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The Base

The Base is an antisemitic, white nationalist network that trains members in survivalism and paramilitary skills to prepare them to mount an armed resistance against the government.

Made up of small, terroristic cells, The Base believes society should be pushed to collapse so a white ethnostate can arise out of the ruins. It is not an organization that seeks to build popular appeal. Instead, groups like The Base seek to inspire a small number of actors to commit themselves wholly to their revolutionary mindset and act on it – either by forming small, clandestine terror cells or inspiring individuals to carry out “lone actor” attacks.

Rinaldo Nazzaro, founder and leader of The Base, operates under the pseudonyms Norman Spear and Roman Wolf. He cites Harold Covington and his “Northwest Imperative” – a plan to forcible seize the Pacific Northwest and bring it under the control of white supremacist militants – as inspiration for the group.

Though largely organized through encrypted online networks, members of The Base meet in person to train with assault weapons and practice survivalist skills to prepare for the race war they believe is imminent. Several members of the group were arrested in late 2019 and early 2020 on charges of conspiring against the rights of minorities, vandalism and conspiracy to commit murder.   

In Their Own Words

“Derail some f------ trains, kill some people, and poison some water supplies. You better be f------ ready to do those things. If not, then you are not going to be ready for what’s coming. If you want the white race to survive, you’re going to have to do your f------ part.” – Patrick Mathews, December 2019

“I day dream about killing so much that I frequently walk in the wront [sic] direction for extended periods of time at work.” – Brian Lemley in Base encrypted chat, September 2019

“Most of our members are National Socialists and/or fascists, although we also have some run-of-the-mill white nationalists... We have a strong revolutionary and militant current running through The Base. Most of our members are pretty hardcore in that sense. You’re going to be stepping into probably the most extreme group of pro-white people that you can probably come across.” – Rinaldo Nazzaro to a prospective recruit, August 2019

“There’s nothing for whites to be proud of anymore – All of our greatest achievements are in the distant past – Society today is a culmination of everything wrong with Whites & indicative of how much we’ve degenerated – We need a hard reset via a cleansing fire of revolution to start anew.” – Rinaldo Nazzaro on Twitter, March 13, 2018

“Create a list of every anti-White hate crime you can think of and in which there was a miscarriage of Justice – These people have names & addresses. Go forth & balance the scales.” – Rinaldo Nazzaro on Twitter, Sept. 16, 2018

“What are the most egregious examples of anti-White hate crimes in the last year that you can think of which received national media attention but where justice has *not* been served for one reason or another? That’s your target list.” Rinaldo Nazzaro on Twitter, Sept. 16, 2018

“There are no perfect options left for us...if the 14 Words really mean something to you, as much as people say it does, then sacrifice is gonna be required one way or the other. It could be something as more benign as getting fired from your job, which had already happened to a lot of people. But some sort of risk, incurring some sort of personal risk or inconvenience is going to be required if we have any chance of any of the solutions we proposed taking effect.” – Rinaldo Nazzaro, Lone Wolf Radio, Dec. 24, 2017

Background

The Base was officially founded in July 2018, but Rinaldo Nazzaro began building a name for himself within extremist circles well before then. He amassed a following on Twitter, where he began posting about white separatism and offering advice for aspiring white supremacist guerilla fighters in November 2016 under the name “Norman Spear.”

Most of the white nationalist movement saw President Donald Trump’s 2016 election as a victory for their movement and, for some, his election provided proof that the so-called “alt-right” could become a viable insurgent political movement. Nazzaro felt differently. “Politically-speaking [sic],” he wrote in a typical Twitter post, “we’re already beyond the point of no return to vote our way out of this mess unfortunately.”

Nazzaro expressed anxiety over declining white birthrates and non-white immigration, pointing to them as evidence that whites were being systematically replaced – the primary motivating conspiracy behind the white nationalist movement. What white people need to consider now, he wrote, “is cultivating support and recruiting for the only option remaining while it continues to be an actual option, before we dwindle too far.” The only remaining route, according to Nazzaro, was white separatism.

Nazzaro pointed specifically to the Butler Plan, a proposal to establish a white homeland in the Northwest. Calls for white migration to the region animated the white power movement in the 1970s and 1980s. The Aryan Nations, whose founder Richard Butler the plan is named after, built its compound in Idaho and attracted a number of movement leaders to the Northwest. Aryan Nations and many of its contemporaries diminished considerably by the mid-1990s as much of the movement’s energy shifted into online spaces, but their ideas remained. Indeed, the Northwest Imperative, as the plan was also known, became the singular obsession of neo-Nazi Harold Covington, who wrote a series of propagandistic novels about white migration to the Northwest. They detailed how migrants would eventually turn the region into a white homeland, which included the creation of “Trouble Trios” – underground cells of at least three individuals who would carry out terror campaigns. “You’d be amazed how much hell three men can raise in a society this complex, this racial volatile and unstable,” a character in his novel The Brigade explained.    

In 2009, Covington launched a group called Northwest Front to bring the ideas in his novels to the real world.         

“Our long term goal,” the Northwest Front declares on its website, “is to present the government of the United States with a situation whereby the struggle to retain the Northwest becomes politically and financially insupportable.” They argue that acts of violence will be necessary in order to weaken the state, challenge its legitimacy and encourage repressive responses that will bring sympathy to their cause. After the United States has collapsed, the revolutionaries will seize power and declare the Northwest an independent nation.

Discovering Northwest Front and the Butler Plan was apparently revelatory for Nazzaro.

“A lightbulb just went on,” he explained in a 2017 interview. “Hey, this is it. And once that happened it’s like no turning back.”

The steps that brought Nazzaro to find Northwest Front in the first place remain murky. Nazzaro grew up in New Jersey and attended a Benedictine prep school before heading to Villanova University in the early 1990s. In 1999, five years after dropping out of Villanova, he did an internship at the National Defense Council Foundation. Several years later, he incorporated a company called Omega Solutions International that claimed to specialize in “command, control, and intelligence (C2I) for homeland security, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency missions at every echelon.” Nazzaro managed to keep most of his life – both personal and professional – off social media. He would later claim he worked in Iraq and Afghanistan as a contractor. 

Real estate records show Nazzaro lived in an expensive condo in Arlington, Virginia, before moving to New York City, where he bought an apartment for more than half a million dollars. He married a Russian woman in 2012. The couple moved to Washington, D.C., and, in 2017, packed up and moved  – now with two daughters – to Russia. The family reportedly lives in an apartment in St. Petersburg.

Around that time, Nazzaro began sharing his views on neo-Nazi podcasts. He argued that if the revolution he envisioned had any chance, the system would first need to collapse. Since he believed there were no electoral routes to achieving a white ethnostate, revolutionaries should focus on preparing for that collapse. This became the central idea behind The Base.

Just as the Northwest Front had argued before him, Nazzaro insisted that violence was an inevitability. “Given the history of separatist movements in the past and anywhere around the world, inevitably the host nation, the original state, is going to do all in its power – including use of force – to stop it,” Nazzaro explained on an episode of the white supremacist podcast Lone Wolf Radio in late 2017. “The answer to that – if it ever came to cross the line to some sort of active conflict – is guerrilla warfare.”

Nazzaro organized The Base not as a hierarchical membership organization, but as a network of small, underground cells, each with a high degree of autonomy. The group is based on the “leaderless resistance” model, in which regional cells share an ideology and the same general goals but have little contact between them – a measure put in place to protect the rest of the network if one cell is infiltrated. Much like the Butler Plan, this idea is an old one in the movement, laid out most notably in a 1983 essay by Klansman Louis Beam. The Base situates itself as a group that is both of its time and rooted in a long-standing white power movement.  They are responding to what they see as a current and untenable crisis, while also claiming their place in part of a decades-long fight to save the white race.

Building the Network

When The Base launched in mid-2018, its online application asked potential recruits about their training in the military, science and engineering. The group views members with military experience, firearms training and knowledge of explosives as especially valuable.

Nazzaro was frustrated with other white supremacist groups who chose to focus on creating online propaganda while forgoing real-world training. Potential Base recruits needed to be willing to meet up with fellow members. “It’s essentially a networking platform to try to get people who are likeminded and who want to be more active in real life,” Nazzaro said on a 2018 podcast. “We want to build a cadre of trainers across the country and eventually, if possible, develop some formalized training courses.”

Even with their real-world focus, the internet was the primary medium through which The Base organized. Nazzaro launched chat rooms on Riot, an encrypted messaging app, where members could meet, discuss ideology and access white supremacist texts. The chat included a library with PDF copies of books on guerrilla warfare, building firearms and chemical weapons, “escape and evasion,” “psyops,” “survival” and other topics. Recruits had to be vetted by group members before being allowed to join the chat.

Members also set about propagandizing on other platforms such as Twitter and Gab, hoping to lure new recruits. During meetups, members posed for photos wearing skull masks, which they later posted to social media.  

Nazzaro made the rounds on white supremacist podcasts to drum up support for his group, receiving high praise from the likes of neo-Nazi Billy Roper, who called him “the most extreme of any guest that I’ve ever had on my podcast.” “We like to say that there’s nothing to our right except the wall and this guy maybe has us beat,” he said of Nazzaro. Despite such praise, The Base leader always came with a disclaimer. “I don’t espouse violence,” he said on Lone Wolf Radio, only moments later telling listeners, “if the 14 Words” – a common white supremacist slogan – “really mean something to you, as much as people say it does, then sacrifice is gonna be required one way or the other.”

Members made their intentions clear in the Riot chat. “This shit gets me pumped,” the user Poilu said after an alleged white supremacist killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018. “I’m all about violence, but I want to gather with people and plan something out,” the user Rimbaud wrote in response. “Maybe some form of bombing, or something a bit more destructive.”

“It doesn’t need to be zero or zyklon,” Nazzaro told other members in the chat. “For now we need non-attributable action but that will send a message and/or add to acceleration [of the downfall of the state] as much as possible.”   

But just as The Base was beginning to build its membership, reporters at Vice acquired screenshots of the group’s internal chat and, in November 2018, published an article detailing the group’s inner workings. After they were contacted by reporters, Twitter removed Nazzaro – who was going by “Norman Spear” – on their platform.

The Base regrouped, moving its internal chat to Wire, another encrypted platform. Returning to social media proved easy and Nazzaro started a new account on Twitter in January 2019, this time going by the name “Roman Wolf.” But as they were finding their way back onto social media, antifascist activists began doxing members of the group, further hindering Nazzaro’s efforts to recruit men into his network.

In response, Nazzaro spent much of early 2019 obsessively focused on doxing antifascist activists and making thinly veiled threats. “Antifa is an unofficial extrajudicial militia of the repressive globalist anti-White ruling elite,” he wrote on Twitter that February. “We must take matters into our own hands to neutralize Antifa intimidation and harassment.” He created a network map supposedly showing the connections between antifascists – who are, in reality, a small and loosely organized network of activists who employ a variety of tactics to counter fascist movements. He posted photos of their social media profiles, homes and workplaces, calling it #OpRedKarma.    

Creating an Accelerationist Movement

Even with their sloppy security, The Base was well positioned to grow their network. Their online propaganda – which featured high-contrast images of men in skull masks and three Eihwaz runes that served as their logo – attracted those in the extreme right looking to commit to a group, and press exposure got them name recognition.

But the landscape of the far right was also shifting in their favor. White supremacists had become increasingly disillusioned by President Trump, who had failed to act as decisively on issues like immigration as they had hoped. The “alt-right” coalition was weakened by other factors, including the backlash following the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and their own infighting. The white power movement was grappling with its failure to become an insurgent political movement and, in response, one faction began arguing that working through traditional political channels was useless. What they needed was revolution, they claimed, and that meant violence.

This growing wing referred to themselves as “accelerationists” because of their belief that the collapse of society needed to be accelerated, and it needed to be done through terroristic acts of violence. Two existing groups were already operating under this framework, namely The Base and the Atomwaffen Division (AWD).

Atomwaffen, a neo-Nazi group with its roots in a forum known as Iron March, was established in 2015. By the time The Base came into existence, AWD had already been linked to multiple murders, including members of their own group and that of a young, gay, Jewish man. The group helped popularizing a book called SIEGE, a collection of newsletters written by neo-Nazi James Mason between 1980 and 1986. SIEGE served as a how-to guide for white power revolution, and it became required reading not only for members of AWD, but for members of The Base as well. The Base also borrowed almost wholesale from Atomwaffen’s aesthetic, basing their own propaganda posters on the stark black, white and red images originally created by AWD associate “Dark Foreigner.”

Eventually, Atomwaffen and The Base even came to share members. Unlike many white power groups, The Base allowed members to maintain affiliations with multiple groups. Members of AWD and The Base intertwined on Telegram, where both groups had shifted their propaganda efforts. While many social media companies made some effort (however limited) to de-platform extremists, Telegram branded itself as a techno-libertarian platform that was loath to censor any of its users. It was, at the time, also ISIS’s primary platform.

By early 2019, The Base was ramping up efforts to host meetups and training around the country. On Jan. 20, 2019, “Roman Wolf” posted to Twitter: “Hail comrades! The Base is back!” along with photos of Base members in New York City and Los Angeles. “To our enemies: Thanks for the free promo,” he wrote in reference to a number of recent news articles that had been published about the group. “Recruiting has never been better despite your pathetic attempt to subvert. Remember that doxing works both ways – But unlike you, we won’t rely on the System to do our dirty work for us. It’s personal now.”

By the spring, another cell was announced in Georgia. “Protect your race, join The Base,” flyers read in Rome, a town 70 miles northwest of Atlanta. In early August, at least eight members attended a training camp there, where they practiced tactical training and participated in firearm drills. More chapters were announced as the year went on – including in the Great Lakes region, Wisconsin, New England and New Jersey. Men from Canada, Europe, South Africa and Australia joined The Base. On Telegram and Gab, the group continued to pump out propaganda. Occasionally they posted videos – some in which Nazzaro’s poorly modified voice described the group’s political project, and others gathered for training exercises.

Federal Investigations and Arrests

Despite Nazzaro’s claims to be an expert in security matters, multiple infiltrators found their way into The Base, including a reporter, an activist and an undercover FBI agent. Vetting was done by voice interviews over encrypted messaging apps. The bar to join the group – which consisted of having a convincing narrative about their conversion to white nationalism and/or National Socialism, being able to discuss a few passages from SIEGE and namedropping influential neo-Nazis – was not particularly high. Some men were asked to meet in person before they were allowed in, but it’s not clear if that was a requirement.

In August 2019, a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press infiltrated the group and published a story identifying 26-year-old Patrik Mathews, then a combat engineer in the Canadian Armed Forces, as a member. Mathews fled Manitoba days after the piece was published, crossing into the United States through Minnesota.

Mathews’ movements were heavily tracked by law enforcement officials after he entered the United States. The resources federal law enforcement dedicated to investigating members of The Base reflected a larger shift in priorities. Though their primary focus had been on the threat of international terrorism in the post-9/11 world, a number of high-casualty attacks carried out by white supremacists forced the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation to recognize the increased domestic terror threat they posed. Roughly six weeks after a white supremacist killed 23 people in an August 2019 attack at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart, DHS released a report recognizing white supremacist ideology as “one of the most potent forces driving domestic terrorism.” In February 2020, the FBI announced it had elevated racially motivated violent extremism to a “national threat priority.” 

As Mathews traveled the U.S., shepherded by Base members, other members were carrying out what they dubbed “Operation Kristallnacht.” Richard Tobin, an 18-year-old living in Brooklawn, New Jersey, orchestrated the campaign, which involved, in his words, “tag[ging] the shit” out of synagogues. On Sept. 21, 2019, police in Michigan found swastikas and The Base logo graffitied on a Hancock synagogue and, the next day, law enforcement in Wisconsin found similar graffiti on a synagogue in Racine.

In October 2019, FBI and law enforcement officials in New Jersey questioned Tobin, who told authorities he felt consistently “triggered” by African Americans. He described one day at a mall in Edison, New Jersey, when he felt so infuriated by the presence of black people that he wanted to “let loose” on them with a machete he had in his car. He also considered suicide-by-cop, adding that it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to carry out a bombing like one on the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. A search warrant revealed that Tobin had steeped himself in extremist material online. He had a video from the Christchurch mosque shooter, who livestreamed his attack while killing 51 people on March 15, 2019, set to the song “Another One Bites the Dust.”

In November, Tobin was charged with conspiring against the rights of minorities. Alleged Base member Yousef O. Barasneh, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, would later be charged with vandalizing Beth Israel synagogue in Racine.  

More arrests followed.

Patrik Mathews found his way to Michigan after fleeing Canada and, on Aug. 30, 2019, Base members Brian Lemley and William Bilbrough IV retrieved him after driving from their homes in Maryland. Mathews was then brought to Georgia, where he spent over a month with other Base members. That November, he moved into an apartment in Newark, Delaware, with Lemley.

Law enforcement was carefully monitoring the movement of the three Base members. In December 2019, they placed a closed-circuit camera in the Delaware residence. The three men were observed handling and building firearms and, one night, attempting to manufacture DMT, a hallucinogenic drug. They also discussed the possibility of attending a gun rights rally that was taking place in January. The rally, they thought, could be the spark to set off a “f------ full blown civil war.” “We can’t let Virginia go to waste, we just can’t,” Mathews told Lemley, according to federal filings. “You know what, Virginia will be our day,” Lemley replied.     

“I literally need, I need to claim my first victim,” Lemley told Mathews on another occasion.

On Jan. 16, 2020, federal agents executed a search warrant at Mathews and Lemley’s residence. They, along with Bilbrough, face gun-related charges and stand accused of violating immigration law.

More arrests came the next day, this time in Georgia. The arrests of Luke Austin Lane, Michael John Helterbrand and Jacob Kaderli – who were all in their late teens and early twenties – were the result of a months-long FBI investigation.

On July 19, 2019, members of The Base unknowingly vetted an undercover FBI agent through an encrypted messaging app. The agent was then invited to meet with members near Rome, Georgia. When he arrived at the meeting location, Lane – who went by “TMB” – and Kaderli – who went by “Pestilence” – searched the agent for any recording devices, and then invited him to Lane’s residence in Silver Creek. The three discussed their beliefs and, finding his views ideologically compatible with their own, Lane and Kaderli gave the agent a patch bearing The Base logo and welcomed him into the group. The next day they practiced shooting drills in preparation for the race war they believed was on the horizon.

Shortly after the agent was inducted into the group, Lane revealed a plan to murder two antifascist activists – a married couple – who lived in Bartow County. Kadleri and another member, Helterbrand, were recruited to help. “This is what I’ve been fantasizing about for two years now,” Helterbrand said when he was asked to participate in the murders. In the course of planning the murder, the men discussed what to wear, what guns to use and their getaway after the murders. They also cased the intended victims’ house.

But before they could act, law enforcement officials arrested the three men, charging them with conspiracy to commit murder.

Only days after the three men were taken into custody, The Guardian revealed Nazzaro’s true identity and, the next day, the BBC released reporting further detailing his life in Russia. Nazzaro went silent, and the group’s Telegram channel appeared to be taken over by an infiltrator. It was renamed “The Base is a Honeypot.”

While The Base suffered insurmountable setbacks, its members have likely continued to act as part of the white power movement, either as members of other groups or participants in informal online extremist communities.