the other hand, wants the current governmental structure to stay intact, but return to the time of the country’s founding, when white dominance was prevalent.”
A little over two weeks after the violent clashes, Patriot Front would form—with Sailors being one of its first members.
Sailors is the latest Marine to be identified and connected to a white-supremacist or neo-Nazi group.
Last month, a joint story by ProPublica and Frontline launched a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation after discovering Marine Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis, 19, participated in the Charlottesville violence. (Two other Marine veterans linked to the Charlottesville protests were arrested for misdemeanors.)
In April, Sgt. Michael Chesny, 35, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist, was drummed out of the Corps after being arrested in North Carolina, along with Marine Staff Sgt. Joseph Manning, 32, at a “Confederate Memorial Day” rally. The two Marines hung a white-nationalist symbol and slogans associated from a downtown building, as The Daily Beast previously reported.
The San Marcos Daily Record provided The Daily Beast with local police reports and criminal-trespass warnings issued to members of Patriot Front.
The reports show police gave Sailors, Paul Gray, a neo-Nazi enthusiast, and Andrew Liebenow criminal-trespass warnings for plastering white-supremacy fliers on Texas State University at San Marcos, where Sailors was a student until spring 2017.
Five other individuals were also given criminal-trespass warnings from Texas State University Police Department. However, they declined to unredact the five individuals who were cited; the community accused the university of protecting white supremacists.
An email obtained by The Daily Beast shows that the FBI in May 2017 was inquiring about the activities of Sailors, Rousseau, and other Patriot Front members at other college campuses in Texas, stemming from the fliers distributed at Texas State University.
The ADL has found that Patriot Front’s influence and propaganda has been found on college campuses in California, Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, Washington state, and South Carolina.
The U.S. military has historically been concerned about gang members and extremists joining their ranks to gain tactical knowledge and increase the lethality of their militant organizations.
A 2008 FBI intelligence assessment found that military experience was evident in the white-supremacy movement (PDF), ranging from “failure at basic training to success in special-operations forces.”
“FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color,” the report said, adding, “FBI cases also document instances of active-duty military personnel having volunteered their professional resources to white-supremacist causes.”
UPDATE 11:34AM: This piece has been updated to reflect Shaun King's identification of Erik Sailors.