Atomwaffen Division (AWD) is a terroristic neo-Nazi organization that formed out of Iron March, an influential fascist forum that went offline in fall 2017.
Atomwaffen Division (AWD) is a terroristic neo-Nazi organization that formed out of Iron March, an influential fascist forum that went offline in fall 2017.
AWD is organized as a series of terror cells that work toward civilizational collapse. Its members, who can be fairly described as accelerationists, believe that violence, depravity and degeneracy are the only sure way to establish order in their dystopian and apocalyptic vision of the world. AWD’s chief influences are James Mason Charles Manson, Joseph Tommasi and William Pierce. Their strategy for promoting and establishing national socialism can be traced back to The Order, the violent and capable white supremacist terror cell founded by Robert Jay Mathews in the 1980s., Charles Manson, Joseph Tommasi and William Pierce. Their strategy for promoting and establishing national socialism can be traced back to The Order, the violent and capable white supremacist terror cell founded by Robert Jay Mathews in the 1980s.
In Their Own Words
“What we are creating here is something that James Mason attempted to put into form but because of circumstance it never was implimented [sic] until the year of 2017 when Atomwaffen Division discovered and met James Mason. Ryan and Vincent Snyder both agreed to help him publish his works, but through the development of the website we have decided to take the proper course of action with SIEGE. Too long has the movement trapped people into a mindset of chasing their own tail. Those of you who are in here, perhaps, will create history. That is our intention.” – Siege Culture website
“The frail whites will serve as prey to the aryan predator.” – Atomwaffen Division website
“Pro f----- propaganda is working! AIDS is spreading like wildfire. Dead f------ couldn’t make us happier! Hail AIDS!” – Atomwaffen Division website
“Satanism is alright. Depends on how you go about it. But then again, I’m more well read on the subject than most people. Most people get scared away and only go into the crust, rather than down to the core.” – “Rape,” AWD Discord server, Nov. 9, 2017
“I hate hearing about ‘innocent people.’ There are no innocent people in this disgusting modern world.” – Brandon Russell, “49 F--- in Body Bags: Shooting in Orlando Gay Club,” Iron March forum, June 14, 2016.
“Bulldozing bodies into mass graves is the obvious solution. But in all seriousness; what re-educaiton [sic] doesn’t fix, the sword will.” – Brandon Russell, “What can be done about Degeneracy in the 21st century?” Iron March forum, June 14, 2016
AWD is organized as a series of terror cells that work toward ushering in the collapse of civilization.
The group’s ideology is white power accelerationism. Accelerationists believe that the modern, post-industrial society cannot be redeemed. Instead, they believe it ought to be driven into apocalyptic collapse so a white ethnostate or whites-only utopia can be constructed in its wake. Unlike some other white power activists, accelerationists believe modernity has reached such a level of degeneracy and corruption that it cannot be rescued through mass movements or other political means. Instead, they favor a doctrine of “leaderless resistance,” or diffuse cell-structured networks, for the purpose of engaging in terroristic acts.
Examples of this include AWD’s “hate camps,” or meetups where members trained with weapons and filmed propaganda videos, as well as allegations related to online and offline harassment and threatening of private citizens, including journalists.
AWD trends younger and fetishizes violence as the only vehicle for apocalyptic, racial cleansing. Such a purge is meant to lead to a national socialist order replacing a world that, from the perspective of its members, is a dystopian, apocalyptic hellscape where only the enemies of the white race profit and flourish. AWD’s chief influences are James Mason, Charles Manson, Joseph Tommasi and William Pierce. The group is steeped in the history of the American white power movement and the esoteric religions that have long compelled niches within the racist right in the United States and Europe. AWD’s strategy for promoting and establishing national socialism can be traced back to The Order, the violent and murderous white supremacist terror cell led by Robert Jay Mathews from 1983-84. Like many neo-Nazi accelerationist groups and networks today, AWD members lionize terrorists for killing others.
Atomwaffen 1.0’s ‘Band of comrades’
Launched in 2011, the Iron March (IM) forum became an important online gathering point for younger neo-Nazis looking to organize offline activism, as the forum’s slogan read, “Gas The Kikes! Race War Now! 1488! Boots on the ground!” IM went offline in fall 2017, but its impact lives on through the accelerationist movement. Its moderators created an intimate, dedicated international social network of just over 1,600 users who collectively posted more than 150,000 messages across the site’s roughly six-year lifespan. While the forum’s international reach was not new – the white power movement in this country has sought and maintained international connections with fellow travelers for decades – its moderators’ efforts to reach out to a young audience was a newer trend within the movement, exemplified elsewhere by the creation of sites like the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer. IM became a home where young people interested in discussing fascist and white power beliefs and literature could connect with others across the world. Andrew Auernheimer, a notorious neo-Nazi hacker and web administrator for the Daily Stormer, who is also known as “Weev,” offered a eulogy for IM via his podcast after the forum was taken offline. Auernheimer’s tribute captured what was “new” about the forum. He praised it for its “strict inner culture,” its influential aesthetics and the flurry of new fascist organizations it had spawned in the U.S. and Europe.
National Action, based in the UK but presently defunct, and Atomwaffen Division (AWD) were two groups that attempted to manifest IM’s goals offline: the coalescing of cadres of younger men, some with military experience, focused on resuscitating leaderless cell-oriented terrorism in relative secrecy in order to resuscitate a white world.
Brandon Clint Russell, of Florida, announced the formation of AWD in an Iron March post under his user online moniker, “Odin,” on Oct. 12, 2015:
The ATOMWAFFEN DIVISION is a group comprised of many members, and has been many years in the making, at least 3 years. Our exact numbers are not to be talked about too publicly but we are over 40 members strong. Large concentration in Florida, various smaller chapters throughout the US, such as Chicago, Texas, and New England, Boston, New York, Kentucky, Alabama, Ohio, Missouri, Oregon, Virginia, and a few others.
We are very fanatical, ideological band of comrades who do both activism and militant training. Hand to hand, arms training, and various other forms of training. As for activism, we spread awareness in the real world through unconventional means. [keyboard warriorism is nothing to do with what we are.]
Joining us means serious dedication not only to the Atomwaffen Division and its members, but to the goal of ultimate uncompromising victory. With this means only those willing to get out on the streets, in the woods, or where ever we maybe in the world and work together in the physical realm. As started [sic] earlier, no keyboard warriorism, (we do however do a lot [sic] of hacking, you won’t hear about this though) if you don’t want to meet up and get things done don’t bother.
Russell and fellow AWD member Devon Arthurs, also of Florida, took AWD beyond IM into the offline world in early November 2015, through a flyering campaign at the campus of the University of Central Florida.
The pair reportedly posted AWD flyers and attached stickers with antisemitic slogans – some featuring an early AWD tagline urging readers to “Join your local Nazis!” Surveillance footage captured two individuals leaving flyers around campus dormitories.
AWD flyers began appearing elsewhere throughout the country in late March 2016, first on the campus of Old Dominion University in Virginia, and then at Boston University in late April.
Then, in June 2016, member Stephen Billingsley of San Antonio, Texas, became the first member of the group to reveal his identity while protesting a vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub terror attack. Billingsley was being questioned by authorities when he removed his mask and gave a Nazi salute to cameras, following an altercation with a vigil participant. “I am a member of the Atomwaffen Division, a new and rising U.S.-based National-Socialist movement,” he later told a San Antonio Express-News reporter via Facebook message, adding, “Our members have been responsible for spreading recruitment drive materials on the campuses of the following universities: University of Central Florida, Old Dominion University and Boston University.”
In October 2016, Texas AWD members joined a White Lives Matter protest at the Houston office of the Anti-Defamation League. Over the next seven months, some of the AWD members present that day would come to rank among the group’s most influential members. They would also ultimately lead themselves and others into the custody of federal law enforcement.
By June 2017, AWD had placed propaganda on eight more campuses including the University of Chicago, the University of Washington, Texas A&M University, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, the University of Pennsylvania, Evergreen State College, Arizona State University and the University of Colorado.
‘They aren’t hurt, they’re dead’
In May 2017, police arrived at a Green Planet Smoke Shop in Tampa to find AWD member Devon Arthurs holding the store’s employees at gunpoint and behaving erratically while complaining about the U.S. bombing of Muslim-majority countries. Arthurs surrendered to police within 15 minutes.
A self-proclaimed convert to radical Islam from neo-Nazism, Arthurs made proclamations about his faith while blaming his actions on U.S. foreign policy. When asked by officers if anyone else had been injured, Arthurs replied, “The people in the apartment, but they aren’t hurt, they’re dead.”
Investigative journalist Janet Reitman best chronicled this period of AWD and the resulting tragedy in her story titled “All American Nazis” in the May 2018 issue of Rolling Stone magazine.
When officers arrived at the apartment Arthurs shared with Brandon Clint Russell, they found the bodies of AWD members Andrew Oneschuk, 18, and Jeremy Himmelman, 22, The victims had traveled from Boston to stay with their “comrades” for about two weeks. The apartment was littered fascist, neo-Nazi propaganda – including books such as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries.
Arthurs told Tampa detectives after his arrest that the shooting stemmed from Himmelman and Oneschuk disrespecting his recent turn in terroristic beliefs. Arthurs also told detectives that before the alleged murders, he had been involved in neo-Nazi chats online where Russell had threatened to kill people and bomb infrastructure. Arthurs himself had been banned from the Daily Stormer’s Discord server by Auernheimer personally over accusations that the former was a federal informant.
Arthurs faces multiple criminal charges, including two counts of murder in the first degree. After Arthurs’ trial was put on hold in 2020 due to concerns over his mental state, he is set to return to court for a jury trial in Hillsborough County Court in May 2023, according to court records.
Following their interview with Arthurs, authorities discovered a cooler with a white, cake-like substance inside, later identified as the explosive hexamethane triperoxide diamine (HMTD). They also discovered several explosive precursors and components including electric matches and empty 5.56 caliber ammunition casings with fuses, which can be used as detonators. A framed photo of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh stood near Russell’s bed.
Russell was released at the scene but two days later he was arrested in Key Largo, Florida, with fellow AWD member William James Tschantre, also of Florida. Tschantre, whose online moniker was “Wolfman,” had reportedly quit his fast-food job and cashed in $3,000 in life savings before the pair purchased rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and fled south.
Russell, a former student at the University of South Florida (USF), was an active member of the Army National Guard who told officers the explosives came from his time in USF’s engineering school. He also told officers, before asking for a lawyer, that he was a “national socialist” and a member of AWD.
Although conventional offline activity, such as flyering, slowed after Arthurs’ and Russell’s arrests, the group’s militancy and obsession with terrorism and violence soon deepened. After the imprisonment of its leader, other influential members emerged in his place. That cadre turned the group in more sinister directions.
Propagandizing the collapse: ‘SIEGE’ and ‘the sinister aesthetic’
The cadre of leaders that emerged after Russell’s arrest in 2017 set about re-announcing Atomwaffen to a small but ever-increasing audience.
AWD’s first website, which was registered in June 2017, was largely devoted to hosting visual propaganda from the group’s members and allies. Creating a distinct style was of paramount concern – yet another feature carried over from Iron March. Those behind the site filled the propaganda section with dozens of flyers that could be easily printed and hung by members and allies in their communities. Propaganda videos always depicted AWD members spreading these flyers under the cover of darkness.
Under the “Join Us” section of AWD’s site was a virtual library that included Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and SIEGE, a collection of James Mason’s eponymously named national socialist newsletter published from 1980-86. That section also featured a link to a new website called SIEGE Culture, a collaboration between AWD members and James Mason.
The site featured new writings and audio recordings from Mason expounding on the ideas in “SIEGE.” Individuals connected to AWD also published writing and new propaganda to the site. SIEGE Culture bore out hallmarks of Iron March. Its webmasters reposted threads preserved from IM and constructed a virtual library that further marked a darker turn for the group. It hosted a variety of esoteric novels and texts promoting gore, violence and terrorism. The novel “Iron Gates” appeared alongside articles archived from IM’s blog, called NOOSE, and other IM texts designed to facilitate indoctrination and radicalization. The novel’s gore became synonymous with Atomwaffen and the emerging accelerationist movement. Its publisher, Martinet Press, described it as “A sci-fi horror / post-apocalyptic novel, detailing a bleak view of the spiritual horrors of the world-to-come.”
Martinet Press is run by Atomwaffen member Joshua Caleb Sutter, a former member of Aryan Nations and a paid federal informant. Sutter and his wife, Jillian Hoy, lead Tempel ov Blood (ToB), an esoteric Satanist group that has deified many of the world’s most brutal and murderous authoritarian dictators, and Sutter joined AWD in 2017, following an invite from Denton himself. ToB is an affiliated sect of an international umbrella group known as The Order of Nine Angles (O9A). O9A was started in England in the 1960s. The enigmatic Satanic occult group’s most extreme adherents promote human sacrifice, Nazism, fascism and Aryan myths, and it has reportedly praised Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. British extremist David Myatt is often noted among the group’s figureheads.
Despite being one of the most prominent proponents of O9A in the United States, Sutter has earned upwards of six figures from the federal government for providing intel on white supremacist groups in the United States, according to reporting from Rolling Stone and USA Today. All while, he served as one of AWD’s most prominent ideologues. Sutter’s involvement with federal law enforcement dates to 2003, following his conviction for purchasing a defaced firearm from an FBI agent.
ToB’s own website includes several sections encouraging members, known as “Noctulians,” to infiltrate other extremist groups. The following passage describes how a “Noctulian” may infiltrate a neo-Nazi Christian Identity group and alter that group’s mission from the inside:
For those so inclined to work with the Tempel ov Blood (after proving their Noctulian potential), our main aims are … the infiltration and manipulation of organizations and forms with Sinister potential. Aryanism, particularly the more religiously fanatical forms of it, such as Christian Identity are a good example. The manipulating Noctulian is to use these forms for … changing in subtle ways the followers of such forms to following a more Sinister direction. For example, in Identity, using knowledge of the Biblical doctrines and prophecies encourage war, hardship, and system disruption using the scriptures as guidance…
Sutter and ToB’s texts helped turn AWD toward a more “sinister” direction. Sutter, under the handle “swissdiscipline,” ensconced himself with AWD’s leadership cadre. Per Rolling Stone, he participated in multiple in-person events with the group, including “hate camps” in Washington state (August 2017) and Nevada (early 2018).
Infighting ensued through 2018, with some members leaving in disgust over the group’s welcoming stance on Satanism, ToB and the turn toward violence as an end in itself. The change in visual propaganda that emerged from the group during this period, as influenced by ToB and O9A concepts, garnered the tagline “the sinister aesthetic.” The graphic design and propaganda memes created by a Canadian ally of AWD’s, known by the online moniker of “Dark Foreigner,” became the hallmark of the group and many groups it inspired in coming the years. “Dark Foreigner” is reportedly a member of Northern Order, a neo-Nazi group closely allied with and modeled after AWD, according to a source close to the Intelligence Project. The visual propaganda that AWD and “Dark Foreigner,” who VICE revealed to be 20-something Canadian graphic designer Patrick Gordon MacDonald, and the groups AWD has inspired have become synonymous with neo-Nazi accelerationism.
Though less gory, “SIEGE” is no less extreme than Sutter and “Iron Gates.” Whereas “Iron Gates” drips with hyperbolic descriptions of the desecration of infants, SIEGE heralds the importance of leaderless resistance and lone actor, cell-structured terrorism.
In his collection of newsletters, Mason lauds such white power figureheads as George Lincoln Rockwell, William Pierce and Joseph Tommasi. Rockwell, of course, is one of the movement’s most prominent historical figures, having founded the American Nazi Party in 1959. Tommasi, likewise, founded the first neo-Nazi group in this country dedicated to such underground, cell-structured terrorism in the mid-1970s, known as the National Socialist Liberation Front. Mason, meanwhile, is best known in white power circles for using his newsletter to promote his hypothesis of so-called “Universal Order,” which upholds the infamous cult leader and criminal Charles Manson and his “Family” as a model for provoking chaos, violence and revolutionary change in society. In order to do so, Mason argues, terror cells should drop out of society and live off the grid in rural areas. Only then, they believe, can they execute terror campaigns that will ultimately catalyze the waging of a racial revolution and thusly accelerate the collapse of U.S. systems and institutions.
As a user named “Tyler” posted in July 2017 in an AWD Discord chat server: “There was an exact quote by Mason, ‘Siege is actually just about how to bomb federal buildings.’”
Five editions of “SIEGE” have been published since its first edition in 1993. “Zeiger,” an influential member of the Iron March community, edited the collection’s third edition. A fourth edition followed in 2018, which was edited by John Cameron Denton under his “Vincent Snyder” moniker. Mason allowed his younger protégé to add a chapter and numerous other AWD-related pieces of propaganda in a new appendix. These were the first ever additions to the collection, such was the trust between Mason and AWD.
These additions also reflected the lasting influence of IM.
The new era of AWD leaders who emerged after Russell’s imprisonment placed visual propaganda at the center of their mission. The organization’s accounts on video sharing sites featured short, heavily stylized videos of members firing barrages of assault-rifle rounds as the group attempted to refine their armed tactical maneuvers.
One clip, which was posted to multiple video-sharing websites between mid-December 2017 and late January 2018 showed several individuals donning tactical gear marching through a hilly woodland landscape during the day and burning the flag, together with a copy of the U.S. Constitution, on an open fire at night. Members were filmed looking down at the fire, all the while standing clad in AWD and IM’s skull masks and holding Nazi salutes. Such scenes became typical of the group and those following its cues.
One notable propaganda video, which was released in May 2018, further signaled that AWD’s leadership wasn’t initially phased by outings or imprisonment. That video featured a voiceover of Brandon Russell reading a statement from prison, acknowledging that he still remained involved with the group.
AWD’s numerous videos drew the attention of some media members and young neo-Nazis and racists alike. Shooting raw footage became a primary function of meetups. AWD capitalized, to a degree, on its press attention, refining its digital propaganda aesthetic to further distinguish it from the racist right. But that attention brought much unwelcome scrutiny for many in AWD’s corner of the accelerationist movement.
The skull mask begins to slip
With Russell in prison, AWD’s emerging leaders altered the group while taking care to acknowledge Iron March’s influence. The visual aesthetic of the group’s propaganda grew darker. So did its library of influences, which became more varied and esoteric. The group attempted to enhance its security measures while raising the value and insistence on secrecy amongst its members and initiates, according to internal chat logs obtained by the Intelligence Project that detail the group’s innerworkings across 2017 and into 2018.
Despite AWD’s attempts to strengthen internal security after its founder’s arrest, members became aware of the fragility of their clandestine nature when Ali Winston, Jake Hanrahan and A.C. Thompson at ProPublica published their first investigative report about the group in early 2018. ProPublica’s reporting team exposed that central influence within AWD had fallen to a cadre that included John Cameron Denton, of Texas, known online as “Vincent Snyder” and “Rape.” Kaleb James Cole, of Washington state, emerged to lead the group forward. Cole’s online moniker then was “Khimaere,” as ProPublica revealed.
Under the co-leadership of Denton, Cole and, AWD’s fanatical rhetoric intensified as the group became more intertwined with James Mason, an American neo-Nazi who, along with his work “SIEGE,” had fallen into obscurity in white power movement until IM users and AWD helped stoke interest in him and his work. AWD under Russell had steeped itself in Nazi and fascist literature and folklore but had struggled for widespread attention.
ProPublica’s reporting punctured the group, exposing it as porous and vulnerable. The leaks would only worsen over time.
In addition to Cole and Denton, the same reporting team exposed other AWD members: Grayson Patrick Denton, John Cameron’s brother, of Texas; Sean Michael Fernandez, of Texas; and Michael Lloyd Hubsky, of Nevada. With the exception of Hubsky, all remained involved with Atomwaffen after being exposed.
ProPublica was able to identify Atomwaffen members in 23 states in early 2018. Previously, the group had only vaguely acknowledged its presence in 19 states in propaganda videos. Cracks in the group’s highly valued veil of anonymity continued to grow. By the end of 2018, building on ProPublica’s work, researchers in SPLC’s Intelligence Project listed 27 AWD chapters in its annual audit of hate groups.
Perhaps ProPublica’s most important revelation came from linking a member of the organization to the alleged murder of a college-aged man in Orange County, California.
On Jan. 9, 2018, the body of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein was found in the bushes of Borrego Park, located in the Foothill Ranch community of Orange County. Bernstein, an openly gay Jewish man, had been missing for a week. His body was discovered in a shallow grave with approximately 20 stab wounds.
Samuel Woodward, a then-20-year-old former high school classmate of Bernstein’s, was arrested on Jan. 12 and later charged with his murder. In November 2018, Woodward pleaded not guilty and was held without bail after the Orange County Sheriff’s Department added a hate crime charge. ProPublica detailed allegations that Bernstein’s alleged murderer was a member of AWD’s California cell since as early as 2016. ProPublica described him as a key member of that cell – a role he had assumed after attending “a three-day training camp” in Texas that involved “instruction in firearms, hand-to-hand combat, camping and survival skills.” One camp attendee told ProPublica the suspect helped to organize AWD members in California.
ProPublica’s report included photos of Bernstein’s alleged murderer giving the straight-armed Nazi salute both while wearing AWD’s trademark skull mask and while not.
In October 2022, a judge in Orange County Superior Court found Bernstein competent to stand trial, after two different mental health experts evaluated him. The court set a pre-trial hearing date of Jan. 27, 2023.
Christopher Mathias at HuffPost also connected the group’s wider sphere of influence online to the arrest of a 17-year-old from suburban Washington, D.C., on allegations related to a double-murder. According to HuffPost, the suspect – who was not a member of AWD but nevertheless reportedly held neo-Nazi beliefs – had frequently engaged with AWD-affiliated accounts on social media. One used a picture of the suspect in propaganda.
Mid-to-late-2018 brought further pressures to the organization. Rivalries within an ever-crowded field of accelerationists, combined with further outings and arrests, constituted the new normal for AWD’s members and their fellow travelers.
Following Woodward’s arrest, Daily Stormer editor and founder Andrew Anglin took to KiwiFarms – a forum with roots in 4Chan culture that has become notorious for engaging in extreme trolling, harassment, and even stalking – in an attempt to distance himself from the group. Even though Iron March propagandist “Zeiger” had long used his position as a Daily Stormer contributor to promote AWD, Anglin insisted that he had no awareness of the group or what it represented.
Then, in May 2018, ProPublica published another investigation, tying Vasillios Pistolis, then an active duty Marine, to AWD and the violence at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Pistolis, of North Carolina, frequented Traditionalist Worker Party and AWD chats on Discord, using the name “VasillistheGreek.”
Pistolis bragged in chats that he had “cracked 3 skulls” at Unite the Right. “Charlottesville gonna kick off a long battle,” he wrote on Aug. 12, according to chat logs acquired by the Intelligence Project. Two days later, the same chat logs show that he asked others on Aug. 14, “Who else ready for open battle shootouts with leftists and muds [sic] my blood is boiling looking at the cvile [sic] shit.”
Following ProPublica’s report, Pistolis was sentenced to 28 days confinement before a military court and discharged in mid-July.
The Montreal Gazette unmasked longtime Iron March moderator Gabriel Sohier Chaput aka “Zeiger” in early May 2018. In addition to his role as an IM moderator, Chaput co-hosted the site’s podcast and served as the head editor of the Iron March webzine, NOOSE. In podcasts, blogs and Iron March posts, Chaput encouraged his fellow fascists to focus on cultivating their propaganda. For a time, he acted as sort of independent publicist for AWD. Chaput, who was also a prolific neo-Nazi writer beyond IM, boosted AWD throughout the white supremacist blogosphere, including on the Daily Stormer, where he began writing in mid-2016. Chaput’s outing spooked many in neo-Nazi circles, including AWD.
After being outed, Canadian authorities issued a warrant for Chaput’s arrest for the willful promotion of hatred. A court in Montreal found Chaput guilty of these charges on Jan. 23, 2023, and he faces a maximum possible sentence of two years.
Arrests in the U.S. picked up in late 2018, not long after an alleged white supremacist attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 27, 2018, killing 11 and injuring several more. Though the attacker himself was not a member of any white power group, the attack was celebrated in memes featuring AWD’s “sinister aesthetic.”
AWD trudged through the headlines, exposés and initial arrests, but this period comprised a prologue to the collapse to come across 2019 and into early 2020.
The skull masks removed
This uptick in arrests would continue into 2020, following the release of a new Department of Homeland Security directive to prioritize white supremacist violence within the organization’s broader counterterrorism strategy. The DHS announced the directive in late September 2019 after years of negligence paid toward threats posed by this country’s white power movement. Part of a decade-long increase in such violence, 2019 witnessed several terror attacks carried out by white supremacists, including in Christchurch, New Zealand; Poway, California; and El Paso, Texas.
In response, lawmakers in the House and Senate held at least four in-depth hearings on the issue throughout 2019. Meanwhile, a pair of bills introduced in August 2019 proposed granting law enforcement the same tools to target domestic white supremacist groups with international connections as federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies were handed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In February 2019, Benjamin Bogard, a college student from New Braunfels, Texas, was arrested on child pornography charges. Bogard’s Instagram was brought to the attention of federal authorities by an anonymous online tipster. His account featured numerous videos of him clutching weapons, usually a shotgun, while threatening violence against minorities. Reporting after his arrest observed that authorities had allegedly found evidence of Bogard’s membership in AWD. Bogard pleaded guilty to a lesser charge related to the exploitation of children in May and received a six-year sentence in federal prison on Aug. 5, 2019.
Not long after Bogard pleaded guilty, Brian Patrick Baynes of Fairfax, Virginia, was taken into custody for allegedly lying during a federal firearms background check. The FBI alleged that Baynes had claimed he did not use illegal drugs, though the bureau noted in a criminal affidavit that agents had obtained encrypted messages between Baynes and another individual discussing purchasing drugs.
Though Baynes’s arrest was not initially linked to AWD activities, later reporting by Ali Winston for The Daily Beast indicated that Baynes’s name and email appeared on internal AWD financial papers. Baynes was also identified by Winston as a member of AWD’s internal chats, posting under the moniker of “Ted Bundy.”
On Oct. 8, 2019, authorities seized a trove of weapons from the home of AWD member Kaleb Cole, invoking Washington state’s “red flag” laws. Less than a month later, on Nov. 4, 2019, Aiden Bruce-Umbaugh was picked up in Garza County, Texas, during a traffic stop while riding in a car driven by Cole. Bruce-Umbaugh was arrested after authorities found a stash of weapons, a small amount of marijuana and some THC oil. Cole was ticketed and released. Ali Winston identified Bruce-Umbaugh as “a member of the Washington State cell of Atomwaffen Division [who] goes by the moniker ‘Nythra.’” Winston added that Cole told federal agents he and Bruce-Umbaugh “had been friends since grade school.”
Bruce-Umbaugh was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison on April 28, 2020, after pleading guilty to possession of firearms and ammunition by a prohibited.
Then, on Nov. 12, 2019, Andrew Jon Thomasberg – who went by “GrecoVicking” online – pleaded guilty on charges related to illegal firearm possession and illicit drug use. A federal court in Virginia sentenced him to one year in prison on Feb. 28, 2020.
Richard Tobin, whose online moniker was “Landser,” was arrested in November 2019 on charges related to the vandalism of two synagogues in Michigan and Wisconsin. Tobin was sentenced to one year and one day in prison on Nov. 16, 2021.
Tobin was close to Atomwaffen’s leadership cadre and, according to sources close to the Intelligence Project, attended the group’s leadership gathering, dubbed its “Nuclear Congress.” Held in Las Vegas in fall 2019, members of the group's inner circle read speeches, theorizing about the way forward for the group. AWD released a propaganda video over the dark web to mark the occasion. Footage of the event, which was spread on dark web sites and social media accounts associated with the group, revealed that James Mason had attended and read a speech. Mason can also be seen donning an armband adorned with the group’s nuclear tri-foil logo while standing alongside AWD members. It was Mason’s first public appearance with the group.
Tobin, like some other AWD members, worked closely with the neo-Nazi accelerationist network known as The Base. Like AWD, the now-defunct neo-Nazi group, which was formerly headed by Rinaldo Nazzaro, was also targeted for arrests by the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force throughout 2019 and into 2020.
Fissures in the global fascist fraternity
From the start, Atomwaffen was connected to an international neo-Nazi network that grew out of Iron March. The site featured a crest of the nine different groups that had grown out of the forum, which it dubbed the “Global Fascist Fraternity.”
AWD’s efforts to build an international fascist network began early in the organization’s lifespan. Russell, for instance, had traveled to England as early as 2015 to meet members of National Action, the first neo-Nazi group in U.K. history to be outlawed as a terrorist organization after they cheered the assassination of Jo Cox, a member of Parliament. At least one member of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), which maintains branches in most Scandinavian countries and has been banned in Finland, was an early supporter of AWD and a leading moderator in Iron March. NRM has a well-documented history of violence. In 2016, a member of the Finnish branch was sentenced to prison for an aggravated assault at a rally in Helsinki. A bombing campaign that was carried out in November 2016 and January 2017 resulted in three members of NRM’s Swedish branch being sentenced to prison in summer 2017. One of the bombs exploded at a refugee and asylee center.
In June 2018, an AWD cell in Germany announced its existence to the world through a propaganda video. The video includes a still of an individual clad in a skull mask holding an unfurled AWD flag in a field below the Castle Wewelsburg in the background. The castle was the headquarters and spiritual home for Henrik Himmler’s SS Division before the NSDAP was defeated by allied forces in 1945. A video purporting the emergence of a Ukraine-based AWD cell as well that emerged on Dec. 10, 2019, but its authenticity is in question. To date, no proof that the individuals in the video reside in Ukraine is available, and the video itself contains none.
In December 2018, the BBC revealed that it had discovered several individuals throughout the U.K. corresponding with AWD members over Discord, an online gaming chat platform. These individuals had launched their own U.K.-based group, known as Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD). SKD melded O9A ideas with accelerationist propaganda and rhetoric and were clearly inspired by AWD’s “sinister” turn. The BBC identified Andrew Dymock, of Bath, England, as SKD’s leader.
The BBC also claimed it had evidence that tied Dymock to the Discord username “Blitzy the Vampyr ;3” and to another group, known as the System Resistance Network. System Resistance Network, which the BBC described as having been “linked to acts of racist vandalism in as many as 10 U.K. cities,” had emerged as a splinter group after the U.K. government outlawed National Action. AWD’s chat logs also contained a post made in 2017 by an AWD member alleging that a user under the moniker “blitz” is “running” System Resistance Network.
Three members of SKD were arrested in 2019, including Dymock. Subsequently, the Home Secretary of the U.K. announced in February 2020 that System Resistance Network and SKD had been designated as terrorist organizations. Now, anyone in the U.K. who joins SKD may now face up to 10 years in prison.
Feuerkrieg Division (FKD) was another neo-Nazi accelerationist group that formed in 2018. FKD emerged first in Europe before later beginning recruitment in the U.S. In an early propaganda video, FKD members unfurled an Atomwaffen flag, provoking some confusion about the group’s origins and its connections to AWD. Footage in the video showed members mixing and detonating homemade explosives. Still, FKD maintained tenuous affiliations and rivalries with Atomwaffen Division members and individuals connected to the neo-Nazi group The Base throughout 2019.
FKD has drawn attention for threatening to assassinate politicians in Belgium and a high-ranking law enforcement official in England. The group has also threatened public figures in both the U.S. and Europe. But its activities came to a halt on Jan. 15, when the group announced via social media that it had ceased all recruiting efforts. Then, in a since-deleted message posted in early February, the group reportedly announced it would be suspending all activities as an organization.
But AWD’s affiliation with The Base in the U.S. represented one of its closest ties. The two groups have not only comingled, but also organized both in adjacent and shared chat rooms hosted on peer-to-peer encrypted messaging apps. The groups have also strategized on a prominent neo-Nazi forum that seeks to replicate Iron March’s mission. Both the Base and AWD coexisted in a cooperative rivalry for months, as each attempted to better position their recruiting efforts online. At times, some members even defected to the other, and vice versa.
AWD’s staunchest rivals emerged in October 2019 in a new AWD-branded video posted to an encrypted social media service. The video bears all the hallmarks of the group’s past propaganda: young men clad in camo and donning skulls masks, running through the woods with weapons in hand, replete with rhetoric about the lethal consequences for those who do not side with the group. The almost five-minute clip, titled “Fission,” was released in English, alongside another version with Russian subtitles. The video’s release and marked improvement in production quality surprised no one more than AWD’s leadership cadre.
According to sources close to the Intelligence Project, the individuals behind the “Fission” faction video and subsequent releases were some of the very same individuals who had resigned over the group’s welcoming of Satanism into its fold across 2017 and into 2018.
This parallel faction had failed in their earlier attempt to challenge AWD’s post-Russell leadership cadre in years prior. Their latest coup encouraged anyone to dawn AWD’s logo regardless of authority within or acceptance into the group through its official vetting process. They also took aim at James Mason, painting him as a caricature of himself. On social media, they mocked AWD’s leadership over their dependence on Mason for credibility and relevance.
Debate within the accelerationist scene ensued. Through fall 2019, a moment appeared where the “Fission” faction believed they were diluting AWD’s brand. Mason publicly disavowed the “Fission” video, implying it was not the “real” AWD. A few videos and a short publication followed in “Fission’s” wake, along with further promises of propaganda to come. But these challengers have yet to materialize beyond these earlier efforts. By winter 2019, AWD’s leadership cadre was only weeks from having far more pressing problems to navigate.
Atomwaffen accelerates its collapse
On March 14, 2020, an audio clip of James Mason was posted to at least two file sharing sites. Mason announced that AWD had folded under the immense pressure exhibited upon the group by recent events. Additionally, repeated infiltration by federal authorities, far-right researchers, antifascists and journalists had left the group exposed.
The motivations for Mason’s voice recording were clear: Five senior members of AWD had been charged with an array of federal crimes following arrests in multiple states, decimating the group’s leadership structure.
John Cameron Denton aka “Rape” was charged in February 2020 in the eastern district of Virginia with crimes related to an alleged “swatting” conspiracy. Swatting is a dangerous form of harassment that involves deceptively generating an emergency services response with the intention of sending police, or even a swat team, to a residence under the auspices that a mass causality attack is in progress. The charges cited several “swatting” events in Virginia that included filing false police reports regarding threats against Old Dominion University, a public research university in Norfolk; the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria; and an unnamed cabinet official who lived in the northern part of that state. A criminal complaint affidavit filed by the FBI also detailed how Denton allegedly coordinated the swatting of a journalist.
Denton pleaded guilty on July 14, 2020, to charges connected to his role in this “swatting” conspiracy. On May 4, 2021, he was sentenced to 41 months in prison.
That same day, a federal court in Washington state charged Cameron Brandon Shea, of Washington, known online by the monikers “Krokodil” and “Krok”; Kaleb James Cole; Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, of Florida, known by “Azazel,” and who also maintained prominent influence in Feuerkrieg Division, according to an investigation published by an antifascist group; and Johnny Roman Garza, of Arizona, known as “Roman.” The four faced allegations that they conspired to threaten journalists and activists, Jews and other minority groups, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish publication local to the Seattle area and a handful of journalists in other areas of the country.
Garza, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to mail threatening communication, was among the first of the four men to be sentenced. On Dec. 9, 2020, the Justice Department announced in a press release that Garza was sentenced to 16 months in prison for his role in the plot. In April 2021, Shea pleaded guilty to charges of inference with federally protected activities because of religion, mailing threatening communications, and cyberstalking. A federal court sentenced him to three years in prison on Aug. 24, 2021. Finally, on Sept. 30, 2021, a federal jury found Cole guilty on five charges, including conspiracy, mailing threatening communications and interference with federally protected activities. On Jan. 11, 2022, he was sentenced to seven years in prison.
While Parker-Dipeppe pleaded guilty to the charges in September of 2020, a federal judge declined to impose prison time on him in early 2021.
On March 13, 2020, Rachel Weiner of The Washington Post reported allegations that emerged during Denton’s bail hearing. Appearing in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, Denton listened as federal prosecutors told Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan that two individuals described as his “co-conspirators” had “told investigators that [he] had ‘scanned and sent photos’ of a 16-year-old girl dating another white supremacist” and that he had been “‘trading child pornography back and forth’ with another individual and had a folder of the material on his computer.” Denton’s defense lawyer protested that Denton had not been involved with the group since 2018, and his client was not accused of crimes related to child pornography.
The arrests of these prominent Atomwaffen members followed the arrests of six people in January 2020 involved with the Base. Three were arrested in Maryland on weapons related charges, while the other three were arrested in Georgia on conspiracy charges related to attempted murder.
‘We are Accelerationists. We want the U.S. to burn’
In chapter 6 of his book Extremism, scholar J.M. Berger writes, “Extremism is an old problem, but it is also always new. Extremist ideologies build on previous ideologies and evolve to fit the times. As human society becomes more complex and interconnected, so too does extremism.”
Atomwaffen and other accelerationists exemplified Berger’s ideas. The rifts in the neo-Nazi accelerationist scene, including the ones highlighted by those behind the “Fission” video, are as old as the global white power movement itself. Combustibility always overwhelms solidarity within the movement, one long driven by hated-fueled militancy.
AWD sprang not just from Iron March — itself a fresh take on online racist forums like Stormfront — but also from the pages of works authored in the 1970s and 1980s by American figureheads of the movement. AWD excelled at repackaging those old ideas, to borrow Berger’s phrasing, “to fit the times.”
AWD is often credited with invigorating a younger generation toward hate-related violence and racially motivated terrorism across North America and Europe. Yet there is precedent for this too within the movement historically. The spread of the racist skinhead subculture and music globally throughout the 1980s and 1990s has made millions of dollars for the movement. Racist skinheads have also been responsible for innumerable acts of violence and even terrorism — take, for instance, Wade Michael Page, whose 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, resulted in the death of seven people. Both AWD and racist skinhead subculture share many of the same idols, including, but not limited to William Pierce.
In the case of James Mason, IM and AWD lent him the relevance and influence that had eluded him since the 1990s. AWD has done the same for the Order of Nine Angles within this network of accelerationists. The international spread of this network’s fresh visual propaganda aesthetic, combined with its persistent online organizing across social media, has generated a darker current in a movement of dark waters.
AWD and those flowing from the wellspring of influence that was Iron March believed they were co-creating “the forge of the 21st century fascist.” Instead, like some within the movement’s militant vanguard in the 20th century, many AWD members have now ended up behind bars. The mere act of holding a firearm, so crucial to AWD’s video propaganda, will constitute a crime for those found guilty. Such impositions have not proved a deterrent for so many within the white power movement through the years, and the federal prison system — an inherently violent and deeply bigoted environment — is not a forum for reliable disengagement or deradicalization from hateful beliefs, as AWD’s once-imprisoned leader Brandon Russell has demonstrated.
A significant aspect of Iron March and AWD’s legacy then is that none have done more over the past decade to reinvigorate federal law enforcement’s interest in infiltrating and investigating white power groups after neglecting the threat of white supremacy for so long. In this way, AWD’s impact within the white power movement is equal to that of the deadly Charlottesville riot in August 2017.
Nevertheless, the group has continued to retain a hold on the white power movement’s imagination.
In 2021 and 2022, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified at least three active neo-Nazi groups whose leaders were former AWD members. These include: the National Socialist Order, a now-defunct neo-Nazi group run by the Colorado-based Ryan Hatfield, who uses the name “Ryan AW” and “Ryan Arthur” online, founded in August of 2020; American Futurist, a propaganda website first registered by former AWD Michigan chapter leader Jack Espinoza in April 2020, as SPLC previously reported; and the National Socialist Resistance Front, an offshoot of NSO founded in summer of 2022, after Hatfield claimed a cadre of O9A supporters sought to seize control of his group.
Likewise, the group’s name has continued to be invoked by supporters to inspire fear and anxiety in communities. Over the course of two days in early 2022, Jan. 31, and Feb. 1, someone targeted multiple historically Black colleges throughout the United States with bomb threats. One caller, who told police they had placed bombs filled with C4 explosive around Florida’s Bethune-Cookman University campus, claimed to have been a member of AWD.