The Messed Up Truth Of International Neo-Nazi Network, Atomwaffen Division

Despite the fact that far-right, neo-Nazi, and neo-fascist groups in the United States have been steadily gaining power and influence since the 1950s, it wasn't until the 116th Congress in 2020 that the FBI publicly acknowledged the far-right movement in the United States was a "national threat priority." The same year, the United States State Department designated members of the Russian Imperial Movement as global terrorists, which, per the State Department, was "the first time in history the Department has designated a white supremacist terrorist group."

But these acknowledgments have done little to stunt the growth of the neo-Nazi movement within the U.S. In 2021, the Department of Defense acknowledged that neo-Nazis and white supremacists were recruiting among U.S. military personnel. In July 2022, Congress passed amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that ordered the government to investigate far-right activity in the military and the FBI, but in December 2022, the final version of the NDAA effectively wiped all the provisions relating to investigating domestic far-right extremism in the military.

In 2022, the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism found that white supremacist propaganda efforts roe from 4,876 events in 2021 to 6,751 in 2022, with incidents involving antisemitic propaganda alone doubling. Amid all this, the Atomwaffen Division is one group out of many that want to remake the world in its fascistic white supremacist image. This is the messed up truth of the international neo-Nazi network, Atomwaffen Division.

The following article includes descriptions of violence and hate speak.

What is the Atomwaffen Division?

Atomwaffen Division, also known as AWD, is a contemporary neo-Nazi and neo-fascist group that follows an accelerationist ideology. Accelerationism is a facet of white supremacism that posits that society should be actively demolished in order to rebuild a new one ... based on fascism and white supremacy. As a result, Atomwaffen members actively advocate overthrowing the United States government and instigating a race war between people of color and white people. In "Hate Groups and Extremist Organizations in America," Barry J. Balleck writes that Atomwaffen is described as "one of the most violent hate groups in the United States." It is considered extreme and controversial even by those among the far-right.

Atomwaffen takes much of its ideology from the writings of James Mason, an American neo-Nazi who wrote a collection of essays known as SIEGE. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Mason first tried to join the American Nazi Party at just 14 years old and he spent his entire life in various neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups. At one point, he was even in correspondence with the Manson Family.

In July 2020, Atomwaffen changed its name to the National Socialist Order (NSO). This was due to some dissolution within the organization as well as the arrests of its founding members. However, this change is little more than a rebranding of the same ideology.

The Atomwaffen Division formed out of Iron March

The Atomwaffen Division, named after the German word for "atomic weapon," was founded in the United States on October 12, 2015, by Brandon Russell and Devon Arthurs. Announcing it on the Iron March web forum, Russell claimed that up to 40 people were already part of Atomwaffen, per the CTCSentinel.

Both Russell and Arthurs were previously active on Iron March forums where they launched their new neo-Nazi organization. According to the SPLC, when Russell first joined Iron March in March 2014, he wrote that he "wanted to join Iron March and further my knowledge. I am currently reading many different fascist books." Arthurs started posting on Iron March a year later, writing that "multiculturalism has FAILED." According to the Combating Terrorism Center, he even tried to get recruited into the Ukranian neo-Nazi Azov Battalion before starting Atomwaffen.

The Iron March forum, which operated from 2011 to 2017, was created by Alisher Mukhitdinov and revolved around neo-fascist and neo-Nazi ideologies. Although the community consisted of less than 2,000 people, neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups started emerging out of Iron March in 2013 and users were soon involved with numerous terrorist movements and violent incidents around the world.

[Featured image by RKT7789 via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 4.0]

It recruited on college campuses

In addition to spreading their ideology online on Iron March forums, Atomwaffen Division also recruited people on college campuses. Atomwaffen tried to recruit students from colleges and universities all across the United States, including the University of Central Florida, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Colorado.

Atomwaffen would frequently put up white supremacist propaganda on college campuses as well. One of the first times Atomwaffen organized in public was when Brandon Russell and Devon Arthurs put up antisemitic flyers around the University of Central Florida. And The Stranger reports that in June 2017, Atomwaffen posted various flyers at Evergreen State College. In addition to trying to recruit students, they read "BLACK LIVES DON'T MATTER."

Flyers promoting a race war were also distributed. In 2017, advertisements were discovered in Russell's car that read "Don't prepare for exams, prepare for a race war." Another flier posted at the State College of Florida read "HOW IS A DIPLOMA GOING TO HELP YOU IN THE RACE WAR?" (via the Anti-Defamation League).

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

[Featured image by elisfkc via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 2.0]

The Atomwaffen Division has ties to the Order of Nine Angles

By 2018, Atomwaffen Division ideology started to be more and more influenced by another neo-Nazi group, the Order of Nine Angles (O9A), which incorporates satanic imagery and associations into its ideology. The Order of Nine Angles was reportedly founded in England in the 1970s as a neo-Nazi group and has since been associated with violent acts in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

In addition to incorporating satanic associations and neo-Nazism, O9A's ideology also revolves around promoting rape and sexual abuse of children. And it's not the only neo-Nazi group with such extremist ideology. In July 2022, U.S. Marine Matthew Belanger was arrested for plotting to rape "white women to increase the production of white children" as a member of the neo-Nazi organization Rapekrieg.

Atomwaffen's adoption of O9A values and O9A texts as required reading led to a rift within the organization. Hope Not Hate writes that RapeWaffen was one such group to splinter off from Atomwaffen in order to promote an ideology closer to that of O9A. Atomwaffen has even been described as a gateway group to the Order of Nine Angles.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

It participated in Unite the Right

In August 2017, members of Atomwaffen Division participated in Unite the Right, a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia during which Heather Danielle Heyer was killed by James Alex Fields Jr. During the rally, Atomwaffen members kept their faces hidden behind black skull-and-crossbones handkerchiefs, per "Hate Groups and Extremist Organizations." In addition to Atomwaffen, members of other far-right, neo-Nazi, and neo-fascist groups like the Russian Imperial Movement, the Oath Keepers, and Identity Evropa were also present at the white supremacist rally.

Prior to the rally, Atomwaffen members discussed various ways to incite violence. According to ProPublica, one member was "encouraged to be vicious with any counterprotesters, maybe even sodomize someone with a knife. He'd responded by saying he was prepared to kill someone."

After the Unite the Right rally, Atomwaffen's membership reportedly grew, with members bragging on Discord that they were receiving "loads of applications," according to "Antisemitism on Social Media." By January 2018, Atomwaffen reportedly had around 80 members, double compared to when it was founded. However, exact numbers regarding active Atomwaffen members are difficult to come by because they are intentionally isolated and difficult to track.

The Atomwaffen Division hosted hate camps

Atomwaffen Division operations include conducting training camps, also known as hate camps, in order to prepare members for violence against people of color. These hate camps include activities like weapons, combat skills, and guerrilla tactic training, along with creating propaganda videos and hiking exercises. Many trainings are led by Atomwaffen former and active military members.

Journal EXIT-Deutschland reports that Michael Lloyd Hubsky, former leader of the Nevada Atomwaffen cell, organized at least one hate camp for three days in the Nevada desert in January 2018, known as the "Death Valley Hate Camp." Leader of Atomwaffen's Washington cell Kaleb J. Cole also helped organize the Death Valley Hate Camp, telling trainees to "bring your uniform, rifle/sidearm, and whatever camping gear you need," per ProPublica. Hubsky subsequently abandoned Atomwaffen and became an informant. Meanwhile, Cole was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in 2022 for plotting to threaten and intimidate journalists and advocates who worked against antisemitism.

The Death Valley Hate Camp wasn't the first hate camp organized by Atomwaffen. Another hate camp was held in the fall of 2017 in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. The same year, there was another hate camp held in Texas.

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

It works with international fascists

In addition to having cells all across the United States, Atomwaffen Division also has cells around the world and is connected with other global white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and neo-fascist groups. By January 2021, an Atomwaffen Division Europe group had also been formed and although they claimed not to be in contact with the U.S. Atomwaffen, their white supremacy and incorporation of violent tactics are practically identical.

The Cipher Brief reports that Atomwaffen has links to neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups — such as the Russian Imperial Movement, the Sonnenkrieg Division, the Azov Battalion, and the Antipodean Resistance — in numerous countries like Australia, Canada, Estonia, Russia, and Ukraine. According to "Terrorism and Counterterrorism" U.S. Atomwaffen members even traveled to St. Petersburg to train at a hate camp run by the Russian Imperial Movement. Atomwaffen members like Kaleb Cole have also traveled to Europe in order to network and build an international coalition.

[Featured image by Tuman Rabdanov via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 1.0]

The Atomwaffen Division co-founder murdered two people in Tampa

In May 2017, Atomwaffen Division co-founder Devon Arthurs was arrested in Tampa, Florida after taking a group of people hostage. After walking into a smoke shop with a semiautomatic pistol, Arthurs ordered all the customers and employees onto the ground and "informed all three victims that he was upset due to America bombing his Muslim countries," according to the Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Bay police officers managed to negotiate with Arthurs and the hostage situation came to an end when Arthurs surrendered. But the hostage situation wasn't the only reason that Arthurs was arrested.

Arthurs admitted to police that before the hostage situation, he'd already killed his roommates Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk, other Atomwaffen members who'd moved to Tampa from Massachusetts. Arthurs reportedly gave his father varying motives for the murder, ranging from Atomwaffen's terrorist attack plans to revenge for the fact that they mocked his conversion to Islam. It was during this time that police also detained Brandon Russell — who lived with Arthurs, Himmelman, and Oneschuk — and discovered bomb-making materials, explosives, and radioactive material in his possession.

Although charged with murder, Arthurs was deemed too mentally incompetent to stand trial in 2018. Since then, he has been receiving treatment at the Developmental Disabilities Defendant Program for schizophrenia. But in 2022, Arthurs' court hearing resumed to determine whether or not he is mentally competent enough to stand trial.

The murder of Blaze Bernstein

In early January 2018, Blaze Bernstein was murdered and his body was found several days later in Borrego Park in Lake Forest, California. Bernstein's body was buried in a shallow grave and was found with nearly 20 stab wounds in the neck.

After Bernstein's former high-school classmate Samuel Lincoln Woodward was arrested and charged with murder, Woodward was found to be a member of the Atomwaffen Division and had even participated in Atomwaffen hate camps. Encrypted chat logs also revealed how Woodward frequently went on racist, antisemitic, and heterosexist tirades. After Bernstein's murder was reported, Atomwaffen members celebrated in the chat, describing Woodward as a "one man gay Jew wrecking crew," per ProPublica.

Woodward was initially charged with murder and the use of a deadly weapon. Later, he faced additional charges of committing a hate crime due to the fact that Bernstein was Jewish and openly gay. In October 2022, Woodward was found mentally competent enough to stand trial. As of April 2023, the preliminary hearing for the trial was delayed and has yet to occur. If Woodward is found guilty, he faces life in prison without parole.

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

A Atomwaffen Division co-founder tried to destroy Baltimore

In February 2023, Atomwaffen Division co-founder Brandon Russel was arrested alongside fellow member and girlfriend Sarah Clendaniel for plotting to destroy the power grid of Baltimore, Maryland. According to The New York Times, they planned to "completely destroy this whole city" by targeting five Baltimore Gas and Electric facilities. The FBI also considered the plot to have racist motivations due to the fact that over 60% of Baltimore residents are Black.

Russell and Clendaniel reportedly met and began an email correspondence while they were both imprisoned. Russell had been arrested and sentenced for possession of explosives and bomb-making while Clendaniel was sentenced for armed robbery. Russell was imprisoned from 2018 to 2021.

This also wasn't the first time that Atomwaffen toyed with the idea of attacking energy facilities. In 2017, Russell also plotted to blow up electrical power lines and a nuclear power plant in Florida. One of the plans even included loading mortars with radioactive materials thorium and americium and shooting them into the nuclear power plant. When Russell's friend and Atomwaffen co-founder Devon Arthurs was asked why Russell was planning these terrorist attacks, he claimed it was "because they wanted to build a Fourth Reich" (via Tampa Bay Times).

Atomwaffen Division members sent bomb threats at HBCU

In the first two months of 2022, more than four dozen historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States received bomb threats. During one of the bomb threats that was called into Bethune-Cookman University, the caller claimed to be a member of the Atomwaffen Division. Despite this, it's also believed that people unaffiliated with Atomwaffen may have been using the name "because they know it will create shock value," Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, told the Associated Press.

During the phone call, the anonymous caller described how bombs would go off at the college in addition to a shooter firing on the students. And although no physical bombs were found after numerous campuses were shut down and swept, the targeted threats left many feeling uneasy. As Calvert White, a junior at Jackson State, noted to CNN, "HBCUs have a long history of physical threats just because of our existence. I think that the threats aren't individual or coincidental – that it's a clear attack on Black students who choose to go to Black schools."

In November 2022, a juvenile was arrested and charged with making the bomb threats. Although the FBI continues to search for those responsible for all the bomb threats, the minor who was charged is thought to have threatened over 50 HBCUs in the United States.

[Featured image by 2C2KPhotography via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 2.0]