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Neo-Nazis Are Organizing Secretive Paramilitary Training Across America

The creation of a new social networking platform called “The Base” appears to be an effort to shift Naziism from a divided digital space to physical, violent insurgency.

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Nov 20 2018, 9:45pm

A propaganda photo reportedly showing affiliated members of The Base on a “recent camping trip practicing bushcraft.” Photo via Twitter.

A neo-Nazi who goes by the alias Norman Spear has launched a project to unify online fascists and link that vast coalition of individuals into a network training new soldiers for a so-called forthcoming “race war.”

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Spear, who claims to be an Iraq and Afghan war veteran, is a self-proclaimed white nationalist with a significant online following. His latest act involves bringing neo-Nazis together, regardless of affiliation and ideology, into a militant fascist umbrella organization. His tool for doing this? A social network he calls “The Base,” which is already organizing across the US and abroad, specifically geared toward partaking in terrorism.

Within the confines of a secure chat room viewed by VICE, Spear and his burgeoning global web of terror cells are networking, creating propaganda, organizing in-person meet-ups, and discussing potential violence or “direct action” against minority groups, especially Jewish and black Americans. An extensive online library contains a trove of manuals with instructions on lone wolf terror-tactics, gunsmithing, data mining, interrogation tactics, counter-surveillance techniques, bomb making, chemical weapons creation, and guerilla warfare.

The network's vetting process serves to funnel committed extremists from around the internet into a group explicitly focused on providing users with terroristic skills, in order to produce real-world violence. Members of The Base have made it clear they’re recruiting applicants with military and explosives backgrounds. And in addition to homemade bombs, members have also begun discussing trying to find unexploded World War II ordnance to make improvised explosive devices.

“I'm all about violence, but I want to gather with people and plan something out,” wrote one user going by the name Rimbaud to the almost 50 other members of the secret network, lamenting that the recent terror attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh could’ve been more effective. “Maybe some form of bombing, or something a bit more destructive.”

The Base is attracting known extremists from the militant far-right. It counts alleged members of Atomwaffen Division—a violent neo-Nazi terror group linked to several hate crimes, an attempted bombing and a racially motivated killing—and the Eco-Fascist Order (EFO)—a newly minted far-right organization on the radars of terrorism trackers—as part of its growing coalition.

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“I think at this point in history everyone should merge to some extent and become one uniform coalition of different branches, the writers/educators, the propagandist, the organizers, and the militants all as one,” one user wrote when discussing having his organization, Volkish, work with the EFO.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is tracking The Base and Spear, militarizing the neo-Nazi movement within the fractious ecosystem of the far-right is something that makes The Base uniquely dangerous, especially in a time when federal authorities are struggling to grapple with far-right terrorism. Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League released a report stating that “the number of anti-Semitic incidents was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than 2016, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking incident data in the 1970s.” The ADL also said that the majority of extremist-related killings in the last decade were committed by right-wing extremists.

Heidi Beirich, director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, says The Base's propaganda already poses a major threat to public safety, because it “encourages individuals toward the terroristic so-called ‘lone wolf’ or terror cell-oriented mentality” and leads followers to “prepare themselves to, in fact, become potential threats to public safety.”

When asked about Spear and The Base for this story, the FBI declined to comment. VICE reached out to Spear via email but has not heard back as of the time of publishing.

Norman Spear participating in a far-right podcast, left. The image The Roper Report issued of Spear for his appearance on the radio show, right.

The Base debuted in June as a way to galvanize “the movement” and “our people,” as Spear explained in a September episode of the podcast The Roper Report. Aside from Spear, it is also endorsed by various white nationalist personalities on social media platforms like Gab and Twitter.

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During the podcast, Spear said The Base is designed to unite white nationalists together to prepare for violent insurgency against various targets, including the US government, as part of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that all Western power is secretly controlled by Jewish stakeholders.

“When you really look at the landscape of the [white power] movement, the majority of it is happening online and that's something that fundamentally needs to change,” Spear said. “[The Base] is focused on meeting and training… We want to build a cadre of trainers across the country.”

On the surface, The Base's online presence is not dissimilar to those of other white supremacist groups or jihadist terror groups like ISIS: it has a sign-up website and an active Twitter account (now shut down) promoting lone wolf tactics and military tradecraft. (It’s worth mentioning the jihadist terror group al-Qaeda's name translates to “the base” in English, although it's unclear if The Base is making that direct nod.) But one thing stands out: The Base's posts are largely designed to promote violent action.

On Twitter it shared images of balaclava-wearing soldiers reading maps, militants holding rifles and carrying out what looks to be military planning, detailed and military-level counter surveillance tactics, and a map of a cartoon human body outlining where best to slash and stab an opponent in self-defense. (In one tweet, The Base wrote: “The best self-defense is a good offensive.”)

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In secure chat forums, VICE has seen members of the network designing and workshopping memes to spread as propaganda, placing high importance on the need to infiltrate popular culture with a neo-Nazi agenda. Their main propagandist is a user by the name of Poilu, who produces posters and memes from images the group uploads of themselves, as well as other popular militants. One example was a failed series of memes engineered to venerate Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers—their propagandist complained that there wasn’t a high enough resolution image of him on the web.

“The picture is so small I cant use good filters [to be honest],” Poilu wrote as members of the group were creating memes around Bowers.

A photo the user Poilu posted with the propaganda he created.

“Unlike the memes of the so-called ‘alt-right,’ propaganda like [The Base promotes] does not depend on popularity to be considered successful; to be successful, this kind of propaganda only need to find its way to single hosts, or carriers, or bring together a small cell of individuals,” said Beirich. “Robert Bowers' recent terror attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania demonstrates this.

“The Base clearly hopes to capitalize on powerful social media platforms in order spread this mindset—which is to say, this is virus will only infect a small number of individuals, or carriers, but those carriers could manifest catastrophic violence,” she added.

A Twitter spokesperson says the company forbids the existence of extremist groups on its site. "We prohibit the use of Twitter’s services by violent extremist groups,” they said. “Users may not affiliate with organizations that—whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform—use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes."

The Base's Twitter account became offline sometime after VICE reached out to the company.

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When compared to Stormfront message boards and other online neo-Nazi havens, The Base is more curated, a mix of chat server and matchmaking site where group members need to be vetted to get in, and are paired geographically for paramilitary activities. Mentions of the group have appeared in other far-right forums like Fascist Forge (the heir-apparent to the now-defunct Iron March), with one user explicitly claiming he was there to recruit for The Base.

“In the current phase we need to be as covert as possible. But as things accelerate we can become clandestine and then further down the road just right out in the open ideally,” Spear explained to his followers in the chat. “For now we need non-attributable actions but that will still send a message and/or add to acceleration as much as possible.”

Some of Spear's messages about "acceleration."

While some of the tradecraft discussed on The Base is common in survivalist and separatist circles, the site's members appear to be even more radical, particularly in a number of discussions around explosives usage. In one text exchange, two members discuss advising their European allies on digging up unexploded or unused WWII munitions in Germany, to repurpose as improvised explosive devices similar to those utilized by militant groups like ISIS or the Taliban.

“Wouldn't use those in a traditional method since they are most likely unstable and instead use them in the way the Vietnamese did as IEDs and grenades using a newly constructed method of ignition via another small amount of explosive, but that is all I'll go into that due to obvious reasons,” said one user.

After the Pittsburgh terror attack, members discussed their support for the killer and ways to escalate neo-Nazi violence with similar actions.

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“I agree with violence,” said the user ‘Poilu’ to Rimbaud. “But especially against any Jew. They have been killing us for how long(?)”

“None of them are innocent,” replies Rimbaud.

A screenshot of some violent conversation within the chat room. The discussion gets significantly more hateful.

In another exchange between a number of individuals discussing their desire to commit attacks against Jewish and black Americans, a user named Grimoire touted the value of his combat experience to the cause by claiming to have killed civilians as a serviceman on a tour in Afghanistan.

“I know what it’s like to kill women and children,” he said. “Being a squad machine gunner in Afghanistan I just sprayed belts of lead at targets, and there were dead women and children in circumstances, sometimes it'd be a kid that started shooting at us in the first place.”

In another exchange, Grimoire tried to direct the conversation towards explosives making.

“Let's talk about pipe bombs,” he said after a discussion on climate change. Another user replied: “Nature can suck my dick. Pipe bombs are much more interesting and relaxant topic but that's just asking for feds lmao." Members of The Base often refer to having conversations elsewhere, to avoid open text chats on things that could garner a federal crime—like bomb making.

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While discussion around violence is freewheeling, members of The Base are cautioned to keep any planning for attacks to offline meet-ups. This is similar to the Atomwaffen Division playbook, which has already produced real-world violence by promoting guerrilla war against the state and what it deems “the system”—a term Spear often invokes online. Key to this is what Atomwaffen Division has dubbed “Hate Camp,” or paramilitary training like what The Base proposes.

Amarnath Amarasingam, a noted terrorism expert and senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, says the type of collaboration encouraged by Spear and The Base is a familiar sign of escalation among militant organizations.

“This is absolutely a serious concern,” Amarasingam told VICE. “Terror groups historically have found cause to cooperate for tactical and logistical reasons, even when they know that they have specific ideological differences. They recognize, though, that the overall cause is one they share and that sharing the limited resources they have is in their vested interest."

A photo The Base posted of a purported Finnish member of the group.

The application form on The Base website includes questions as to what neo-Nazi or pro-white group potential members represent, and what their “military” and “Science & Engineering Training” experience has been. It accepts applications with pseudonyms or aliases, but does ask for the individual’s race and gender.

A potential recruit would submit the application form via a Wordpress site, which is then vetted by The Base. If accepted, the user will be invited onto a chat server operated by Riot—an open source operating system used for secure messaging. Users can also be directly invited into the Riot server by an existing member. From this chat server, the recruit will be vetted once more.

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In The Base's private chat, users will see eight channels: A main discussion room known as Imperium, in addition to small dedicated channels for self-defense, books, music, activity reports, trainers, survivalism, and the user's locale.

A link at the top of the Library page brings a user to a megaupload link filled with pdf copies of books. Within this digital archive there are 20 sections, including: guerrilla warfare tactics, gunsmithing literature, survival tactics, military tradecraft, and weapons handling. Within those sections are downloadable manuals, some with as few as three (tradecraft), and others with as many as 28 (gunsmithing). Perhaps the most disturbing is the weapons section, which features manuals on how to create explosives and chemical weapons. These aren’t all homemade; they’ve been pulled from gunsmithing magazines, military handbooks, online blogs, and so on—the source material is as varied as the subject matter.

“Chemicals that kill you in 30 seconds or less (or your next book is free),” reads a tagline on the front of the 198 page book.

A screenshot of the library of The Base.

The eighth channel is tied to each user's specific region, and from here users can direct message and organize meet-ups and training. Each region has a dedicated trainer who will teach military tradecraft to their fellow Nazis—the trainers are appointed based on their skill sets and what they can teach their regional comrades.

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VICE has seen evidence of physical meet-ups among those in the chat network, such as photos of members together or descriptions of training. While the group is still in its nascency, Spear has written that there are several “long term IRL projects” The Base is working on, including a secure communication network of HAM radios and “communal bug out locations."

Chat logs say regional meet-ups are regular and encouraged (the numbers fluctuate per region) and, as Spear explains, “must be related to survivalism, personal self-defense, camping, hiking, bushcraft, off-grid living, operational tradecraft, [and/or] small unit tactics.” Spear has indicated national and global meet-ups have and will occur. “We've had a few meet-ups already and others are being planned for the near future,” he wrote. According to the secret chat network, the next is tentatively planned for January, but the location has yet to be announced to the group.

Spear runs a monthly contest within The Base encouraging meet-ups and the “region with the most IRL activity each month wins” an unknown prize. The meetings must “involve at least 2 members of The Base network” and have some sort of photographic evidence. Spear recommends members to first meet in public and allow their relationship to build trust and grow.

Two members of The Base posted this photo to the chat network, showing themselves meeting in person to train. A day later, The Base posted this photo to their social media accounts.

While The Base seems to be capitalizing on a growing wave of violent white supremacist movements in North America and Europe, its popularity is intrinsically linked to that of Norman Spear, whose real identity is unknown.

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Spear activated his Twitter account @normanspear1 in November 2016, and quickly became a fixture of far-right social media circles, garnering a brief mentioning in an article by the SPLC in April. He recently scrubbed any existence of his accounts on Gab and Twitter, but the latter account was similar to The Base account: inciting white nationalist and neo-Nazis to action and preaching military tradecraft, hand-to-hand combat and organizing operations.

Before The Base, Spear authored a trove of videos entitled “Guerrilla Warfare Theory” (originally uploaded to YouTube, now archived on the main video platform for the far-right, BitChute), which VICE reviewed, outlining various hit and run tactics for small insurgent units against a larger power.

Spear and The Base quickly found support online from the militant, neo-Nazi community.

“Although I'm not a member, I fully endorse what the @TheBase_1 is out to accomplish. You have my support,” posted the now-defunct Twitter account @WallcroftAWD, which reportedly belonged to high-profile Atomwaffen Division member Grayson Denton.

The Base has appeared on other parts of the white supremacist web. A site called “Darkest Hour”—which had a considerable following on Gab—promotes The Base as a place where you can receive survivalist tradecraft and “legal paramilitary CQB (close quarter combat), and tactical firearms training, aimed specifically at young White Nationalist and National Socialist men.”

In several posts on Twitter, other neo-Nazis in a variety of separate communities encourage others to join The Base. “You seem like a good man of action,” a Finnish member of The Base named Jussi tells another Twitter Nazi. “Check out @TheBase_1 for more like minded people like you or me.”

A screenshot of The Base's contact page.

“Recent data regarding terror attacks and hate incidents in the US evidences that, one, an audience of carriers for The Base’s instructive-style of propaganda is out there and, two, the small size of that audience only compounds its threat,” Beirich explained. “This is because individuals and small-cells are often tougher to spot, predict and thwart (relative to extremist organizations with larger physical and digital footprints) before they can carry out an act of violence.”

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“So-called ‘lone wolves,’ whether single individuals or small cells, comprise only six percent of US offenders but are responsible for 25 percent of terrorism-related violence,” she added. “Right-wing terrorism comprises 35 percent of US terror-attacks since 2010. Compare that to the 2000s, when terror-attacks from the far-right comprised just six percent of hate crimes in the US’s ten largest cities.”

Despite the attention they’ve received within their general community, several Twitter users have accused the organization of being “the feds.”

“You guys should really be encouraging individual defense and making an organization on the DL. advertising like that is very sus, no offense,” reads one tweet directed at The Base.

The odds that a law enforcement agency is operating a group as biased towards violent action as The Base seem low. More likely, The Base marks the latest evolution towards Spear’s anti-statist, pro-white goal of organized guerrilla war against world governments. As he explained when he was a guest on the podcast for the Darkest Hour site earlier this year: “We don’t need to convert or transform every weak-willed white person into a great Aryan warrior in order for us to win. We just need to unite the best of us who are willing to fight to do what’s necessary."

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