(Mugshots from Floyd County Police Department)
One of the most disturbing and bizarre sagas involving an infamous American neo-Nazi terror group came to an end in a Georgia court today. Luke Austin Lane, 23, and Jacob Kaderli, 21, two members of The Base, were sentenced to six and 13 years in prison, respectively, for their role in an assassination plot against an antifascist activist and his wife.
“This case is a tragedy on many levels,” said Judge John Niedrach of the Floyd County Court, where the crimes were tried, noting the particularly gruesome nature of the planned killings.
In fall 2019, the two hatched a plan with Michael Helterbrand, 27, sentenced days ago to serve 20 years in prison for the same crime of conspiracy to murder, to execute a man living close to Lane that they knew to be an antifascist activist. (Helterbrand has since joined a hyper-violent white supremacist gang and was charged for a heinous crime while behind bars).
The trio’s assassination plan was to ambush the man inside his rural home at night, execute him and his wife with guns, and then burn the house down. But little did any of them know, the fourth man (a then-recently admitted member of the group) they enlisted to help with the murders was an FBI operative who logged the entire plot from start to finish. The undercover agent on the case, who used the persona of an aging biker-turned-hardcore racist, recorded Helterbrand taking delight in the possibility that the couple had a child.
“I mean I have no problem killing a commie kid,” said Helterbrand while discussing the plot with his co-conspirators.
By January 2020, the Bureau arrested all three men in a nationwide crackdown on The Bas, which has already resulted in decades of combined prison times.
The Base, an international neo-Nazi organization that rose in prominence in the late 2010s, was made up of disorganized regional cells across the U.S. and abroad. The organization was founded and run by Russia-based American extremist Rinaldo Nazzaro, a former Pentagon contractor and a former terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security. The Base and adjacent groups are primarily organized around the ideology of accelerationism generally adhered to by neo-Nazis wanting to hasten the downfall of modern society to create a white ethnostate.
As a prerequisite, all members of The Base have online aliases they use instead of their real names. Kaderli went by “Pestilence” and Lane took on “The Militant Buddhist” (TMB for short). Both were influential members of The Base who spent long hours within the organization's encrypted chat room. Lane was the leader of the Georgia cell, and his violent ideas and fantasies were an occasional topic of conversation among members who were suspicious of his bloodlust.
“I can see (Lane) actually trying to carry something like that out,” one member of The Base said to another in an “emergency phone call” shortly after Lane’s arrest.
In court, Kaderli’s lawyer said that the antifascist activist was himself an extremist, equating his activism with The Base. When it was Lane’s lawyer’s opportunity to argue a reduced sentence, he alleged that the FBI undercover was the driving force behind the murder plot. Neither argument deterred the judge from issuing multiyear sentences to both men.
Later, Lane apologized for his behavior and renounced his extremist past. In the same breath, though, he then described his descent into more violent extremism and blamed the media, antifascist activists, and Congress for vilifying neo-Nazism as terrorism. He said he “wondered” if he had “no other option” except to become the terrorist they incorrectly said he and his group were.
Nazzaro, who is still heavily involved with the group, said the imprisoned members of The Base in Georgia are the victims and they didn’t engage in any concrete planning to kill the antifascist activist.
“These men are persecuted political prisoners,” he said in an email exchange with VICE News. “They were not involved in bona-fide attack planning.”
The assassination plot was an ominous foreshadowing of what has now become a commonplace political conflict in American streets: far-right extremists attacking antifascist activists. While the murder plot could have been a horrific act of sectarian murder perpetrated by a domestic terror group, it was ultimately stopped. But since then, the attempted coup on Capitol Hill in January and various fatal shootings, all under the banners of various groups on the fringe or far-right, have become a mainstay in American life.
Joshua Fisher-Birch, an intelligence analyst who specializes in right-wing extremism at terrorism watchdog the Counter-Extremism Project, said the plot was a harbinger of what would eventually follow.
“Extreme right-wing violence continues to be a problem in the U.S., with numbers increasing in 2020,” he said. “In this case, the defendants were arrested before they could commit a particularly horrendous politically motivated murder, but it’s important to note that the threat remains.”
“Similar white supremacist groups and networks that aspire to commit acts of violence also continue to seek recruits and organize clandestinely,” said Fisher-Birch, pointing out that The Base, even in the face of heavy law enforcement probes, isn’t dead either.
But over a dozen of its members around the world have been arrested. Earlier this month ex-Canadian soldier Patrik Matthews and another member of the group were convicted in a Maryland court for plotting a mass shooting at a Virginia gun rally. The two had hoped their attack would spark a “race war” and send the U.S. into civil unrest between the right and the left, but their plot ended with both of them in federal prison for nine years.
Judging from the group’s online activities, The Base, which claims it is a survivalist collective (but is a designated terror group in two countries), continues to exist and posts propaganda images of members engaging in paramilitary training.
Kaderli, Lane, and Helterbrand were also all involved with an acid-soaked sacrifice of a stolen ram, during a group ritual of The Base following a paramilitary training weekend, held on Lane’s property. Two members of The Base are still awaiting their court appearances to face charges on animal cruelty for their part in the same ram sacrifice, though Kaderli and Lane weren’t charged for it.
Correction: A previous version of the story said the undercover agent recorded Kaderli commenting on harming a child. In fact, the recording was of Helterbrand.