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A Party for Grifters

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Proud Boy Richard Schwetz leads the Patriot Party, along with Proud Boys, on a march in Harrisburg, PA.

It’s February 2021, and the MAGA coalition has been shattered. Following the failure of the J6 Capitol rioters to stop the certification of electoral votes, the eclectic alliance of conservatives, evangelicals, conspiracy theorists, and business owners who voted Donald Trump into office suddenly found itself without the enigmatic leader who had brought them all together. The fall of the Trump presidency was unthinkable by his supporters, so much so that they stormed the very halls of American power in order to attempt to bend reality to their view.

Now deplatformed and fully radicalized, tens of millions of Trump supporters wander the internet wastes, looking for a new grift to hitch their wagon to. The American right is in a period of flux, with western chauvinists, Neo-Nazis, QAnon supporters, and run of the mill MAGA conservatives all huddling together in the same Telegram chats as the dust settles. It’s impossible to say what the end result of this atomization will be, or what the next incarnation of American fascism will look like.

What we do know for sure is that we have very little time to react when we do find out - after all, it took less than three years for QAnon to go from a few people following Q drops on 4chan to a dangerous mass delusion, and there is every indication that this cycle will only accelerate. Already, less than a month after the Biden administration took power, a new political entity is beginning to form, a movement that has the capability to swallow up and further radicalize the base of the former MAGA coalition. Conservatives, Evangelicals, Proud Boys, Qanon, and Constitutionalists all gathered together under one big tent once again, this time turning their numbers towards disrupting the very core of the American electoral system. Joined together by their support of Former President Donald Trump and very little else, the new Patriot Party is ascendant among the American right.

The first rumblings of a new political party specifically for Trump supporters came almost immediately after Trump’s November election loss, when hundreds of pages and groups began to appear on Facebook in a decentralized manner. Trump himself apparently considered the idea, though it seems he has been more focused on primarying Republicans who have wronged him as a form of political revenge. His campaign even went so far as to denounce the idea of a Patriot Party. The reasons are obvious - a split among conservative voters would be a death blow to the Republican party, even under the best of circumstances. However Patriot Party chapters have cropped up in all fifty states, sometimes containing hundreds or thousands of members. They come from all across the right-wing spectrum, and from disparate ideological standpoints. The discussions are often bizarre, with genuine calls for grassroots organizing mixed in with rampant COVID denialism, QAnon, and recruiting blitzes from more radical perspectives, including white nationalists and Neo-Nazis. And in Pennsylvania, the Proud Boys are running the show.

RICHARD SCHWETZ

Schwetz at the 2020 Marconi Plaza protests.

Richard Schwetz of Lancaster, PA is the leader of the newly formed Lehigh Valley Proud Boys. He’s also running for office in 2022 under the Patriot Party banner, and is extremely active in the general Patriot Party Telegram chat among its 4,000 members. He runs the Pennsylvania chapter chat as well, with another 300 followers. It was in that chat he announced his run for office back in January under the Patriot Party, though he claims to be running as a Republican to unseat Congressman Dan Meuser. In the Telegram post he writes:

“Please join me, as I will be announcing my candidacy for the 44th congressional seat here in PA, removing RINO Dan Meuser and his CCP dirty money from Congress. You talked a good game, you dressed with a nice tie, but you are as fake and fraudulent as Beijing Pedo Joe and Dominion software...This is how we take our country back. Spread the word. Vote for the candidate who will fight for you both figuratively and literally...Vote Dick 2022...I am Dick Sweats and I approve this mother fucking message.”

Schwetz advertises his candidacy for PA office in a Patriot Party Telegram page.

Schwetz has a long history of fighting his political opponents, figuratively as well as literally. As a member of the Philadelphia Proud Boys, Schwetz took any possible opportunity to throw hands with his perceived enemies. During last year’s summer of BLM protests, Schwetz took part in a series of reactionary rallies centered around Marconi Plaza’s Christoper Columbus statue, where they attacked journalists and slashed their bike tires. Schwetz attended the Million MAGA March in Washington, DC as a member of the Proud Boys, where he was caught on camera attacking a civilian journalist. Schwetz was also present undercover at the September West Philly Against Fascism event, where he threatened to dox protesters via Twitter. On J6, Schwetz attended a Proud Boys event at the Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg, where he lied about Zach Rehl being there.

Schwetz, center in red gloves, attends J6 rally at Harrisburg State Capitol.
Screengrab of video in which Schwetz attacks independent journalists, 2020 Million MAGA March

Also of interest is Schwetz’s claim to be running in Pennsylvania’s 44th Congressional District in order to unseat Republican Congressman Dan Meuser. This is interesting, especially considering that Meuser is the US House Representative for PA's 9th Congressional District - not the 44th. Pennsylvania does not have a 44th District for the US House of Representatives. PA’s 44th Senate District does include Berks County, so that may be what Schwetz is referring to - but it is represented by Katie Muth, a Democrat, who won the seat handily from incumbent John Rafferty in 2018. The Pennsylvania State House also has a 44th Legislative District, although it’s located just south of Pittsburgh and is represented by Republican Valerie Gaydos, who has controlled the seat since 2018.

So its unclear in what capacity Schwetz is running for office - or if he is even actually running for office at all, considering that he is not listed as having submitted the required financial disclosures anywhere, either in the State of Pennsylvania or at the federal level. Of course these disclosures don’t have to be filed until March, and take some time to appear on PA’s public records website, but they have not appeared as of the time of this article’s publishing.

Schwetz certainly isn’t wasting any time selling lots and lots of merchandise for his upcoming candidacy, regardless of whether he's actually running or not. Like many members of the Patriot Party, Schwetz has used the opportunity to print up plenty of merchandise for his fans. The Patriot Party “lion” insignia, a red-and-blue emblazoned lion surrounded by a flowing mane, is one that has been adopted almost to uniformity among Patriot Party channels. The lion was once featured in a Trump campaign ad, and is almost certainly inspired by the white supremacist organization VDARE. Schwetz puts his own spin on it by introducing an alternate in black and yellow - the uniform colors of the Proud Boys.

Schwetz's Patriot Party merchandise includes a Proud Boys color scheme.

This has been Schwetz’s main influence on the Patriot Party of PA - the laundering of his personal ideological reputation into something more mainstream and marketable, a political party to wrap around his activities that bends the lines of reality between his street-brawling Proud Boy buddies and his political and financial goals. Uniformed Proud Boys marched with Schwetz at his Harrisburg campaign announcement, as Schwetz recorded for his Telegram audience claiming that their cars had been targeted and spray painted by “antifa”.

“And we got our Boys here,” Schwetz says, panning over two men wearing the yellow-and-gold lion. “This was not a Proud Boys event in any aspect, no one was flying any colors, everybody was “Patriot”, but this is what happens you guys.”

Screengrab of Telegram video in which Schwetz identifies Proud Boys wearing his alternate colored merchandise.
Two unmasked men wear Schwetz's Patriot Party merchandise in Proud Boy colors.

DAVE THE PATRIOT

A highlight of the different factions operating within the Patriot Party, Facebook influencer Dave Stukowski and his audience operate as near ideological opposites to Schwetz's wing of the party, existing simultaneously on different social media platforms without even knowing of each other's existence. A devout QAnon follower and J6 riot attendee, Stukowski has amassed a significant Facebook following under his moniker “Dave the Patriot”.

Dave Stukowski poses outside the Washington Monument on J6.
Facebook photo in which Stukowski can be seen wearing a "#SaveOurChildren" shirt, a movement purposefully divested from but undoubetdly connected with QAnon beliefs.

Stukowski seems especially proud of his visit to the Capitol on January 6, refusing to remove the photos from his page like many other riot attendees. Although there is no evidence of Stukowski participating in the riot or breaching the Capitol, many of his followers eagerly report having attended or engaged in the violence in the comments of his Facebook posts.

Stukowski posts constantly, anything from election disinformation to COVID denialism to rampant transphobia. His page is also replete with Patriot Party content, and he served as an admin for several Patriot Party groups that were quickly blocked on Facebook. Still, this has not dissuaded Dave from continuing to explore a run for political office - and from selling huge amounts of Patriot Party t-shirts in various styles.

Wearing Trump hat and pins, Stukowski announces his intention to run for office.
Stukowski is among several Patriot Party members who are selling merchandise, including t-shirts printed with the VDARE lion.

Stukowski represents the ideological outskirts of the Patriot Party movement, disparate from Schwetz and the Proud Boys or even more well-known local candidates like Steve Lynch. Stukowski’s particular brand of QAnon was bred and radicalized on Facebook, and his following’s existence is proof that Facebook’s extremist purges were far from adequate. Members of Stukowski’s following regularly call for civil war and violence against Democratic leaders and spread disinformation across a web of toxic Facebook groups, of which Stukowski is just a small part.

Just like Schwetz, Stukowski uses the Patriot Party branding to attract more conservative members of the disparate MAGA coalition, identifying himself and his page as supporters of Donald Trump and remaining vague as to their other beliefs, often omitting their inherent ideological endpoint - political violence against Democratic lawmakers and their supporters.

The Patriot Party is still in the process of being born, and as such is at its most vulnerable. It may not even survive the great conservative restructuring that is occurring in the darkest corners of the internet as we speak. Dozens of ideological viewpoints are battling for control of the remains of the MAGA coalition, attempting to determine the future of the mass of people who swallowed Trump’s “Big Lie” hook, line and sinker. Grifters, opportunists, right-wing extremists, and useful idiots abound. They may decide, through the democratic insanity of the internet, that the Patriot Party platform is insufficiently radical - a political solution for a problem that no longer has a political answer. That mindset is certainly prevalent among the more radicalized tendencies of the internet.

On the other hand, they have momentum going for them, with candidates rushing up to primary Republicans all across the board. They also maintain a big tent, with all the disparate MAGA ideologies welcome in one chapter or another. And they maintain the most powerful advantage of all - the seeming endorsement of Donald Trump, who has apparently often mused on forming a political party of his own to challenge the Republican party. Donald Trump and his stolen election are the only thing holding these disparate right-wing groups together as they attempt to determine their own destiny in the wake of the 2020 election. It’s only a matter of time before someone appears at the top of the pile to lead what’s left of the coalition into the future. The Patriot Party may be a part of it, or it may not. But we won’t have to wait long to find out.

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