The leader of a neo-Nazi terror group in Michigan was sentenced to four years in prison Tuesday after spending years preparing to kill police and minorities and attack the headquarters of VICE News in an effort to hasten a “coming race war.”
According to a sentencing memo provided to VICE News, Justen Watkins assumed leadership of the neo-Nazi group The Base, under the alias “AK,” following a nationwide counterterrorism probe that resulted in the arrest of more than 10 members of the group.
Since then, Watkins, 27, ran the Michigan cell of The Base, which his co-defendants Thomas Denton and Tristan Webb were also part of. The group had plans to build a fortified compound to launch their fantasy “race war,” as VICE News previously reported. Last week Watkins, who was arrested on Oct. 30, 2020, agreed to plead guilty to gang membership and weapons charges.
“I truly believe that we prevented a massacre of untold proportions by investigating in this case and moving in when we did,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said during a press conference Tuesday.
The Base is a neo-Nazi terrorist organization that embraced the idea of militant accelerationism, which urges followers to commit acts that will hasten the fall of society in the hopes of building a white ethno-state from the ashes. One of the group's plans, according to the sentencing documents, involved calling for police assistance to an area and then killing the officers when they arrived to help.
To aid in this possible plan, Watkins “took part in and instructed training on shooting approaching vehicles along the road in front of his residence.” Police say he continued to plan in anticipation of committing mass violence.
“In the months prior to his arrest, Watkins conspired with his co-defendants to enhance their tactical capabilities and firearms proficiencies to engage in violence against minorities and the government in furtherance of a civil disorder,” reads the document. “Their concerted efforts included regularly conducting tactical firearms training, and hosting “hate camps” for members of The Base and other like-minded individuals.”
During these camps in the spring and summer of 2020, The Base “began to plan possible attacks on law enforcement and the headquarters for VICE News,” the document reads.
“News of our headquarters being targeted is sadly only one of many recent examples of the dangers of fearless reporting in the current global climate,” a VICE News spokesperson said. “The recent deaths of journalists in Jenin and Ukraine remind us of the very real threats to journalism everywhere. These threats only strengthen our resolve to bring our audience vital and fact-based reporting that affects their lives.”
Watkins joined The Base in 2019 after being vetted by senior leadership via a group phone call on the encrypted chat service Wire. To earn his fellow neo-Nazis’ trust, Watkins engaged in “firearms training, postering/flyering, harassment of minorities, and reading certain books” that endorse terrorism, according to his sentencing memo.
“In late November 2019, as part of his in-real-life vetting, Watkins traveled to downtown Detroit where he walked around the city streets harassing and attempting to bait African-Americans into a physical altercation,” reads the document. “When exchanging messages with members of The Base about the night, Watkins described his actions as having “harassed n*****s and called out race mixers and cucked their boyfriend in front of him.”
Security footage even shows Watkins giving a “Heil Hitler” salute to a taxi driver.
Watkins lost control of The Base after his arrest but was an active member of the group before taking leadership from the alleged founder and leader, who was doxxed. In one infamous stunt, Watkins went to the home of a person he believed to be an anti-fascist journalist and took a photo in front of the door in an attempt to intimidate him, according to the sentencing documents. The home turned out to be the incorrect one.
Watkins also helped organize several “hate camps”—real-life meetups in which the neo-Nazis bonded, conducted weapons training, and shared tradecraft tips which one another—on Webb's property. The group filmed themselves at the training sessions and used the footage to create propaganda videos to post online. Unlike many other members of The Base, Watkins and his co-defendants weren’t scared of showing up in public and even attended a local Black Lives Matter rally wearing skull masks (a neo-Nazi signifier) and carrying assault weapons.
In early January 2020, Watkins moved in with Webb, and a member of the Watkins family “voluntarily contacted the FBI to report their fear Watkins would use firearms he was in possession of to commit a racially motivated mass shooting, and that Watkins was moving into a home with individuals of a similar ideology.” Shortly thereafter, he assumed leadership of The Base.
Watkins’ position in the neo-Nazi community as the leader of The Base was not lost on him. During one of the hate camps, Watkins spoke glowingly of himself and the role he played.
“I plan on dying and doing my ancestors proud. Like I’m doing my best,” he said. “But then I sit back and think realistically, ‘I’m like, dude, I am the leader of the most like world-renowned international terrorist Nazi organization—me!’”
Watkins and his co-defendants join a hefty list of Base members who are currently serving time. Several members of the Georgia cell of The Base are serving lengthy sentences for conspiracy to commit murder charges, and members of the Maryland cell, as well as a wayward Canadian, are behind bars for smuggling the Canadian into the country as well as several weapons charges.
Michigan AG Nessel said in a press release about Watkins pleading guilty that it sets a “historic precedent.”
“Let them send the message that in Michigan we will not hesitate to prosecute those who commit crimes in the name of overthrowing our government or perpetuating racist ideologies,” Nessel said.
Denton pleaded no contest to every charge except gang membership and received four years probation. Webb pled no contest to every charge but larceny but has yet to be sentenced.
The Base, while it still exists in some capacity, is a shell of its former self following the mass arrests and high-profile infiltration by an anti-fascist activist.
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