Dozens of people showed up at the Indiana State House in Indianapolis on March 25, 2017, to support President Trump and his administration at a “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) rally, one of a number of such events held around the country that weekend. Waving Trump signs and American flags, many participants were everyday Americans excited about their president.
But about a dozen of the ralliers—a significant portion of the whole—were a little different. They had American flags, but also carried strange shields. Many wore t-shirts that read “American Guard” or “Vinlanders.” A few had somewhat sinister appearances, such as the marcher who wore “Vinlanders” sunglasses and sported a “RAHOWA” (“Racial Holy War”) tattoo on the side of his head.
These marchers were actually members and associates of a group called the American Guard and were there, they later stated, to provide “security” for the march against the threat of left-wing protesters.
The American Guard formed in Indiana in 2016 and officially went “national” in February 2017 with the stated goal of “voluntary community protection, activism, and service based around the ideals of American Constitutional Nationalism and the preservation of western culture.” The group would, it claimed, “encourage Americans of any race, class or faith to participate with us in these beliefs.”
Even a cursory examination of the American Guard, however, suggests that its deliberately innocuous self-description may not be accurate. The group’s logo, for example, prominently displays two crossed meat-cleavers, while members frequently use images of actor Daniel Day Lewis in his role as “Bill the Butcher” in the movie The Gangs of New York. “Bill the Butcher” was a fictionalized version of William Pool, the leader of the Bowery Boys, a violent street gang in New York City infamous for its attacks on immigrants.
And, like the Bowery Boys whom they apparently admire, the American Guard has a background with connections to anti-immigrant extremism, hatred, and violence.
Indeed, before the American Guard was the American Guard, it was actually the Indiana chapter of a group called the Soldiers of Odin USA, a branch of an extreme anti-immigrant and anti-refugee group that originated in Finland in 2015 and has spread to many other countries. The Soldiers of Odin conduct vigilante patrols to “protect” citizens from the ostensible depredations of refugees; the Indiana Soldiers of Odin conducted several such patrols in 2016. As a recent ADL report has shown, many Soldiers of Odin USA members are white supremacists or anti-government extremists.
The man who started the Indiana Soldiers of Odin, and who later converted it into the American Guard, is Brien James, a long-time Indiana white supremacist who was one of the founders of the Vinlanders Social Club (VSC), a hardcore racist skinhead gang that has had a high association with violence. In fact, members or associates of VSC have been responsible for at least nine murders, as well as many other crimes. Another VSC founder, Adrian Apodaca, was recently arrested in Florida on federal drug, robbery and weapons charges, as well as charges related to an alleged murder-for-hire plot.
Brien James can be seen below, at the MAGA march and posing with other Vinlanders in a March 2017 Facebook image:
A number of Vinlanders took part in the Indianapolis rally, some of whom posed for photographs among other unwitting marchers while flashing the Vinlanders hand sign:
Vinlander probate member Johnny Messer of Indianapolis can be seen below at the MAGA march, at the march flashing the Vinlanders hand sign, and in a Facebook image wearing a Vinlanders probate patch.
Micky McGinley of Indianapolis, a patched VSC member, can be seen at the MAGA march using the Vinlanders hand sign, posing with Vinlander leader Brien James, and wearing a VSC jacket.
Below one can see Vinlander probate member Patrick Westfall at the MAGA march, posing with other march participants, and in a Facebook image wearing a Vinlander probate shirt.
The white supremacist connections of the American Guard extend beyond the Vinlanders. The head of its Illinois chapter, Joshua Long, is a former member of The Hated, a racist skinhead group, and has attended events hosted by the Illinois-based Aryan Nation Sadistic Souls.
Long can be seen below at the MAGA march and wearing a shirt for The Hated.
Racist skinhead Jeremy Bowman of Columbus, Indiana, was previously a patched member of American Front, a racist skinhead crew, and has since associated with a number of different white supremacist groups. Most recently he started a white supremacist motorcycle gang dubbed Dirty White Boyz. Below he can be seen at the MAGA march and in a photo with the late American Front leader, David Lynch. Additionally, there is a Facebook page of his Dirty White Boyz colors. The 9% depicted on the colors is a numeric white supremacist symbol that refers to the percentage of the world's population that is purportedly white.
White supremacist Seth Peters of Norway, Illinois, is member of American Guard Illinois and a former member of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (TAK). Below he can be seen at the MAGA march, posing with other American Guard members in a Facebook image, and participating in a cross burning ceremony with the recently murdered TAK leader, Frank Ancona.
Other American Guard members and associates have present or past connections to such white supremacist groups as the Hammerskins, Aryan Nations, the Traditionalist Workers Party and the Atlantic City Skinheads. Some members also have aligned themselves with anti-government groups or movements, such as the Three Percenter wing of the militia movement.
The American Guard currently has members in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and New Hampshire, and claims chapters in Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, and Tennessee as well.
A number of white supremacists energetically tried to exploit the Trump presidential campaign for their own purposes; the American Guard is an example of extremists similarly trying to take advantage of his presidency and his network of supporters to advance their own agendas. It won’t be the last.