How Did a Convicted Neo-Nazi Release Propaganda From Prison?
Less than six months into his five-year sentence on federal explosives charges, neo-Nazi Brandon Russell, founder of Atomwaffen Division, has issued a statement. In a new video released this week, Russell, a former National Guardsman, and the subject of a lengthy investigation in Rolling Stone, thanked his comrades for their “undying loyalty and courage,” and issued a warning to those who’d betrayed the hate group Russell founded in 2014. “There is no room in this world for cowardly people,” he said, quoting Adolph Hitler. “The sword has been drawn. There is no turning back.”
Russell’s statement, ostensibly recorded from inside the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, where he is now incarcerated, followed several recent reports of white supremacy among active duty military personnel, including several Atomwaffen members who left the organization at the end of 2017. On May 4th, Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis requesting the DOD open an investigation into white supremacist activity within the military. “The involvement of service members in white supremacist or other hate groups is cause for significant concern, particularly given their combat and weapons training,” Ellison noted. Last September, a Military Times survey found that 25 percent of active duty troops polled said they’d seen examples of white nationalism among their fellow service members.
The Atomwaffen video, which celebrated the group’s paramilitary training, also took the opportunity to single out three members the group now believed to have betrayed them. One is Joshua Beckett, a former combat engineer who reportedly trained Atomwaffen members in arms and hand-to-hand combat. Another, identified as Brenan Frank Duffy, the group alleges is currently on active duty and sporting a notable tattoo of an AK-47, with the word “Revolution.” “Despite their actions they all consider themselves fascists,” the video notes. “Let it be known they no longer have allies.”
A former physics major at the University of South Florida, Russell was arrested last May after two fellow Atomwaffen members, 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk, were found murdered in Russell’s Tampa condo. A former Atomwaffen member, and the mens’ roommate, 18-year-old Devon Arthurs, allegedly confessed to the murders and then led police to the condo where they discovered a stash of chemicals and explosive precursors belonging to Russell in the garage. In Russell’s bedroom, investigators found more precursors, an assault rifle, and a framed photograph of Timothy McVeigh.
On June 7th, 2017, two days after he was indicted on felony explosive charges, Russell was granted bond by a federal judge who was unable to find “clear and convincing evidence” that he posed a threat to public safety. The bond was rescinded after federal prosecutors produced testimony from Arthurs implicating Russell in a plot to bomb critical infrastructure, including Miami’s Turkey Point nuclear plant. Russell eventually pleaded guilty without providing any information about Atomwaffen. His five year sentence is less than half of the maximum eleven year sentence the government argued he deserved – at his hearing, the feds argued they’d found a “written recipe for explosives” in Russell’s condo; they also intercepted a letter containing bomb-making instructions he was trying to send to another Atomwaffen member, while in prison.
Since Russell’s arrest last May, Atomwaffen has been implicated in three other murders. The group’s numbers, which reportedly surged after Charlottesville, were diminished after a leadership dispute led a number of members, including some of the men outed in the video, to leave the organization. It’s unclear how many members Atomwaffen currently has, given recent arrests and inflighting, says Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, though the video is clearly intended to inspire those who remain. “The intent of this propaganda piece is clear— it’s meant for the people inside Atomwaffen with the goal to re-energize and refocus them, but to also give them hope. This video also sends a message to their detractors and enemies within the white supremacist movement as well — we haven’t gone away.”
Though menacing, Russell’s statement falls short of making any direct threats. Still, other white supremacist leaders, incarcerated in higher security institutions, have not been allowed to issue such messages. Nor have those associated with ISIS or other Islamic fundamentalist groups. Russell’s lawyer, Ian Goldstein, didn’t responded to Rolling Stone‘s call for comment. A representative at the Federal Correctional Institution in Atlanta, where Russell is now being held, said the prison was unaware of the statement, and were turning the matter over to investigators.
“We are all our own prisons, we are each all out own wardens, and we do our own time. Prison’s in your mind,” Russell said, quoting Charles Manson, a hero to Atomwaffen. As for those “outsiders who are trying to hinder our efforts,” he added: “I created something beautiful. Beautiful things scare you people. You don’t like it because it doesn’t like you.”
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