About Jeff Schoep
Schoep once led the National Socialist Movement (NSM). Once the largest and most active neo-Nazi group in the United States, NSM was known for the crudeness of its propaganda, the violence it worked hard to provoke, and the faux SS outfits that have caused many other neo-Nazis to deride NSM members as “Hollywood Nazis.” Then, as legal pressures mounted, he claimed in August 2019 that he had chosen to leave it all behind.
In His Own Words
“In the National Socialist Movement … we called ourselves a ‘white civil rights organization.’ Most of the guys will tell you they were not white supremacists. We knew, publicly speaking, we gave like a pep speech … before a rally, and told people: No racial epithets, no cussing. … We knew that those buzzwords were not going to go over well with the public. I don’t think as long as I can remember I ever called myself a white supremacist.”
– Jeff Schoep, talk at the New American Foundation, Washington, D.C., 2019
“The white race in America is becoming a minority very fast. … The white people standing here today, standing up on behalf of our people, are amongst the few that have the testicular fortitude to stand for our people. Every time someone stands up and says something pro-white in this country it’s called hate, it’s called racism.”
– Jeff Schoep, in a speech at a rally in Little Rock, Arkansas, November 2018
“We are the front line of the fight for the white race. We are the shock troops for the white race.”
– Jeff Schoep, speech at a rally in Pikeville, Kentucky, April 29, 2017
“We like our symbol. It’s meaningful to us. The symbol of the swastika is a symbol of white power. We’re willing to accept groups into our movement that are more moderate. But we’re not going to tolerate infighting in the white nationalist movement anymore – period.”
– Jeff Schoep, in an interview with Vocativ, April 28, 2016
“Rev. Matt Hale is a friend, and a good man. … I do fully believe he was framed and set up by an informant. . . . Rev. Hale’s case is one of the scariest set-ups I can think of.”
– Jeff Schoep, in an interview with a national socialist black metal zine, Mar. 14, 2016
Jeff Schoep claimed he realized he was a neo-Nazi in the fourth grade, when he read Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. At 19, he joined the National Socialist American Workers Freedom Movement. The group was, at the time, a minor neo-Nazi group founded in 1974 in South St. Paul, Minnesota, by Robert Brannen and Cliff Herrington, both former officials of the American Nazi Party of the 1960s.
Schoep tried to invigorate the aging hate group by distributing literature, organizing rallies and recruiting younger members, including unaffiliated racist skinheads. Much of this activity took place in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where Schoep resided. As a result of these activities, his profile rose quickly within the neo-Nazi movement. In 1994, Schoep was invited to speak at the Aryan Nations World Congress in Idaho, a key neo-Nazi event presided over by Richard Butler, a major figurehead within this country’s white power movement. In Idaho, Schoep shared the podium with white supremacist leaders such as Louis Beam, J.B. Stoner and Neuman Britton.
In 1994, Schoep took over the National Socialist American Workers Freedom Movement, renaming it the National Socialist Movement, after the group's leader, Cliff Herrington, stepped down. Schoep was then only 21. Herrington hoped Schoep would be able to revitalize the group and attract younger members. Schoep conducted outreach to the Klan and created a special NSM Skinhead Division that offered discounted memberships to racist skinheads for just $35.
In 1998, Schoep was arrested on a felony burglary charge. According to court records, Schoep – unemployed at the time – helped the mother of his daughter steal $4,000 worth of computer equipment. Four children were in the back seat of the getaway car during the burglary. Schoep pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.
Under Schoep’s leadership, the NSM became one of the most active neo-Nazi organizations in the country. Still, it was frequently ridiculed by more elitist white supremacists for the crudeness of its propaganda and its members’ predilection for brown shirts, swastika armbands and shiny boots. Its growth, however, was as much due to Schoep’s organizing abilities as it was the near-collapse of two larger neo-Nazi groups, the National Alliance and the Aryan Nations. The leaders of both groups died in the early 2000s, leaving these movements lost and rudderless. The upset of a third, the World Church of the Creator (later renamed the Creativity Movement), whose leader was sentenced in 2003 to 40 years in prison for soliciting the murder of a federal judge, contributed to NSM’s growing membership as well.
Schoep is also known for focusing on recruiting children – specifically, 14- to 17-year-olds who Schoep says are taught military skills and how to become a “more effective warrior” in NSM’s Viking Youth Corps, the group’s youth division.
Schoep’s greatest success, however, was regularly organizing NSM rallies across the country. Though anti-racist protesters typically outnumber Schoep's uniformed followers by at least two-to-one at these events, they were nevertheless consistent. Additionally, Schoep frequently appears at Ku Klux Klan gatherings and racist skinhead music festivals. During this period, Schoep sought to capitalize on rising anti-immigrant sentiment in America by focusing his speeches on Latinos “breeding us out of existence.” According to Schoep then, illegal immigration from Latin America is driven by an international Jewish conspiracy whose leaders are plotting “the destruction of all races through the evils of race mixing.”
In 2009, the NSM gave up its brown shirts for a new look, black BDUs, or Battle Dress Uniforms. The change may have been helpful as they attracted 100 members to participate in a march in St. Louis before holding a rally beneath the city's landmark Gateway Arch in April. It proved to be one of the group’s largest protests for some time.
“Schoep is in this just for the money”
In 2009, WikiLeaks released hundreds of private NSM emails. The messages revealed an organization rife with infighting. Among the highlights was a major dust-up in fall 2007 that featured claims that an NSM official was collaborating with the Anti-Defamation League. The leaks led to the ouster or resignation of several key members, including the group’s 2008 presidential candidate.
Schoep complained about having to “play babysitter” for a squabbling membership that would be “better served if the drama is saved for the playground.” Some members alleged that Schoep was cynically exploiting his followers for his own financial gain. “NSM members make no mistake,” one warned. “Jeff Schoep is in this just for the money and he really doesn’t give a damn about the White Race.”
Schoep’s ex-wife painted a similar picture of the ostensible ideologue in a 2012 interview with the Intelligence Report. Joanna Schoep married the NSM “commander” in 2008 after meeting him on a conservative online forum. She lived with him in Detroit until December 2011, when they split acrimoniously; she had recently been through breast cancer treatments and discovered he was having a relationship with another woman.
Joanna Schoep said her former husband had privately accepted her nonwhite ancestry and that of her 17-year-old daughter, who is part African-American, but kept his new family’s racial background – anathema to neo-Nazis – secret from his followers in the NSM. Though publicly a believer in the NSM’s racist ideology, Schoep was not overtly racist to their minority neighbors or Joanna’s nonwhite friends, she said. He was instead mostly a raging anti-Semite, who “blames the Jews for everything.” But the true purpose of Schoep’s involvement in neo-Nazism, she said, is “to boost his ego, gain a Jim Jones type of following and make some money.”
The NSM tries to start a white ethnostate
In August 2013, Hatewatch and The Bismarck Tribune reported that the then-61-year-old neo-Nazi Paul Craig Cobb had donated several properties to NSM in the small town of Leith, North Dakota. Cobb, as he had advertised on numerous neo-Nazi forums, sought to transform the town, with a population of 19, into an all-white haven. “I would like to see it prosper and move forward,” Schoep told The New York Times in an article from Aug. 30, 2013. “People should move there and get the process going. It gives us a base of support for elections and things like that.”
The situation in Leith escalated not long thereafter, when Schoep and other NSM members visited the town in late September 2013. The group of neo-Nazis were met with hundreds of counterprotesters. Schoep and a dozen or so NSM members planted Nazi flags on Cobb’s properties, as Hatewatch reported at the time.
Cobb’s vision of a “Pioneer Little Europe” didn’t last long. On Jan. 15, 2014, the Grand Forks Herald reported that Schoep had returned to North Dakota as a show of support for Cobb, who, along with white supremacist Kynan Dutton, was on trial for allegedly terrorizing the residents of Leith. The two faced several felony charges. These were, in part, leveled as a result of a mid-November 2013 “safety patrol” around Leith. During their “patrol,” Dutton and Cobb reportedly marched around town with rifles while hurling insults and threatening residents.
Cobb pleaded guilty to one count of felony terrorizing and five counts of misdemeanor menacing on Feb. 27, 2014.
NSM capitalizes on the Trump era
NSM, like many other neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups, capitalized on the Trump campaign’s momentum and growing media interest in the movement, beginning in mid-2015.
In April 2016, NSM joined a hodgepodge of white nationalist, racist skinhead, and Klan groups to form a new coalition known as the Aryan Nationalist Alliance (ANA), after a rally in Rome, Georgia. Schoep originally piloted the coalition, though he received aid from Aryan Strikeforce’s Josh Steever and Steve “Bowers” Natasi, of New Jersey and Pennsylvania respectively. Some within the ANA would later rebrand themselves as the National Front (NF), following on the heels of Schoep’s own efforts to rework the NSM’s image in the wake of Trump’s electoral win in November 2016.
In late 2016, NSM replaced its longtime swastika logo with the othala rune. The move, Schoep told The New York Times in Dec. 10, 2016, article, was “an attempt to become more integrated and more mainstream.”
In late April 2017, the National Front – along with Matthew Heimbach’s group the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) and NSM – made its way to Pikeville, Kentucky, for the “Take A Stand for White Working Families” rally, which was set to be held on April 29. As It’s Going Down reported on Mar. 27, 2017, the April 29 rally was meant to be part of a two-day event, including a conference the day prior. Though plans to hold the conference at the nearby Jenny Wiley State Park fell through, The Guardian reported that Schoep told a gathering of neo-Nazis and white nationalists on private land the night before the rally in downtown Pikeville that “they were ‘warriors for your people.’” The rally was, for all intents and purposes, a failure. The event, which was supposedly in support of white working-class families in Appalachia, received significant pushback. Even though NSM and other NF groups joining it had counted on the fact that the surrounding county had gone for Trump in 2016, they did not receive the warm welcome they anticipated.
In the months to come, the NF’s dreams of building a robust “boots-and-suits” coalition were slowly stamped out. A new opportunity for unifying the extreme, racist right presented itself in Charlottesville, Virginia. In late July, Schoep announced that NSM would join Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler and others at the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally. (Though Schoep was not listed as one of the rally’s speakers, two NF members, namely Matthew Heimbach and the League of the South’s Michael Hill, were advertised as ones.)
Immediately after the rallies on Aug. 11 and 12, Schoep tweeted: “It was an Honor to stand with U all in C’Ville this weekend. NSM, NF, TWP, LOS, VA, ECK, CHS, and the rest, true warriors!”
Though Schoep has continued to deny any wrongdoing on the part of NSM, court documents described him as working his way through McIntire Park, “attacking protesters along the way.”
“I was offered a ride to safety and declined to leave until the women and others were safe, so we just marched back through antifa. … We went right through [antifa] like warriors,” he is quoted as saying.
In an article published the day after “Unite the Right,” Schoep described Charlottesville as a success. He portrayed anti-racist activist Heather Heyer’s murder at the hand of white supremacist James Fields as a stain on the overall success of the event. Charlottesville was, he told The Guardian, “the largest [rally] he had ever seen.”
“Usually our rallies are peaking between 100, 200 at most. Seeing this many people was – it’s the start of something big, I think,” he told Guardian reporters.
In October 2017, Schoep and the NSM were named, alongside over a dozen participants in “Unite the Right,” in the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit filed by Integrity First for America. The Nationalist Front dissolved entirely the following year.
After the National Socialist Movement
Ongoing legal struggles left Schoep, not to mention the NSM, in desperate financial straits. On March 1, 2019, Schoep informed NSM members in a press release that he intended to step down as Commander, passing the torch onto longtime member Burt Colucci.
As Hatewatch first reported on Feb. 15, 2019, Schoep’s departure from the group came a mere few weeks after he turned over control of the group to black civil rights advocate from California, James Hart Stern. According to later reporting from The Washington Post, Stern began convincing Schoep to sign over NSM to him in late 2018, in part because of Schoep’s ongoing legal issues surrounding Charlottesville. Incorporation papers filed in Michigan and as legal documents related to Integrity First for America’s Charlottesville lawsuit listed Stern as the “President/Director” of NSM as early as mid-January 2019.
In the press release announcing his departure from NSM, Schoep accused of Stern “bad faith actions” and claimed that he had “fraudulently manipulated me for the purposes of gaining control of, and dissolving NSM.”
Schoep reemerged on Aug. 12, 2019, to announce he had decided to renounce his lifelong neo-Nazi views. In a statement published on his new personal website, he proclaimed: “I realized many of the principles I had once held so dearly and sacrificed so much for were wrong. … It is now my mission to be a positive, peaceful influence of change and understanding for all humanity in these uncertain times.”
But this “mission” did not include immediately cooperating with the ongoing Charlottesville lawsuit.
Instead, as Hatewatch reported on Sept. 11, 2019, Schoep and his attorney, Edward ReBrook, consistently attempted to “delay the plaintiffs from receiving information.”
Since departing NSM and announcing his alleged departure from the movement, Schoep rebranded himself as a self-described “peace advocate.”
For months, however, little changed about Schoep’s cooperation with the plaintiffs in Sines v. Kessler. Though Schoep told Hatewatch in an email that he had already surrendered his computer and cellphone to the plaintiffs, court documents through March 2020 indicate otherwise. In one motion to compel discovery, filed on Mar. 27, 2020, IFA’s attorneys describe Schoep’s “conduct in this litigation” as demonstrating “a pattern of resistance, recalcitrance, and outright defiance of Court orders and . . . [his] discovery obligations.” When Schoep finally did provide something to the plaintiffs in IFA’s case, the same filing describes him as doing “the minimum possible to attempt to avoid sanctions.” Among some of Schoep’s arguments in defense of his lack of participation with the plaintiffs included a statement claiming he had dropped his phone, which he had used to communicate during “Unite the Right,” in a toilet.
Another motion to compel discovery from NSM in Sines v. Kessler, filed on Mar. 11, 2020, notes that Schoep and his girlfriend “have continued to participate in NSM’s activities, even as Schoep claims to have left the white-supremacist movement.” On Oct. 13, 2019, the deposition states, Schoep “warned” current NSM Commander Burt Colucci that one of the callers on his podcast was an informant with the federal government. Furthermore, Schoep’s girlfriend, who has claimed in March 2020 that “almost a year has passed since I left the far-right,” is said to have “‘informally’ remained a member of NSM and manages NSM’s website.” Colucci, for instance, requested she update the NSM site “as recently as December 2, 2019,” the deposition notes.
On March 29, 2020, Schoep appeared on a podcast put out by the Clarion Project, which the SPLC has in the past listed as an anti-Muslim hate group, to discuss his “deradicalization” process.