Atomwaffen Division (Atomwaffen meaning “nuclear weapons” in German) is a violent white supremacist neo-Nazi terrorist network that had formed in 2015, which has gained international notoriety for a number of murders (5-8 between 2017-2019), planned terrorist attacks, as well as other criminal activities.
Originally based in the Southern United States, it has since expanded across the country, and has now also branches in Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, the Baltic states and other European countries.
The Atomwaffen Division (AWD), comprised to a large part of young white men, recruits its members mostly in far-right online communities, such as the (now defunct) extremist Iron March forum, the “Bowl Patrol” channel on the Discord gaming platform, or the far-right Twitter alternative gab.com.
At the core of AWD’s ideology is the right-wing extremist idea of accelerating the collapse of the democratic system through chaos, violence and terror as the precondition to install a white supremacist regime. For example, the right-wing terrorist Brenton Tarrant explicitly wanted to contribute to such an “acceleration,”who in an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, had killed 51 people in March 2019.1
One of AWD’s main objectives is preparing for “Day X,” i.e. the beginning of a (civil) race war, which goes under various denominations in the white supremacist underground: “The Day of the Rope” or “The Day of the Bowl” (TDOTB), referring to the bowl cut of “Dylan Roof, the 21-year-old who gunned down nine elderly African American parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015” — a hero in the AWD milieu.2
In so-called “Hate Camps” AWD members are training for this aspired race war in various disciplines: the use firearms, close combat, military tactics, as well as bomb-making and handling of explosives.
The AWD has been attracting especially teenagers and several militaries from the US Army and Navy. AWD’s founder, Brandon Russell, had been a member of the 53rd Combat Brigade of the Florida National Guard. A ProPublica report from 2018 identified three of them, among them Vasillios Pistolis, who bragged that he had “cracked three skulls open” at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Another member, Joshua Beckett, who trained Atomwaffen members in firearms and hand-to-hand combat in 2017, served in the Army from 2011 to 2015, according to service records.3^
Iron March and Daily Stormer
The AWD had announced its creation on the website IronMarch.org in 2015,4 a now defunct forum that was a known catch basin for neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists. First traces of AWD lead to posts from June 2015, when AWD’s founder, Brandon Russell, then a mere teenager, asked for assistance to make a meme sporting an Atomwaffen lettering.5 In a later post that year the group described itself as a “very fanatical, ideological band of comrades who do both activism and militant training. Hand to hand, arms training, and various other forms of training. As for activism, we spread awareness in the real world through unconventional means.”6
The journalist Nate Thayer has poignantly described the mood of the Iron March (IM) milieu:2
Like a 21st century cyberspace version of “The Lord of the Flies,” the almost exclusively very young and male fraternity who share in common raw and unfocused rage, congregate on secret online discussion forums … to spew hate and vent teenage angst, whipping themselves further into darker frenzies of hopelessness.
IM was founded in 2011 by someone calling himself “Alexander Slavros,”7 claiming to be a fascist from Eastern Europe. During its six years of existence (September 2011-December 2017), IM became a central hub for diehard white supremacists, neo-Nazis and neofascists with a vested interest in “white extremism on a global scale.”8 IM had just over 1,600 users who collectively had posted more than 150,000 messages before the forum ceased its activity in December 2017 without a warning, likely due to the evermore apparent links to domestic terrorism. Bomb-making manuals had been posted on the IM website, and the hate spawned by Slavros and other forum members had led to a series of murders and terror attacks.
IM would have well disappeared in the graveyard of the internet if not in 2019 the forum's entire database had been leaked by a user called antifa-data. Although most Iron March users went by pseudonyms, the leak of the site’s internal records includes email and IP addresses, which might be used to identify members.
IM had brought together members of far-right groups from all over the US and Europe. Next to the AWD, US groups that were represented on IM included Vanguard America which became wider known when it turned out that James Fields, the killer of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, had held a shield sporting VA’s logo before he drove a car into a crowd of protestors.8
From Europe groups such as the British National Action, Action of Serbia, Golden Dawn of Greece, the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, and the Lithuanian Skydas were represented on IM.9 The UK group National Action (2013-2018), which had reportedly inspired Vanguard as well as the AWD, was the first neo-Nazi group in the UK that had been banned as a terrorist organization.8
There have been also confirmed links to the Azov Battalion. The murdered AWD member Andrew Oneschuk had been in contact with Azov, and had already prepared his journey to train with them in Ukraine, but his family could dissuade him at the last moment.10 Another unidentified AWD member, who appeared in a MSNBC documentary on AWD, said that “these groups are encouraging people to go over to Ukraine and train with the Azov Battalion. And it’s not just Atomwaffen, it’s a lot of national socialist groups.”11
The self-description of the IM forum stated that “psychological warfare” was its first objective. “Knowing your enemy in order to destroy him and knowing your ally in order not to offend him because you understand the same word as different things,” was also stated among IM’s imperatives.8
Like other neo-Nazi cells all over Europe, such as CasaPound in Italy, Hogar Social Madrid in Spain, or Haus Montag Pirna in Germany, IM put special emphasis on the anchoring of the aesthetics of Italian Futurism in the American neo-Nazi movement. The social and artistic Futurist movement aestheticized speed, technology, youth, and violence, and was a trailblazer to the rise of Italian fascism, therefor its adaption was deemed fruitful to the cause in the United States. A whole forum thread on IM entitled “American Futurism Workshop” was dedicated to these efforts.8^
The AWD first surfaced in the public when several of its members spread violent neo-Nazi propaganda on various US college and university campuses, mostly in the form of leaflets and stickers.6 But only after a double murder by a former AWD member of two AWD acolytes in May 2017 did the group become known to a wider public. According to Michael Heyden from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):9
[On May 19th, 2017, AWD’s leader Brandon] Russell, who went by the handle “Odin” on Iron March, walked into his Tampa, Florida, home to find two corpses disfigured by gunshot wounds. Devon Arthurs, one of his four roommates, who went by the handle “TheWeissewolfe” on Iron March, shot and killed Russell’s two other roommates, Andrew Oneschuk and Jeremy Himmelman. Oneschuk went by “Borovikov” on Iron March. Himmelman’s Iron March handle, if he had one, is unknown.”
According to the Rolling Stone, “they’d been staying in a lush gated community near the University of South Florida, in a two-bedroom, terra-cotta condo rented by their fourth roommate … Brandon Russell, a rich kid from the Bahamas who worked at a gun shop and served in the Florida National Guard.”12
The scenario was bizarre. After his arrest, Devon Arthurs, the double-murderer, had stated in police custody his motive was revenge for the mockery of his roommates when he had converted from neo-Nazism to a “self-taught” version of radical Islam.13
After having mowed down two of his former AWD companions with a hail of bullets, Arthurs had held employees of a Tampa head shop hostage, when the police arrived at the scene. Devons, apparently behaved very erratically,4
… complaining about the U.S. bombing of Muslim majority countries. Arthurs surrendered within fifteen minutes of officers reaching the scene and was taken into custody. According to a report filed by Tampa’s major crimes bureau, Arthurs … made proclamations about his faith while also blaming his actions on U.S. foreign policy. When asked by officers if anyone else had been injured, Arthurs replied, “The people in the apartment, but they aren’t hurt, they’re dead.”
Arthurs was only 16 when he first posted on the IM forum in March 2015, and was declared mentally unfit for trial after the murders.
According to the Daily Stormer, a white supremacist & neo-Nazi commentary and message board website, Arthurs had been banned from the website’s Discord server by the site’s administrator Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer personally, over accusations that he was a federal informant. In the article the Daily Stormer stated:14
All three of these people [the murderer and the two killed] were known to us. I have personally had a conversation with the Islamic murderer months ago, where I implied he might be a federal agent. I had just banned him from our Discord server for being shady as all hell and trying to get people to convert to Salafism, an especially violent and wicked form of Islamism. This guy was acting so completely retarded I really thought he had to be a federal informant. Turns out he really was an unhinged Moslem.
The Daily Stormer has itself an inglorious role in the viral spread of white supremacism and neo-Nazi ideology among young users online. According to the SPLC:8
…without the aesthetic, slang and meme-laden milieu of the Daily Stormer, the IM forum would not have developed the way it did. The forum is an extension of, and reaction to, how neo-Nazi influencers built a contemporary movement online over the last several years. Launched in September 2011 and July 2013 respectively, IM and Daily Stormer did not develop as counterpoints, but as complements to one another.
There are also personal continuities between the Daily Stormer and the Iron March forum. Editor of IM’s webzine NOOZE, “Charles Zeiger,” was also a prolific contributor to the Daily Stormer, and contributed to the blog of the British neo-Nazi group National Action.8
Devon Arthurs’ double murder brought the plans of AWD’s leader, Brandon Russell, of bombing synagogues, power lines or a power plant in the Miami area, to a sudden end. He received a five years prison sentence for possession of illegal explosives in May 2017:2
In the car garage attached to Russell’s condominium, authorities found a fully equipped bomb making factory–large quantities of bomb making components including two kinds of radioactive material–thorium and americium; ammonium nitrate and nitromethane, the chemical combination used by Timothy McVeigh to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City; potassium chloride; red iron oxide; potassium nitrate; homemade bomb fuses; hollowed out large caliber bullets used to make bomb fuses; and two Geiger counters, among other bomb precursors and explosive materials.
Order of Nine Angles and Temple of Blood
After Brandon Russel’s detention, John Cameron Denton alias “Rape” became AWD’s head, who, according to journalist Nate Thayer, has been a Satanist and member of the cult Tempel of Blood since prior to the founding of AWD. It appears that under Denton’s leadership, the AWD took a truly Satanist turn.2
Several of the current AWD leaders are adherents “of ‘Esoteric Hitlerism’ or ‘Occult Hitlerism’ and advocate of an extreme sect of Satanism infused with Nazi and Satanic beliefs called the Order of Nine Angles [O9A] which promotes the use of mass terror and violence to force a total collapse of the institutions of government and society.” In February 2018, an Atomwaffen leader from Arizona, Cody William Moreash, wrote in a neo-Nazi chatroom:2
Bluebird and Iron Gates are two O9A books that are required reading for Atomwaffen members. They depict scenes of a post apocalyptic world where Aryan victors celebrate human suffering and engage in wanton child rape, torture, pedophilia, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. They are published and distributed by Jillian Scott Hoy, who runs the Satanic Martinet Press, and authored by her husband, Joshua Caleb Sutter, a current leader of the Atomwaffen Division and the leader of the South Carolina Satanic cult Tempel of Blood, an extremist offshoot of the already extremist Order of Nine Angles Satanic ideology.
According to investigative journalist Nate Thayer:2
At least nine adherents to the Order of Nine Angles teachings of the Temple of Blood Satanic sect are currently in key leadership positions in the Atomwaffen Division. They include Atomwaffen members from Washington state, Colorado, Virginia, Texas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Arizona, South Carolina, and elsewhere.
A stash of books belonging to one of its members give a glimpse into the mindset of the group. Occultist and esotericist literature mixed with Nazi and neo-Nazi classics, reaching from Julius Evola to Francis Parker Yockey.^
James Nolan Mason and SIEGE
The AWD’s extreme propensity to violence and orientation towards esoteric Nazism can certainly be explained in part by its contact with US neo-Nazi veteran James Nolan Mason (*1952), a personal acquaintance of the neo-Nazi death cult leader and multiple murderer, Charles Manson, whom the AWD is fetishizing.8 According to a prosecutor in a court case related to AWD, Mason, represents “the most violent, revolutionary and potentially terroristic expression of right-wing extremism current today.”15
Mason experienced a sort of revival from relative obscurity as US neo-Nazi primary rock. It is not known whom from AWD exactly had hooked up with Mason, and when, but subsequently his compendium SIEGE, became somewhat of the group’s bible. SIEGE had been the newsletter of the US white supremacist organization National Socialist Liberation Front (NSLF) that Mason had edited from 1980-1986.8 The book contains reprints of the newsletters, wherein Mason advocates arbitrary attacks on society in order to destabilize it, as well as Mason’s correspondence with the imprisoned mass murderer Charles Manson.
In an undercover interview with Der Spiegel, Mason mentioned that he is not involved in the operational affairs of AWD, "solely" in the ideological training of its leading cadre.16
Mason’s neo-Nazi activities reach back to his teenager years. His vita has been summarized poignantly in a book on Savitri Devi by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke:17
Born in 1952, Mason spent an alienated youth in Ohio before joining [George Lincoln] Rockwell’s Nazis [American Nazi Party] in 1966. By 1968 he had a full-time job in the Arlington headquarters. When the party split into various factions in 1970, Mason initially remained loyal to Koehl’s NSWPP [National Socialist White People’s Party] but later rejected the mass strategy of electioneering in favor of subversive terrorism. His inspiration was Joseph Tommasi (b. 1951), a young leader of the NSWPP in southern California who had founded the National Socialist Liberation Front (NSLF) in 1974. Aping the militant left, Tommasi called for a guerrilla war with racial killings and direct attacks on ‘‘the Jewish power structure’’ of the United States. The NSLF maintained overseas links with the extremist British Movement in England. The NSLF’s advocacy of armed struggle would not be matched for a decade in the United States until the terrorist outrages of The Order in the mid-1980s, based on William Pierce’s novel about a global white revolution, The Turner Diaries (1978). In 1980, Mason revived the NSLF (lapsed after Tommasi’s assassination in 1975) as a forerunner of new militant American white-supremacist movements committed to armed struggle against the so-called Zionist Occupation Government. Mason now relaunched the NSLF journal Siege, in which he preached violence, racial strife, and an all-out war against the hated ‘‘system.’’ In his quest for extremist mentors, Mason next became obsessed with Charles Manson (b. 1934), the notorious psychopathic killer serving life imprisonment for conspiracy in the murders of the actress Sharon Tate and others in 1969. By the late 1970s Manson had begun to assume an underground cult status as the supreme outlaw who had taken direct action against a corrupt society. He claimed the ‘‘system’’ was killing the world: human survival depended on a simple ecological philosophy based on air, trees, water, and animals. Meanwhile he had carved a swastika on his forehead as a badge of his renegade spirit. By 1982 James Mason had adopted Manson as the spiritual leader of his new Nazi group, the Universal Order (the name came from Manson), and its campaign of destruction against the alleged insanity of liberal American society. The Universal Order’s insistence on the balance of nature coupled with a call for apocalyptic violence against a rotten mankind bears an uncanny resemblance to the sentiments of Savitri Devi. In the pages of Siege Mason paid extravagant tribute to Hitler, Tommasi, Manson, and Savitri Devi.
These references to Savitri Devi are important to understand the naming of the AWD’s British arm, the Sonnenkrieg Divison (“Solar War Division”), which has been unearthed in the UK.2 The group became known when Andrew Dymock aka “Blitz” was arrested in 2018 under section 58 of the British Terrorism Act (2000) for possession of material likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.
A year later, Michal Szewczuk, 19, from Leeds, and Oskar Dunn-Koczorowski, 18, from west London, had spread “abhorrent and criminal” online propaganda, and were sentenced to four years and 18 months imprisonment respectively. According to the Judge Rebecca Poulet, the material they were spreading was “uniformly violent and threatening” and “the nature of the violence includes rape and execution.”15 One member had called for the rape and killing of babies and women.^
AWD in Germany
A German branch of AWD, the Atomwaffen Division Deutschland (AWDD), has emerged sometime in early summer 2018. Recently the group has been in the news since several German politicians have received death threads by persons associated with AWDD, among them the Green Party politicians Claudia Roth and Cem Özdemir. One of these death threads, sent by email, read:18
Dear Mr Özdemir,
you, as a left Turkish pig, are also on our death list now, to which we welcome you. Currently we are planning how and when we will execute you…
Atomwaffen Division Germany
The German AWD division has put up several promotional videos, one showing a symbolic book burning, where i.a. works of the Frankfurt School or the Quran were burnt.18
As in the US, violently antisemitic and anti-Muslim leaflets and flyers were spread in several German cities, among them Kiel, Köln, Berlin and Frankfurt. In Köln the flyers were found at a location of one of the NSU murders, prompting people to kill Muslims.18
The next step will be to resolutely welcome one’s own future of fighting and killing as soldier of the white race. Mundlos, Böhnhardt, Zschäpe, Breivik, Roof, Bowers, Tarrant; they are among the first. And their example will be followed.
Another gab post calls for a “total civil war.”18
At least one member from Germany is said to have participated in a training camp in the Nevada desert. Experts estimate that AWD in Germany has about 24 to 36 members.1 Although their identities are for the most part not established, a trail leads to Thuringia. According to research by t-online.de, there is evidence that a member of a neo-Nazi martial arts group and comradeship from Eisenach participated in an AWDD video. The latter is also said to have taken part in firearms training in the Czech Republic and to have talked online about the handling of explosives and bomb-making.1
- 1. a. b. c. Katja Thorwarth, “Die Atomwaffen Division – Ein IS für deutsche Nazis?,” Frankfurter Rundschau, December 20, 2019, https://www.fr.de/politik/atomwaffen-division-deutsche-nazis-13359796.html.
- 2. a. b. c. d. e. f. g. Nate Thayer, “White Supremacist Stolen Valor: A New Leader of Neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division Terror Group Identified,” Nate Thayer, April 9, 2019, https://www.nate-thayer.com/white-supremacist-stolen-valor-new-leader-of-neo-nazi-atomwaffen-division-terror-group-identified/.
- 3. A.C. Thompson, Ali Winston, and Jake Hanrahan, “Ranks of Notorious Hate Group Include Active-Duty Military,” ProPublica, May 3, 2018, https://www.propublica.org/article/atomwaffen-division-hate-group-active-duty-military.
- 4. a. b. “Atomwaffen Division,” Southern Poverty Law Center, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/atomwaffen-division.
- 5. Kelly Weill, “Inside the Private Messages of Neo-Nazi Group Atomwaffen Division,” The Daily Beast, November 8, 2019, https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-the-private-messages-of-neo-nazi-group-atomwaffen-division.
- 6. a. b. Adam Thorp, “Militant Neo-Nazi Group Claims Credit for Hanging Hitler Portrait, Swastikas on Campus Building,” The Chicago Maroon, October 20, 2016, https://www.chicagomaroon.com/article/2016/12/6/militant-neo-nazi-group-claims-credit-hanging-hitl/.
- 7. Michael Edison Heyden, “Mysterious Neo-Nazi Advocated Terrorism for Six Years Before Disappearance,” Southern Poverty Law Center, May 21, 2019, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2019/05/21/mysterious-neo-nazi-advocated-terrorism-six-years-disappearance.
- 8. a. b. c. d. e. f. g. h. i. Hatewatch Staff, “Atomwaffen and the SIEGE parallax: how one neo-Nazi’s life’s work is fueling a younger generation,” Southern Poverty Law Center, February 22, 2018, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2018/02/22/atomwaffen-and-siege-parallax-how-one-neo-nazi%E2%80%99s-life%E2%80%99s-work-fueling-younger-generation.
- 9. a. b. Michael Edison Heyden, “Visions of Chaos: Weighing the Violent Legacy of Iron March,” Southern Poverty Law Center, February 15, 2019, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2019/02/15/visions-chaos-weighing-violent-legacy-iron-march.
- 10. “Breaking Hate: Atomwaffen Division,” MSNBC, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZP5XeZRIA4.
- 11. MSNBC, “Breaking Hate: Atomwaffen Division,” [22:33].
- 12. Janet Reitman, “All-American Nazis: How a senseless double murder in Florida exposed the rise of an organized fascist youth movement in the United States,” Rolling Stone, May 2, 2018, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/all-american-nazis-628023/.
- 13. “Arthurs stated that all of them had been friends with a common neo-Nazi belief, until Arthurs converted to Muslim. Since then, Arthurs stated, he has become angered by the world's anti-Muslim sentiment and had wanted to bring attention to his cause. Arthurs also stated that, prior to the murder, he had been privy to neo-Nazi internet chat sites threatening to kill people, and he had developed a thinking that he should take some of the neo-Nazis with him.” See: Criminal Report Affidavit regarding Devon Arthurs, Tampa Police Department, May 19, 2017, https://www.scribd.com/document/349133624/Criminal-Report-Affidavit-Filed-e7c6b25f-4ac7-48ed-b42c-591521945d01#download&from_embed.
- 14. “Two White Nationalists Dead in Insane Moslem Terror Plot,” Daily Stormer, May 21, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170530130104/https:/www.dailystormer.com/two-white-nationalists-dead-in-insane-moslem-terror-plot/.
- 15. a. b. “Teen neo-Nazis jailed over terror offences,” BBC, June 18, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48672929.
- 16. “Amerikas gefährlichste Neonazi-Gruppe: Die ‘Atomwaffen Division’,” Spiegel Online, August 29, 2018, https://www.spiegel.de/video/spiegel-tv-ueber-us-neonazi-gruppe-atomwaffen-division-video-99020303.html.
- 17. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Hitler’s Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth, and Neo-Nazism (New York and London: New York University Press, 1998), 214-215.
- 18. a. b. c. d. e. “Rechtsextreme ‘Atomwaffen Division’: Bedrohungen gegen Politiker,” Spiegel TV on YouTube, November 12, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pf6ZciudFG4.
- 19. The respective profiles on gab.com were deleted in the meantime, e.g.@AWDD @AWDDeutschland. The respective profiles on gab.com were deleted in the meantime, e.g.@AWDD @AWDDeutschland.