A new propaganda video showcases Atomwaffen’s "intention to enter a new violent phase,” says an expert.
By Mack Lamoureux and Ben Makuch
A neo-Nazi terror group under investigation by the FBI has released a propaganda video that one expert is calling “incredibly significant” and “essentially a declaration of war.” This comes after the group has already been linked to five murders, and was named in an FBI investigation involving an alleged bomber in Las Vegas who stockpiled explosives and firearms for a planned attack on the city's Jewish and LGBTQ communities.
The video shows James Mason, the author of influential works that advocate for lone-wolf violence by white supremacists, joined by 12 masked men who are all members of Atomwaffen Division (AWD). In the video, Mason and a member of Atomwaffen declare the organization needs to act before law enforcement shuts them down. The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism described AWD in a recent paper on the group as a “small neo-Nazi terrorist organisation” that should be “treated as such.”
“The group propagates some of the most vicious and hateful rhetoric ever seen among domestic extremist groups, and should they follow up on their threats, would wreak havoc on civilian life around the country,” reads the paper.
The recent video, which is under two minutes in length and was posted on a new dark web site created for the group, shows Mason wearing an Atomwaffen armband. Mason and an Atomwaffen member speak about fighting back against “their enemies” before they’re “put away,” and the need to finance an unnamed endeavor. The video ends with the 12 members posing with Mason. At the end of the video, a binary code is briefly shown. The code translates to “select presentations to be presented to the public.”
This video is notably less violent than previous Atomwaffen videos. Instead it showcases what Joshua Fisher-Birch, a research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project, described as a change in the group's approach to propaganda. Up until this point, the group has “mainly focused on recruitment through spreading their message and ideology and projecting the image of a radical underground organization,” Fisher-Birch said. For example, the video the group uploaded in May featured them firing various weapons and burning flags. The new video is less a show of force and more focused on ideology—and, most importantly, is an urgent plea for action before the group faces further scrutiny.
The video comes at a time when law enforcement is finally beginning to take the current threat of far-right terror seriously. Fisher-Birch said the new video shows the group’s “intention to enter a new violent phase” by acting before law enforcement acts. On top of that, one member in the video states the violence and tension “plaguing the system” are escalating. The group feeling like they're being cornered paired with the current political strife could be dangerous, said Fisher-Birch.
“Escalating conditions of violence and disorder are the exact type of situation that a group that follows Mason’s book Siege hope for, because it can lead to the collapse of government institutions and control,” said Fisher-Birch. “Based on the video, the group is indicating that they are choosing this moment to activate. The fact that they mention the need to finance their operations, and their new onion site indicate that the group is preparing for a long struggle.”
Subcomandante X, an independent researcher of the far-right, is typically one of the first to report on the activities of extreme-right groups like Atomwaffen. Subcomandante X, who takes their name from a Zapatista spokesperson, told VICE this video is part of the groups going effort to reestablish itself after a dormant period. While the video is “calmer” than previous ones, they said it still exudes a sense of “anxiety and urgency.”
“The very first thing the masked member talks about in the video is the group’s ‘chances to be left alone,’ which ‘skyrocket’ by wielding the truth, as James Mason put it, as both a ‘weapon’ and a ‘shield,’” said Subcomandante X. “The masked member also acknowledges that their enemies’ mission to ‘put us away’ ‘appears to be a 'more and more likely scenario.’ It seems the group feels a great need to shake off the pressure they’re feeling now from the state, antifascists, and the media.”
“I don’t want to imagine how they plan on doing that.”
Both Subcomandante X and Fisher-Birch stated that the inclusion of Mason in the video, and the fact he wears an Atomwaffen armband, were a significant development. Mason is a 67-year-old neo-Nazi who has been in the movement since George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi party. Mason’s writings have been incredibly influential among this particular sect of neo-Nazis and advocate attacks to destabilize society. Mason recently released a statement in mid-September that seemed to attempt to distance himself from mass shootings and violent actions.
“Mason’s work is revered by several neo-Nazi groups that aspire to commit acts of terrorism, but here he appears with the Atomwaffen Division itself and specifically endorses them and their recruitment drive,” said Fisher-Birch.
Many online have indicated that they believe the upload to be in connection with a Trump tweet mentioning the Civil War, but Fisher-Birch believes there is another explanation. The upload comes on the birthday of Savitri Devi, an important figure for the ideology of Atomwaffen and Mason. Devi’s teachings contain a bizarre mix of Nazism, environmentalism, and occultism, and she remains an immensely important figure of the extreme-right today.
Atomwaffen came to be in 2015 on the now-defunct far-right forum Iron March. They quickly gained infamy and currently have five deaths, which took place within eight months of each other, tied to their members. These include the murder of fellow members; the stabbing death of a gay, Jewish teen; and the murder of the parents of one member’s girlfriend. Other members, or associated people, have faced charges in connection with foiled mass killings. The group was influential in its sphere inspiring several splinter groups.
However, in mid-2018, the group more or less went silent and were thought to be waning. That changed on May 9, 2019, when after almost a year of being mute, the group uploaded a video which shows them conducting training with various firearms and burning several flags.
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