How successful would pro-Trump Patriot Party be in US?

A new study reveals a pro-Trump movement is taking root online

Former US president Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, November 26, 2020. AFP
Former US president Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, November 26, 2020. AFP

Former president Donald Trump’s supporters have gathered by the thousands across the internet to call for the formation of a new political party named the Patriot Party.

Since Mr Trump left office last month, online groups and pages with variations on the Patriot Party name have sprung up around Facebook.

A recent study by Tech Transparency Project, an organisation dedicated to holding large tech companies accountable, said more than 50 Facebook groups and 85 pages are associated with the movement.

The Patriot Party movement appears to be decentralised but is growing quickly. The study said some groups gained thousands of followers in mere days.

“As with other kinds of online extremism, Facebook’s algorithms have helped to drive the growth of the Patriot Party movement by recommending content to users through its Related Pages feature,” the study said.

Many of the pages use images and symbols linked to white nationalism and are probably the evolution of white supremacist groups such as the Boogaloo Bois and others, experts say.

Over the past few months, hundreds of online groups with links to far-right and white supremacist ideology have been shut down by social media platforms.

But most of the Patriot Party groups have yet to be removed.

“I think they’re the ‘what’s next’,” Katie Paul, the director of Tech Transparency Project, told The National.

“These groups have continued to congeal together on Facebook, particularly as they find common interest in this desire to overthrow the government.”

Ms Paul worries that if these groups are allowed to go unchecked, it could lead to more domestic extremism in the US.

“The militant element and the misinformation is really a dangerous cocktail and I think it could lead to more examples like what we saw on January 6,” she said.

She was referring to the day supporters of Mr Trump stormed the US Capitol. Five people, including a US Capitol Police officer, died during the riot.

What effect would a Patriot Party have on the political landscape?

The online Patriot movement has begun to have real-world manifestations.

On January 25, it filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to create the Maga [Make America Great Again] Patriot Party.

“What we’re looking at is a split within the Republican Party and, in this case, it is the very conservative right wing of the Republican Party,” said Brian Smith, a professor of political science at St Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

While the movement has flourished online, it is unclear what traction it would be able to gain in terms of real political influence.

“Because it’s decentralised, we really don’t know who’s in charge, what their issues are, if it’s a real party, whether or not they’re going to run candidates or whether they are just making noise,” Mr Smith said.

While historically there have been a few examples of third parties influencing election results, most recently in 2000 and 2004 with the Green Party taking votes from the Democrats, the US political system tends to prevent third parties from becoming serious

contenders.

“The thing about the political system in the United States is single member districts like we have for Congress, the electoral college, means that if you’re not one of the top two parties, your chances of winning are very limited,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Trump, who has considered forming his own party, has already distanced himself from the Maga Patriot Party and other groups claiming to have his support.

A representative of the former president told Axios that Mr Trump did not support these groups.

“We are not supportive of this effort, have nothing to do with it, and only know about it through public reporting."

Mr Smith believes Mr Trump knows better than to join forces with a third party.

“Donald Trump’s a smart politician," he said. "He knows third parties do not win in the United States and they’re more of an anchor than an elevator.”

But the movement does pose a threat to the Republican Party. The 2020 election and the events that followed revealed a deep rift within the organisation.

As the party begins without Mr Trump, it will have to balance the needs of all of its members and win new ones.

“This is the problem for the Republican Party," Mr Smith said. "If they’re going to win elections, they can’t rely on conservative voters. There’s not enough out there.

"They have to be able to get conservative voters but also independent voters and people more to the centre."

The Patriot Party may never emerge as a viable political group but it could be a thorn in the Republicans' side for years to come.

Updated: February 3, 2021 12:42 AM

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