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The Brawler

The hard-charging neo-Nazi from East Texas known as Azzmador was supposed to take the alt-right’s ground game to the next level. 

After Charlottesville, he and his colleagues at The Daily Stormer are having doubts.

Amid the crowds and chaos of last August’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, members of the general public might have recognized, at most, two of the far-right attendees. David Duke, the movement’s increasingly plastic-faced elder statesman, was ubiquitous on the rally grounds, mugging for cameras and leading chants of “The Goyim Know!” Then there was Richard Spencer, who appeared as the voice of a new generation, less than a year into his notoriety as a media star and clean-cut face of the racist “alt-right.”

Charlottesville also buzzed with a second-tier of intra-movement celebrities, unknown to the wider public but famous and admired within the alt-right’s online ecosystem of websites, podcasts, social media sites and chat forums. Figures like Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party, the podcaster Johnny Monoxide, Henrik Palmgren of Red Ice Radio, and a dozen others were observed in Charlottesville giving interviews and posing for fan selfies.

Chief among this second-tier was a roughhewn 51-year-old neo-Nazi from East Texas named Robert Warren Ray, better known by his nom de guerre, “Azzmador.” A writer and podcast host for The Daily Stormer, the leading website of the alt-right, Azzmador was an organizing force on the ground in Charlottesville. He led clashes with counter-protesters, ran the Stormer’s livestream, and appeared in a much-discussed Vice News documentary talking about “communist kikes and criminal niggers.” After being kept at arm’s length by organizers in the run-up to the rally, he was chosen to deliver a Saturday night “victory” speech at an after party on behalf of the Stormer’s founder, Andrew Anglin.

With his biker’s beard, potbelly and ponytail, Azzmador cuts an aggressive contrast to the coiffed hair, clean shaves and vested suits of Spencer and Duke. He is also senior by the standards of the youthful alt-right scene. Indeed, it is difficult to separate his age and appearance from his assumed role as the movement’s grizzled, flame-throwing, no-bullshit uncle.

After his rapid ascent within the emergent alt-right in 2015, Azzmador became known for leading street actions and advocating an “IRL” (In Real Life) strategy to take the movement offline and into the fray, pepper spray in hand. Eight months after Charlottesville, the strategy he once personified is the subject of a pained introspection and debate within the alt-right, if not the source of a widening cleave. The optics of an aggressive ground game built around high-profile conflicts with anti-racists and other counter-protesters — once thought the key to recruitment and growth — has not turned out to be the winning strategy Azzmador and others in the movement had promised.


Robert Warren Ray in 1999.

“There’s been a lot of really weird stuff going on in the movement,” Azzmador lamented on a post-Charlottesville episode of his podcast, “The Krypto Report.” “The alt-right got huge during the Trump campaign. Then we had 2017 and things kind of went off the rails.”

It must have been a difficult admission to make. If anyone stood at the center of the year everything “went off the rails,” it was the man known to his legions of fans as “Azz.”

To see what Azzmador’s street strategy looked like a year ago, roll the voluminous tape recorded at Charlottesville. Living up to his reputation, Azzmador led shield-walls into clashes with counter-protesters and initiated loud chants of “The Jews Will Not Replace Us!” He bragged on camera about pepper-spraying “kikes,” and about telling the academic Cornel West to his face that he was a “foul ape for the rope.”

For his alleged role in organizing the rally, at which 30 people were injured and one killed, Azzmador is named among the co-defendants in a civil suit brought last October by several residents of Charlottesville in a Virginia federal court. The suit accuses Azzmador and his fellow organizers, led by Jason Kessler, of conspiracy “to terrorize [the city’s] residents, commit acts of violence, and use the town as a backdrop to showcase for the media and the nation a neo-nationalist agenda.”

The defendants have submitted a motion to dismiss that argues their internet memes and rhetoric about gassing Jews and lynching black people should not, and were never meant to be, taken seriously. But in a series of leaked chat room logs from Discord, an online messaging service for gamers, Azzmador and other rally organizers write of their readiness to “crack skulls” and “shank … niggers.” The suit includes sections of the Discord logs in which Azzmador (“defendant Ray”) writes, “I come bare-fisted … But my guys will be ready with lots of nifty equipment.”

The suit’s allegations against Azzmador find further support in the celebratory letter he read at an afterparty that weekend on behalf of The Daily Stormer’s editor-in-hiding, Andrew Anglin.

“A day is quickly coming when it is we who will be digging graves,” Azzmador says in a leaked recording of the event, a day after a counter-protester was killed. “This is our war! Death to traitors! Death to the enemies of the white race! Hail victory!”

Exhortations to violence with echoes of Nazi ideology are consistent with Azzmador’s self-styled role as The Daily Stormer’s fearless face in physical space. The “Texas Barbaryan” (Azz’s Skype handle) is the coordinator for a national “offline” network of Stormer-affiliated “Book Clubs” and has led his own East Texas affiliate into numerous skirmishes with anti-racists and the media. In a March 2018 Stormer post, he described the Book Clubs as being about “comradeship … men helping each other, and always having a bully squad to show up when a bully squad is needed.” The Book Clubs’ symbol features flanked maces, studded clubs used in early medieval warfare.

These “bully squads” were originally conceived to be more than just situational “muscle.” They were launched with the hope that they’d develop into the sharp 50-state edge of a nationwide project to get far-right activists into the streets and making noise. They would show would-be sympathizers that the movement is real, organized and unafraid.

 

As Azzmador explained on his podcast, “The street battles are symbolic. The important thing is to show that people aren’t afraid to leave their house. We’re coming out. We outnumber the anti-white filth. IRL meet-ups grow our movement by showing we’re here.”

Compared to the two Andrews associated with The Daily Stormer — Andrew Anglin, who founded the website in 2013, and his chief technologist, the former hacker Andrew “weev” Auernheimer — Azzmador is the unknown member of the troika. But while he enjoys the lowest mainstream profile, he has arguably the most energetic cult following. This was visible in the flow of admirers in grey Confederate caps and red MAGA hats that interrupted his livestream in Charlottesville to snap pictures and shake his hand. Others called out, “God bless you, Azzmador! Hail Victory!”

Of those Azzmador interviewed for his livestream that weekend, only David Duke failed to recognize him, betraying the former Klan Grand Wizard’s generational disconnect from the younger cohort that has gathered around The Daily Stormer.

But far from being insulted by Duke’s slight, Azzmador was left gushing — feeling “like a giddy schoolgirl,” in his own words. After their brief encounter, he turned to the camera and said, “There would be no Azzmador if it wasn’t for that man.”

He explained that his political path to far-right stardom began in 1976 after seeing Duke interviewed on a talk show while watching television with his father. When he heard his father praise Duke, a white nationalist was born. Ray was 10 years old.

In the years before the internet, the young Ray struggled to find outlets for his hate. In an interview with the “Southern AF” podcast, he described how he used to call late-night talk shows on KZEY, a black-owned AM radio station in Tyler, Texas, to pass the night shift while working as a security guard during the 1990s. “I’d call in and think up excuses to say ‘nigger,’ or I’d have a cassette player and play chimp noises at them,” he recalled.

Azzmador still retains his faith in analogue trolling and frequently advocates for its revival. Since local talk radio is mostly dead, he recommends that people participate in online flea markets and swap shops. “Call those and start talking about the blacks or whatever,” he once said. “There are all kinds of ways to troll outside of the internet. One of the oldest forms of anonymous trolling is bathroom graffiti. Go into a gas station with a giant Sharpie and write ‘FUCK NIGGERS’ on the back of a door. It’s probably more effective than people think.”


Robert Warren Ray in 2000.

While engaging in bathroom graffiti, Ray became a familiar face at the Smith County Jail in his hometown of Tyler, Texas. A series of mug shots taken over the last 20 years captures the evolution of his journey from clean-cut to his recent shaggy-biker persona. The litany of charges offers a window into Ray’s pre-internet life: Disorderly conduct, assault, public intoxication, drunk driving (multiple), theft, avoiding arrest and possession of unlicensed and prohibited weapons (likely a switchblade or brass knuckles).

The rise of social media allowed Azzmador to scrawl on thousands of virtual bathroom doors. He set up his first Twitter account in September 2014 and built an online following by aggressively and crudely trolling blacks, Jews and leftists. When Twitter suspended one account, he started another. When moderators shut that down, he started another. By his count, he’s had 25 Twitter accounts. These days, he’s just as busy on Gab, the alt-right’s alternative social media forum.

As he developed his online trolling strategies, Azzmador began to realize he could be more than just another small-town neo-Nazi scribbling obscenities in Smith County truck stops. He focused on baiting people, then opening up vicious, sustained attacks. Soon he had a reputation as a kind of racist prank caller of the internet age. He reveled in acquiring enemies and taking them on in groups. “I’m really famous for the way I handle leftists and Jews on Twitter,” he bragged on an episode of Sven Longshank’s “Radio Aryan” podcast. “You get up to around 3,000 followers, and the leftists swarm.”

Less than a year after joining Twitter, in summer of 2015, Azzmador started a podcast, “Hidden Mysteries Radio.” The twice-weekly show launched as a promotional vehicle for an online Tyler, Texas-based bookstore owned by his co-host, an older man called “Ghost,” whom Azzmador described as an old friend.

The show veered into far-right politics after Azzmador dedicated an episode to the subject of “The International Jew.” After a positive listener response, he recalibrated “Hidden Mysteries” as a discussion of current events seen through the prism of a coming race war. In a segment from the 2016 New Year’s episode, Azzmador tells of a “patriotic German” who’d recently stabbed a left-wing German politician in the neck. When Ghost inquires hopefully whether he’d also raped the female politician, Azzmador replies, “No. Patriotic Germans are not rape apes. I just wish she’d died.”

As the audience for the show grew alongside his Twitter notoriety, so did the donations. Azzmador bought secondhand studio equipment and began picking the brains of other podcast hosts to learn the arts of sound engineering. Before long, the audio quality of “Hidden Mysteries Radio” was drawing plaudits and favorable comparisons to Red Ice Radio, the new hate-radio standard.

Then everything went to hell.


Robert Warren Ray in 2009.

Ghost, Azzmador’s straight man and co-host, fell into a coma. Azzmador later claimed the sudden absence left him vulnerable to the schemes of Sven Longshanks, operator of Radio Aryan, a competing website that hosted the podcasts of rising alt-right stars Dennis Wise, Matt Heimbach and Grandpa Lampshade.

“My plans to build a world-class studio on the cheap is shattered now,” Azzmador wrote in July 2016. “Radio Aryan killed Hidden Mysteries Radio. Thanks Sven, thank you very fucking much.”

His partnership with Sven Longshanks may have sent “Hidden Mysteries” to an early grave, but it also planted the seeds of Azzmador’s second act. His many appearances as a substitute guest host brought him into contact with many of the alt-right figures that would soon coalesce around a young but growing website called The Daily Stormer.

In 2015, The Daily Stormer’s traffic surpassed Don Black’s Stormfront, making it the country’s leading racist website. Traffic continued to surge throughout 2016, fueled by the candidacy of Donald Trump. In January 2017, Azzmador launched a new podcast, “The Krypto Report,” with co-hosts Big Snout and Caerulus Rex. It was an odd choice for a title, as there was never anything crypto about the politics of Azzmador or The Daily Stormer; both have been openly neo-Nazi from the start.

 

Azzmador used his new perch at the Stormer to promote several events that served as precursors to Charlottesville.

On June 10, he led a protest at the Sam Houston statue in downtown Houston. Recordings of the event show Azzmador screaming “Cucks!” at passersby and baiting the press. The following week, Azzmador teamed with Vanguard America to lead a gathering outside the State Capitol in Austin. Their “Texas is Ours” event drew activists dressed in matching white for speeches by influential alt-right voices Mike Peinovich, Sacco Vandal, Wooderson and Johnny Monoxide. The group marched in military formation around the capital grounds before heading to a German restaurant for dinner and a live taping of Peinovich’s podcast, “The Daily Shoah.” When a young Jewish patron confronted them, Azzmador told him, “We’ll be throwing you in an oven.” (Activists used social media to identify two members of Azzmador’s Book Club as William Williams and Wil Zachary Smith, aka “Dragonarm.”)

In his report for The Daily Stormer, Azzmador said the sunny June Saturday in Austin “will go down in history [as] a watershed moment when the real alt-right stepped off the internet and into the real world. No one tried to water down the message or make it more media friendly, which is exactly what the people are starving for.”

He concluded, “Expect a hot summer, and I’m not talking about the thermometer!”

Two months later, Azzmador and his crew from East Texas would make the journey to Charlottesville.

In the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville, Azzmador reflected a movement-wide belief that the rally succeeded. An episode of “Krypto Report” shortly after the event featured Azzmador and Anglin sounding triumphant, optimistic and unified. Following an intro song — “I’m so sick of kikes/I hate them/Let’s start the ovens this time, for real” — the panel listed the ways Charlottesville had been a smashing double feat of masterful optics and organizing strategy.

Azzmador then continued to press his strategy by example. On September 11, he and his Book Club showed up at Texas A&M, where Richard Spencer was giving a talk. Police kept Azzmador’s bully squad away from counter-protesters, though he would later boast, “We faced down 500 antifa and BLM scum and prevailed.”

A few weeks later, Azzmador’s crew crashed an Anarchist Bookfair in Houston. It was a short display that Azzmador would later describe as a flash mob. Together with the Houston Goylers and Thomas Rousseau’s Patriot Front, the Stormer Book Club was blocked from entering the building, where they instead lit smoke bombs as Azzmador addressed those inside through a megaphone. Azzmador would later crow, “They were afraid to come out. It was great propaganda.”

Was it? Within the alt-right ranks, including Andrew Anglin, many began doubting the value of street battles, uniformed displays, and other forms of political theater. Discussions grew around the need to “pivot” toward a more recognizably “patriotic” nationalism. Symbolic of this shift, Anglin added an image of George Washington to The Daily Stormer banner. This opened him, as he knew it would, to charges of “civic nationalism,” a racially blind American creed in which fealty to race is second to fealty to country. Anglin heatedly denied the charge, on a March episode of the “Krypto Report,” telling Azzmador, “We haven’t compromised our ideology. The messaging on the site has not changed. This idea that we’re promoting civic nationalism, that’s nonsense.”

On The Stormer, Ben Garland defended the shift in focus — away from uniformed street battles and back toward red- white-and-blue, Middle America-friendly “race realism” — with a series of articles, including a two-part history of “White Racialism and American Nationalism.” In it, he quotes National Alliance founder William Pierce’s 1970 essay, “Prospects for a National Front,” in which Pierce warns against “isolating ourselves from the public with programs and images so radical that only a small fraction of one percent will respond.”

The alt-right debate over whether it should retreat back into a world of internet memes and chat rooms is a business decision as much as a political one. Azzmador is among those who now make a living off donations that wax or wane along with the size and momentum of the movement. Though rarely discussed in financial terms, the debate over optics and recruitment is a matter of bread and butter, dollars and sense.

Azzmador is among those undergoing a change of heart. He confessed as much on the March 26 “Krypto Report,” which found him sheepishly discussing the future with Daily Stormer colleague Lee Rogers.

“There’s been a lot of really weird stuff going on in the movement,” said Azzmador. “The past couple of weeks, there has been a schism. It’s been a long time coming. The alt-right got huge during the Trump campaign. Then we had 2017 and things kind of went off the rails.”

Translation: traffic and donations have slowed way down, and we’ve been hit with two potentially crippling lawsuits.

His embarrassed tone on the show was a far cry from his bombast and that of others after Charlottesville. Nearly a year later, he is the unlikely voice of moderating reason.

“I’m not against IRL action,” said Azzmador. “But I’m against the way it’s being done. We show up in weird uniforms and Third Reich imagery. [Anti-fascist] groups go into gear to outnumber you 10 to 1. I’m not an optics cuck, but the thing that had [us] going so well is that it [was] a movement of middle-class whites waking up to the [Jewish Question], sharing memes and backing Trump. Then Charlottesville happened, and [some want to take] a movement on the rise and turn it into this thing that has never worked.”

Azzmador, who still promotes the benefits of racist bathroom graffiti, is not disheartened by this retreat from the streets to the shadows and anonymity of the internet. For him, the line between the two has conveniently blurred, if not collapsed altogether.

“For better or worse,” he recently told “Krypto Report” listeners, “the internet is the real world.”