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Documenting Hate: New American Nazis

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POLICE RADIO:

We’re under fire. We’re under fire. He’s got an automatic weapon. He’s firing out in front of the synagogue.

A.C. THOMPSON, ProPublica/FRONTLINE:

[voice-over] Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 27, 2018.

POLICE RADIO:

34-10. Please send the medics up here!

I got one alive.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Robert Bowers storms into the Tree of Life synagogue with an AR-15 and allegedly kills 11 Jewish worshippers.

POLICE RADIO:

7-1. Suspects talking about: “All these Jews need to die.”

POLICE SPOKESPERSON:

We have multiple casualties inside the synagogue. We have three officers who have been shot.

BOB JONES, FBI Special Agent in Charge:

Members of the Tree of Life synagogue, conducting a peaceful service in their place of worship, were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Another act of terror in America. The country again left to ask: Where does this hate come from? Could it have been prevented?

NEWS REPORT:

It’s just been 24 hours since Robert Bowers stormed into this synagogue and said, “I just want to kill Jews.”

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Over the past few years, I’ve been reporting on a resurgent white supremacist movement. I’ve seen its ideas migrate into the mainstream. I’ve seen violence in cities across the country. And now this: the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history. I fear there will be more to come.

WHITE SUPREMACISTS:

Blood and soil! Blood and soil! Blood and soil! Blood and soil!

NEWS REPORT:

Today’s “alt-right” Unite the Right rally’s expected to draw over 6,000.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] A year ago, the white supremacist movement shocked the nation with a show of force in Charlottesville, Virginia.

WHITE SUPREMACISTS:

You will not replace us! You will not replace us!

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] They spilled blood in the streets, militant and unafraid.

NEWS REPORT:

Panic and horror in Charlottesville. A car slams into a crowd of counterprotesters.

NEWS REPORT:

…when a driver plowed into the crowd, killing a young woman and injuring 19.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] White supremacists killed one protester and injured dozens of others.

After Charlottesville, I identified some of the groups behind the violence. With a team of reporters, I exposed a neo-Nazi fight club called the Rise Above Movement, or RAM. They were involved in melees in four different cities. Following our investigation, eight members or associates of RAM are now facing federal charges. But the most extreme organization I’ve been looking at is called the Atomwaffen Division.

Atomwaffen video

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Atomwaffen means atomic weapons in German. The group embraces Nazi ideology and preaches a hatred of minorities, gays and Jews. It calls for lone-wolf acts of violence, much like the massacre in Pittsburgh.

For months, my colleagues and I have been talking to a former Atomwaffen member who asks us to call him “John” and disguise his voice. He says the group’s ranks swelled after Charlottesville.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So after Charlottesville, people start coming into the group.

JOHN:

[subtitles] C-ville had a huge part in that, of the influx, applying in, asking in because they're like, “Oh, C-ville, wow, this didn't work. Huge rallies don't work.” All that happens is people get arrested, people lose jobs, and you get put on some FBI watch list.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And so if protests don’t work, what is the answer?

JOHN:

[subtitles] The answer Atomwaffen embraced is to go underground.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] John tells me that Atomwaffen’s ideology draws from the writings of an obscure neo-Nazi named James Mason, who published a newsletter in the 1980s called “Siege.”

JOHN:

[subtitles] James Mason talks about terrorism. There's a huge passage in “Siege” about terrorism – dropping out of the system so that you can conduct lone-wolf activity. The group followed James Mason’s “Siege” like a bible. It was like a bible to them. It’s the handbook on how to operate.

Atomwaffen video

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Atomwaffen has made “Siege” required reading for all of its members.

To them, Mason is the latest in a long line of Nazi leaders, inheriting the role from American Nazi Party founder, George Lincoln Rockwell, who in turn took his inspiration from Adolf Hitler himself.

I learn that Mason’s writings are kept at the University of Kansas.

REBECCA SCHULTE, Curator, University of Kansas Spencer Research Library:

The bulk of the collection came to us in the early 2000s.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Rebecca Schulte is the curator of the Wilcox Collection, an archive of contemporary political movements.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Is this the only collection of his work?

REBECCA SCHULTE:

Yes, this is his archive. We are the only ones that have them.

[reading from letter] “Enclosed with this letter is a sample copy of “Siege,” the newsletter of the National Socialist Liberation Front.”

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Mason’s archive is highly disturbing. His writing lays out an apocalyptic neo-Nazi vision. He says the white race in America is under siege by people of color and undermined by Jews in positions of power.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[reading from document] “We do not wish for law and order, for law and order means the continued existence of this rotten rip-off capitalist Jew system. We wish for anarchy and chaos, which will enable us to attack the system while her big brother pigs are trying to keep the pieces from falling apart.”

REBECCA SCHULTE:

And this is a paste-up, you know.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Yeah.

REBECCA SCHULTE:

See that?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Mason advocated attacks on institutions like Hollywood, media and the courts. Notorious killer Charles Manson is one of Mason’s heroes, and the two had a long correspondence.

REBECCA SCHULTE:

So this is an object that Charlie Manson knitted in prison and gave to James Mason.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So it’s some kind of ornament or…

REBECCA SCHULTE

Yes. I…

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] …some kind of artwork.

REBECCA SCHULTE

…kind of knitting. Yeah. I, I don’t know exactly. It looks like they corresponded a lot.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Yeah. Over… Looks like a, over a long period of time. Like ’81 to ’90s.

REBECCA SCHULTE

Right. We've had the collection described online for many years and we haven't seen a lot of action.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Right.

REBECCA SCHULTE

But in the last few years, there have been more people coming to use the collection. So that's always an indicator that there's something happening out there, there's an interest. We don't always know what it is.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So people are starting to look at his, at his writings again.

REBECCA SCHULTE

Mm-hmm, they are.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] That’s very interesting. We're not the first people to come visit you.

REBECCA SCHULTE:

No, you're not.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Back in New York, our Atomwaffen source, John, agreed to talk over video chat with me and my colleague, Ali Winston.

JOHN:

[subtitles] So Atomwaffen Division, it’s a Nazi extremist group seeking to spread terror. The main thing is lone-wolf activity

A.C. THOMPSON, ProPublica/FRONTLINE:

[on camera] When you say “lone-wolf attacks,” it sounds to me like you're talking about basically terrorist acts?

JOHN:

[subtitles] Yeah. They don't see themselves as terrorists. Rather they see the United States as the ultimate terrorist. Like what Adolf Hitler said: “How do you meet terrorism? You meet it with stronger terrorism.” Atomwaffen is made up of about 60 guys. And then you have what is called initiates, that guys were in the process of becoming members. And in order to become a member, you have to prove yourself.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So how many initiates would you say that there are?

ALI WINSTON, ProPublica reporter:

Or were?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Or were?

JOHN:

[subtitles] When I left, there was more initiates than there were members, if that tells you anything.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Wow!

JOHN:

[subtitles] All it takes is one guy to just snap and to do something like this. That’s what Dylann Roof said. “I'm tired of seeing nothing done in the white nationalist community so I'm going to take a stand and I'm going to go into church and I'm going to kill these black people because no one else is doing anything.” Who knows? There could be another Dylann Roof in Atomwaffen.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] John tells me that if I want to investigate the group, I need to start where it began – in Tampa, Florida.

Atomwaffen was founded in 2015, by Brandon Russell a National Guardsman in his early 20s.

He moved into this apartment complex with three other members of the group. One of them, an 18-year-old high school dropout named Devon Arthurs, would bring Atomwaffen to the attention of the authorities.

NEWS REPORT:

Friday night, Tampa police arrested 18-year-old Devon Arthurs. He confessed to killing his roommates – 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk.

NEWS REPORT:

Arthurs told cops a fourth roommate, Brandon Russell, participates in neo-Nazi chat rooms.

NEWS REPORT:

The common thread that connected all four roommates was neo-Nazi beliefs.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Why had Arthurs apparently shot two of his roommates? His father agreed to talk to me about what happened that day.

ALAN ARTHURS, Devon Arthurs’ father:

I was working in my office and cellphone went off and it was Devon. And he said, “Dad, I'm sorry. I've really messed up. I've really messed up.” I said, “What's, what’s the matter, buddy? What's going on?” “The two guys, the two that were staying or whatever, they’re, they're dead. I, I shot them. I… They, they upset me and I shot them.” I tried to hold it together and I said, “Put the gun down or any weapon down, and go turn yourself in right now. Right now.” All I was hearing, “I'm sorry. I'm sorry, dad. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.” I said, “Just turn yourself in.”

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Alan Arthurs says Devon began gravitating to neo-Nazi ideas when he was 13 or 14 years old.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So is this junior ROTC? What is, what is…

ALAN ARTHURS:

Yeah, that's, that’s ROTC in high school.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] He was really interested in the military.

ALAN ARTHURS:

That's what he said.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] What do you, what do you think he was really interested in?

ALAN ARTHURS:

There were, there were two other brothers and another member of that ROTC that were obviously into the neo-Nazi stuff.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So you think he was joining the ROTC group because there were other kids that were into Nazism in the group?

ALAN ARTHURS:

Yes. Yes. Definitely. And he had gone to Tampa…

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Arthurs says his relationship with his son became increasingly strained.

ALAN ARTHURS:

By that time we weren’t talking and I didn’t even, you know…

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Devon ended up dropping out of high school. He eventually moved into the Tampa apartment with Russell and the other Atomwaffen members.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Did you ever talk to Devon since the incident?

ALAN ARTHURS:

He said that he would not… When he, when he figured out what Brandon was going to do, he couldn't live with himself. That's all he's ever said to me.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Tampa Police refused to talk to us about the case. But I obtained video of Devon Arthurs’ police interview. Over and over, he tells detectives about Atomwaffen.

DEVON ARTHURS:

[subtitles] Atomwaffen Division is a, is a terrorist organization. It's a neo-Nazi organization that I was a part of. But the things that they were planning were horrible. They were planning bombings and stuff like that on, on countless people. They were planning to kill civilian life.

POLICE INTERROGATOR:

[subtitle] Well, did they, were they specific in their plans?

DEVON ARTHURS:

[subtitle] Power lines, nuclear reactors, synagogues.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Inside the Atomwaffen apartment, police discovered Nazi paraphernalia, guns, radioactive material and handmade explosives. On a dresser was a framed photograph of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

NEWS REPORT:

Holy cow! About a third of the building has been blown away!

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] On April 19th, 1995, Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Oklahoma City federal building. Scores were killed.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] For you, what are the lessons that we should know today about Oklahoma City?

KERRY MYERS, Professor, University of South Florida:

I, I think it's not only Oklahoma City. It's lessons that we've been learning about lone-wolf terrorism. It doesn't take a, a large organization to cause mass casualty.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Kerry Myers was an FBI bomb tech who investigated the Oklahoma City bombing. I show Myers the crime scene photos from the Atomwaffen apartment.

KERRY MYERS:

Do we have close-ups of that?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I don’t know. Let me look.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] They document a wide range of explosives, including some of the same ingredients used by McVeigh in his Oklahoma City attack.

KERRY MYERS:

They were making bombs. This is a bomb-maker's workshop. There’s the cooler.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Yeah.

KERRY MYERS:

This is the HMTD. This is actually what caused them the most concern and rightfully so. HMTD is not very common. It has to be handmade. It requires a process and you have to be sophisticated,

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And how powerful is it? I mean is this something…

KERRY MYERS:

It goes off about 14,000 feet per second. It's probably more powerful than ammonium nitrate. They could make a car bomb. If, if these materials were put together correctly and went off in this classroom, it’d kill or seriously injure every person in this classroom.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So, obviously, these guys aren't master criminals. Are we focusing too much on a group that's not really a threat?

KERRY MYERS:

Well, in this case we have two dead, two young men dead, shot with an assault rifle and we recovered enough explosives here to blow up a car, blow up an airplane, blow up a bus, blow up this room. We have the same basic explosive kit here that the Boston Marathon bombers had.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The night of Arthurs’ arrest, Brandon Russell was also detained and questioned by local police and the FBI. He told a different story. He said the explosives were his, but insisted that he was only using them to power model rockets. Atomwaffen was nothing more than a club. The police released Russell without charging him. They even gave him a ride home so he could pick up his car. Russell promptly disappeared. He met up with another Atomwaffen member and began driving south. As the men drove, the FBI issued an arrest warrant for Russell on explosives charges.

Police video

DEANNA TORRES, Former deputy, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office:

We had his picture. We were told that he could possibly be going up near Turkey Point for some type of terrorist act. That's all we knew.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] That's all you knew.

Police video

DEANNA TORRES:

That was it. He turned into the Burger King. I put my patrol car right behind his car to block it in and I didn’t even think. I just got out of the car. I said, “Brandon, come here.” And he looked at me and he looked startled for a second. And before I gave him reaction to do anything, I just grabbed his arm and started handcuffing him.

POLICE RECORDING:

Do you have any weapons on you? Do you have any weapons on you?

POLICE RECORDING:

Put your hands behind your back.

DEANNA TORRES:

He was shaking, which made me shake because I didn’t know what he had on him. Explosive materials? All I could think is that he had some type of detonator on him because he was so nervous.

POLICE RECORDING:

Stop fidgeting. Why are you fidgeting?

POLICE RECORDING:

What are we going to find in that car?

BRANDON RUSSELL:

Guns, ammunition.

BEN ELMORE, Deputy, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office:

You have at least two long guns, in excess of 1,000 rounds of ammunition, homemade body armor, no suitcases, no toiletry bags. It was the absence of the other things that was a little bit concerning.

POLICE RECORDING:

He’s too nervous. He is way too nervous.

BEN ELMORE:

We were very, very thankful that we contacted them away from that car…

DEANNA TORRES:

Yeah.

BEN ELMORE:

…because if we had pulled them over, the outcome of that event could have been way different for everybody involved, based on what they had inside the car.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Given all the weapons?

BEN ELMORE:

Yes.

DEANNA TORRES:

The weapons were right behind them within hand reach, as well as the ammunition. And I believe they had loaded magazines in the center console for the rifles. When we found all the weapons, we were convinced that we had just stopped a mass shooting.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The Monroe County sheriff’s department believes they stopped some kind of violent attack. But it’s still not clear what Brandon Russell may have been planning. He had the weapons and ammunition to kill dozens of people. And the FBI bulletin said he might have been targeting the nearby Turkey Point nuclear power plant. Russell eventually pleaded guilty to illegal possession of explosives. He was sentenced to five years in prison. But according to Devon Arthurs, Russell wasn't the only threat inside Atomwaffen.

DEVON ARTHURS:

[subtitles] If I could just talk to an FBI agent, like individually or something like that, if I could get my computer as resources, I could show them, like, all these channels and stuff like that.

POLICE INTERROGATOR:

[subtitle] So on your computer there is, there is stuff that you’ve been a part of?

DEVON ARTHURS:

[subtitles] You can find encrypted channels. You could find, you could find names easily. It'd be very easy to identify who these people are.

POLICE INTERROGATOR:

[subtitles] So you think, you know, having an FBI agent, as you requested, sit down and go over this stuff, you think then you would open some eyes?

DEVON ARTHURS:

[subtitles] Yeah. I definitely do. I think that it would, that it would open some eyes to a much bigger thing than what happened today. And I think that I could definitely, like, you know, basically save a lot of lives.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] It’s unclear what the authorities did in response to Arthurs’ plea to investigate Atomwaffen. The FBI won’t talk to me about its handling of the case. But here’s what I do know: Atomwaffen continued to operate and its violence didn’t end. Seven months later in Virginia, Atomwaffen follower Nick Giampa allegedly killed his ex-girlfriend’s parents. They had objected to his Nazi views. Giampa has yet to stand trial. But the 17-year-old appeared to be fascinated with Atomwaffen. His social media accounts were full of its propaganda.

Weeks later, in California, Sam Woodward was arrested for allegedly killing Blaze Bernstein, a gay Jewish college student. Shortly after the arrest, I published a story identifying Woodward as a member of Atomwaffen. Woodward has pleaded not guilty. But in a cache of confidential chat logs I obtained, Atomwaffen celebrated the slaying. They referred to Woodward as a “one-man gay Jew wrecking crew.”

Three killings in the eight months after the arrest of Brandon Russell and Devon Arthurs.

Devon Arthurs’ predictions of violence seemed to have come true. But Arthurs had given police one more warning.

DEVON ARTHURS:

[subtitles] They have a guy in the U.S. Army go, then re-enlisted specifically for the group.

POLICE INTERROGATOR:

This being Brandon?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] He claimed Atomwaffen had members inside the military.

DEVON ARTHURS:

[subtitles] Like, he, he re-enlisted specifically for the group to go into his, to go into his supply room and steal stuff. Like, steal night-vision goggles. We have guys in the American military that literally would go to, go to, like, bases and steal huge amounts of equipment.

POLICE INTERROGATOR:

Well, Brandon, Brandon's currently in the…

DEVON ARTHURS:

[subtitles] He joined, he joined specifically for the knowledge and the training. And he wants to use that training against the government. I'm telling you stuff that the FBI should also be hearing.

POLICE INTERROGATOR:

Okay.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] From everything I’ve learned, Devon Arthurs is a deeply troubled young man. He gave conflicting explanations for the killings and was ultimately deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. But as I continue my investigation, his description of Atomwaffen and its ambitions is checking out.

Atomwaffen’s confidential chat logs support Arthurs’ claim that the group is recruiting soldiers. And they reveal the existence of what they describe as “hate camps” in which members with military experience provide training in firearms and guerrilla tactics. One hate camp early this year took place here in Death Valley on the border between Nevada and California. Atomwaffen filmed themselves training out in the desert.

Atomwaffen video

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The group was drawn to Death Valley because of its association with Charles Manson. They made a pilgrimage to Devil’s Hole. This small gap in the rock opens up into a massive, 500-foot deep underground cavern. Manson planned to found an underground city here after the apocalypse. Atomwaffen’s communications showed this hate camp was convened by a member who used the online handle “Komissar.”

I’m able to identify Komissar as Michael Hubsky, based in Las Vegas. Hubsky isn’t a soldier himself, but claimed to have been a private military contractor. He boasted in Atomwaffen chats about his short-barreled CZ Scorpion rifle. Hubsky discussed attacks on infrastructure and claimed to have a classified map of the West Coast power grid. At Hubsky’s Death Valley hate camp, and at other Atomwaffen gatherings around the country, the group shoots propaganda videos. Their members fire assault rifles, storm buildings and clear rooms.

Atomwaffen video

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Hubsky hoped to organize regular training for Atomwaffen and encouraged members to join a Nevada weapons facility called Front Sight.

Front Sight promotional video

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The idea was for Atomwaffen members to get schooled in advanced firearms tactics. I contacted Front Sight and they were shocked to learn about the group. They agreed to meet with me out at their facility.

MIKE MEACHER, COO, Front Sight:

Front Sight is unique. We're a 550-acre firearms training facility about 40 minutes outside of Las Vegas. We have 50 ranges and have a capacity of approximately 2,000 people at one time.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] When did you first learn about Michael Hubsky, the Atomwaffen leader who wanted to come train here?

MIKE MEACHER:

I believe initially we were contacted by you folks, and you asked us some questions. And as a response to that, we investigated with our law enforcement contacts, and that was enough to convince us that they needed to not be coming to Front Sight any further.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Hi, Michael. It’s A.C. Thompson from ProPublica and FRONTLINE. I’m in Las Vegas and still interested in talking to you.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] When I reach Hubsky, he’d been banned for life from Front Sight. He tells me he left Atomwaffen and has renounced Nazism. He won’t go on camera for an interview. But using information from the chat logs, I’m able to identify other hate camp participants. One of them agrees to talk to me. He’s a 20-something Army veteran who asks me to call him “Jeremiah.” He came back from a combat tour damaged and angry.

VOICE ACTOR:

[subtitles] There were a lot of people that were disenchanted with the mission – I'd say about half of the guys in my unit. I think a lot of guys, they’re lost and they want hope. They’re looking for answers.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] How, how big would you say the white nationalist movement is within the armed forces?

VOICE ACTOR:

[subtitles] There's a good amount of them. They keep quiet about it, especially when they're in, you can get in a lot of trouble. Going onto Facebook, I never mention the military.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] How did the group regard combat veterans and service members?

VOICE ACTOR:

[subtitles] We definitely wanted to appeal to veterans. We would say they had the fighting spirit that the National Socialists of the 1920s had, that the people of the “alt-right” lack. Take an average 19-year-old from Atomwaffen. His only experience of war is video games, versus some guy like me who knows how to handle himself in a war. People looked up to the military guys. You were at least using the training that they had given you to hit back at them.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] When you guys did do training, what kind of training was it? What did you, what did you learn? What kind of skills were shared?

VOICE ACTOR:

[subtitles] Going to the range, clearing rooms, medical, how to wage an effective insurgency. A lot of the Iraq and Afghan war vets, they took what they saw the Taliban or al Qaeda in Iraq doing and applied it to what's going on here. Jews were the number-one enemy. We would say the Jews are the virus, and the people of color, the homosexuals, they were the symptoms.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] By studying Atomwaffen chat logs, my colleagues and I develop a list of more than 80 Atomwaffen members. Seven of these men have military experience. I already know about Atomwaffen founder Brandon Russell and his time in the National Guard. But there are also three active-duty soldiers or Marines and three military veterans. And my sources say there could be more.

I want to better understand the link between Atomwaffen and the military. I go to see professor Kathleen Belew at the University of . She’s been researching the history of the white power movement.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] We're looking at a current group called the Atomwaffen Division, and they are actively recruiting military members. Does that surprise you?

KATHLEEN BELEW, Author, “Bring the War Home”:

Not at all. That's a strategy pioneered by the white power movement in the period of my study, and continued throughout the post-Vietnam period. One thing to understand is that throughout American history, there's always a correlation between the aftermath of warfare and this kind of vigilante and revolutionary white power violence. So if you look, for instance, at the surges in Ku Klux Klan membership, they align more consistently with the return of veterans from combat and the aftermath of war than they do with anti-immigration, populism, economic hardship, or any of the other factors that historians have typically used to explain them. Nationalist fervor, populist movements – those are all worse predictors in the aftermath of war.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Post-war periods tend to correspond then with, with an upsurge in white power, white supremacist activity?

KATHLEEN BELEW:

Always. Yes.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Wow!

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Belew outlines a long history of military men who became key figures in the white power movement. George Lincoln Rockwell – World War II veteran and founder of the American Nazi Party. Richard Butler – World War II veteran and founder of the Aryan Nations. Louis Beam – Vietnam veteran and Grand Dragon of the KKK. Timothy McVeigh – Gulf War veteran and Oklahoma City bomber.

KATHLEEN BELEW:

It's important to remember, too, that returning veterans that join this movement and active-duty troops, we're talking about a tiny, not even statistically significant percentage of veterans. But within this movement, those people who did serve are playing an enormously important role in instruction of weapons, in creating paramilitary activist mentality in training.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] When we speak to people involved in, in this movement today, they talk about leaderless resistance. Can you explain that to me?

KATHLEEN BELEW:

Sure. Leaderless resistance is basically what we would understand today as cell-style terrorism – the idea that you can recruit a small number of committed activists, organize them, and then they will behave on their own in a cell without direct ties with movement leadership. If we think, for instance, about the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh is sort of the ideal soldier of leaderless resistance. He's in an infantry unit and serves in the Gulf and is involved in white power groups while he's on post. He's consistently involved in this movement right up to the moment of the Oklahoma City bombing. We know that this is part of the white power movement and an act of leaderless resistance. But we have this memory of that as an act of one person. And as a result, I think we've never really delivered a decisive stop to this activism.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] That, because we don't understand Oklahoma City as being an outgrowth of an organized movement, that it has been around for decades, that is modeling the military, that is involving military members, that the authorities have never really been able to put a stop to it.

KATHLEEN BELEW:

That's right. The military response to white power activism, like the court response to white power activism and the police response to white power activism, reflects the many ways that our society has not been prepared to deal with this kind of, of movement.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] In Washington, a senior analyst at the Department of Homeland Security had tried to draw attention to some of these same concerns. In 2009, Daryl Johnson wrote an intelligence report looking at the rise of white supremacist groups and their connection to the military.

DARYL JOHNSON, Former Department of Homeland Security intelligence analyst:

The wars that have gone on in Afghanistan and Iraq, we had the rise of Islamophobia. That's a huge factor in both the antigovernment groups and the militias that rally with firearms outside of mosques, but also the white supremacist groups that hate people of other nations and other skin colors.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Johnson’s report warned that the U.S. faced a growing terrorist threat from white supremacist and antigovernment groups and that these groups might recruit military veterans.

DARYL JOHNSON:

What we've seen happen in the years since that report was released is basically everything that we had predicted has come to fruition. And it's actually worse than what we had anticipated. And I'm afraid that more law enforcement officers, more innocent civilians, more minorities and faith-based communities are going to be targeted and actually victimized by these violent offenders. It’s like every month we have something, whether it's a, a shooting, a stabbing, even bombings starting to happen now.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Today, Johnson’s report might seem prophetic, but its publication nearly a decade ago provoked a political backlash from conservative lawmakers and veterans groups. The report was retracted and his unit disbanded.

DARYL JOHNSON:

You know, our unit got shut down in ’09 and then the money started drying up and so these communities are basically left to fend for themselves. This threat is out there and it’s…

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] After speaking to Johnson, I hear from two former homeland security officials who say the government remains under-resourced and out of position for dealing with the white supremacist threat. For months, I’ve been trying to get someone in the government, especially at the Department of Defense, to talk to me. No one at the Pentagon – not even a spokesperson – will agree to an interview. But Congressman Keith Ellison has read my reporting. He’s written a letter to the Department of Defense demanding an accounting of their efforts to rid the ranks of extremists.

REP. KEITH ELLISON, D-Minn.:

Well, let me tell you. I am a believer in our nation's military. I have very close relatives who serve, including active duty. And I can tell you that it's an institution that even in my family we've always revered. To think that somebody who does not support the true goals of the U.S. military, which is to protect Americans, and actually wants to use that training to hurt Americans, is revolting to me. And I hope that, that the people in the military really do take this seriously.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Right. We've identified seven members of one neo-Nazi group who are current or former military.

REP. KEITH ELLISON

Is that Atomwaffen?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] That's Atomwaffen. What, what do you make of that?

REP. KEITH ELLISON:

Well, I think that they have decided this is a strategic initiative for them. They, they want their people to go into the military. There’s a real legitimate fear here, and I think that we’ve got to be vigilant about it.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The Pentagon responded to Ellison with a letter stating that the military aggressively screens new recruits. The DoD also said it had received 27 reports of extremist activity over the past five years and had disciplined 18 service members. I put those numbers to Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

HEIDI BEIRICH, Southern Poverty Law Center:

That's laughable.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] You think so?

HEIDI BEIRICH:

Yeah, I do. That's ridiculous.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So you just, you think the number… That's low?

HEIDI BEIRICH:

I think it's crazy low. I mean, look, hate groups are telling their people to join the military – and this was something that's been documented both in FBI reports and in DHS reports – to gain these skills. There's not only going to be 27 of them in a military force of, I don't know, one and a half to two million people in the United States, who are, who are under arms. It's, it’s not possible. I think it's actually… That's just an indicator to me of how low a priority it is to root these people out. We presented the military and committees in Congress, like the armed services committees, with 130 profiles off of the National Socialist movement’s, like, equivalent of Facebook, this thing called New Saxon.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Nazi Facebook.

HEIDI BEIRICH:

Exactly, Nazi Facebook. And we keep sending stuff to the military, like examples of people saying…

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Oh, really?

HEIDI BEIRICH:

…yeah, “You should look at this guy. He looks like he might be in violation.” And you know, most of the time we never even hear anything back from them. I just think the military needs to have pressure put on it to put this at the top of its list. If that means shuffling around resources, so be it. We don't want another McVeigh. Right? You just can't have this.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] With nobody at the DoD willing to talk to me, I sit down with a former military prosecutor who has handled white supremacist cases.

MAJOR GENERAL JOHN ALTENBURG, U.S. Army (retired):

Okay. And I can see this is a response to a congressman who's apparently asked a question…

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Yeah.

JOHN ALTENBURG:

…as a follow-up to some of the work you guys were doing in these articles about service members.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Major General John Altenburg served as the Deputy Judge Advocate General, the second highest-ranking JAG officer in the U.S. Army. He later oversaw the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay.

JOHN ALTENBURG:

It sounds like they understand the issue and they’ve laid out for the reader all the different ways that they, they approach this issue and that they believe they've got control of this issue.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And from that, your impression is they have a handle on it and they're, they’re dealing with this?

JOHN ALTENBURG:

Yeah, and I mean, I'm pleased to see that they're doing all this. This looks very thorough to me and it looks like they're on top of it.

A.C. THOMPSON, ProPublica/FRONTLINE:

[on camera] So it's been put to me, “Look, this is a very small fraction of the U.S. military. The vast bulk of service members are wonderful people. You're disparaging the whole armed forces by raising this.” Do you think that's true?

JOHN ALTENBURG:

No. No, I think it's too important. There's no question that there are organizations that would like for people to go in the military to acquire the training that you get in the military. And how we could screen all those people out, you know, is pretty difficult. But there always could be corners of, of, of a given organization where people could hide out and not be seen.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] In its letter to Congressman Ellison, the DoD also said it had investigated the Atomwaffen members I’d identified. But they didn’t say what they had done. All I know is that only one member – a Marine, Vasilios Pistolis – was court-martialed and expelled from the service. In response to our questions, a Pentagon spokeswoman sent a statement saying she couldn’t provide information on individual cases, but, quote, “our standards are clear; participation in extremist activities has never been tolerated and is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” She added that commanders are, quote, “encouraged to be preventive and proactive, and they are doing that.”

I’ve been writing stories about Atomwaffen and talking to insiders for nearly a year. And it seems like the group has been paying attention. From federal prison, Atomwaffen founder Brandon Russell issues a thinly-veiled threat to former members, people he believes are leaking information about the group.

RECORDING OF BRANDON RUSSELL:

[subtitles] A lot has transpired in the years since my incarceration, since I’ve become a prisoner of war in this war against society.

Atomwaffen video

RECORDING OF BRANDON RUSSELL:

To all of those who abandoned ship, woe to you. Adolf Hitler once said, “There is no room in this world for cowardly people.” So there is certainly no room for you in the Atomwaffen Division. The same goes for all the pathetic rumor-spreaders, opportunistic parasites and any other traitors. The sword has been drawn. There is no turning back.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] I learn the video was put out by the group’s Texas cell, led by John Cameron Denton who calls himself “Rape.” In 2017, Atomwaffen began barring its members from appearing in public demonstrations. But I find pictures from an earlier anti-immigrant protest. Denton can be seen at the rally with a shotgun and a skull mask, and then afterwards posing with his fellow neo-Nazis with his mask off. I get a tip that Denton may be attending a black metal festival here called “Destroying Texas.”

After a year of tracking Atomwaffen online, I have a chance to confront the group in person. If I do find them inside the club, I’m not sure what to expect. The show is packed. Most of the concertgoers look like typical metalheads, but I do spot a few obscure neo-Nazi patches on some people’s clothing. I find Rape drinking outside, along with two other Atomwaffen members I recognize from my reporting.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Hey, Rape, I’m A.C. from ProPublica.

JOHN CAMERON DENTON:

Oh, hey.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I wanted to come out here and talk to you about Atomwaffen.

JOHN CAMERON DENTON:

No comment.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] No comment.

JOHN CAMERON DENTON:

No.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] You’re not going to do an interview?

JOHN CAMERON DENTON:

No.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Are you worried about going to prison?

JOHN CAMERON DENTON:

No.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Atomwaffen members stand accused of multiple murders and their propaganda is filled with violent threats. But after all of the online posturing, Rape and the others aren’t physically intimidating. And they’re far less aggressive in person than the skinhead gangs I’ve followed in the past.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] All right. Thanks.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on phone] Hey, Jeremiah.

VOICE ACTOR:

[subtitle] Hey, how are you doing?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I met Rape out at a metal show in Texas.

VOICE ACTOR:

[subtitle] How'd that go?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I was kind of surprised because they talk all this violent stuff online, but they were just kind of quietly hostile and seething.

VOICE ACTOR:

[subtitles] That figures. If they were wanting to do something violent, they wouldn't do it publicly. These guys, they're not stupid. They're not like these skinhead types.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Jeremiah says I shouldn't underestimate Rape. He has a direct relationship with Atomwaffen’s intellectual leader, James Mason.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Did you ever get to, to talk to Mason or meet him?

VOICE ACTOR:

[subtitles] We heard him over a couple of voice chats. I never met him in person though. Rape and Mason had their own little thing.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] What kind of sense did you get of him when you were talking to him on those chats?

VOICE ACTOR:

[subtitle] I thought he was a genius.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] In propaganda videos, Atomwaffen say that Mason disappeared for 15 years until they located him. They pose for photos with Mason dressed in a Nazi uniform and celebrate their collaboration. I’m unable to find a phone number for Mason, but I learn he’s living in the Denver area. Mason has no online profile, no social media. He doesn’t even appear to have an email account. He spent time in a Colorado prison for menacing someone with a pistol. A bankruptcy filing from a few years ago reveals a solitary life, working at Kmart and living alone. I’ve gotten several possible addresses for Mason and I begin to search neighborhoods for him. Then I get a call. It’s Mason and he wants to talk to me.

CAMERA OPERATOR:

Whenever you’re ready.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So how big do you think that the Atomwaffen Division is these days? How many members?

JAMES MASON, Neo-Nazi:

I haven’t the foggiest idea.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] But they come visit you. You exchanged a response.

JAMES MASON:

On, on occasion, they will come through the territory, yes. I'm always happy to meet with them.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Mason is evasive at first. I try to get him to talk about the killings and violence linked to Atomwaffen.

JAMES MASON:

I’m glad I didn’t know about it and I don't want to know because if I did know I'd be involved in it and I don't want to be involved in it.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] You don’t want to go back to prison.

JAMES MASON:

I do not urge anybody to do anything like that, but when it gets done I won’t disown them. I kind of welcome the chaos.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] What did you think of James Fields, the guy who allegedly drove his car into the crowd in Charlottesville?

JAMES MASON:

I say bless his heart because he sure is in a jam.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So you're sympathetic?

JAMES MASON:

Oh, very sympathetic. Totally sympathetic.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] To you, Fields is a hero?

JAMES MASON:

Yes.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] What do you think of Tim McVeigh?

JAMES MASON:

Another hero. The white race is in danger and it's not by accident. It's driven. It's planned and…

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Who’s planning it?

JAMES MASON:

The Jews. We know it's the Jews. I mean, we know that. We’ve been saying…

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Mason has a lot more to say – the kind of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories I’ve come to expect from white supremacists. But I’m struck by what he says next.

JAMES MASON:

With Trump winning that election by surprise, and it was a surprise, I now believe anything could be possible.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] After decades of railing against the government, Mason says Trump is giving him hope.

JAMES MASON:

As Trump says, and he has it printed right across the front of his hat, “Make America Great Again.” In order to make America great again, you’d have to make America white again. Okay? It's interesting. We're headed for interesting times.

NEWS REPORT:

The darkest day in the history of Pittsburgh, said the mayor. And you’re looking right now at the memorial forming outside.

NEWS REPORT:

Outside the synagogue today, mourners struggled to process any of this.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] I’m in Pittsburgh, weeks after speaking to Mason and just days after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue. Before he allegedly stormed the synagogue, Robert Bowers posted on social media, writing about Jews helping “immigrant invaders” who were killing “his people.” Kathleen Belew examined the posts.

KATHLEEN BELEW, Author, “Bring the War Home”:

Even a cursory look at his social media indicates that he is decisively part of a white power ideology.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] What did you see when you were looking through those accounts?

KATHLEEN BELEW:

His last post expressed that he was going to go in shooting and it's an anti-Semitic rant. But it also repeats twice the phrase, “our people,” that he needs to protect “our people,” that he's identifying Jews as a threat to “our people”; that what he means there is white people. And then through the rest of the account, there's a whole bunch of other markers of white power ideology. All of that content is deeply, deeply disturbing, but is historic. We, we have a history.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] You've seen it before.

KATHLEEN BELEW:

Absolutely. I think this is an example of leaderless resistance in that it is a, what appears to be a lone gunman, but someone who is motivated and propelled by a worldview and by a social network of like-minded people who push and enable violence. This movement has been using these structures for decades.

BRAD ORSINI, Director of Security, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh:

Our community was devastated with this attack, with this senseless slaughter of 11 people. The entire community was affected. The Jewish community, absolutely, the brunt of it. But the entire Pittsburgh community was devastated.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Retired FBI agent Brad Orsini is the director of security for the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh. Even while Pittsburgh was grieving, he says neo-Nazi propaganda was appearing around the city.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And, and what, what’s going on here?

BRAD ORSINI:

These are posters that are up at various parts of the city.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] There are stickers.

BRAD ORSINI:

Flyers, posters, stickers. This week in particular we've seen an increase.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] After what's happened in recent days, you have a fascist group coming in here.

BRAD ORSINI:

Yes. And I got numerous reports on Tuesday.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Orsini says even before the shooting, he had decided to take additional precautions.

BRAD ORSINI:

We have put casualty bags in each one of our synagogues and schools. There's tourniquets. There are compression pads. There's wound-packing material.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And so basically, you have extreme first-aid kits, life-saving kits in the synagogues, the schools…

BRAD ORSINI:

Absolutely.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] …and other institutions around here?

BRAD ORSINI:

In every one of our major institutions, we have them.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] It's kind of sad.

BRAD ORSINI:

It, it’s incredibly sad to think we're in a day where we have to worry about security for people going in to pray.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Pittsburgh is still mourning and the questions it provoked still linger. Can these kinds of killings be prevented? I now know the FBI is looking at Atomwaffen. Agents in several states have been talking with former members. And it turns out the bureau is investigating Robert Bowers’ relationship to two neo-Nazi brothers with connections to Atomwaffen. But what I’ve learned in my years in covering white supremacist groups is that they are many and they draw from a deep reservoir of ugliness in America. Just this month, the FBI announced hate crimes had spiked again, the third year running. This story is far from over.

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