In December 2018, a man named Rinaldo Nazzaro purchased 30 acres of remote land in Republic, Washington, a city of roughly 1,000 people about an hour’s drive south of the Canadian border. The tract was meant to serve as a training ground for a terroristic white power group he founded earlier that year called The Base.
By the time Nazzaro made the purchase, which he did under the name “Base Global LLC,” his group had grown into a small but committed network of white supremacist extremists who were prepping for race war. Only in the midst of that chaos, they believed, would the federal government grant sovereignty to the white homeland they were hoping to construct. The goal was “system collapse,” and they were willing to commit acts of terrorism in order to coax the process along.
“I had a dream about a international training camp,” a member of The Base told others in a group chat on an encrypted app in February 2019. “I think it was mid-collapse because I don’t think anyone cared much about keeping a low profile because we were making bombs, ammo, and deadly gasses. Everyone looked a bit more seasoned than I’d expect as well. It totally felt real though.”
“It’s a premonition…You’re like a neo-nazi nostradamus haha,” Nazarro wrote back under a pseudonym.
The network continued to grow and distribute propaganda. Eventually, they went on to vandalize synagogues and hold regional training camps around the country. But the group took a possibly insurmountable hit in January, when seven members of The Base were arrested. Three in Maryland face gun-related charges after building a cache of weapons and ammunition. The day after they were taken into custody, three other members were arrested in Georgia for conspiring to murder a couple involved in antifascist activism and another was charged with vandalizing a synagogue in Racine, Wisconsin.
The Base is part of a growing wing of the white power movement that refers to itself as “accelerationist.” In most scholarly contexts, the term is used to describe a movement separate from the white supremacist variation. Other ideological variants of accelerationism seek to push beyond capitalism by bringing it to its most oppressive and divisive form, prompting a movement to build a just economic system in response. In the case of white supremacists, the accelerationist set sees modern society as irredeemable and believe it should be pushed to collapse so a fascist society built on ethnonationalism can take its place.
What defines white supremacist accelerationists is their belief that violence is the only way to pursue their political goals. To put it most simply, accelerationists embrace terrorism. Accelerationists aren’t part of a new movement. They’re just an iteration more inclined toward terroristic violence than has existed in recent decades.
The Base is one of many self-styled accelerationist groups to crop up in recent years. In many ways, their model was the Atomwaffen Division (AWD), a neo-Nazi group whose members have been accused of multiple murders since 2017. Some individuals have participated in both The Base and Atomwaffen. (Richard Tobin, for example, was a member of both AWD and The Base.) Other groups with similar aesthetics and rhetoric appear to be forming online – in some cases, it is unclear whether they exist simply to produce propaganda or they are forming actual organizational networks. Many post images bearing their group’s logo with such directives as “Burn your local synagogue!” Some encourage followers to attack specific targets.
“We advocate political terror and murder against jews and politicians among other things. We have accepted that the (((system))) cannot be saved, rather it must be destroyed,” one group posted on Telegram in February. The group used an antisemitic “echo” – a triple parentheses symbol employed to mark someone as Jewish, or an organization as being allegedly controlled by Jews. “In order to accelerate the inevitable collapse of the jewish nightmare society we must not follow the rules of the (((system))) but ACT against it.”
The end of the ‘optics debate’
Amid heightened visibility following the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, members of the white supremacist movement began what they called the “optics debate.” What would provide their movement with its best shot at achieving its goals – toning down its overtly racist rhetoric and acting as an insurgent political movement, or openly embracing national socialism and violence? One terrorist referred to this question directly before allegedly picking up an automatic rifle and committing the worst antisemitic attack in American history at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The suspect in the shooting, Robert Bowers, claimed that his enemies “[like] to bring invaders in that kill our people.” He wrote on Gab, a social media site favored by some extremists: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
That debate is largely over now, and the attack on Tree of Life marked a turning point. The key debate within the white power movement is no longer about optics, but the utility of violence.
Violence has always been at the core of the white power movement. It’s justified by a belief that a genocide is being committed against white people, which paints violence on the part of extremists as defensive. It’s also irrational to suggest that any of the movement’s goals – racial separation or the creation of an ethnostate – could ever possibly occur without violence. But, for the sake of optics, most of the movement’s adherents refused to openly state the obvious.
We’re seeing the growth of the accelerationist wing, which openly embraces terroristic violence as a political tool, because the question of optics now holds far less weight. An ever-growing segment of the white power movement no longer sees any use in pursuing electoral politics, which stems in large part from their disappointment in the Trump administration and their belief that, if anything, the president simply bought them more time before society begins to crumble. They also feel demographic change bearing down on them, making the notion of building a consciously pro-white political coalition all the more improbable.
As ever, the tech landscape provides ample space for extremists to propagandize. As social media becomes more decentralized, white power activists are less afraid of being deplatformed. The result is an emboldened and solidified segment of the white power movement that celebrates mass killers, openly encourages white men to commit acts of violence, and is attempting to build networks of likeminded extremists to train in preparation for an imagined future race war.
‘We know that eventually what we want will lead to violence.’
After Unite the Right, leaders in the extreme right have tried to articulate what “white nationalism 3.0” might look like: the successor to the “1.0” period that lasted from roughly the 1970s up to the 2000s – defined by Nazi aesthetics and a well-earned reputation for violence – and the “2.0” era in which the movement adopted the “alt-right” moniker.
Despite their efforts, no unifying idea or figure seemed to emerge – certainly not one like Trump, whose rhetoric helped fuse the various factions of the far right during his presidential run.
One of those who has tried to articulate a new vision for the movement is the neo-Confederate Brad Griffin, who devoted a series of articles to outlining what the “3.0” version of the movement should look like. Griffin has spent more than a decade participating in the white nationalist movement and acting as its most prolific in-house critic. He uses his blog to describe the movement to itself, delineate its many factions and define its strategies. But he has struggled to articulate anything like an actionable vision for his fellow white nationalists moving forward, instead offering a sprawling 25-point plan emphasizing concepts like “morality,” “post-Americanism” and “innovation.” If anything does come through clearly in his 3.0 series, it’s that the movement should emulate figures like Voltaire and Martin Luther and act as social critics. He calls this “positive accelerationism” – the end goal being the collapse of the political establishment, not society itself.
His suggestion has failed to inspire the troops. The audience he’s speaking to is largely one that came together online through coordinated trolling campaigns, meme-making and one-upping each other’s most vile jokes. Enlightenment philosophy doesn’t offer the same sort of transgressive thrill, and there are few signs that Griffin or his likeminded followers will be able to reel in the movement they helped nurture at the beginning of the Trump era.
Others in the movement criticize violence as counterproductive but look at shooters with sympathy. Greg Johnson, who runs the white nationalist publishing house Counter-Currents, has created a boilerplate blog post into which he inserts each new alleged attacker’s name and republishes after a mass shooting. “I have no desire to absolve Robert Bowers, much less blame his victims,” he wrote after the Pittsburgh massacre, naming Tree of Life’s alleged attacker. “But he would not be a killer, and they would not be dead, if America were not a multicultural society.”
“All of us will feel the same effects,” he continued, “unless we heed the warning signs and turn back against the rising tide of color.”
Many leaders in the movement are parroting Johnson: ostensibly condemning violence in the name of white supremacy while insisting it is inevitable. One figure guilty of that is Mike Peinovich, who founded the white nationalist podcast “The Right Stuff” (TRS) in 2012 and cohosts of its flagship podcast, “The Daily Shoah.” After mass shootings, Peinovich usually jumps on one of his site’s podcasts to disavow the shooter and downplay the violence of the white nationalist movement.
In August 2019, after a shooting in an El Paso Walmart left 22 people dead, Peinovich said that “white nationalists are just a small leaf” in the “potpourri of mass shooters.” He and others within TRS’s inner circle have tried to temper the site’s image, in one instance forcing a podcast host who goes by “Larry Ridgeway” to change the name of his show from “HateHouse” to “LoveCast.” They also banned him from hosting guests such as Vic Mackey, a neo-Nazi who openly glorifies violence. Ridgeway and TRS parted ways in September 2019, prompting Ridgeway to go on a drunken late-night rant in which he called TRS’s philosophy “sit-on-your-hands nationalism.”
While he moderates what TRS puts out to the public, in private communications Peinovich has candidly expressed his belief that violence is a necessary part of their political project. On the inevitability of violence, he wrote in a December 2017 post to the secret Identity Dixie Facebook group about one of his monologues on that day’s “Daily Shoah” episode: “That was public, and we still did the bit about how we know there will be violence at some point. We can’t do that publicly again. Everyone gets it. Seriously. Anyone who has come over to this gets that and is prepared for that.” He continued:
If we say openly that, yeah we know that eventually what we want will lead to violence, we are putting ourselves in moral and potentially legal jeopardy and jews will absolutely seize on that. Particularly statements about knowing about inevitable violence. They could totally try to RICO us for that, so you can’t be super principled about this in public. We have to be f------ smart.
Peinovich underlined what Unite the Right made clear: there is no moderate, non-violent version of white nationalism. The “optics debate” was never just a discussion of strategy, but an attempt to distract from the fact that everyone who embraces white nationalism also – transparently or not – necessarily accepts violence as a political tool. There is simply no way for their political project to work without violence. And since that’s true, it’s been relatively easy for a violence-obsessed accelerationist wing to rise up within the white supremacist movement, especially in this moment of strategic uncertainty.
And now, accelerationists have assembled across the internet – some on heavily guarded sites or encrypted chats with intense vetting procedures and others on easily accessible social media platforms. The evidence of the accelerationist influence has been grimly consistent since the attack in Pittsburgh, including more mass shootings, dozens of arrests, foiled plots, vandalism of synagogues and continued recruitment efforts among groups that organize using a terrorist cell structure.
Leaderless resistance: An old white power tactic gets revived
Insurgent violence has always played a role in the modern white power movement, though its appeal has ebbed and flowed. According to historian Kathleen Belew, the movement first underwent a “revolutionary turn” in 1983, when white power leaders met at the Aryan Nations World Congress and reportedly declared war on the federal government. It was a moment of political upheaval similar in many ways to the present, with a public increasingly uncertain about their economic future, suspicious of government and public institutions, and politically polarized. Combined with the aggrievement and betrayal many veterans felt after Vietnam, those factors provided fertile ground for a white power movement that was decidedly in favor of violent overthrow of the American government.
Many of the leaders to emerge from that moment remain important figures in the white power movement, especially Klansman Louis Beam, who was the most notable figure to articulate the “leaderless resistance” strategy that guided radical elements of the movement well into the 1990s. In a 1983 essay, Beam argued that extremists should organize themselves into “phantom cells” – made up of just one or a handful of members – that would carry out violent actions against the state. While not formally joined together, all the members of the white power community would read the same foundational literature so that they retained ideological cohesion. It would be, he wrote, “an intelligence nightmare for a government” to try to track the disconnected cells, all operating under their own direction and not the guidance of an organizational leader.
Terroristic strategies receded in the 1990s, in part because the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead led the FBI to place the organized hate movement under greater scrutiny. (Timothy McVeigh moved in extremist circles and excerpts from The Turner Diaries, which fictionalizes a white supremacist revolution, were found in his car after the bombing.) But recently, they’ve been gaining currency in the movement once again, as have figures like Beam. Leaderless resistance has once again become one of the movement’s prevailing strategies.
One of the key factors motivating a violent shift within the white power movement is an overwhelming frustration with the Trump administration and, even more so, electoral politics itself.
Even among those who revered Trump only a short time ago, the president has become an object of criticism. For some, disillusionment set in before he even took office. Brad Griffin wrote that “the bloom [was] already off the rose” only two months after Trump was elected. “This was supposed to be a great victory for populist nationalism,” he wrote, before complaining that the president-elect was adding “Republican establishment cronies” to his cabinet. By the 2018 midterms, many white nationalist leaders shared Griffin’s frustrations. “We are wondering if Trump trotted out ending birthright citizenship and other populist red meat merely to save himself and his worthless party for another round of tax cuts, foreign policy distractions, and fundamental betrayals of white America,” Johnson wrote two days after the elections. The Trump administration has inflicted many cruelties on immigrants and migrant children and welcomed those who hawk white nationalist ideas onto his staff. But the president has, according to some white supremacist commentators, failed to make adequate headway on their hateful agenda and acted more like an establishment conservative than a far-right populist.
Eventually recognizing that electoral politics could not create change – let alone revolutionary change – at a pace they found satisfying, a growing segment of the white power movement has chosen to eschew electoral politics entirely.
‘It’s the birthrates’
White power activists are obsessed with non-white migration and birthrates of both whites and people of color – all factors that are leading, the Census Bureau predicts, to white people becoming a minority population in 2044. The manifestos of recent alleged white supremacist mass killers reflect the terror with which they greet this so-called “Great Replacement,” a conspiracy that alleges white people around the world are being systematically replaced. “It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates,” opened the manifesto linked to the convicted shooter in that attack. The manifesto also included a section on accelerationism and “destabilization.” He called them “tactics for victory.”
Base leader Rinaldo Nazarro, when explaining why he had chosen to devote himself to “system collapse” rather than mass-movement or electoral politics on a December 2017 podcast, likewise cited demographics: “As time goes on, our numbers continue to dwindle, the pressure keeps getting ramped up on whites cause that’s not gonna end. … Like, look, there’s no turning back the clock. Our numbers are just not gonna increase from here.” With a shrinking white political bloc, Nazarro and many others contend, why pursue electoral strategies? Among a growing segment of the white power movement, there is a pervasive sense that they are out of time and out of institutional or political remedies.
Online spaces foster terrorists
For this terroristic part of the movement to gather any steam, they needed spaces to congregate and reinforce each other’s belief that violence is, beyond all doubt, the only way to move toward their political vision. In the years since Trump was elected, the accelerationist movement has grown on places like Gab and, increasingly, on the encrypted messaging app Telegram – both platforms run by techno-libertarians who tout their commitment to a laissez-faire form of content moderation, which, in practice, means allowing extremists to use their platforms largely unabated.
“I guess I have to say it again and again,” a channel admin who uses the name of Fox News host Tucker Carlson as his moniker wrote in May 2019. “Destabilizing the US is the only way to create a mass movement of any kind ever. Therefore Accelerationism is the only path to victory for anyone further right then [sic] John McCain. Lets face it, We don’t have the numbers to win the next presidential election nor the one after that.”
In another post a few days later, “Carlson” admonished those who believe “we are getting out of this without bullets flying.”
Because it tolerates even their most violent ideations, Telegram has become a safe haven for accelerationists in a social media world where the they fear deplatforming (though, it bears mentioning, major social media companies continue to harbor extremists on their platforms and enforce their policies against hate inconsistently and insufficiently).
Hatewatch notified Telegram that far-right extremists were calling for acts of terrorism on their platform in June 2019, but the company did not respond. Some white terror channels were placed in a restricted state in January 2020 and, the next month, a handful appeared to have been removed from the site. The company has not explained why certain channels were restricted. In any case, users have found ways around the restrictions and channels often reappear shortly after deletion.
“Build your base on a platform that doesn’t hate you. Use this superior gathering place to send [Twitter] to its well deserved grave,” one Telegram admin told their more than 5,000 subscribers.
A number of channel administrators have formed a formalized network of users who promote terrorism and violence. They have created a web of extremist content by constantly sharing posts from each other’s channels. While about a dozen core channels in the network set the ideological tone for the rest – one with nearly 6,000 subscribers and many more with close to 4,000 – hundreds of channels contain accelerationist content. In other words, finding your way into just one channel in the network makes it easy enough to completely submerge yourself in an echo chamber of violent extremism.
Over roughly the last decade, terroristic violence has been heralded as a solution by a segment of white supremacist activists – but most of them were sequestered on highly secretive sites where it was difficult for even true believers to gain access. The primary hub was Iron March, a site that was online from 2011 to 2017, during which time it helped launch at least nine fascist groups around the world. Iron March produced both Atomwaffen Division and American Vanguard – whose offshoot organization, Vanguard America, murderer James Alex Fields marched with at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville.
The forum had a total of 1,653 posters – far smaller than many Telegram channels peddling accelerationist and exterminationist content. But the small community helped shape the aesthetics, language and ideological foundations that eventually came to proliferate on Telegram. On Iron March, the writings of older figures in the white power movement, like George Lincoln Rockwell and Louis Beam, were resurrected, but none more so than James Mason. A committed neo-Nazi since the 1960s, Mason produced a newsletter called SIEGE between 1980 and 1986 that was eventually compiled into a single, unwieldy volume meant to serve as a guide for racist revolutionaries. Readers, the publisher of the volume’s second edition wrote in the introduction, should heed the “clarion call, wage battles of attrition, and act in a manner commensurate to Timothy McVeigh of Oklahoma City fame.” From Iron March, SIEGE and its ideas were launched into the wider spaces of the internet, turning #readsiege into a meme within certain white supremacist social media circles.
For the most part, however, the kind of ideas and discussions found on Iron March – the overt calls for terroristic violence, deep dives into the writings and speeches of fascist thinkers and advice on how to form networks of leaderless cells in the style outlined by Beam – were difficult to find on social media before white supremacists began flocking to Telegram. The platform has radically changed the kinds of rhetoric white supremacists openly use and has, in turn, changed the tenor of the movement as a whole. Just as users on Iron March talked each other into embracing ever more extreme and violent ideas, users on Telegram are doing the same – but they are operating within a vastly larger and more accessible platform that facilitates social networking and peer-to-peer contact.
While still steeped in the language of memes familiar to anyone who has scrolled 4chan’s /pol/ board, the rhetoric on Telegram is remarkably earnest and direct. “Real shit,” one user wrote to their more than 3,000 subscribers last October, “However you try to cut it, there will be violence. An insane amount of bloodshed.”
Once people do find their way onto Telegram (likely through links supplied by extremists on places like Twitter and YouTube), the platform’s design could make it an exceptionally effective space for quickening the process of radicalization. Channels act like a steady propaganda stream in which the admin(s) of a channel can, day and night, tell their subscribers that the white race is being attacked and that it is their job to acquire weapons, learn how to make explosives and become expert in guerrilla warfare and operational security.
Channels are packed with propaganda that is often sophisticated, including branded and highly stylized images and videos. Telegram allows users to upload videos up to 1.5 gigabytes – far larger than any other comparable platform. It became the primary platform through which The Base posted their propaganda, including photos and videos of members engaging in paramilitary-style training.
Within that unceasing stream of posts, subscribers are made to feel as if a race war is looming on the horizon. “Boogaloo soon,” a meme referencing a future civil war, is a common refrain from people like Paul Nehlen, a former Republican congressional candidate turned neo-Nazi who has more than 2,300 Telegram subscribers. One Telegram admin promoted a channel created to “prepare the reader to become and [sic] effective guerrilla fighter.” “Lots of information you will need one day,” they wrote above a link to the channel. “Don’t be the f****t that gets taken out on day one of the boogaloo.” Another provided a simple message to “all Jews…living in White countries around the world: Run.”
White power activists pine for stories they can use to create collective outrage or celebration that will bond members of the community. After a December 2019 shooting at a kosher grocery in Jersey City, New Jersey, for instance, Telegram users posted “Pleaseletitbeawhitemale.” They were evidently hoping their movement had gained a new “saint,” a term accelerationists use to describe many mass killers. When white supremacist shooters do carry out an attack, extremists swarm to places like Telegram and 4chan in ugly veneration and to encourage others to be the next to take up arms for their cause.
Where do we go from here?
In many ways, today’s white power movement is backward-looking: its heroes are men who are long dead or well into old age, whose decades-old speeches are found on YouTube or whose books have been preserved as PDFs and spread through dedicated white power literature channels on Telegram. But that allows members of the movement to engage in mythmaking. In their minds, they are the heirs to a movement that began decades ago and are nobly carrying out the fight. They believe – not unlike many Americans all across the political spectrum – that we’ve arrived at a breaking point.
The conditions that have allowed this violence-obsessed part of the white power movement to congeal and grow are not likely to change any time soon. Scholars and pundits are actively questioning whether American democracy can withstand the threats being made against it. A recent survey conducted by political scientist Lilliana Mason showed that some 20% of Americans “[appear] to be willing to tolerate some form of political violence in politics,” while the far right is openly talking about the prospect of civil war. On the economic front, Americans continue to struggle to find stability and, on the political side, people believe not only trust in government, but in each other, is declining. Uncertainty like this provides fertile ground for extremists.
The tech landscape also makes the problem of violent extremism more difficult to control. Legislators, Elon University Professor of Computer Science Megan Squire has pointed out, continue to pursue reactive policies rather than work to anticipate how extremists will use platforms to propagandize and recruit in the future – a necessity for a movement that is constantly moving and adapting. Use of mainstream platforms is part of the problem, while the other is the emergence of an alt-tech infrastructure – including social media platforms, payment processors, video streaming services and more – where extremists can do and say whatever they want without fear of deplatforming. “There will be a move towards the decentralized web, which is this peer-to-peer internet replacement,” she said. “It will be very hard to appeal to any centralized authority to do things like remove manifesto files or … a disruptive person off of a social media site.” How these problems are addressed will determine just how much kindling extremists have to burn as the country heads toward the 2020 election.
Photo illustration by SPLC