Members of Atomwaffen Division charged with federal crimes in recent weeks, including harassing journalists and activists
A sweep of arrests of a neo-Nazi group in the US has dealt a major blow to an organization associated with at least five murders and raised questions as to whether the extreme far-right movement the group is at the center of has been largely undone by pressure from law enforcement, journalists and anti-fascist activists.
Five senior members of Atomwaffen Division (AWD) have been charged with federal crimes in the past weeks, including former leaders and a man who was concurrently a member of the similar neo-Nazi terror group the Base. The recent charges involve members in four states in connection with two separate criminal cases.
In Virginia, a Texas man, John Denton, 26, was charged over an alleged “swatting” conspiracy – a practice involving making false reports about a targets address in the hope police will stage an armed raid on the address.
Denton – reported by ProPublica in 2018 as “involved in nearly every aspect of the organization” as its leader – is known inside Atomwaffen by the alias “Rape”. He allegedly coordinated swatting attacks in 2018 and 2019 on journalists, Old Dominion University, and a historically black church.
Four more members were charged with conspiracy to threaten journalists and people associated with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Washington state.
One of those arrested, Taylor Parker-Dipeppe, 20, was a former Florida chapter co-leader under the alias “Azazel”. Recent social media materials given to the Guardian by Australian anti-fascist group the White Rose Society show a muscular, bearded young man with fresh neo-Nazi tattoos.
Two more of those charged lived in Washington. Kaleb Cole, 24, alias “Khimaere”, who was the Washington chapter leader, and Cameron Shea, 24, alias “Krokodil”,have long histories in the neo-Nazi movement.
Cole is described in court documents as a former co-leader of the group. He had guns seized last October under Washington’s so-called “red flag” laws. He and another Washington Atomwaffen member and close associate, Aiden Bruce-Umbaugh, 23, were apprehended in November by Texas police, who found several firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and marijuana in their vehicle.
Bruce-Umbaugh was charged with and pleaded guilty to possessing weapons together with a controlled substance.
Cole visited eastern Europe with Bruce-Umbaugh in 2018, and the two made pilgrimages to sites associated with Nazism, posing for photographs with an Atomwaffen flag at the Auschwitz death camp. In 2019, he was detained for 42 days under Canada’s anti-terror laws and banned from the country.
Shea was described in court documents as a “high-level member and primary recruiter” for the group. Information obtained from confidential sources by the Guardian shows he was also a member of the like-minded group the Base for several months in late 2018.
A fourth arrestee, Johnny Garcia, was known in the movement as “Roman”.
According to court documents, the men allegedly cooperated in specifically targeting journalists with lurid violent threats, bearing slogans like “These people have names and addresses”, and “You have been visited by your local Nazis”. The plan was in response to reports on the group in late 2018 in outlets including the Seattle Times.
The men have been charged with conspiracy, stalking, and postal offenses.
Already, six members of Atomwaffen have been convicted since 2018 on charges including firearms offenses, planning terrorist attacks, hate crimes, and murder.
Not all charged members may stand trial. Devon Arthurs, accused of killing two other members of Atomwaffen, remains involuntarily in Florida state hospital. Nicholas Giampa, accused of killing his former girlfriend’s parents, has yet to stand trial. Initially he was unable to stand trial because of the effects of a self-inflicted gunshot wound
Atomwaffen was the first of a number of Neo-Nazi groups which emerged from 2015 and later that embraced a so-called “accelerationist” ideology, which preaches that western society is corrupt and violent acts sowing chaos will speed up its downfall and allow a white supremacist state to be built in its place.
They drew increasingly on the writings of the American neo-Nazi James Mason. Mason prescribed violent terrorism and a leaderless cellular structure, and praised the convicted murderer Charles Manson.
Mason became an advisor to Atomwaffen, and has appeared in propaganda videos made by the group.
Accelerationist groups also embraced a distinctive aesthetic which took in half-balaclava skull masks, bold and gruesome graphic design, and slickly edited propaganda videos, frequently depicting armed training camps.
All of those groups have now been subjected to significant legal consequences after their activities, their internal communications, and their identities were repeatedly exposed by antifascist researchers and investigative journalists.
The FBI appeared to be accelerating its efforts to crack down on the groups even before director Christopher Wray defined white supremacist extremists as a “national threat priority” which was “on the same footing” as Isis in early February. There have been at least 13 arrests of members of such groups since last October.
The better part of Atomwaffen’s leadership structure is now awaiting trial. Eight members of the Base have been arrested, and the identity of their leader exposed. Smaller groups, like Feuerkrieg Division, have now publicly called a halt to recruiting.
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