Atomwaffen Division, a group believed to have been established in the last couple of years and which may have just 80 members, claims it is a “revolutionary national socialist organisation centred around political activism and the practice of an autonomous fascist lifestyle”.
The group has been linked to the killing of a gay, Jewish 19-year-old student, Blaze Bernstein, whose body was recovered earlier this month from a public park in California’s Orange County. He had been stabbed 20-times and police arrested his former classmate, Samuel Woodward.
Last week, ProPublica reported Mr Woodward is a member of Atomwaffen Division, having joined in 2016 and attended a three-day training camp in Texas. Pictures from the event captured Atomwaffen Division members in skull masks, making Nazi salutes.
ProPublica said the training included lessons in firearms and hand-to-hand combat, preparation for the group’s “ultimate aim of overthrowing the US government through the use of terrorism and guerrilla warfare”.
Investigators in California have said they are investigating whether the killing of Mr Bernstein, who was visiting his parents during a winter break from the University of Pennsylvania, was a hate crime.
Detectives told the Los Angeles Times Mr Woodward told officers Mr Bernstein kissed him on the lips while they were sitting in a parked car on January 2. The two had originally met at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, though it is unclear whether they were friends there.
Mr Woodward spoke openly on social media about his Catholic faith and conservative political views. He wrote more than a year ago on his ASKfm page that if he were stranded on a tropical island, he would choose a Bible and a Colt .45. “Anything is possible through the Lord who strengthens me,” he wrote.
The newspaper quoted Mr Bernstein’s mother, Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, as saying she had often been worried that her son may be targeted, because of his faith, his sexuality and his slight build.
“I was concerned sending him out into the big world,” she said. “But at some point you have to let go and they leave the nest and fly. I couldn’t protect him from everything.”
Mr Woodward, 20, is set to be formally arraigned later the week. He has not yet entered a plea to the charge of murder.
“This is a tragedy,” his lawyer, Edward Munoz told reporters, when he client was initially charged. “This young man I’m representing was an Eagle Scout and now he’s facing murder.”
Mr Munoz did not immediately respond to enquiries from The Independent.
Atomwaffen Division, whose members have been described by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), as “preparing for a race war”, was also named last summer when police in Tampa, Florida, arrested 18-year-old Devon Arthurs in the killing of two of his roommates, 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk.
Reports at the time, said the three men had been friends and shared neo-Nazi belief. Yet Mr Arthurs converted to Islam and killed his roommates, later telling Tampa police Mr Himmelman and Mr Oneschuk were planning terrorist attacks, including the bombing of a South Florida nuclear power plant. All three were also reportedly all three were affiliated with Atomwaffen Division.
Meanwhile, a fourth man, Brandon Russell, 21, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, was arrested after agents found bomb-making materials in his the apartment by officers investigating the killing of Mr Himmelman and Mr Oneschuk.
Earlier this month, Russell, 22, was sentenced to five years in prison for the possession of explosives found in the garage of the apartment he shared with the three other men. Russell, a former member of the Florida National Guard, pleaded guilty.
Prosecutors said when they searched his apartment, they found the the explosive HMTD (Hexamethylene Triperoxide Diamine), along with neo-Nazi and white supremacist propaganda, including a framed picture of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.
Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente said: “Russell, an active and founding member of a neo-Nazi group, was sentenced today by a federal judge after he unlawfully possessed and stored dangerous explosive materials in his home.
“This case is but one example of the National Security Division’s resolve to identify, disrupt and prevent terrorist threats, whether domestic or international.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post said an Atomwaffen connection has also been reported in the murder of Scott Fricker, 48, and Buckley Kuhn-Fricker, 43, in their Reston, Virginia, in December.
The newspaper said the couple had been pushing their teenage daughter to break up with her 17-year-old boyfriend after discovering his Nazi beliefs on social media.
Police say the boyfriend, who months earlier is believed to have mowed a swastika onto a nearby field, has been charged with two counts of murder and has not been named as he is being treated as a minor.
HuffPost tracked down the suspect’s Twitter account, where he shared Atomwaffen Division posts, including material on James Mason’s reprinted Siege book.
Mr Mason, who was born in 1952, appear to be another major inspiration to the group.
A long-time fascist who belonged to the American Nazi Party, Mr Mason published a newsletter called Sieve in which he dismissed political activist in favour of creating a new fascist regime. He also struck up a friendship with the jailed Manson.
Following Manson’s death last November, the Atomwaffen Division website was filled with tributes to him, calling him “a great revolutionary”, a “warrior of truth”, and “a hero”.
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