Back Woods Survivalist Squad (BWSS), a group of Patriot movement extremists, has been using Facebook to coordinate surveillance on mosques around the country, a Hatewatch investigation reveals.
An investigation by Hatewatch into the closed Facebook group called Back Woods Survivalist Squad shows photos inside and outside at least 10 mosques across the country, including in the Southeast, northern Great Plains and the northern Rocky Mountains. Hatewatch performed an online search and found many of the photos were unique to the group, and the search did not find the images elsewhere on the internet.
The group, with 500 Facebook members, also discussed security in and around the religious and cultural centers. The group appears to be using tactics similar to those of Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian accused of killing 50 people at two New Zealand mosques March 15. New Zealand authorities have said Tarrant scouted for targets for three months before attacking.
The BWSS group administrator identified as Ronnie Gibson of Candor, North Carolina, said in a March 15 post that Tarrant was “pushed” into the killings in Christchurch and that he is praying for Tarrant.
“Not because he is white or a Trump support from another country,” Gibson wrote. “Or he’s right that his country is being plotted on. By Biblical radicals. That hate and kiss the asses of our ppl to just to plot on us and create diversions.”
The BWSS, on its Facebook group, showed photos of mosques in Idaho and one in Ohio that had been targets of vandalism and an arson in the past seven years.
At least two group members and one of the administrators, on their public Facebook pages, posted anti-Muslim and Islamophobic comments and screeds along with references to BWSS and the antigovernment Three Percenter militia movement.
The surveillance operations and sharing of photographs to a network of like-minded extremists is an escalation from the extremist bluster common among online antigovernment and hate groups. In the past, surveillance and spying were precursors to physical activity and acts of violent extremism.
For example, Hatewatch reported on this trend and the FBI took notice of similar acts in 2015 issuing a report warning that more violence from the anti-Muslim activists and militias could be in the future.
Two militia groups – the United Sheepdogs of Ohio and Garden City, Kansas-based group The Crusaders – had been charged in cases where the surveillance methods match what BWSS has discussed. In that instance, a jury in 2018 found Gavin Wayne Wright, 53, Patrick Stein, 52, and Curtis Wayne Allen, 51, guilty of plotting to bomb Somali and Muslim communities in Kansas.
“The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,” Stein allegedly told his comrades. “If you’re a Muslim, I’m going to enjoy shooting you in the head. When we go on operations there’s no leaving anyone behind, even if it’s a 1-year-old. … I guarantee if I go on a mission those little f------ are going bye-bye.”
The three members of the Crusaders are appealing the convictions that are sending them to prison.
Two members of another group, the United Sheepdogs of Ohio, were indicted in February in connection with plotting to make bombs.
Ryan D. King of Franklin, Ohio, and Randy Goodman of Ripley, Ohio, face charges of plotting to build, stockpile and use destructive devices and improvised explosive devices. The trial, originally set for April, has been indefinitely postponed. The suspects remain in jail in Ohio.
“I’m going to make some of them crater makers,” Goodman is quoted in the indictment as saying, “I like that.”
Anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment is at a high point in recent years. President Donald Trump’s “Muslim Ban” barring people from seven majority-Muslim countries from immigrating sparked fierce political debate. And far-right candidates and parties around the globe, like Denmark’s Center for Security Policy, regularly demonize Muslims for political gain.
On Facebook, members of BWSS have been using that rhetoric.
Inside the group’s closed page, members discussed the designs of various Islamic centers and mosques, which ones had security cameras, and shared complaints about Muslims in America.
On their public Facebook pages, members of BWSS proved to be quite vocal about their hatred of Islamic centers, Muslims, refugees, Jews and political liberals generally. Among the comments on the Facebook pages of self-identified BWSS members and associates viewed by Hatewatch were multiple links to the antigovernment Three Percenter movement, conspiracy theories and rampant fear about Muslims and how Islam is spreading in America.
“Time to stand, time to confront anti-American groups head on, no moe standing down, they are progressing state by state, and we all know the end goal, we are losing, is time to crush f------ Antifa and the rest,” a poster who identified himself as John Hodish wrote Nov. 11, 2018.
Hodish’s page features a III% logo and a map of the United States with dots representing cities with alleged Muslim terrorist groups.
“Did you know that their are over 22 Muslim encampments in the United States that holds at least 2000 Muslim soldiers that are well trained in gorilla warfare tactics, that are highly trained with high end weaponry, who are highly motivated to slit your throat while they are raping your family?” Hodish, who is linked on Facebook with several BWSS members, wrote on March 3, 2017, next to a map labeled “Islamic Terrorist Network in America.” He continued, “Did you know their are over 3000 mosques in this country?”
A poster identified as Christopher Abelitis of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, a self-described “American Christian Nationalist that loves his country,” is pictured on Facebook giving the “OK” sign popular among white supremacists with the Three Percent roman numeral logo on his photos. The sign is used in different ways and has different meanings for white supremacists and antigovernment activists. Abelitis has communicated with BWSS members on Facebook and has promoted far-right conspiracy theories popular with the group.
“I for one will not sit idly by while these hook nose rat f---- destroy our history and attempt to defile our culture … deny it if you want … but it’s blatantly obvious there is a war on white,” Abelitis wrote July 27, 2017.
Abelitis also attacks liberals and rants against Islam on the page.
“Anyone who wants Islam in America is a Leftist C---,” Abelitis wrote June 10, 2017.
Gibson, the BWSS Facebook administrator and president of the closed group, on March 16, 2018 called for people to “believe in the white race.”
“Our color of ppl are under attack. So what you going to do?” Gibson asked. “Not only the Klan. But our patriot are under attack too.”
Gibson had this to say about the New Zealand massacre and shooter.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Gibson wrote March 15 in a rant posted along with a video about the killings. “Why did this young man feel like this?”
BWSS appears to be a loosely organized network of extremists with members across the country using a closed Facebook to communicate, share intelligence and vilify some of America’s most vulnerable and targeted communities. People associated with the group continue to post anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric online.
“They are not SOPPOSE to live among the infidel unless they have dirty plans for the reason they are living among the infidel,” Gibson posted March 15, hours after the New Zealand shooting. “Christian may be captured and killed in their lands for living the Lord and spreading his word.”