A former corrections officer sought to spread propaganda for a white nationalist group involved with the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally while employed at a New York state prison, Hatewatch found.
Hatewatch obtained public records that show New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) terminated former corrections officer John Metz, 34, in July 2019 over his membership in the white nationalist group Identity Evropa. The records further allege that he sought to smuggle white supremacist propaganda into Shawangunk Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison about two hours north of New York City, on Oct. 21, 2018. The documents include DOCCS allegations against Metz, Metz’s defense and an opinion from an independent arbitrator.
Hatewatch determined Metz’s involvement with Identity Evropa through its review of DOCCS materials. Hatewatch also corroborated research from the antifascist Anonymous Comrades Collective indicating that Metz has continued to be involved with the white supremacist movement following the October 2018 incident. Anonymous Comrades identified Metz, under the alias “El_Civ,” as an active participant in Identity Evropa chats between July 2018 and March 2019, where he discussed engaging in real-life activism with the group, as well as in a chatroom on the messaging app Slack also affiliated with the group.
Hatewatch also tied Metz to the pseudonym "Jack McKraken." As "McKraken," Metz has collaborated with a range of far-right extremists. These include Antelope Hill Publishing, which published “McKraken’s” 2021 memoir, and “Coach Finstock,” the preferred pseudonym of former State Department employee Matthew Q. Gebert, whom Hatewatch identified as the editor of Metz’s book.
Two formerly incarcerated people – including one at Shawangunk – told Hatewatch the documents were likely meant to recruit either guards or inmates at the prison.
DOCCS verified in an email that Metz was disciplined and ultimately terminated for trying to introduce Identity Evropa into the prison. The DOCCS spokesperson pointed to the department's policy forbidding membership in racist or terrorist organizations, as well as a directive stating employees should not join organizations that could "conflict with or otherwise interfere with the impartial and effective performance of their duties." Hatewatch reached out to Metz over text message and the encrypted messaging app Telegram for comment. Metz did not respond. Hatewatch also reached out to Gebert via email and did not receive a response.
Alfonzo Riley, a paralegal for social justice law firm The Legal Aid Society, was incarcerated at Shawangunk for over 20 years. His time there intersected with Metz’s tenure as a guard. Riley told Hatewatch he remembered Metz after seeing his photo.
Riley said Metz was “weird” and that inmates called him “Hills Have Eyes,” referencing a horror film from the 1970s.
White supremacist gangs did not have a strong presence inside Shawangunk, Riley said. He said there were white nationalists inside Shawangunk, but they were a “minority” and kept their views to themselves.
Riley explained that Metz could have built a relationship with an inmate to whom he had a personal connection, such as someone from his hometown. Or, Metz could have espoused white nationalism to an “impressionable” inmate. “That type of relationship works” inside prisons, Riley said.
Members of Identity Evropa marched alongside Klansmen, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and other far-right extremists at the deadly Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017.
Identity Evropa has a tumultuous history. The group’s founder, Nathan Damigo, did a four-year stint in prison for holding an Arab cab driver at gunpoint and robbing him. He encouraged the group’s members to emanate a veneer of respectability, presenting white people as a distinct political class while avoiding the use of racial slurs in public. Damigo and other leaders in his group sought to specifically recruit young, often college-aged, white men. Damigo stepped down from his position in 2017, as did his immediate successor, Elliott Kline, after a mere three months. Like Damigo, Kline claimed to have extensive military experience, though a February 2018 report from The New York Times revealed that he had lied about being deployed to Iraq and Kuwait as a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Finally, Patrick Casey, who took over the group after Kline’s departure, rebranded Identity Evropa as the American Identity Movement in March 2019, in an apparent effort to distance the group from the violence at Unite the Right.
Targeting prisons with Identity Evropa propaganda would have marked a shift in strategy for the group.
“[Identity Evropa] and Prison are like Sun and Moon, both exist and are necessary, but they don’t touch each other,” a pseudonymous Identity Evropa member known as “Freiheit - CA” wrote on Discord on Dec. 8, 2018, during a discussion among members as to whether it was appropriate to provide support to white nationalists in prison.
Still, Paul Wright, founder and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News, told Hatewatch that inmates are the most likely recruits for white nationalist groups in prisons. Wright was incarcerated in Washington state for 17 years until his release in 2003.
Prison Legal News has tracked white nationalism among prison guards since the late 1990s. The organization continues to publish reports on the subject, most recently about white nationalist guards in Florida. “It’s very much a national phenomenon,” Wright explained.
Neo-Nazi groups like the Aryan Nations have had programs to recruit prisoners for decades, Wright continued. Inmates are these extremists’ “on-tap reserve” for “foot soldiers,” he said. Wright noted that white nationalist groups recruit from prisons, white supremacists themselves tend to actively and in disproportionate numbers join law enforcement agencies.
What surprised Wright most is that DOCCS fired Metz. After an investigation and arbitration process, white nationalist guards “ get their jobs back 90 percent of the time,” he said. New York state regulations permit the state to strip law enforcement officers of their training credentials if the state fires them for cause. However, a DOCCS spokesperson told Hatewatch in an email that this process does not automatically bar someone like Metz from New York state employment, though it restricts them from drawing on their training from a previous position.
The ‘smoking staple gun’
DOCCS terminated Metz after supervisors seized white supremacist literature from Metz’s car. The supervisors became suspicious after Metz disobeyed their direct orders to remain in line for a heightened security frisk. Metz left the line and returned to his car, where officers followed. The officers frisked him and seized a notebook and an arm bag from his vehicle containing “items distributed by the group Identity Evropa,” the documents claim.
Officers also found a copy of The Day of the Rope, a neo-fascist novel by Devon Stack. The title is a reference to a portion of the violent neo-Nazi text The Turner Diaries in which white supremacists lynch their enemies. White supremacist Timothy McVeigh, who perpetrated the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, cited The Turner Diaries as an influence for his attack.
DOCCS cited six charges to support Metz’s dismissal: avoiding a search; ignoring a superior’s orders to remain in the building; possessing print materials from a white supremacist group; being a member of Identity Evropa; preparing a false and misleading statement; and attempting to enter Shawangunk with “contraband,” or Identity Evropa propaganda. Officials argued that Metz lied to investigators and neglected to include in his own memorandum regarding the incident that he removed a notepad from his prison-issued bag. DOCCS referred to Metz’s involvement with Identity Evropa as “egregious” and stated it had “no choice but to suspend … [Metz] pending termination.”
Metz’s union, the New York State Correctional Officer & Police Benevolent Association, argued the state failed to provide evidence that Metz intended to distribute Identity Evropa materials to fellow officers or residents of the facility. The union claimed Metz “did not join [Identity Evropa] with a racist … [or] hateful intent” and that Metz left Identity Evropa in November 2018, following an interview with DOCCS investigators.
However, Hatewatch determined that Metz remained active on a Discord server associated with Identity Evropa until March 2019, over four months after he claimed to have left the group.
Larry Dais, the independent arbitrator, noted in the documents that he found the union’s claims to be neither “credible, nor convincing.” Metz “had Identity Evropa fliers alongside with the proverbial smoking staple gun in his car,” Dais wrote.
Dais found in favor of DOCCS and recommended his immediate termination on July 29, 2019.
Hatewatch determined Metz’s continued involvement by gathering biographical information from public records and data brokers that matched a profile by the name of “El_Civ” on dating website FriendFinder. Antifascist group Anonymous Comrades Collective’s research also linked Metz to this account.
“El_Civ” posted nearly 100 times in Identity Evropa’s Discord chats between July 10, 2018, and March 1, 2019, and also participated in a Slack channel associated with the group, according to Hatewatch's review of leaked materials obtained by the journalism collective Unicorn Riot.
“El_Civ” claimed responsibility for flyering campaigns in Middletown and New Paltz, New York, in September and November of 2018, respectively. On Sept. 27, 2018, “El_Civ” responded to another user who shared a link to an article from the Times Herald-Record about a police investigation into someone putting up Identity Evropa fliers at various locations in New York.
“I’m responsible for the Middletown stuff. That mayor is a grade-A cuck with mob ties,” “El_Civ” wrote on Discord.
“El_Civ” also shared photos from a July 28, 2018, Identity Evropa event, where dozens of members from the group unveiled a large banner at a park in Upper Manhattan. Roughly two dozen participants also held up letters spelling out “Build The Wall,” a reference to then-President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, outside the Mexican consulate in midtown Manhattan that day.
Metz has remained involved with the white power movement since his termination from the DOCCS.
Hatewatch tied the “El_Civ” persona to another pseudonym, “Jack McKraken,” through a Gravatar account flagged by Anonymous Comrades. (Gravatar is a service that allows users to create unique avatars that they can use across the web.) “McKraken” describes himself as a “former New York State Correctional Officer” on far-right websites and has contributed to a range of white supremacist outlets, including Mike Peinovich’s podcasting network The Right Stuff, Antelope Hill Publishing, and Hyphen-Report, a website that promotes the work of TRS contributors and their affiliates.
In 2021, “McKraken” released a memoir with Antelope Hill that claims to offer “real stories, by real officers, which took place in real, honest-to-God correctional facilities.” Though “McKraken” did not identify the facility in which he claimed to have worked, he describes himself as a former employee of DOCCS.
The company listed Matthew Q. Gebert, the former State Department official, as the book’s editor, according to Hatewatch’s review of the text’s copyright information. Gebert has hosted “McKraken” on his podcast as recently as Aug. 5.
In the book, “McKraken” also makes numerous claims about life for incarcerated people. Hatewatch described some of these claims to Riley, who was incarcerated in the prison. Riley said some were true, such as punitive measures guards took against inmates including not giving them recreation time. Others, such as the claims that inmates have access to better health care than the average U.S. citizen and that they could file grievances against officers to make their lives harder, were not.
“Health care was not good,” Riley said. Regarding grievances against officers, Riley claimed there needed to be “overwhelming evidence to substantiate” them.
Hatewatch obtained a list of “Code 49” or staff conduct grievances inmates filed at Shawangunk from January to October 2018 through a public information request.
The list contained 43 grievances. Prison authorities denied them all.
Photo illustration by SPLC