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Leaked Chats, Documents Show Atomwaffen Founder's Path to Terror Plot

Leaked chats, documents and online materials have revealed that Atomwaffen Division (AWD) founder Brandon Clint Russell was secretly but tirelessly active as a white-power propagandist and organizer between his release from prison in 2021 and his arrest on charges of plotting terror attacks.

The materials show Russell, 27, of Orlando, Florida, encouraging others to commit similar crimes to those he is now accused of, and advocating armed attacks on electricity, water and transport infrastructure.

Like other white-power accelerationists, Russell promoted the strategy of attacking public infrastructure in the belief that it would trigger a crisis that would cause the collapse of “The System” – a term that accelerationists use for the status quo political order.

The new charges were outlined in the criminal complaint filed by the FBI on Feb. 2 and unsealed on Feb. 6. The complaint accuses Russell and Sarah Beth Clendaniel – his alleged accomplice and apparent girlfriend – of planning and equipping themselves for attacks on electricity infrastructure in Maryland.

Their trial on these charges is ongoing in Maryland’s federal court.

Russell’s aim was a “cascading failure costing billions of dollars” that might deprive Baltimore of electricity for months, according to the complaint.

While the document cites two encrypted chat platforms that Russell and Clendaniel allegedly used, it does not touch on Russell’s broader efforts to further radicalize other white-power activists and spur them on to violent, terroristic acts.

Hatewatch can reveal that these efforts took place across several fronts: Russell was an inflammatory presence in encrypted chats where he networked with like-minded extremists, and he circulated lavishly designed PDF publications that promoted the same ideology that fueled AWD. Russell was also an author and promoter of a website called “American Futurist,” where he and other former members of AWD targeted federal agents under the guise of investigative journalism.

The materials reveal more about Russell’s post-prison trajectory, show the inner workings of the remnants of the so-called “Terrorgram” milieu, and raise questions about the efficacy of incarceration as a response to white-power extremism.

They also give substance to official concerns about extremists’ focus on infrastructure following a spate of recent substation attacks.

Current charges

A criminal complaint alleges that Russell had been plotting since at latest mid-2022 to carry out attacks on the electricity grid.

The complaint relies extensively on a “confidential human source” identified pseudonymously as “CHS-1.” The complaint alleges that in conversations on an “encrypted communication application” with CHS-1, Russell used the pseudonyms “Homunculus” and “Raccoon.”

According to the complaint, Russell “encouraged CHS-1 to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure” in furtherance of his “racially motivated violent extremist” ideology. The encouragement included sharing a fourteen-page “white supremacist publication that provided instructions on how to attack critical infrastructure.”

Russell repeatedly discussed attacking power infrastructure with CHS-1 throughout late 2022, according to the complaint. In late December, he introduced the informant to “someone else i know in Maryland [who] is gonna be doing same thing as you,” and said that coordination of attacks would “GREATLY amplify its effects,” according to the complaint.

Subsequently, on Jan. 12, a user who went by the handle “Nythra88” introduced herself to CHS-1 on the same communication platform. The complaint identified Clendaniel as the person behind the pseudonym. The document goes on to note that she asked the informant to purchase high-powered weapons and made detailed plans in consultation with Russell for her and CHS-1 to attack five power stations in Maryland.

The complaint states that Clendaniel told CHS-1 that she was terminally ill. By carrying out the attacks, she allegedly told CHS-1 that she hoped to “accomplish something worthwhile” before her death.

Hatewatch contacted the FBI for comment on this reporting but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Hatewatch also telephoned and emailed Kobie Flowers, who is listed as Russell’s attorney in court documents, and the public defender listed as Clendaniel’s representative for comment on his activities, but neither responded in time for publication.

Russell’s three pseudonyms in three leaked chat archives

While the complaint offers a glimpse of Russell’s recent activities, it does not identify the platform or the publication he allegedly gave the informant, or his broader activities.

Leaked archives from three private Telegram groups, however, provide a fuller picture of his tireless activities as a white-power propagandist and agitator.

The chats were obtained and provided to Hatewatch by the White Rose Society, an Australian antifascist research collective. The three chats — titled “Freedom Club,” “Cat Enjoyers Anonymous,” and “Don’t Do Anything Illegal” — altogether span the period from July 10, 2022, to Nov. 9, 2022.

While the criminal complaint identifies Russell with the pseudonyms “Homunculus” and “Raccoon,” Hatewatch has identified another Russell pseudonym in the chats.

On Aug. 24, 2022, in the “Freedom Club” chat, a user posting under the pseudonym “JC” asked “do you know what happened to Hommunculus [sic]?”

A user posting under the name “Ouroborus” [sic], responded “that is me” around 20 minutes later, adding, “I keep getting banned.”

Hatewatch was able to corroborate this by cross-referencing activity under the three usernames across the three chats. On several occasions, the “Ouroborus” and “Raccoon” pseudonyms circulated identical links and documents across separate chats, adding similar comments, and posting on the same day and at roughly the same time.

A White Rose member, to whom Hatewatch has granted anonymity for their personal safety, said in an online chat that they first noticed the user “Homunculus” on June 2, 2022, in a fourth, separate Telegram chat associated with an Australian extremist group. At that time Russell, as “Homunculus,” forwarded a 14-page document entitled “Make It Count” from a private channel, Right Wing Book Club, that distributes material glorifying mass murderers and white supremacist terrorists.

Advocating terrorism, violence, infrastructure attacks

If Russell did indeed adopt these other pseudonyms as evidence suggests, then in the leaked chats, he repeatedly promoted terrorist attacks on infrastructure as a necessary element of white-power ideology.

On July 16, 2022, for example, “Ouroborus” shared material on the theme of attacking railways in the “Don’t Do Anything Illegal” chat,

At that time, U.S. rail transport was affected by national labor dispute. In one post, “Ouroborus” posted a link to story from the previous day on the junk-news site Natural News, which claimed all railroad traffic could be halted by the strike. In a post minutes later, “Ouroborus” added, “Perfect time to fuck with the rails,” and then asked, “you guys ever see the episode of unsolved mysteries about the 1995 derailing of the Amtrak.”

The episode of television show “Unsolved Mysteries” Russell referred to covers the 1995 unsolved sabotage of Amtrak’s “Sunset Limited” service near Palo Verde, Arizona, which killed one Amtrak employee and injured scores of passengers. The saboteurs were never identified, but the FBI recovered notes that claimed responsibility in the names of the “Sons of the Gestapo,” and attacked federal agencies over their handling of the 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

Later on July 16, in the same chat, “Ouroborus” forwarded a post from American Futurist, a neo-Nazi propaganda site maintained by former AWD chapter leader Jack Espinoza. At the time of reporting, American Futurist still listed Russell as a contributor.

The caption on the American Futurist post read “pretty cool maps” and included links to “Open Railway Maps” and “Open Infrastructure Maps.” Both sites are based on Open Street Maps and show the locations of various infrastructure networks. The criminal complaint alleges that Sarah Clendaniel twice sent the same sites to the FBI’s confidential informant.

“American Futurist” denied knowledge of Russell’s alleged plot in a Telegram post last Saturday. However, following previous attacks on power stations, the publication has itself shared links to the same sites Russell is accused of sharing with the FBI’s confidential informant.

Hatewatch reached out to American Futurist over an email listed on their website’s contact page but received no response.

In a Dec. 4, 2022, blog post about a substation attack in North Carolina, a pseudonymous contributor shared a link to “Open Infrastructure Maps,” claiming, “The attacker probably used something like” the site. In a Sept. 2, 2022, post, American Futurist editor-in-chief “Tim Turtle” referred to infrastructure as “one of the prime targets” for prospective white supremacist revolutionaries.

Again under the “Ouroborus” pseudonym, Russell apparently shared links to the same sites in the “Freedom Club” chat on July 23, 2022. An hour later, he forwarded a propaganda video showing explosions, fires, and riots from a private Telegram channel. The post included the caption, “THERE IS NO MORE FREE SPEECH/NOW IS TIME FOR IRL ACTION.”

A caption in the video also reads, “The West is at its limits. Why don’t you give it a little push? Your time is now. Terror spreads like butter.”

“Ouroborus” also shared content particularly referencing power substations.

On July 24, 2022, he forwarded a post from a channel called “TERROR” to “Freedom Club” featuring what appears to be a power substation on fire.

That post included the caption: “No matter how bad it gets, as long as the modern man has his TV and his paycheck things will never change. [Dynamite emoji] Therefore the only solution is to take these things from him. [REDACT] your local power substation. [REDACT] your local railway. [REDACT] your local amazon center. [REDACT] your local grocery store.” (The [REDACT] was not Hatewatch’s addition – it appeared in the original text.

White-power extremists use devices like the term “[REDACT]” on Telegram and other platforms to reference and advocate violent actions while retaining plausible deniability.

Targeting nonprofits and federal agents

In the chats, also under the “Ouroborus” pseudonym, Russell attempted to direct hostile attention at perceived enemies of the white-power movement, spreading the private information of hundreds of employees of a human rights nonprofit, and promoting website articles that claimed to identify undercover FBI officers.

On July 20, 2022, “Ouroborus” joined a chat and immediately asked, “Did you guys see [the] leak?” and named the human-rights organization. He then made two more posts: one with a screenshot of the nonprofit’s president’s supposed contact information, and one appending a CSV document supposedly containing all of the nonprofit’s employees’ contact details.

“Raccoon” forwarded the same information to a different neo-Nazi chat that day, with the caption, “spread EVERYWHERE.”

Later, on Aug. 16, 2022, “Ouroborus” expressed frustration that white-power activists weren’t taking more action based on the non-profit leak, asking another chat, “Why does it seem like everyone completely forgot ablut [sic] the… dox leak?”

“Ouroborus” also worked hard to make others aware of a supposed identification of an undercover federal agent who he claimed had infiltrated AWD.

On Aug. 20, 2022, “Ouroborus” asked members of a chat if they had seen “how that undercover fbi agent was exposed.” The comment apparently refers to an Aug. 16, 2022, post on “American Futurist,” that claimed to reveal an undercover FBI agent who had joined the group.

The author of the Aug. 16, blog is “Ryan Arthur,” a pseudonym used by ex-AWD chapter leader, Ryan Hatfield, who joined the organization at the age of 16.

After asking the room if they had seen the post, “Ouroborus” encouraged another user to archive the images and “spread [them] around.”

Hatewatch attempted to contact Hatfield through an account on the encrypted messaging app Wire that is tied to his group, the National Socialist Resistance Front, but received no response.

'Make it Count' offers blueprint for terror

Although the complaint does not identify the 14-page “white supremacist publication that provided instructions on how to attack critical infrastructure,” which Russell allegedly gave the FBI’s confidential informant, the chats show users under handles who Hatewatch believes to be Russell, circulating a PDF matching that description.

“Make it Count” presents a series of exhortations to terrorist acts interspersed with garish or grisly images, mirroring the hyper-stylized, neo-Nazi aesthetic popularized by AWD’s propaganda. A preface urges care in choosing targets for violence by apparent reference to the then-recent mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. “While you can shoot a grocery store full of [n-word]s, you are treating the symptoms of the cancer, not the cause,” adding “you must select targets that do the most damage to the system and spark revolution and chaos.”

The preface spells out a version of accelerationist ideology, claiming that “collapse of the current system is the only means of saving our white race.” Later, the treatise blames “technological society” for facilitating the demise of white people, adding, “so long as the power turns on, the status quo, the downward decline of our race, and the increase in nonwhites in our lands will carry on unhindered.”

Later, the document says, “The main thing that keeps the anti-white system going is the powergrid [sic].” It says attacking electricity infrastructure is “easier than you think,” that “power distribution substations are peppered all over the country,” and that these are “sitting ducks. Easy prey.”

The rest of the document is not a continuous narrative but a series of one-page, graphics-heavy incitements to acts of violence – including misogyny-driven murder, urban sniper attacks, and the assassination of Jewish people.

In the middle of the document, however, three running pages encourage infrastructure attacks on the electricity grid, cellphone towers and satellite communications. On the page addressing electricity infrastructure, readers are instructed to “LOCATE SUBSTATION. RANGE FIND. SHOOT TRANSFORMERS. FLEE UNDETECTED.”

Infrastructure attacks plotted and executed

The instructions in “Make it Count” and other “Terrorgram” publications resemble the plot that Russell and Clendaniel are accused of attempting to execute.

The publication and distribution of these texts, which explicitly exhort white-power accelerationists to target infrastructure, aligns with a sharp increase in attacks on electricity substations.

The U.S. Department of Energy publishes annual statistics on interruptions to the electricity supply around the country, along with their causes, based on reports submitted to them by utility suppliers.

There were 163 human-caused interruptions in 2022 – whether due to physical attacks, vandalism, threats, or cybersecurity incidents. This was a 277% increase on the 2018 figure of 51 human-caused interruptions. Though attacks rose steadily in the interim, the 2022 figure is almost double 2019's 81 attacks, and around 170% higher than either 2020 (96 human caused interruptions) and 2021 (97).

It is not possible to tie all these attacks and threats to white-power accelerationists, but recent court cases and indictments indicate that some of its proponents have acted on movement propaganda, just as Russell is accused of doing.

In 2021, four habitués of Iron March – a now-defunct white-power forum and a direct antecedent of AWD – were charged with an alleged 2019 plot to destroy a power station with explosives. In 2022, three men pleaded guilty to assisting with a plot to destroy power stations around the country, which they worked on as a long-term project between 2017 and 2020.

Both plots were allegedly aimed at triggering civil unrest to trigger a crisis in “The System,” as per the accelerationist blueprint.

PDFs show persistence of 'accelerationist' ideology in white-power movement

“Make it Count” is one of a series of four similar documents published since 2021 that are associated with the “Terrorgram” milieu. In the leaked chats, “Ouroborus” repeatedly circulates all four documents to others. All promote white-power accelerationism as an ideology, advocate terrorism and violence, celebrate white nationalist mass shooters, and canonize pseudonymous white-power Telegram influencers.

Like “Make it Count,” the other PDFs – entitled “The Hard Reset,” “Militant Accelerationism,” and “Do it For the 'Gram” – are all addressed to the white-power movement, and each from a slightly different perspective urges members to embrace more radical ideas and more violent methods.

Unlike “Make it Count,” each of the other three is a compilation of short pieces by pseudonymous authors, with much of the content excerpted from now-defunct Telegram accounts or channels. “Make it Count” appears to be written in a single authorial voice. None of the authors have so far been identified.

All of the PDFs appeared after an initial wave of bans on “Terrorgram” channels that followed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. According to a report from German nonprofit Center for Monitoring, Analysis, and Strategy (CeMAS), “Militant Accelerationism” was published on June 16, 2021; “Do it For the 'Gram” on Dec. 16, 2021; and “The Hard Reset” on June 14, 2022. According to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, “Make it Count” was published on the same day as “The Hard Reset.”

All the PDFs appeared after an initial wave of bans on “Terrorgram” channels that followed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. In a telephone conversation, Miro Dittrich from the German nonprofit Center for Monitoring, Analysis, and Strategy (CeMAS) told Hatewatch that “Militant Accelerationism” was published on June 16, 2021; “Do it For the 'Gram” on Dec. 16, 2021; "Make it Count" on June 1, 2022; and “The Hard Reset” on July 14, 2022. 

According to an academic content analysis of “The Hard Reset,” 47 of its 261 pages, or around 17% of the document’s content, are devoted to encouraging attacks on infrastructure.

Russell's prior incarceration

Russell’s prior imprisonment has done little to soften his allegiance to the white-power movement.

That period of incarceration followed Russell’s arrest in 2017, after police discovered bomb-making equipment in the home he shared with another AWD co-founder Devon Arthurs.

The discovery came during an investigation into the killings of AWD members Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk. (Arthurs, who is accused of murdering Himmelman and Oneschuk, has yet to face trial.) Russell was subsequently sentenced to five years in federal prison in 2018 for the explosives-related charges. He left prison and entered supervised release in June 2021.

While in prison, however, he remained in close touch with others in his movement, and even produced and published white-power propaganda.

Separate archives of an internal AWD chat obtained by Hatewatch — spanning the period from summer 2017 to early 2018 — show several members, including Russell’s successor as leader of AWD, claiming to be in frequent contact with him.

Hatewatch also found that Russell released neo-Nazi propaganda while in the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta on at least two occasions — once in 2018, when AWD members published a video targeting figures who Russell perceived were disloyal to the group, and again in 2020, when “American Futurist,” the AWD-tied neo-Nazi propaganda site, published a series of short “prison essays.”

In the essays, which were published in May 2020, Russell refers to the white-power movement as “our movement.” He also explains a prison tattoo featuring AWD’s logo, a shield with a nuclear power symbol in the middle, alongside the tagline “REMEMBER OUR MARTYRS,” with the names of three deceased AWD members.

Russell later posted a photo of the tattoo on Twitter after his release.

Cynthia Miller-Idriss is the founder of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab, which studies violence prevention and radicalization.

In a telephone conversation, she told Hatewatch that Russell’s case exemplifies the shortcomings of combatting violent extremism through retributive and punitive measures.

“The American prison system isn’t set up to rehabilitate anybody,” Miller-Idriss said. “It’s a system that’s set up to punish people.”

For someone like Russell, who described “prison or death ... [as] inevitable” in one 2020 prison essay, prison can offer a “time to plan,” she added.

“Even in the best-case scenario, you arrest these guys. You send them away,” Miller-Idriss said. “They come out a few years later, and they’re right back at it. It isn’t a sustainable solution. It isn’t a solution that actually intervenes, or that prevents anything in the long-term."

Atomwaffen and a legacy of 'accelerationism'

From its founding in 2015, AWD set the tone for other groups in the “accelerationist” wing of the white supremacist movement.

Other groups that followed in AWD’s wake include Sonnenkrieg Division, Feuerkrieg Division and The Base.

Many of these groups involved very young people, almost exclusively men and boys. The Estonian leader of Feuerkrieg Division, for example, was 13 years old when identified by that country’s security services in 2020.

The activities of these organized, centralized accelerationist groups peaked before 2020. Within the past three years, they have been disrupted by arrests and trials; the identification of leaders and members by reporters, antifascists, and researchers; and losing access to the online platforms they once used for propaganda and organization.

As a result, white-power accelerationists migrated to loose, decentralized online communities in late 2019, including a shifting network of channels on low-moderation encrypted messaging application, Telegram. This Telegram channel network is known as “Terrorgram.”

“Terrorgram” glorified extreme, racist violence, referring to white supremacist terrorists as “saints,” proliferating bomb and 3D-printing weapons-making materials, and encouraging others to take up arms.

Telegram began systematically banning “Terrorgram” channels in 2021, following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But in the face of these bans, white-power accelerationists have found ways to spread their propaganda to a dedicated group of supporters through private chats and channels. Though the numbers of people involved in accelerationist groups may be fewer than at the movement’s peak, Russell’s case demonstrates their sustained appetite for violence.

“We should be primarily focused on bringing the system down,” Russell wrote on July 2, 2022, in the “Don’t Do Anything Illegal” chat, one of the private communities he was a part of.

“Good thing the younger crowd loves us accelerationists,” Russell added.

Photo from Twitter

Editor’s note: The SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which produces Hatewatch, also partners with PERIL to develop resources that equip parents, caregivers, educators and other trusted adults with the tools to prevent the spread of harmful ideologies and narratives. Hannah Gais and Jason Wilson, who reported this story, are not directly involved in the PERIL partnership. If you are interested in the Parents and Caregivers Guide SPLC produced with PERIL, you can find it here.

An earlier version of this article offered incorrect publication dates for the Terrorgram documents Make it Count and The Hard Reset. The incorrect dates were derived from errors in source documents. Hatewatch regrets the error.

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