WEATHERFORD, Texas — On Sunday, three men were apprehended after plastering stickers all over Parker County signs and property, the courthouse lawn, and around Heritage Park. The charge was criminal mischief.
The suspects, Cameron Kathan Pruitt, 21, from Midway Utah; Thomas Ryan Rousseau, 21, from Grapevine; and Graham Jones Whitson, 29, from Grapevine, all admitted their guilt to sheriff’s deputies, according to an affidavit.
A local news outlet and several social media accounts that cover current events in Weatherford reported that the three men were ANTIFA agents, who were plastering stickers promoting the loosely affiliated radical left-wing group all over town. Later, rumors swirled on social media that the three vandals were actually white nationalists posing as ANTIFA agents in order to spread false information, stir descent, and create chaos.
The truth, as is often the case, is somewhere in the middle. The stickers were propaganda tools for the white supremacist group Patriot Front. Rousseau is the founder of the group, which formed in 2017 after it split from Vanguard America. According to the Anti-Defamation League, members of Patriot Front “maintain that their ancestors conquered America and bequeathed it solely to them.” The group also espouses racism and anti-Semitism in the service of racial purity.
Weatherford has become a powder-keg of racial tension in the wake of a protest two weeks ago. The Parker County Progressives organized a peaceful demonstration against a Confederate statue that sits on the Parker County courthouse lawn.
When out-of-town grassroots groups joined the protest, local right-wing chats and social media accounts circulated rumors that national operatives from ANTIFA and Black Lives Matter were coming to Weatherford to incite violence and topple the 100-year-old monument. The far-right groups invited other Texas militias to go to Parker County and defend the statue. Many answered the call.
On the day of the event, protesters were greeted by hundreds of counter-protesters and militiamen, many of whom were armed, and some were flying Confederate and Nazi flags. A sniper’s nest was set up in the town square, and other men pointed assault rifles at the Progressive’s group. The police chief and sheriff guaranteed the protesters’ safety before the event, but the law enforcement's presence during the demonstration was minimal. At one point, sheriff’s deputies locked themselves inside the courthouse. The few officers on site watched as protesters were harassed, threatened, punched, spat on, and more.
The protest’s main organizer, Tony Crawford, said Weatherford’s current climate of intolerance has made it rife for hate groups to come and create chaos. The attitudes of locals shifted once they found out that it was not ANTIFA who was canvassing the town square with stickers, he said.
“If ANTIFA would have come to town, that would have been blamed on me,” he said. “If anything happens to that statue, I get blamed because the Progressives in Parker County group started this." When white supremacists come to town to stir up trouble, locals believe, "They’re doing it in defense of the country,” he continued.
Carla Hill, a research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Extremism, has written extensively about Patriot Front and its founder Ryan Rousseau. She said the stickers in question, which the sheriff’s affidavit described as reading, “Reject Poison,” are consistent with the Patriot Front’s anti-drug propaganda.
Based on past behavior, she speculated that Patriot Front was in Weatherford to “troll” protesters, recruit, and brag about being at or around a racially charged event, like the protest two weeks ago.
“Some of what we see white supremacists do, and we’ve certainly seen them do this in front of or ahead of BLM protests, it’s like ‘we were there,’ ” she said. “A big part of this activity is to photograph yourself [somewhere significant] and then post it online. That really has a lot more legs than the actual activity. Then it starts to cycle through various social media platforms as a brag.”
The hate group’s messaging, she continued, started out very anti-Semitic and problematic, but has since shifted to a more twisted brand of patriotism.
“They revamped their messaging, and now it’s all red, white, and blue,” she said. “But they’ll use the propaganda to target a news outlet, a Jewish institution, or an African American school or statue. While the messages aren’t as bad, they use it to target and recruit.”
In an interview with a sherif’s deputy, Ryan Rousseau denied that he was a part of the group he founded. Rousseau “claimed he was promoting the group on the stickers but was not part of it,” county records state.
As of today, the statue at the center of the controversy will stay on the courthouse lawn. After the protest two weeks ago, a county judge said the monument would be removed, but its owner, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, would have to foot the bill. Just a few days later, the Parker County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to keep it.
Crawford said the commissioners’ vote was an endorsement of the hate and violence he faced two weeks ago. He’s not surprised white supremacists see Weatherford as a destination.
“For better or worse, what happened on that Saturday has made this a hot spot,” he said. “The fact that the [local] government literally rewarded them for their behavior makes [racists] think they have a haven here.”
Parker wouldn’t comment on the record about any plans for future protests. He said the appearance of white supremacists and the harassment he’s endured since the protest two weeks ago had strengthened his resolve.
“This is not just about a statue anymore in Weatherford,” he said. “This is about giving a voice to the people out there who don’t have one.”