It was August 2019 and the eight men, clad in camouflage gear and armed with semi-automatic rifles and pistols, never expected the cops to show up.
This was supposed to be a secret meeting in the woods of rural Pennsylvania where they would sharpen their skills for the coming genocide, in which people of color and race traitors would die by the millions. The leader, thinking quickly, ripped off the neo-Nazi patches from his camo gear and walked towards the officers.
The police said there was a noise complaint from a nearby property and that they were just checking in. After a soft warning to keep quiet, they left. The men then went back to shooting, filming their exploits for propaganda videos. What those local cops hadn’t realized was that they had encountered members of a neo-Nazi terror group, training for the next phase of the violent American experience: race war.
Later that day, Norman Spear, an alias for the stone-faced leader who would eventually be outed as a 47-year-old New Jersey native with a private school pedigree named Rinaldo Nazzaro, put his patches back on and presented three of the members who had leadership roles in the group with flags and knives adorned with three wolfsangels—the group’s symbol and an allusion to the markings of the German SS from World War II—and the name emblazoned across the lower blade: the Base.
Nazzaro, who hasn’t been charged with a crime and is allegedly in Russia, had high hopes for his terror group, then bordering on a few dozen members. And though it wasn’t ready for the future insurgency he desired, its members believed there would come a time when they could give their lives for the cause of a white ethnostate born out of the ashes of society’s collapse. Within a year, a significant portion of the men shooting guns would be in prison cells awaiting trial on a variety of terrorism-related charges.
After that day, the Base members went their separate ways and wouldn't see each other until months later in rural Georgia at another training event. Law enforcement would have a presence there, too—this time in the form of an undercover FBI agent.
According to sources with direct knowledge of the inner workings of the Base, a massive cache of internal communications amounting to tens of thousands of records, other published reporting, and extensive court documents from FBI investigations, this is the story of the birth and the apparent demise of a neo-Nazi terrorist group.
Summer 2018: Beginnings
To know the Base you must first know its leader.
Rinaldo Nazzaro was a little-known commodity on the neo-Nazi scene when he created the Base. His past life, which has been pieced together by outlets like the Guardian and BBC, consisted of private military and intelligence work. What is certain is that Nazzaro has had experiences with the wars America has waged in foreign lands. VICE News recently revealed that he was said to have worked with U.S. special forces, briefing some of its officers on “targeting” missions in the Middle East in 2014, while he bragged to the Base about multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nazzaro confirmed he was the leader of the Base in an email from September 2020, but wouldn’t elaborate on either his work experience or the current location of his residence.
As New York Magazine reported in a sweeping profile of Nazzaro, he founded and ran a company called Omega Solutions International, a security firm headquartered in New York sometime in 2002. An archived version of its website describes the company as “specializing in command, control, and intelligence (C2I) for homeland security, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency missions at every echelon.” Nazzaro grew up in New Jersey and attended a philosophy program at Villanova University in the 1990s, but dropped out before graduating. While studying at Villanova, Nazzaro was a stark contrast to what he would become. According to New York, Nazzaro was involved with the Democratic Socialists of America. Michele Rossi, the Villanova DSA chair at the time, described him as a “smart, but rather spacey” and “sweet” person who “cared about the vulnerable.” At some point, that changed.
After dropping out, Nazzaro eventually joined the security and intelligence community booming in the advent of the War on Terror years, amassing over a decade of work experience. During that period of his life, for some unknown reason, Nazzaro radicalized and became an ardent neo-Nazi. (One source close to Nazzaro suggested that something during his overseas experience helped shape his racist worldview.)
If you believe Nazzaro, his now infamous terror group began with a death. Speaking on Wire, a highly secure encrypted chat app the Base adopted as its main mode of communication, Nazzaro told the tale of how in the summer of 2018 he visited Harold Covington, a white nationalist radio personality infamous for his goal of creating an all-white state in the Pacific Northwest. Nazzaro, also passionate about what is known as the “Pacific Northwest Movement,” went to meet Covington for dinner. But Covington never showed.
“I was the one who let his right-hand man know something was wrong,” Nazzaro wrote, telling the Base how he alerted Covington’s people about the strange no-show. “After that, they sent someone to his apartment and found him dead.”
“I gave up plugging Northwest Front after Covington died. I began conceiving of the Base shortly before his death and launched immediately after.”
Under the online aliases Norman Spear and, later, Roman Wolf, Nazzaro was quite literally the face of the Base, a shrewd and seemingly emotionless leader with a bald head and bushy beard. In early propaganda Nazzaro used his likeness and image for recruitment pushes, turning himself into a sort of online personality and face within the social media tapestry of the far-right. The would-be insurgent leader told his followers in 2020, shortly after his identity was revealed by the Guardian, that he had long prepared to be outed.
“I quit my job preemptively. Learned to live on much less money. Moved to Russia where the cost of living is cheaper,” wrote Nazzaro. “I think each person’s circumstances need a slightly tailored plan. But generally, the idea is to drop out as much as possible. That requires financial sacrifices, sometimes significant ones.”
Responding to a lengthy list of questions from a personal encrypted email he has used to correspond with VICE News for two years, Nazzaro completely denied the Base was a terror group. “The Base is a survivalism and self-defense network,” he maintained. “Our objective is sharing knowledge and training to prepare for crisis situations. The Base is not a neo-Nazi organization or a terrorist group. We do not encourage violence beyond self-defense situations. Personally, I've never been involved in planning to physically harm anyone.”
Nazzaro has allegedly lived in Russia for several years, a fact that has led many to suspect he is a Kremlin asset. The BBC drew attention to his potential links to the Russian government and its intelligence apparatus, but he denied it to VICE News. Some members of the Base long suspected Nazzaro was backed by Russian spies and openly mused about it in group chats.
“I am not a Russian agent,” Nazzaro said. “I have never had any contact with Russian law enforcement, military, or intelligence officials.”
During his initial rise in the neo-Nazi scene, Nazzaro appeared on a number of far-right podcasts and radio shows. He released a series of videos on Bitchute, lecturing about the finer details of guerilla warfare and how they could be used in the modern world. Then, in the summer of 2018, Nazzaro released his most ambitious project to date: He began posting on social media about his new group, the Base, which he first advertised as a survivalist network.
Nazzaro reached out to other people he thought would be interested in the Base, made Twitter and Gab accounts, and started his quixotic attempt at unifying the disparate world of online fascism into a real-world insurgency against the U.S. government. The very first members of the Base almost solely came from this initial social media push. Nazzaro attempted to hide his group's true goals from authorities, advertising it as a network preparing for the fall of society—plausible deniability of criminal conspiracy if the Base was ever indicted.
“As political polarization accelerates, unorganized random acts of violence will also—increasingly destabilizing civil society,” reads one of the recruitment tweets from September 2018. “Organized violence will sprout from this volatile substrate, carving out more & more no-go zones. Your choice—Trade freedom for safety under Z0G [Zionist Occupied Government] or fight.”
Later in the group’s lifetime in October 2019, inside the Base chatroom, Nazzaro openly fantasized about the possibility of a guerrilla war on American soil, drilling his men on what they would do if the collapse occurred and a successful insurgent campaign brought the government to the negotiation table.
“Imagine this entirely fictitious and hypothetical scenario,” wrote Nazzaro, always sure to carefully frame his posts with the idea that some government agent could be logging his statements to use against him in a court of law. “You’re a member of a relatively small clandestine guerilla group. Your group is effective enough to sustain an offensive terror attack campaign seemingly indefinitely. The authorities are unable to defeat your group and, while you're not strong enough to topple the System entirely, the attacks are taking a toll politically and economically at least on a local or perhaps regional level. As a result, the government wants to negotiate a ceasefire.”
Other times, inside the encrypted chatrooms of the Base, Nazzaro would shed the thin veneer of tags like “survivalist” and say what the training was actually for: a race war. In critiquing the low body count of the far-right extremists who killed two in Halle, Germany in late 2019, Nazzaro said “being technically proficient doesn’t mean you’re operationally proficient... that’s why training is key.”
Shortly after his initial social media push, Nazzaro said he put together a WordPress website with a questionnaire asking prospective members their age, ideology, military experience, and previous neo-Nazi affiliations. From here he would vet the applicants and, if they passed, invite them into a chatroom, which was held on the secure chat program Riot. The Base grew exponentially, booming from only a few members to nearly 50 in a matter of months.
To join the Base you had to be a particular kind of neo-Nazi—one inspired by a book known as Siege. Among other things, Siege preached that Western society must fail and that neo-Nazis must do what they can to hasten its collapse. Known colloquially as “accelerationism,” far-right extremists who accept this philosophy are among the larger movement’s most dangerous members. A constant part of the Base’s vetting process was making sure prospective members had read Siege, then quizzing them on their thoughts about the book.
The Base’s chat was often chaotic. Inside was a mishmash of pagans, Satanists, Christians, and other clashing religious and philosophical perspectives. Then there was part of the group that actually believed the Earth was flat, while at least a few floated the idea that the center of the Earth was hollow. There was an unspoken rule in the main chat to not bring up religion—both the occult and mainstream kinds—so as not to provoke in-fighting. At times, someone would hurt somebody’s feelings and get temporarily booted by chat moderators until they apologized.
Do you have information about the Base or other extremist groups? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Mack Lamoureux and Ben Makuch securely on Wire at @benmakuch and @mlamoureux, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
But the Base was able to put personal differences aside and gel quickly as their hatred for people of color (and Jews in particular) easily overpowered personal beefs. At Nazzaro's urging, according to sources, members organized themselves into compartmentalized cells based on location. During its peak, the Base was active in New England, Delaware, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Michigan. Internationally, members and, in some cases, small cells could be found in the U.K., Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the Baltics. Cell leaders who were responsible for working with Nazzaro to plan meetups and train members in their “zone” were chosen.
At times the group had close to 50 members active in the chat and in the several regional cells. It was clear the Base wasn’t pooling from the ordinary alt-right troll or even from the “Proud Boys,” a far-right national organization founded by VICE co-founder Gavin McIness (who parted ways with the company in 2008) that works as something of a modern-day collective of Brownshirts with ultranationalist politics, and which President Donald Trump recently gave a nod to during a debate with Joe Biden.
The Base saw the Proud Boys as infantile, white supremacist “lite,” and much too accepting of people of color. One member of the Base said he tried joining the Proud Boys, but felt they weren’t extreme enough.
“Back when the Proud Boys were big and I started wanting to do something politically,” said "Josef," the alias for Yousef O. Barasneh, a member of the Base who lived in the Midwest. “I tried joining them and they were all like that.”
The online infrastructure of the Base had channels for propaganda and recruitment tactics. It even created a book club in which everyone could get together via voice chat on Discord—another app of choice among some neo-Nazis—and talk about the finer points of Nazi literature and a shared library of files containing bomb and chemical weapons-making instructions and books on guerrilla warfare tactics and assassinations. This organizational structure would last throughout the group’s entire lifespan.
Within two months of Nazzaro launching his initial recruitment push, the group was on a roll, growing and organizing at a rapid pace. What they didn't know was that several infiltrators had independently gained access to the group. This presented an issue when the organization was hit by its first real roadblock: A VICE exposé.
Fall 2018: Purgatory
For many far-right paramilitary organizations in their infancy, infiltration and exposure would most likely kneecap growth entirely—but not the Base. Nazzaro was determined to make his terrorist experiment work.
“We’ll get back up on our feet and stronger than before,” Nazzaro said after the initial story dropped. “It’ll take some patience.”
After the first VICE story was published, the scene inside the Base was chaotic. Members panicked and began pointing fingers in a fruitless attempt to sniff out the rat. At one point something truly bizarre occurred: One of the neo-Nazis posted a picture of their belly button and other neo-Nazis joined in the literal navel gazing as a way to prove they were undeterred in their pursuit of race war.
“Come at me,” one of them wrote over a picture of his swastika-adorned belly button.
Despite the bravado, the group was rattled. They kicked out inactive members, as well as some they suspected of being the leaker. While VICE, for a time, lost eyes inside the group, other infiltrators seemingly did not.
Only days after the publication of the article, the server hosting the Base's encrypted chat pulled its access. Again, this would be something that would cripple many fledgling organizations, but Nazzaro had a contingency plan. He had his followers' social media accounts and most of their emails from their initial applications. He could still contact them.
It took a while, but the Base would reunite. It was in this stage, or shortly thereafter, that several key members who would push the group to become increasingly militant and eventually be arrested—such as Luke Austin Lane, an 18-year-old Georgian teen who went by "The Militant Buddhist" (TMB) and Brian Mark Lemley, a 32-year-old trucker from Maryland who went by "Cantgoback" (CGB)—joined the group. Both Lemley and Lane would become cell leaders for their respective regions and key members of the group; they have pleaded not guilty to an array of charges.
Together the group tightened their operational security and made stricter rules for their vettings and member conduct. Richard Tobin—who went by "Landzer" and became the first member of the Base to be arrested—was also associated with Atomwaffen Division, a similar terror group with identical Siege-inspired ideologies. He was instrumental in tightening the group’s security.
Winter/Spring 2019: Brotherhood Of The Rope
The following winter and spring would be a formative time for the aspiring terror group. Here they would go from being a mere extremist chatroom to actually meeting, training, and putting together plans to aid the collapse of the degenerate system they so despised.
The meetups ran the gamut of activities. Sometimes it was beers at a bar or restaurant. In Georgia, host to the most militant of the cells, members would meet on rural property and carry out paramilitary style training. According to sources, Spear made sure the groups were as coated in plausible deniability for their meetups as possible.
"It's illegal if you're training in order to cause civil unrest,” he told his chatroom. “If you're training for survivalism and self defense you're good to go."
The meetups didn’t always consist of neo-Nazis plotting genocide in rural farmhouses and shooting AR15s. Sometimes they were held in the back booth in a south Detroit diner over hoagies and fries. Dozens of these smaller compartmentalized meetups were held from 2019 to 2020. For a time Nazzaro, like some kind of one-man neo-Nazi band on tour, personally traveled to numerous cells across the U.S. to take part in their meetups and meet his soldiers.
The group grew close over a shared belief in a future struggle and an almost perverted urge to partake in the bloodletting that was to come. According to sources, Nazzaro also took part in this fantasy, and viewed himself as a commander. In June 2019, he proudly pictured his neo-Nazis conducting paramilitary style raids in the near future, like another historical insurgency he greatly admired.
“I believe it's very likely that you younger guys will be leading men into battle during your lifetimes,” he wrote. “It might be more like IRA style but nevertheless. So stay alive and prepare for that future.”
Before all this, the group needed to build itself up after being booted off their chat server. Nazzaro, as he frequently did, just carried on despite the setback. On Sunday, February 17, 2019, the group formally launched its new main chat on Wire. Here they would remain for a little over a year before profoundly imploding.
“I'll fire it up now,” Nazzaro said at the time. “Just making some last-minute decisions on adding a couple of guys or not.”
Recruiting this time was more difficult for Nazzaro. The Base and its associated social media accounts were banned from several outlets that previously allowed them access to potential recruits, like Gab and Twitter. On top of word of mouth recruitment, the group turned to places like iFunny and Fascist Forge, an exclusively neo-Nazi social media site, the founder of which was eventually outed as a member of the Base living in Los Angeles. (He went by the alias "Mathias" inside the Base chatroom and was considered a leader of the California cell.) iFunny, in particular, would become an incredibly important recruitment channel for the group.
Times were good for Nazzaro. It was 2019 and neo-Nazis were everywhere. Despite the recruitment platforms being limited, Nazzaro still vetted a healthy number—up to two or three a week—of prospective members. Over time he would need to create a vetting team that would sit in on phone calls with Nazzaro and handle all the recruits.
In these vetting phone calls he would ask prospective recruits what they thought of Siege, what groups they were involved with, if they had a car, if they were willing to meet up, and other probing questions.
Nazzaro posted a detailed guide for how his recruits could help the fledgling terror group flourish. The list included things like promoting the group on social media, actively participating in the chatroom, flyering, and recruiting via "word of mouth." But, Nazzaro said in the encrypted chats, the most important thing a recruit could do was to meet up with nearby neo-Nazis, in real-life, because "this is the ultimate reason for the Base's existence."
“This is how we build trust that's fundamental to anything else we hope to accomplish in real life such as training,” he would preach.
The members of the group listened dutifully to their leader and, in the winter, began to hold cell meetups routinely across the country. The cells typically had around three or four members and would meet up at least once a month. A member didn’t necessarily need to be a part of the chat, but if they were approved and lived within driving distance of a cell, they were expected to make appearances. If they didn’t they would be chastised and eventually booted from the Base and its active Wire chats. Steadily the Base grew.
According to records reviewed by VICE News, one of the dominant topics of conversation in the Base chats was "the Boogaloo," which, in their minds, meant a chaotic race war in which the group could slaughter "degenerates" and minorities. Since then the Boogaloo has grown into its own movement. During these overt discussions about a race war, the group would fantasize not about their eventual all-white homeland but about conducting paramilitary-style raids on locations, or executing Black men, race traitors, or journalists. The group bonded over their dreams of blood and sinew. The point wasn’t the victory but the conflict itself. They reveled in what they would do when it finally happened.
“Basically buckle in tight for the first few months, set up a shitload of security precautions and patrols etc. have the lemmings do your farming," wrote Lane. "After a while start picking targets and gathering intel for a month or two, maybe more, then start running psyops, raids, ambushes, sabotage runs, etc.”
“I daydream about killing so much that I frequently walk in the wrong directions for extended periods of time at work,” wrote Lemley.
“We’re going to make Atomwaffen look like boy scouts,” Ryan Burchfield, who went by the name "Isak" on Wire, wrote about a parallel neo-Nazi terror group linked to five murders in the last few years. (As VICE News reported earlier this year, Burchfield would eventually travel to Ukraine in hopes of joining the war effort there, while a Georgia district attorney said in open court that he fought with Right Sector—an ultranationalist militia.)
A meme within the chatroom, and in the neo-Nazi ecosystem in general, was the “Day of the Rope.” It came from a segment of The Turner Diaries, a novel and major influence on the global far-right terror movement lauded by Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, explicitly outlining the systematic killings of race traitors and “degenerates.” The Base longed for their very own Day of the Rope and had discussions of how it would look when the idea was finally realized.
“Day of The Rope won’t be a single rally with hundreds of supporters cheering hung traitors in a public square,” wrote a user who claimed to be active duty in the U.S. Army. “It will be a series of coordinated attacks on the system. Day of the Rope will only be the beginning of a long and complex, bloody struggle.”
The Base chatrooms bred genuine friendships among members and among the frequent shitposting, there was talk about things like the loss of a parent, or a marriage breaking up. At one point, in the spring of 2019, a younger member took to the chat to lament that his parents were threatening to kick him out after he lavished praise upon the Christchurch shooter.
"[My mother] thinks I'm going to go on a mass shooting," the 17-year-old user wrote. "Like the guy in New Zealand. The thing is I can't say she's wrong."
"I just booted my ex out of my apartment bro and I'm not far from you,” Lemley replied. “So you're welcome to come up here and make a plan on my couch."
While Lemley wasn’t able to convince the 17-year-old to live with him, he would eventually get his wish for neo-Nazi cohabitation when, at the end of 2019, he found himself rooming with a man on the run from Canada in an apartment in Newark, Delaware. This brotherhood was something that meant a lot to Lemley, and he wasn't alone—the group found community here.
One of the main things they bonded over was a love for far-right shooters.
“This is the single best shooting in modern history,” wrote one member, the LA-based Mathias, shortly after watching a man in Christchurch, New Zealand, murder over 50 Muslim men, women, and children on March 15, 2019. One of the members, Lane, was so inspired that he posted a receipt in the chat for body armor he purchased that was similar to the Christchurch shooter’s.
Like many adherents in the extreme far-right political movement, the Christchurch shootings was an inspirational shot to the arm for the Base. Here was an example to aspire to.
Mass shootings by far-right extremists were always moments of celebration in the chat. The group would take immense joy from these killings and, if the kill count was low, would critique them, offering tips on how they could have done a better job. Some in the chat would cryptically mention how they would love to try their hand at “beating the high score.” Those who took action, among them Dylann Roof and Anders Brievik, were referred to as saints.
Taking “direct action” against the system was the end goal for the Base. Over and over and over again they discussed how you could only bring down the system with violence and coordinated campaigns of murder. “Political violence is the only thing that will bring down the system, not futile 'infiltration; or ‘triggering libs,” as one member succinctly put it. One member who went by "Stimulus" on Wire mused about an attack of his own in May 2019, not long after Christchurch and a string of other U.S. shootings.
“I’ve been thinking, like what if I did something like a synagogue shooting, and rep the Base while doing so. Like put down a Base flag when I’m done or something [?]” he said. This was met with mixed opinions: Some believed it would bring on FBI heat, while others believed it could be a statement action for the Base.
Amidst those types of exchanges, Nazzaro would both acknowledge the need for violence, but tell his group it needed to grow before rolling out any organized plans for terrorism. The cells were autonomous for a reason—it offered plausible deniability among the other members. The thinking was that one set of arrests might not lead to the disintegration of the entire group.
“It's paramount that we survive now. There aren't many of us,” wrote Nazzaro in the chat. “That doesn't mean don't act, it just means don't get captured or killed in the process. If you don't have a reasonable chance of surviving then don't do it."
Some members were preparing themselves for violence. One, Barasneh, was arrested in January of 2020 for vandalizing a synagogue, and pleaded guilty. He now faces 10 years in prison and a fine of up to a quarter of a million dollars. He messaged other members of the Base that he was preparing himself for his future actions by watching murders and mutilations on gore websites to “desensitize myself.”
There was debate about what role the group played in accelerationism. Were they to wait until the actions of the lone wolves pushed the population to a breaking point and finally commence with the Day of the Rope? Or were they to be the lone wolves doing the bloodletting? No matter where they found themselves on this side of the argument, most said they would be willing to give their lives in the conflict they dreamed of.
“I’ve just accepted I’d die in the [racial holy war],” one user named "FWK" wrote in the chat.
“You get used to it, it is what it is,” Lane responded.
But the Wire chatroom was also still a chatroom; simply put, it was sometimes a carnival of competing usernames and shitposts. The conversation flowed freely, and the group would talk about a wide range of subjects. Sometimes the Base went from lusting over the day they could finally kill people, to somebody’s military record, to what they liked to eat, to the sad dating exploits of a neo-Nazi in his thirties, to what kind of vehicle a younger member should buy. Like all groups in this milieu, infighting was rampant, and the group loved to shit-talk members and other groups like Atomwaffen.
“I wonder if Norman ever gets tired of babysitting 40 something gossiping Nazi terrorists,” wrote Jacob Kaderli, known as "Pestilence" in the chat. Kaderli would eventually be arrested in the FBI raids the following year, but until then, terrorism was clearly on his mind.
“Now I’ve seen a lot of posts about power stations this, power stations that. But I’m here to tell you about the 140,490 miles of standard hauling gauge train track that exists across the USA,” said Kaderli in August 2019, under his pseudonym, describing what he considered to be a superior target for any Nazi terrorist with a mind to hit the critical infrastructure of their local area. (He claims to have copied the blurb from “somewhere” before posting it). “Imagine how much unguarded track is out there? Imagine how much damage to infrastructure one would do if they disabled high traffic railway with amounts of inexpensive and easily manufactured thermite? Imagine the derailings shutting down entire shipping routes for the military, government, and private sector.”
The weapons the Base would use to achieve the terror and mayhem prophesied to them in the Day of The Rope was a frequent point of conversation in the group. Photos of armaments and load-outs were typical, as were discussions on how to modify firearms. In a few instances, Lane, who claimed to basically hoard weapons, took to the chatroom trying to sell his Romanian WASR, along with ammo, for $500 to another member of the Base.
“Doesn’t look the cleanest but it has the IRA aesthetic,” said Lane. “Oh I also have a decent fug load of ammo cans for cheap.”
“I’m interested in that AK,” the other user said. “I can do 500 easy.”
In order to partake in the Day of the Rope or the Boogaloo and make use of these weapons, the group would need training. Nazzaro realized they needed to train as a group. One way they could do this was to take inspiration from Atomwaffen and hold a "hate camp.” These would be neo-Nazi campouts in which the group would meet up, do some military training, talk about best targets, and chat about their dreams of the race war over the dim light of a fire.
Nazzaro started putting together the plans for a nationwide meetup in the Pacific Northwest. He bought $23,000 worth of land in Washington State under the name of "The Base LTD" —something that would eventually lead to his identity being discovered by the _Guardian_—and began asking his members to attend a large training camp there in the summer of 2019. The property was approximately 30 acres and the group would have to bushwhack to reach it.
To Nazzaro’s chagrin, though, after much planning, his group get-together was halted when his plans were leaked to antifascist activists in Washington State and he was too spooked to carry on.
His property would go unused by the group.
Summer 2019: The Accelerant
As the spring turned to summer, the first multi-cell meetup was set for Pennsylvania. The group shot guns, discussed the race war, and was interrupted by cops. For many this would have been the highlight of the summer, but something happened that would fundamentally change the group and its path forward.
Patrik Mathews, a stocky Canadian neo-Nazi with the prototypical blonde hair, blue-eyed look of a Third Reich propaganda poster, joined the group in the late spring under the name "Dave." The twenty-something Winnipeg man quickly began impressing the group with his postering spree of the Manitoba capital. However, while his work drew praise from Nazzaro and the rest, it also attracted the attention of Winnipeg Free Press reporter Ryan Thorpe. Thorpe contacted the Base under the guise of a neo-Nazi, ended up meeting with Mathews, found out his identity, and published an expose.
This wasn’t the end of the world for the group; it had been infiltrated before, and had members' identities revealed. It did what it usually did and made threats against the journalist. Members created memes featuring Thorpe being beheaded and comforted each other.
What happened next, however, was new.
Shortly after the story came out, Mathews' house was found empty and his truck was found abandoned near the Minnesota border. According to court documents, after hopping the border between Minnesota and Manitoba “on or around August 19,” Mathews was able to spend over a week in the northern U.S. before his fellow neo-Nazis came to pick him up. What he did during this week is still unknown, but what is known is that the Base had an older member in northern Minnesota who went by "Viking21" or "Heathen" and had previously offered to help Canadian members in trouble and met Mathews before.
“I’m not too far from the border,” he wrote to another Canadian member with the alias "Imperivm" who was contemplating doing a mass shooting. “I can always help you out if necessary. Hell if I gotta I’ll get you across Lake Superior.”
Regardless of where Mathews was or what he was doing, two members of the Base, Brian Lemley and William Bilbrough, eventually drove up to Michigan on August 30, picked up Mathews, and brought him down to Maryland. Lemley also offered the same deal to harbor Imperivm at his home.
“Establish as much backup comms as you can and beeline it to the border if shit pops off,” wrote Lemley to the other Canadian. “I’ll pick your leafy ass up.”
After Mathews went on the run and the group entered into bonafide criminality, things escalated quickly. They had crossed a legal threshold, which wasn’t lost on many in the group who knew about Mathews' presence in the States. Lemley would put Mathews up in his mother's vacation home in Chincoteague, Virginia and was instructed to strictly keep the details of his “operation” quiet. But Lemley couldn’t help himself.
"So the objective has been reached. It's quiet time now,” he wrote on September 1 in the chat, as other cell leaders urged him to stay quiet. “He's showering and settling in.”
“There were some concerns about his mental state [...] he’s mellowing down and accepting his duty to stay low vis.”
Now, with a fugitive on the run, the Base was proving to itself that it had the chops to break the law and get away with it.
Fall 2019: Acceleration
Georgia was, without a doubt, the most militant of the Base cells.
Lane, the young, emotional leader of the cell, would routinely make his cell of three or four members practice firearms training, which he filmed for propaganda that he would disperse online (including to his once very active Twitter account). In one of those propaganda videos, Lane and another member conducted handgun training and shot a target emblazoned with the Jewish Star of David. It wouldn’t be long into Lane’s reign until the Georgia cell brought in a new member who, unbeknownst to the leader, was a federal undercover agent deployed against the Base.
The fed, in this case, went initially by "Whitewarrior88," and then later by "Palehorse." The character adopted by the persona was that of a racist older biker looking for a place to practise his militant racism. Joining on June 19, 2019, the fed was immediately well liked. He was gregarious and boisterous in the Base voice chats, playing his role immensely well, which brought him into the Georgia cell's inner circle.
Lane, who had no job and was routinely teased by the group as being a NEET, lived on his father's sprawling property outside of Rome, Georgia in Floyd County. He used his free time to read up on neo-Nazi philosophy, the fascist occult group the Order of Nine Angles, and paramilitary techniques. The Base was the focal point of Lane’s life, and he was a constant presence in the group chat. Despite his young age, he was, according to sources, considered a leader and one of the most extreme members of the group. When the Canadian runaway came to hide out at his property after his time in Virginia came to an end, the mixture of Lane’s violent fantasies and Mathews real-world illegalities produced a dangerous cocktail.
During their time together, the two butted heads, and Lane consistently chastised Mathews for his lack of true military experience—something the former reservist would complain about. Nevertheless, according to court documents, the two shared a yearning to kill, so they began discussing who would be their first victims. They found the perfect target, a local couple they considered to be “antifa.” According to court documents, on October 3, the other Georgian members of the group—Jacob Kaderli, Michael Helterbrand, and the undercover—met at Lane’s father's home and the two told the rest of the cell about their plan.
"I wanna fuckin' fight something, dude. I'm so tired," said Kaderli, according to an affidavit.
"We'll get the body dropping shit done," said Lane.
"You're going to be about two months away from fighting something,” said Mathews. “I'll tell you right now."
Lane and Mathews then told Kaderli that they almost decided to kill people a few weeks prior to the conversation but didn’t think they were prepared enough. The group then discussed the best equipment and tactics for “sneaking in and assassination type of things.”
They wanted to get blood on their hands and send a message to antifascists that their activities wouldn’t go unpunished. Lane even once hinted at the plot in the group chat with other members of the Base.
“If one were to want change I’d think mass casualty events (better planned than most prior ones, with the intention of getting away and doing it against at least once and then dying in a shootout,) political hits against those who attack you in any way (rhymes with Fifa,) and assassinations of jews,” wrote Lane.
With these plans going on in the background, the Base activity carried on. The fall brought them a new training camp, this time at Lane’s father’s compound in Georgia. Twelve neo-Nazis attended the multi-day meetup between October 31 and November 3. The federal agent was at this location, and even provided the entire group with breakfast sandwiches from McDonald's. To get in, an attendee would have to go somewhere in Rome, Georgia—one member wouldn’t get the address until he sent a picture of him in an Applebee's—and from there another member would go meet them, check them out, make sure they weren’t wearing a wire, and then take them to the compound outside the city.’
On Lane’s father’s property the group practiced paramilitary training, made propaganda videos, and conducted a book burning. It was here some of the Base members infamously dropped acid and attempted the sacrifice of a ram that they stole from a nearby farmer. (The group named the ram “Gar.”) Eventually, after much struggle trying to kill Gar using a knife, the group had to shoot the ram to death. After that, they beheaded it and drank its blood.
Apart from poorly slaughtering a stolen farm animal, the group shot a ton of guns. Mathews, one of the few there with military experience, ran a small tactical drill for the group, which they filmed. Things went so well that Lane, who organized the gathering, quickly started putting together a second one.
“We’ll get a beater car or two to use [for training]," he said, according to sources. "I’ll pitch in what I can on the cars and also set up a mock kill house," he wrote excitedly of his plans. "I’m sure we’ll have the media and antics having an aneurysm when they see the footage.”
“Gonna start it off right with a Blót [a Norweigan ritualistic sacrifice], bloodletting, feast, large book burning on a massive bonfire, and a giant flaming Algiz."
After the event, Mathews’ time in Georgia was over, and, according to court documents, he went back to Maryland to bunk up with Lemley. Authorities, extremely aware of the danger Mathews posed, began to surveil Lemley and Mathews in Newark. VICE News published a story alerting the public to the Canadian and his stateside presence.
The two had reason to believe the feds would be interested in them. Tobin, a member who had feet in both the Base and Atomwaffen, became the first member to be picked up by the authorities. Tobin, along with a few other members, conducted what they called "Operation Kristallnacht" in September, vandalizing several synagogues across the U.S. As a result, he was arrested by the FBI in November. Tobin was released on bond in the spring; his trial date is pending.
“We need to hit back,” he said, according to sources. ”Truth be told we are supposed to be the initiators of the combat but it’s too late for that. Now we aren’t even doing anything when we get hit as a collective.”
According to court documents and other sources, the Maryland cell—Bilbrough, Lemley, and Mathews—had an interesting fall. The group ordered parts online to turn one of Mathews' weapons into a fully automatic assault rifle. They attempted to manufacture DMT, most likely to be used in an occult ritual. They became fixated on utilizing right-wing paranoia to accelerate the collapse of society and decided that a massive rally being planned in Virginia would be perfect for them to finally make an impact.
“You know we got this situation in Virginia where this is going to be, that opportunity is boundless,” said Lemley on December 23, according to court documents. “The thing is you’ve got tons of guys who are just in theory should be radicalized enough to know that all you gotta do is start making things go wrong, and if Virginia can spiral out to a fucking full-blown civil war.”
“We can’t let Virginia go to waste,” Mathews said. “You know what, Virginia will be our day.”
The group discussed shooting into the crowd to cause chaos and spark a conflict between pro-Second Amendment protestors and authorities.
Meanwhile, down in Georgia, the murder plot was progressing. According to court documents, Lane was allegedly initially going to pull the trigger on December 13 after informing Kaderli and Helterbrand of the plan, but the undercover agent convinced him more planning was necessary. He was sure the other two would be game to partake in the plan because they all understood, as the court documents had it, that “the purpose of the Base was to kill people.”
As December rolled on, Lane, Kaderli, Helterbrand, and the undercover agent were meticulous in their planning.
They were going to wear long gloves into which they could tuck their shirts, rubber boots into which they could tuck their pants, and have one person guard the door while two others went in and shot the couple in the head. They planned on burning the house down afterwards. When communicating about this they utilized a cipher code—37C for murder, 32W for their planning session. Things went so far that they even discussed the possibility of killing the couple’s children if they had any.
“I mean I have no problem killing a commie kid,” Kaderli is quoted as saying in the affidavit.
The only thing they didn’t plan for was the undercover agent and, apparently, Helterbrand’s bad back, which forced them to push the planned murders until February. At this point, according to the court documents, Lane knew that if he carried out the plot Mathews would know it was him, according to court documents and sources. Lane didn’t trust Mathews or Lemley—he repeatedly belittled the divorced mid-30s Lemley as stupid and a failure in the chat—and believed they were liabilities, so the group added both of them to their kill list.
Winter 2020: The Crash
Unknown to the Base, the New Year brought the group on a collision course with the FBI.
Both the Maryland and Georgia cells continued planning their violent terror attacks. Lane and his crew once again staked out the home of the antifascist activist they intended on killing, decided on their roles, and agreed that they could all pull the trigger to share in “popping their cherries” with a double murder. The Georgia cell also decided on more targets—this time local journalists. Meanwhile in Maryland, according to sources, Lemley attempted to convince other members of the Base about the importance of using the Richmond rally to accelerate their goals.
“Here’s an opportunity to get what we want,” he wrote in the chat. “Should we wait for the next one? It wouldn’t hurt if everyone mixed in with them and tried to push things harder than they would go without us. I don’t really know how to go about it. Shouldn’t we do something (though)?”
It never was clear if Lemley ever planned on truly going to Richmond. At the same time as the Richmond rally, the Base was planning another hate camp in Michigan, and Lemley had committed to attending that meetup. What is known is a day after Lemley openly posted about Richmond again, he and Mathews were arrested and raided by the FBI. It took place as they were preparing their truck for a trip—Lemley had previously said they were “loading it for war.”
As the news came to light, the scene inside the Base was chaotic, and the group rushed to remove the members from the various chats they were in. Nazzaro and his other leaders attempted to do their best to calm the group and offer them plausible deniability.
“There’s always going to be a degree of risk despite the legal nature of what we’re doing but that’s just because we’re thought criminals to the system,” Nazzaro wrote. “All we can do is try our best to not needlessly give them rope to hang us with. Let’s press on and hope for the best for our incarcerated comrades… The best way we can honor them is to continue pushing forward.”
It didn’t take the Base long to notice that Lane, Kaderli, and Helterbrand were oddly quiet. A tweet by a national security journalist led the group to become aware that Kaderli had been arrested, and they quickly lost their heads.
“This is so fucked,” wrote Barasneh, before his arrest the following day for his alleged role in Operation Kristallnacht, which caused another wave of panic within the remaining members of the Base.
“FUCK,” wrote another neo-Nazi in agreement.
The many still-free members of the Base responded in a variety of ways to the news of their comrades getting arrested. The remaining leadership quickly organized phone calls so they could discuss what to do going forward. Those in the chat were in full state of panic. They discussed what they thought would be ensuing arrests of the rest of the group. One user said he fully planned on going out in a firefight.
“Why would I sit in my house and get surrounded when I have a nice big scope,” wrote a Michigan-based member who goes by "AK," and continues to be active online. “Burn my out like [Patrik] Mathews? Not if I can avoid it.”
“I don’t fear death. I will openly admit I fear being locked in a cage with [racial slurs]. Valhalla is the only choice.”
Authorities never came for AK, and he remains at large, but is believed to be in Michigan.
A few hours later, when Nazzaro learned of the Georgia cell's arrests he was succinct, writing nothing more than “fuck.” He immediately threw the arrested under the bus and assured everyone they were fine.
“If no one still in here was involved in any of the stuff [the] guys are being charged with, there’s no need to panic,” he wrote. “That said, this is bad anyway you look at it.”
In the ensuing days and weeks, things would only go from bad to worse for the Base and for Nazzaro, personally. Media scrutiny of the Base skyrocketed, with the New York Times publishing its own story on the terror group, and hundreds of other stories appearing from around the world on the string of arrests. The many users and aliases, once active in the group, started dropping out like flies. Nazzaro failed to keep his organization alive and, more likely than not, tried convincing any federal agents still active in the chats that the group had done nothing wrong. Despite his attempts, the chat took on an apocalyptic tone and things went from bad to worse for the group’s leader.
On January 23, the Guardian dropped a bombshell by publishing an expose outing Nazzaro and his true identity.
“Looks like I’m going to get doxxed,” Nazzaro wrote to the Base when he learned of the article's existence. He then tried playing the brave leader, even going so far as to say this was a good thing because it would allow him to finally use his Washington property, but within a few short days of his identity being exposed, he decided he needed to lay low.
He told the remaining leadership he was going to be going dark for two weeks because he felt he “could get a visit.” He described his situation as “touchy at best.” He then gave the group the password to the Base and its general purposes ProtonMail email account used as first contact for recruits.
“I think by the end of the next week my situation will either get better or much worse,” he wrote on January 24. “Let’s keep the fact I logged off kind of under wraps so guys don’t take it the wrong way and get freaked out.”
Nazzaro sharing the email credentials would be a fatal mistake for the Base. Everything he worked on for over two years would quickly come tumbling down: a virtual firebomb went off on the Base and its entire online footprint. Someone deep inside the group had infiltrated it to such an extent that they made a mockery of its public social media accounts by posting insulting memes about Nazzaro and the group, made their presence known, and then disappeared. In something of a final guillotine moment which destroyed the credibility of the entire organization to the wider far-right movement.
The final conversations on Wire before the lights went out were attempting to figure out what had happened.
“This is fucking embarrassing now,” wrote one of the few remaining members on Wire. “We lost a few members? We can deal with that. Founder gets doxxed? Alright not a big deal. Sure it's not a great look. But now this? What a fucking joke.”
“Either someone hacked it, or a previous admin who was [...] had his account hijacked. OR someone who is also an admin decided they had enough, nuked all the posts, and then pissed on it,” read the final message posted to the Wire chat before being deleted.
For now, thankfully, the story of the Base seems to have ended much differently than it began—not with death, but with memes.
This story has been updated to better reflect the infiltrator’s actions during the final days of the Base.