While ISIS has instructed its members to steer clear of Europe and to constantly wash their hands in hopes of avoiding contracting the novel coronavirus, far-right extremists are discussing how this could be their moment to capitalize on what they see as a potential collapse of society.
The conversations, many of which are taking place on encrypted and closed Telegram channels, gives a glimpse into how the militant neo-Nazi movement—the organized sections of which have been facing increased pressure from federal law enforcement—is reacting to the global pandemic.
Though a lot of the talk is wrapped in troll culture with users sharing absurd anti-semitic theories for the virus’ origins and memes about the supposed hygienic superiority of Nazis, some online neo-Nazis are openly seeing the potential opportunity the pandemic brings to their movement: the chance for violent insurgency if authorities struggle to maintain control over society during a prolonged lockdown of the public.
“I hope it’s almost time boys,” reads one Telegram post on a known neo-Nazi account viewed hundreds of times and featuring the selfie of a man clad in military attire, combat vest and a skull mask.
Another post from an infamous channel linked to neo-Nazis fighting in eastern Ukraine shows a man with a hazmat suit, gas mask, and carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle with the words (in Ukrainian), “ready for virus and parasite control” while standing with a portrait of the Christchurch shooter hanging to his right.
The same account tells followers in Ukrainian to: “Buy ammo and get ready to rob banks. All is well.”
That neo-Nazis are at least discussing they want to be violent during times of pandemic isn’t altogether surprising nor is it evidence that actual physical violence is likely—online chatter is often purely hypothetical, though disturbing nonetheless.
In recent years, adherents of ultra violent brands of white supremacism have preached ‘accelerationism,’ which holds that western governments are currently teetering on disintegration and vulnerable to operations sowing chaos and creating societal pandemonium. Neo-Nazi movements have always tried to take advantage of times of great uncertainty, and some members of far-right extremist networks see the pressure of coronavirus as a possible trigger for the “boogaloo”; a hypothetical second civil war.
“Extreme right-wing accelerationist and neo-Nazi Telegram chats and channels have increased their frequency of calling for violence related to the coronavirus since the president’s declaration of a national emergency on March 13,” said Joshua Fisher-Birch, a research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project, a U.S.-based terrorism watchdog. “The violent rhetoric also increased on March 16 as economic damage from the coronavirus has increased.”
In a post captioned “ACCELERATION REMINDER,” one well known neo-Nazi channel that provides tradecraft to evade authorities online warns followers to beware of the possible presence of National Guard units across the country if the pandemic worsens and the Trump Administration deploys troops inside the U.S.
Some posts are less violent, but recommend things like aimlessly firing off their guns in city centers, without a target, to promote panic among the public.
The many far-right extremists populating these Telegram channels are taking advantage of the moment to ramp up their rhetoric, but as Fisher-Birch cautions that, so far, is only online chatter.
“As more Americans have been reported as infected in the past few days and stock exchanges have fallen, the administrators of these chats and channels seem to have realized that this is a moment to increase their calls for disorder and advocacy for violence, whether it is against the government, against people of color, or against Jews and Muslims,” said Fisher-Birch. “While this is online chatter, the fact that it’s seeking to take advantage of and exacerbate a crisis is alarming.”
Of late, accelerationism has become more organized. For example, members of The Base and Atowmaffen Division, two neo-Nazi terror groups under a recent nationwide FBI probe resulting in several arrests of members who plotted assassinations and mass shootings, are major proponents of accelerationism.
Both groups undertook several paramilitary training camps with dozens of members in the U.S. and preached the values of survivalism in preparation for when, “shit hits the fan”—or a time of complete social decay—and plotted ways to hasten it.