On the front steps of city hall in Rome, Georgia sits a replica of the iconic Roman Capitoline Wolf, featuring the legendary founders of Italy’s capital city Romulus and Remus suckling their mother wolf.
The statue, gifted to the town by the fascist Benito Mussolini government in 1929 as a token from old Rome to a new Rome, had a modern day fan in the neo-Nazi terror group, The Base.
So much so, the member, a Georgia native now in prison awaiting trial for an assassination plot against two antifascist activists, took a photo of himself clad in camo gear holding the group’s flag in front of the statue, turned it into propaganda and then posted the image to Google Maps.
The news illustrates the extent to which The Base—under an intense, nationwide FBI probe resulting in several arrests of its members—used both hidden and open source platforms to spread its propaganda. Through a series of social media accounts, a confidential source and a gmail address, Motherboard confirmed the identity of the member who posted the image.
Luke Austin Lane, known within the group under his alias “The Militant Budhist” posted the photo under his Google account sometime in April 2019. According to Google the image, which has a clear “THE BASE” at the top of it, was viewed over 800 times and stayed online well after Lane’s arrest, without the company noticing.
Google took immediate action after VICE brought the photo to its attention.
“Google Maps has clear policies against contributed content that incites hatred, promotes discrimination or disparages an individual or group,” a Google spokesperon said. “When we find content that violates our policies, we take action and the two photos in question were quickly removed from Google Maps."
Lane lived within a fifteen minute drive of the monument in nearby Silver Creek, where close to a dozen members of The Base participated in a paramilitary training camp in November 2019, including six members who were eventually arrested and one undercover FBI who infiltrated the group. Patrik Matthews, a once-fugitive ex-Canadian soldier who is facing up to 60 years in prison stemming from a mass murder plot at a Virginia gun rally in January, was among them and trained other members of The Base on Lane’s property.
The Base also used a MySpace page as a repository of group photos. The social media company removed it after Motherboard showed it the page where the photos were hosted.
People insert all types of images into Google Maps for less nefarious reasons. In 2019, Motherboard reported that an artist in New York was inserting virtual immersive art into the app, while more recently, Buzzfeed reported that high school students across the U.S. were bombarding their school Google Maps pages with memes, erotic images, and random art.