Matthew Heimbach had stardom and icon status in the racist movement ahead of him.
Heimbach, who once led the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), appeared at many of the major events and gatherings of neo-Nazis, white nationalists and racists around the country.
His reputation as a movement gadfly began not long after he splashed on the scene in 2013 as a white nationalist student organizer and continued through his tenure as the head of TWP, which was cut short in early 2018, when the group dissolved in the wake of his arrest on charges related to a domestic violence incident.
Then he, like former National Socialist Movement (NSM) commander Jeff Schoep months earlier, publicly denounced the movement he once led.
“Redefining my community as all members of the working class, instead of just White members of the working class, redefines fundamentally the political, social and economic solutions to problems we all face,” Heimbach told Hatewatch of his decision to walk away from the neo-Nazi movement.
Heimbach and Schoep are among nearly two dozen defendants in a lawsuit stemming from the violent and deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The suit is scheduled for trial starting Oct. 26, and the authenticity of Heimbach’s and Schoep’s recantations will likely be an issue.
Neither man has been cooperating with the legal process in the lawsuit. Heimbach played such a small role in the defense, his attorneys dropped him as a client. According to plaintiffs' attorneys, Schoep resisted turning over his electronic devices. In one case, he said a phone had been dropped in a toilet. He surrendered it, but said it may have suffered water damage.
In an environment filled with disinformation, the timing of their public defections, as well as their actions and inactions associated with the lawsuit filed in federal court in Virginia, have sown doubt about the sincerity of their recantations, though both men claim to be genuine.
Both Schoep and Heimbach spoke of redemption in their respective announcements about leaving the racist movement.
“I know for myself that my beliefs were sincere and I desired to build a better and more fair world, but the history of fascism is one that resembles Charlie Brown (the Fascists) trying to fix their nation while Lucy (the capitalists) use them just long enough to regain their position and then they rip the football out of the way (usually through a bloody purge),” Heimbach said in an email to Hatewatch. When he announced his departure on April 1, Heimbach spoke of helping his community of “working people.”
“Beyond all that, if I could find community organizations that want to help working people get improved access to healthcare, education, a living wage, housing and environmental justice; I’d like to participate as I am able,” Heimbach said.
Schoep retired from NSM on March 2, 2019 after 25 years in charge of the group, which is known for violent rhetoric and public displays of neo-Nazi garb at rallies.
That violent rhetoric served to inspire numerous outbursts of violence, most recently including Timothy Robert Wilson, a Missouri man killed in a shootout with the FBI in March as he plotted to bomb a hospital treating COVID-19 patients.
Since the foiled Missouri plot, nearly 100 additional hate incidents have been tallied, said Eric Ward, director of the Western States Center, which tracks extremism.
“We are not seeing any kind of slowdown of antisemitic rhetoric. We are seeing an increase of activity that moves beyond just rhetoric,” Ward, who is also a fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Hatewatch in an interview.
After leaving NSM, Schoep has been using his platform as the former leader of a neo-Nazi group to speak about racism and to market himself as “a positive, peaceful influence.”
Actions and words
In the months leading up to his video for Light Upon Light, a group that bills itself as trying to help people leave the hate movement, Heimbach formed a charity called the National Socialist Charitable Coalition in November.
The group is aimed at raising money for neo-Nazis such as 22-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., who is serving a life sentence for killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer after Unite the Right, and others in the racist movement in prison. In their appeals, NSCC referred to these prisoners as “our guys.”
Also listed on the site are Tyler Tenbrink, a Texas neo-Nazi and III Percenter, serving time for firing a weapon after a speech by “alt-right” frontman Richard Spencer in Gainesville, Florida, in October 2017, and Daniel Patrick Borden, who took part in the beating of Deandre Harris in a parking garage after “Unite the Right.”
Heimbach formed the charity in December with Matt Parrott, his former lieutenant from the Traditionalist Worker Party.
Paperwork filed with the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s office shows Heimbach surrendered the charity on Feb. 24, leaving Parrott as the lone contact.
On Gab, a platform favored by the far right, the charity claimed Heimbach left “months ago,” but did not give a specific date.
The group has since changed its name to the Global Minority Initiative but includes links to information about the same inmates.
On the website, the charity explained the name change, saying in essence that being associated with “National Socialism” interfered with getting the imprisoned neo-Nazis money.
The site also notes that families of the imprisoned might object to being associated with a charity using a term for neo-Nazism, so the switch was made.
Heimbach also took so little a role in his own defense in the lawsuit stemming from Unite the Right, known formally as Sines, et al. v. Kessler, et al., his attorneys dropped him as a client and the plaintiffs in the case sought sanctions against him.
“I know for certain I don’t owe folks like Jason Kessler or Richard Spencer a damn thing,” Heimbach told Hatewatch, mentioning the organizer of Unite the Right and the alt-right frontman, respectively. “As to your other question, I'd prefer any authorities forget I exist, because being observed and harassed by the metaphorical eye of Sauron isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy.”
For Schoep, questions about his distance from NSM arose in the same lawsuit.
According to a motion filed by the plaintiffs attorney’s, Colucci’s deposition revealed that Schoep and his girlfriend, Acacia Dietz, have stayed involved with NSM. Dietz announced through Light Upon Light in April, that she, too was leaving NSM and the neo-Nazi movement. Colucci's full deposition remains under seal and Hatewatch was unable to review a full transcript.
Schoep at one point advised that someone calling into the NSM radio show was “baiting” Colucci with death threats and was a federal informant, Colucci said.
And Dietz, who served as the group’s legal registered agent in Michigan and claimed in April to have left the movement, has “informally” stayed an NSM member and manages the group’s website, Colucci said.
If Colucci’s statements are accurate, it would mean Schoep publicly denounced the group while remaining active in the white nationalist and racist movements.
Colucci’s complete deposition remains under seal, but excerpts of it have been made public as part of motions in the lawsuit.
In another section of the deposition released in motions in the lawsuit, Colucci said he only rarely speaks with Schoep.
“It’s been a while. It’s been less and less frequent. Some whenever the – whenever he went to the other side and started speaking about antiracist stuff it became – it was less frequent at that point, and to this day – and at this point, I’d say nonexistent,” Colucci said.
Colucci, in an email responding to questions, said he had told all NSM members not to talk with Hatewatch.
“Feel free to put this in your next newsletter: F--- OFF!!!!,” Colucci wrote.
Schoep and Heimbach both alienated large segments of society while working actively as neo-Nazis. It’s something they both admit.
Now, they are each hoping some of those same people will accept their self-proclaimed conversions as legitimate.
“I am sure my word counts for very little due to my past, but facts are facts,” said Schoep, who briefly worked with Heimbach in the National Socialist Movement.
Both have spoken, but the impact of their remarks is unknown.
Beyond speeches and public pronouncements, action by Heimbach and Schoep has been limited.
Both men face possible sanctions over their refusal to fully cooperate in the lawsuit over Unite the Right, and neither has taken any public step to directly criticize their former associates.
Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity for America, which is backing the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, said the actions – and inactions – of the two men in the lawsuit speak louder than any renunciation.
Both men have lied, Spitalnick said, and neither has cooperated fully with requirements to turn over documents and other relevant materials. If they’ve truly changed, she said, they need to comply fully with court orders.
“Anything less is a sham. We live in a country of laws,” Spitalnick said. “If Mr. Schoep and Mr. Heimbach have truly reformed their old ways, then they need to demonstrate that by complying with the law, cooperating in our case, and taking responsibility for their actions.”
The head of security for the National Socialist Movement, Mike Schloar, told The New York Times that his impression was that Schoep left because of the Charlottesville lawsuit.
“He led the largest white nationalist organization in the country and he just turns his back on it and tries to renounce it,” Schloar told the Times. “To me, that’s a traitor.”
Michael Tubbs, a felon who is chief of staff for the neo-Confederate group League of the South, expressed doubts and disappointment about Heimbach in a post on the Russian social media site VKontakte (VK).
“Adversity has a way of showing you who’s who,” Tubbs wrote on April 2, a day after Heimbach’s announcement. “Another stunning disappointment.”
Adversaries of the two men also believe their announcements are a smokescreen related to the Unite the Right lawsuit.
“I don’t think they’ve left the movement, but I do think that they realize that the movement, as it has existed, is a dead end, and that they are trying to create a new kind of movement,” Emily Gorcenski, an activist and former Charlottesville, Virginia, resident, told Hatewatch.
Molly Conger, a Charlottesville activist who has monitored the criminal and civil cases stemming from Unite the Right, is also skeptical of the motives of Heimbach and Schoep.
Conger noted that NSM and Schoep shared the same attorney in the lawsuit until March, when W. Edward ReBrook sought to drop NSM as a client, citing a conflict of interest.
“I don’t think that if Jeff Schoep had really and truly burned all his bridges with the national socialist movement, they would have remained represented by the same attorney in that lawsuit until late last month,” Conger tweeted on April 4.
Schoep insists his recantation has nothing to do with the lawsuit “in which I did nothing wrong.”
Heimbach said whatever happens legally, he’ll have to live with it.
“Whatever comes in the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit, it is what it is and I'm just going to have to roll with the punches as they come” Heimbach told Hatewatch.
Spitalnick said a recantation won’t spare the men legal accountability.
“Those who break those laws and violate people’s civil rights – like Jeff Schoep did in Charlottesville – must be held accountable, even if they now claim to be ‘reformed,’” Spitalnick tweeted April 5.
Photo illustration by SPLC
Editor’s note: This article has been updated for clarity and accuracy. A previous version of this article misspelled Mike Schloar's last name. An earlier version mistakenly stated Schoep left the movement in November 2019, but he announced his departure in March 2019. It has also been updated to reflect statements made by Schoep and his legal team in filings related to Sines v. Kessler. An earlier version stated he had not complied with requests to turn over electronics to investigators, and that he had said he dropped one relevant device in the toilet. The story has been updated to add that he did in fact turn that device over to investigators, though he told them it may have suffered water damage. This story has also been updated to reflect that it was the plaintiffs' attorney who believed that Schoep and Dietz continued to remain involved in NSM after March 2019. In an email to Hatewatch, Dietz refutes this, and notes that in Colucci’s deposition, he said that he believed Schoep’s shift was genuine. The deposition is not available to the public and could not be independently reviewed by Hatewatch.