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Monday, February 26, 2024
Feb. 26, 2024

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Far-right Patriot Front members sue Seattle activist for leaking their identities

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SEATTLE — Five people affiliated with the far-right white nationalist group Patriot Front are suing a Seattle-area man who allegedly infiltrated the organization and splashed their identities online, leading them to lose their jobs and face harassment.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington, spotlights the tit-for-tat tactics the far right and far left have engaged in against each other for years — laying bare online each other’s identities and private details of their lives.

The suit accuses David Alan Capito, 37, also known as Vyacheslav Arkhangelskiy, of using a false name in late July 2021 to convince Patriot Front to accept him as a member.

Once inside the group, Capito took pictures at its get-togethers in the Pacific Northwest, surreptitiously recorded members’ license plates, and used hidden microphones to record conversations, according to the lawsuit.

Capito could not be reached for comment and did not respond to messages sent to a phone number and email address listed on a now-defunct Washington nonprofit organization he registered.

Around November 2021, the lawsuit alleges, Capito also got in touch with a group of “anarchist hackers” known for targeting right-wing groups, who helped him access Patriot Front’s online chats.

The resulting trove of leaks published online exposed the names, occupations and other information about members of Patriot Front, which had sought to hide their involvement in the group.

“At a deeper level, this complaint seeks to vindicate the rule of law and basic principles of free expression for persons who espouse unpopular opinions,” the lawsuit states.

The Patriot Front suit pulls no punches about the group’s racist ideology in describing its collective objective: “reforge … our people, born to this nation of our European race … as a new collective capable of asserting our right to cultural independence.” It describes the group’s actions as “provocative” but “nonviolent.”

As a result of the “doxing” — the spilling of private information on the internet — the five plaintiffs say they were fired from their jobs, have been threatened at their homes, and had their tires slashed, among other consequences, the lawsuit says.

They include three with Washington ties: Colton Brown, 33, who lived near Maple Valley and led the state’s Patriot Front chapter; James Julius Johnson, 37, from Concrete, Skagit County; and his wife, Amelia Johnson, 31.

Brown and James Julius Johnson were among the 31 Patriot Front members arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, last June and charged with planning to riot at a Pride event. Johnson and four other men were convicted of misdemeanor conspiracy to riot and sentenced last month to a week in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The other two plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit are Paul Gancarz of Virginia and Daniel Turetchi of Pennsylvania.

Lost jobs

Brown, the Washington Patriot Front leader, had been living at his parents’ home and working as an electrician’s assistant, earning about $50,000 a year. After photographs of his parent’s property were posted, Brown lost his job “and became estranged from his father, who required him to leave the Brown residence,” the lawsuit states. He has since moved to Utah and struggled to find work.

Before his public exposure, James Johnson was a union HVAC technician earning about $80,000 a year plus benefits. His wife, Amelia Johnson, also was fired from a $60,000-a-year job, the lawsuit claims.

Gancarz, who reportedly led the Patriot Front network in the Washington, D.C., area, lost his civil engineering job, and Turetchi, a real estate agent, was fired.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified economic and punitive damages from Capito and an order barring him from further using the Patriot Front members’ personal information.

Capito’s actions “would be highly offensive to any reasonable person who held unusual or unpopular opinions,” the lawsuit complaint states, contending that the group’s ideals have been “often misinterpreted or distorted by the general public and mainstream media …”

Capito, who legally changed his name twice, including to Vyacheslav Arkhangelskiy, in March 2022, is described in the lawsuit as a member of the far-left militant group the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club, with the complaint citing media accounts in which he was quoted under a pseudonym.

In one, he was wearing around his neck a bullet that had belonged to Willem van Spronsen, a self-described antifa activist from Vashon Island who was fatally shot by police in 2019 after trying to firebomb a federal immigration detention center in Tacoma.

Shannon McMinimee, an attorney for the gun club, said in an email Capito had been a member, “but not for some time.”

The John Brown Gun Club, named after the 19th century slavery abolitionist, promotes the abolition of police and other perceived symbols of oppression, according to the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project, which tracks extremism on the far right and far left. The gun club’s members have been seen acting as armed security at protests, including at Seattle’s 2020 Capitol Hill Organized Protest.

The federal complaint on behalf of the Patriot Front plaintiffs was filed by Christopher Hogue, a Spokane attorney, and Glen Allen, an attorney from Baltimore, Md. Hogue did not respond to a request for comment and Allen declined to be interviewed. “To be candid with you, unfortunate experience has taught me to be wary of talking to journalists. My clients feel the same way,” he wrote in an email to The Seattle Times.

Allen in 2016 was fired as a contract lawyer by the city of Baltimore after the Southern Poverty Law Center, writing on its “Hatewatch” blog, reported that he had been a dues-paying member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group that called for the eradication of Jews and other races and the establishment of an all-white homeland.

Allen told The Baltimore Sun newspaper at the time that the blog had exaggerated his connection to the group, saying he’d “disagreed with them on several things” and had “stopped giving them money.”

He later sued the SPLC for defamation, but the case was dismissed by a federal judge.

Since then, Allen has founded a nonprofit, the Free Expression Foundation, which says it is fighting an “identity crisis” in “Western Culture.” The group describes itself as providing “moral, legal and financial support” to people who have been harmed by “arrogant and overreaching thought police.”

In his email to The Seattle Times, Allen said the nonprofit will subsidize the Patriot Front lawsuit and that he would likely be lead counsel in the case.

Dueling doxing

Patriot Front sprouted from Vanguard America, “a white nationalist, neo-Nazi group opposed to the idea of a multicultural America,” according to the Counter Extremism Project.

In the Pacific Northwest, the group has defaced civil rights and Pride murals, monuments and signs that promote equality, a tactic it employs nationally, according to the Counter Extremism Project.

The arrests in Idaho, which featured public mug shots and criminal charges, were a setback for Patriot Front, whose members wear masks and adopt online pseudonyms to disguise their identities.

“I think what’s happening is their activities are catching up to them in terms of legal consequences for what they are doing, which was not the case a few years ago. It’s becoming more of an issue for them,” said Stephen Piggott, an analyst with the Western States Center, which tracks right-wing extremist groups.

However, Piggott cautioned that the arrests haven’t slowed down Patriot Front’s continued activities, including showing up to protest and march at Pride events across the country.

Piggott said the group has morphed tactics in recent years, moving from defacing murals and placing stickers in the middle of the night to more confrontational public flash demonstrations. “You have this uptick in activity and the activity is getting more and more violent,” he said.

Both the extreme right and the extreme left in the Pacific Northwest have weaponized online exposure against their ideological foes.

Antifawatch.net, a right-wing site, calls Capito by his most recent legal name, Vyacheslav Arkhangelskiy, and calls him “a politically motivated extremist in Seattle, Washington … involved with an armed leftist militia with connections to domestic terrorism, resulting in death.”

He is one of eight people the right-wing site accused of being members of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club. And while the information posted about Capito, besides a photograph of him marching during a protest, is rather thin, the website delves deeply into the personal and professional lives of some of the people it profiles.

In December 2021, the left-wing website wanaziwatch.com spotlighted purported members of Patriot Front and their activities by burrowing into their lives, homes and gatherings, complete with photos. It appears to feature the information Patriot Front members claim in their lawsuit that Capito gathered while he infiltrated the group.

A lengthy post featuring James and Amelia Johnson on wanaziwatch.com included photos from inside their apartment where what appears to be a 3-D printed gun is visible. The website claims western Washington’s Patriot Front members have run afoul of the national organization’s prohibitions against carrying firearms during activities and talking too openly about guns — rules designed to safeguard the organization against infiltrators.

In the leaked chats of Patriot Front members — apparently the fruits of Capito’s spy mission — Brown was seen admitting the extent of the group’s exposure, according to screenshots posted by Unicorn Riot, an independent media organization.

“I just had the worst infiltrator the org has ever seen,” Brown wrote.

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