Rinaldo Nazzaro seen in a 2020 propaganda video. Scr
An FBI official has confirmed the agency is investigating the American founder of an international neo-Nazi terror group who is living in Russia—far from the grasp of U.S. authorities.Rinaldo Nazzaro, 49, a former Pentagon contractor and Department of Homeland Security analyst, founded The Base in late 2018 as a heavily armed, insurgent force preparing to hasten the downfall of modern government and engage in a race war. Since then, members of The Base have plotted an assassination and several mass shootings, and a number of countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have designated it as an official terrorist organization alongside ISIS and al Qaeda.
With files from Mack Lamoureux
An FBI counterterrorism probe against The Base over the past few years has netted more than a dozen members nationwide (with others apprehended in Europe), who are now serving a combined 100+ years in prison time. Yet Nazzaro, despite being named in U.S. courts as the founder of the group, has never been charged—puzzling many analysts and government sources VICE News has spoken to about him over the years. The first three episodes of American Terror are now available on Spotify.Nazzaro’s situation also begs the question how a neo-Nazi leader who’s well-known to the FBI is living comfortably in Russia, especially after President Vladimir Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine as a “de-Nazification” plan. Since at least 2018, Russia has provided safe harbor to Nazzaro, whom American authorities would seemingly arrest if he were to step back into their jurisdiction, as there is still no extradition treaty between Washington and the Kremlin. On the other hand, two years ago Ukraine immediately deported a U.S. Marine Corps dropout and former member of The Base, Ryan Burchfield, for alleged far-right terrorist activities there.
The FBI field office in Detroit, which successfully took down The Base cell in Michigan and thwarted a series of alleged terror attacks, said that Nazzaro was the subject of an open bureau investigation.“As far as he's concerned, that's being looked at by another field office,” Christopher Tarrant, a supervisory special agent on domestic terrorism, told VICE News in an interview at an FBI office in the Detroit area. “I cannot speak on what they're doing specifically when it comes to that.”Though Tarrant wouldn’t elaborate on which FBI office he was referring to, Nazzaro did incorporate his security contracting company, Omega Solutions, and had an address in Manhattan, which could point to the New York field office that has successfully handled international terrorism investigations. The FBI National Press Office said it did “not have a comment.”Previously, in 2021, a State Department source told VICE News that Nazzaro was a Department of Justice “matter.”In recent months, Nazzaro has complained online to followers that one of his email service providers cut off his account, and he posted a screenshot of an alleged notification from Uber telling him that information from his activities on the platform were forwarded to the Department of Justice. (Uber has yet to respond to VICE News about Nazzaro’s account.)
In a text exchange, Nazzaro said he was “not surprised” that the FBI would be investigating him and maintained he had done nothing illegal, claiming law enforcement was targeting him for political reasons.It is unclear whether Nazzaro is being formally protected by Russian authorities, though he did make a national appearance on the Kremlin-controlled news channel Rossiya-24 (now banned in several countries for its role as a propaganda arm of Putin) in 2020 denouncing his connections to terrorism. (BBC News reported that Nazzaro had also attended a Russian government security exhibition in 2019.) Almost from the outset of The Base’s founding, members were suspicious of Nazzaro, who was overseeing the group from his homebase in Russia where he lives with his wife and daughters, even joking that he was an asset of the FSB—the Russian intelligence agency known for its American and foreign spy operations.Do you have any information about The Base or any other extremist groups? You can reach Ben Makuch by contacting 267-713-9832 on Signal, @benmakuch on the Wire app, or by email at email@example.com.The Putin government has long cultivated relationships with domestic neo-Nazi militants, sending them to fight as private armies in Ukraine and aiding their networking with global white power groups. The Russian Imperial Movement, for example, which the U.S. State Department lists as a terrorist organization, is based in St. Petersberg and is known for providing paramilitary training to European neo-Nazis.
“The Kremlin’s goal is to destabilize the democracies in the West, and utilizes far-right extremists like Nazzaro to achieve this,” said Russia and terrorism expert Mollie Saltskog, a senior intelligence analyst at geopolitical intelligence firm the Soufan Group who has studied the links between the Kremlin and neo-Nazi networks.According to her, the Putin government has fostered a host of relationships and influence campaigns with the global far-right.“The Kremlin always uses a degree of separation to claim plausible deniability,” she said. “But we know that Kremlin-backed or aligned actors have amplified white supremacy conspiracies and disinformation online, provided safe haven to American neo-Nazis, allowed sanctioned Russian terrorist entities to train European neo-Nazis, and funded white supremacy groups on European soil.”But since as far back as October 2020, Nazzaro has repeatedly denied he's a Moscow-controlled spook. “I am not a Russian agent,” he told VICE News at the time. “I have never had any contact with Russian law enforcement, military, or intelligence officials.”Several emails to Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry and a mouthpiece for the Kremlin, asking about Nazzaro’s status and his connections to an international terror group inside her country, went unanswered.Nazzaro claimed to VICE News that he’s no longer the leader of The Base or in control of it. The Base still exists, but in late 2022, is a shell of its former self following the mass arrests and the high-profile infiltration by an anti-fascist activist. The group is, however, a fixture of hyper-violent, neo-Nazi Telegram networks and recently called for the killing of left-wing government officials in the U.S.
With files from Mack Lamoureux