Atomwaffen Division: UK to ban US-based neo-Nazi group as terrorist organisation

Group claimed to have disbanded in 2020 but successor group ‘National Socialist Order’ then formed, government says

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Monday 19 April 2021 18:27 BST
Neo-Nazi group member jailed for intimidation campaign that targetted journalists, activists and minorities
Neo-Nazi group member jailed for intimidation campaign that targetted journalists, activists and minorities (AP)

The British government is to ban the US-based Atomwaffen Division neo-Nazi group as a terrorist organisation.

The group, formed in 2015, promotes the use of violence to trigger a race war and has been linked to several murders and terror plots in the US.

It has links to British terrorist groups including National Action and Sonnenkrieg Division, which have also been proscribed.

The Home Office said that Atomwaffen Division claimed to have disbanded in March 2020 following pressure from US law enforcement, but that a successor group called the National Socialist Order then formed.

“The government assesses that it is the same group operating under a different name but adhering to the same twisted ideology as it did when it was called Atomwaffen Division,” a spokesperson said.

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Parliament is expected to proscribe Atomwaffen Division and the National Socialist Order as its alias later this week.

The change will make membership a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The maximum term will increase to 14 years when the new Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill receives royal assent.

Some experts said the ban was “long overdue” and came after Atomwaffen Division had passed the peak of its power and influence.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, said: “Vile and racist white supremacist groups like this exist to spread hate, sow division and advocate the use of violence to further their sick ideologies.

“I will do all I can to protect young and vulnerable people from being radicalised which is why I am taking action to proscribe this dangerous group.”

More than a dozen people have so far been convicted of membership of National Action and its spin-off groups, including a serving police officer.

The government said that proscribing Atomwaffen Division would help work to remove propaganda and disrupt activity online.

Far-right organisation, whose name translates as 'atomic weapons', believes in using terroristic violence to bring down 'the System'

Atomwaffen Division grew out of the fascist Iron March online forum that went offline in 2017 and is among numerous “accelerationist” white supremacist groups drawing from the writings of American neo-Nazi James Mason.

It promotes the use of violence to overthrow the US government and trigger a race war, ultimately resulting in a new society based on white supremacy, antisemitism and virulent anti-LGBT+ beliefs.

Since 2017, Atomwaffen Division’s ideology has become more influenced by Satanism and the occult, according to Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Using various techniques including online harassment and “swatting”, Atomwaffen Division has targeted public figures, politicians and journalists, as well as mounting terror plots.

In January 2018 in California, a member murdered 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, who was gay and Jewish, and followers have carried out several other killings.

Several leaders of Atomwaffen Division, which was divided into cells across the US, have been arrested as have members of its UK affiliate Sonnenkrieg Division.

A Sonnenkrieg Division poster shared on the social network Gab (Counter Terrorism Policing North East)

Conor McGinn MP, Labour’s shadow security minister, said: “It is concerning that the group seems to have been operational since 2015, yet this action is only now happening.

“Labour has long warned that the government does not have a robust enough strategy to address the rise in far-right extremism. This needs to be swiftly addressed, to tackle this appalling threat.”

Matthew Feldman, director of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, said the proscription should allow authorities to force social media platforms and internet giants to remove Atomwaffen Division content that is currently online.

“This is tackling where it radicalises and endangers the most people online,” he told The Independent.

Mr Feldman said the National Socalist Order had vowed to “learn from the mistakes of the past” but see themselves as “Atomwaffen Division 2.0”.

Nick Lowles, the chief executive of Hope Not Hate, said: “Today’s ban is overdue and comes as the group is past its peak.”

He said the government had “missed an opportunity” to take action against a neo-Nazi Satanist group called the Order of Nine Angles (O9A) that influenced Atomwaffen Division and other neo-Nazi organisations.

“Since we started to warn about O9A’s growing influence, a serving US soldier has been indicted for planning a terror attack with O9A members, and the Canadian government has moved against the group, too. Time is ticking: the government must take the threat of O9A more seriously and urgently get a ban in place,” Mr Lowles added.

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