Fascist Forge, the newest online breeding ground for neo-Nazi terror cells, has been taken down.
The forum was founded in April of 2018 with the explicit goal of creating a networking site for some of the most extreme and violent players in the far-right. In a write-up posted shortly after Fascist Forge went live, a founder who goes by the name Mathias wrote that the goal of Fascist Forge was to fill the void left by the takedown of Iron March—an infamous online meeting ground for fascists that went dark two years ago—and “continue where they left off.”
On Fascist Forge, Nazis urged each other to rape women, spoke about “direct actions”—in other words, terror attacks—shared manuals on how to create weapons, housed propaganda for numerous violent groups, discussed fascism in depth, and worked to radicalize all who viewed their words and images.
Iron March is where Atomwaffen—the neo-Nazi extremist group that killed five people in three separate incidents in 2017—was infamously founded, and the forum has been described by experts as an accelerant for the far-right.
Fascist Forge showed signs of growth initially. But now, less than a year after it was founded, the site is offline. The site’s registrar placed it into a status called “clientHold” on February 12. ClientHold status, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), effectively shuts down the website by telling a “domain's registry to not activate your domain in the DNS and as a consequence, it will not resolve.”
“It is an uncommon status that is usually enacted during legal disputes, non-payment, or when your domain is subject to deletion,” reads the description.
A spokesperson for DreamHost, the site’s registrar—but not where it is hosted—confirmed to VICE that they were the ones to place Fascist Forge into the status but said, for privacy reasons, could not comment on why they did so. In an email spokesperson Brett Dunst described DreamHost as a “content-neutral service provider” who “have zero tolerance for illegal content on our network, and work regularly with law enforcement to take action against sites that contain such content.”
“Generally speaking, clientHold can occur for any number of reasons, including incorrect contact information in a registration record, various billing issues, violations of a registrar's [acceptable use policy] or [terms of service], or it may mean that the domain registration has simply expired,” Dunst told VICE adding that this status is “completely independent from any hosting services.”
The IP addresses found on Fascist Forge indicated the site was hosted out of the Ukraine—in particular Vinnytsia, a Ukrainian town that housed a Nazi military headquarters codenamed ‘Werwolf’ which were the headquarters used by Hitler in the Ukraine. Vinnytsia was also the site of several Nazi atrocities and massacres. It should be noted it’s not entirely difficult to spoof IP addresses.
The takedown comes after recent media attention—an in-depth post by independent far-right researcher Subcomandante X, a VICE investigation, a write-up by the ADL, and a recent story focusing on the site’s British radicalization efforts. On February 11, one day before the site was put into clientHold status, the Counter Extremism Project wrote a post directly naming DreamHost as “the site’s registrar and name server." Most recently, Fascist Forge was mentioned in a lengthy post by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the “violent legacy of Iron March” with far-right extremism researcher Michael Edison Hayden writing it was “small but growing.”
Fascist Forge also worked as a library for would be far-right terror cells or lone wolf attackers. In a particularly disturbing corner of the site you could find links to manuals on how to create incendiary or chemical weapons, how to conduct a terror spree similar to the DC sniper attacks in 2002, and a manual for how to conduct large and small-scale ethnic cleansing, among other graphic and descriptive texts.
The site caused worry among extremist watchdogs and whistleblowers. Sarah Hightower, a violent extremism researcher who monitored the group, told VICE during our initial investigation into the forum that Fascist Forge shouldn’t be written off as just people shit-talking on the internet.
“Make no mistake about it—this is a contingent of hardened extremists who want a race war,” she said in an interview with VICE. “It really isn't too much of a stretch to assume the worst. And to those of us already familiar with groups like The Base, it's apparent that domestic terrorism on a grand scale is the end goal. Fascist Forge absolutely has the potential to be a petri dish of accelerationist domestic terror.”
Fascist Forge separated itself from other neo-Nazi sites with an aggressive recruitment and radicalization process, which included a mandatory entrance exam. New recruits were pressured into writing 26 essay questions drawing on radicalization texts authored by the founder of the American Nazi Party and others.
Other neo-Nazi stomping grounds like Gab, 4Chan, 8Chan, Stormfront and Volkfront have so far stayed silent on the takedown. This may in part be because power players on the forum recommended their fellow fascists not use other social media platforms for security purposes.
For today at least, it seems as though some of the loudest voices on the extreme right have gone silent. However, Ryan Scrivens, scholar on right-wing extremism, told VICE that while Fascist Forge being deplatformed may be a battle won against the extreme-right, it is by no means the end of the war.
“When online platforms of the extreme right—such as Fascist Forge—get taken down, it has a short-term impact on their participants: it minimizes their (immediate) ability to connect and communicate with like-minded individuals from around the globe,” Scrivens told VICE. “In the long term, however, de-platforming hate sites is like playing a game of whack-a-mole: when one site gets taken down, an offshoot of that site or a new site will appear soon after. Aware of this, right-wing extremists will simply wait for the next platform to emerge.”
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With files from Ben Makuch.