This week we learned that two far-right extremists affiliated with the neo-Nazi accelerationist group Atomwaffen (AWD) (German for atomic weapons) were arrested for planning an attack that would have taken down Baltimore’s power grid. The pair were taken into custody on charges of conspiracy to destroy an energy facility after they “took steps to shoot multiple electrical substations in the Baltimore area.” They wanted to “completely destroy” the whole city.
Since its founding in 2020, GPAHE has warned specifically about the dangers of transnational, accelerationist organizations like Atomwaffen. In a podcast from last July re-airing this week on Reveal, GPAHE co-founder Heidi Beirich discussed in depth the threat to democracies and human rights these groups pose. We’ve also recently warned about attacks on power grids.
Beirich also testified before the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism subcommittee on “Dangers of White Supremacist Movements, Accelerationism, and Militias,” warning that transnational accelerationist movements pose a high risk for violence both here and abroad due to their specific desire to use violence to destroy democracies.
“When it comes to white supremacists and other far-right extremists, their accelerationist variant sees modern society as irredeemable and believe it should be pushed to collapse so a fascist society built on ethnonationalism can take its place,” Beirich told the committee. “They specifically believe that violence is the only way to change politics, and they want to ‘accelerate’ that change through violent actions to destabilize political systems with the goal of establishing white supremacist states.”
One of those arrested was Brandon Russell, who founded Atomwaffen in 2015 and expanded its chapters in multiple countries. AWD is a violent neo-Nazi network that celebrates Hitler and Charles Manson and has been connected to substantial violence around the world. AWD videos portray young men, wearing camouflage and scarves over their faces, firing rifles during military-style training. One AWD video depicts members shouting in unison “Race War Now.” In 2017 alone, members of Atomwaffen were responsible for five deaths in the U.S., including a gay college student in California and a couple in Virginia. Russell’s girlfriend was the other alleged perpetrator of the substation attacks. Russell had pled guilty earlier to possession of explosive materials and was on supervised release after serving time in prison.
“As the plot in Baltimore shows, the threat from transnational, accelerationist groups is real and dangerous,” said Beirich.
In addition to Atomwaffen, there are similar transnational organizations including The Base, whose leader lives in Russia and whose name is the English translation for al-Qaeda. Members of The Base have been arrested for domestic terrorism, including plots to derail trains and poison water supplies. Besides the U.S. murders, AWD members have planned terrorist attacks, created a hit list, and sent death threats to German politicians it targeted for assassination. AWD, which recently renamed itself National Socialist Order, is known to have chapters in multiple European countries and adherents elsewhere. It is considered so dangerous that it has been banned in Australia, Canada and the UK for being a terrorist organization. All evidence, by government agencies in the U.S. and abroad, and by other experts, points to far-right extremism as a metastasizing problem that this country and many others will be dealing with for the long term.
Calling attention to the threats and stopping the transnational neo-Nazi networks pose to targeted communities, human rights and democracies is core to GPAHE’s work. We have made several policy suggestions to address the threat, including recommendations on how to root out extremists from the military (these groups have had active-duty military and veterans as members), holding online platforms accountable for dangerous material spread by these groups, such as bomb-making manuals that can be used in terrorist activities and to recruit members, and additional suggestions for law enforcement actions.