As 2024 Looms, Neo-Nazis Are Returning to the Streets

On a recent overcast afternoon in Orlando, Florida, 10 neo-Nazis gathered outside the entrance to Disney World.

Some wore skull masks, and their T-shirts were emblazoned with the letters OBS—Order of the Black Sun—the name of their group. One held a sign containing names of convicted white supremacist mass murderers, including Dylann Roof and Anders Breivik, along with the words “Let My People Go.” Others flew swastika flags, and one person waved a large flag saying “DESANTIS 2024.”

That, somehow, was just one of the neo-Nazi demonstrations that took place in Orlando that day. About 25 miles away, in the suburb Altamonte Springs, members of the groups Blood Tribe and Goyim Defense League, dressed in red and black, marched while chanting “We Are Everywhere.”

The rally was exactly one week after a neo-Nazi, armed with an AR-15 style rifle, walked into a Dollar General store just two hours north and shot and killed three Black people before turning the gun on himself. All over his weapon, written in white marker, were neo-Nazi symbols and slogans—many of the very same that were paraded outside Disney World seven days later.

The brazen, unapologetic hate that was on display in Orlando is part of a larger trend that suggests hardcore neo-Nazi groups after years of operating behind closed doors are feeling newly emboldened to appear in public.

VICE News created a database of demonstrations involving members of hardline neo-Nazi groups and identified nearly two dozen such events in 2023 so far—already outpacing the number of events we logged from all of last year. Even more striking, we logged a fraction of public demonstrations by hardore Nazi groups in 2021 and 2020 compared to those in 2022.

The resurgence in neo-Nazi street-level activity comes as FBI Director Chris Wray reaffirmed in congressional testimony this summer that “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists” continues to pose one of the biggest threats to national security.

Wray testified that the number of domestic terror investigations—which includes individuals ascribing to neo-Nazi ideology—had hit 2,700 by the end of last year, more than double compared to the number of open cases in that category in spring 2020.

This year so far, neo-Nazi appearances have been spread across 15 different states and generally involved members from relatively new groups that initially formed as loose online communities, and then metastasized into formal organizations, such as NSC-131, Aryan Freedom Network, Blood Tribe, Goyim Defense League and a national network of Active Clubs.

Do you have information about neo-Nazi organizing? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Mack Lamoureux and Tess Owen securely on email at tess.owen@vice.com and mack.lamoureux@vice.com, ask for a Signal number if the information is sensitive.

The majority of the newer neo-Nazi groups are headquartered in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president, has repeatedly earned extremist praise for his hardline policies against immigration, LGBTQ rights, and “Critical Race Theory.” Which is why some neo-Nazis, like the Order of the Black Sun, like to wave the DESANTIS 2024 flag at their demonstrations.

Invited Back to the Streets

Experts say that there’s a direct correlation between aggressive, conspiratorial, and bigoted rhetoric in the mainstream, and how emboldened extremists feel to take action.

Whether it's a spike in hate crimes against Jews after rapper Ye’s (formerly Kanye West) highly publicized anti-semitic rantings, the transphobic account “Libs of TikTok” inspiring anti-LGBTQ legislation in Florida, or an angry mob storming the U.S. Capitol after being fed lies by lawmakers about the 2020 election, it’s clear that the fringes, influencers, right-wing media, and GOP are all part of the same toxic soup.

“The fringes are a carnival mirror reflection of the aggression that’s in the mainstream,” said Brian Levin, former director of Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State Univ. San Bernardino and a national expert in hate crimes. “These groups are showing up to where immigrants live, they’re showing up to synagogues and harassing congregants, they’re attacking transgender folks at school board meetings. There’s a mainstream component to all of that.”

“When the mainstream is ignited, those flames, even a flicker, will be like jet fuel in the fringes,” Levin added.

A few of the neo-Nazi demonstrations this year targeted immigrants. For example, last month, members of NSC-131 showed up outside a hotel in Woburn, Massachusetts that’s housing Haitian refugees, where they performed Hitler salutes, lit flares, and held a banner saying “Invaders Go Home.” Photos shared online by local antifascists show someone inside the hotel, peering out through the windows, to see what was going on outside.

But the overwhelming majority of neo-Nazi demonstrations logged by VICE News in 2023 were targeting drag shows or LGBTQ Pride events.

“This does not occur in a vacuum. It's because there has been a platform built by politicians, pundits, and so-called news outlets which legitimize aggression against certain groups in a very public and respectable way,” said Levin. “The folks who are being targeted by these Nazi groups are also being targeted by folks on TV wearing ties.”

For over a year, “grooming” conspiracies have had a chokehold on the entire spectrum of the right, from GOP policy-makers down to QAnon conspiracists. What began as a culture war over teaching kids about acceptance and the LGBTQ community via books or movie characters has ballooned into a full blown moral panic and the neo-Nazis took notice.

A broad constellation of far-right activists around the country have spent the past year showing up to protest outside school board meetings and drag events, including “parents rights” groups like “Moms for Liberty,” and “Gays Against Groomers,” alongside more typical far-right groups like the Proud Boys, Patriot Front—and, increasingly, explicitly neo-Nazi organizations.

While anti-LGBTQ hate has always been a cornerstone of neo-Nazi ideology, these groups may also be opportunistically exploiting this moment to boost their profile, says Jacob Davey,  head of Research & Policy for Far-right and Hate Movements at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a nonprofit dedicated to countering extremism and polarization.

"There's the opportunity to reach new audiences. It's an opportunity to get their messaging out. To generate publicity. And I think that’s sort of quite a clear strategy here. The media loves to get scared about neo-Nazis, right?” said Davey.  “So actually a neo-Nazi group showing up at a drag protest alongside conservative parents groups, conservative Christian movements, means that they will be in the media spotlight."

FAREWELL TO GOOD OPTICS

The growing visibility of hardcore neo-Nazis is a sharp deviation from the optics-conscious far-right that emerged from the ashes of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

The events that weekend, which culminated in a young neo-Nazi driving into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens others, had drawn together a mixed buffet of far-right groups in the Virginia college town. Alt-right trolls marched through the streets alongside preppy white nationalists, and Nazi skinheads.

Rather than unifying the far-right, the events intensified a simmering debate within that community about “optics.” Some in the movement had aspirations of political legitimacy, and hoped to push their white nationalist ideology further into the mainstream. But they were concerned that associating themselves with explicit expressions of hatred could hurt their efforts to broaden their appeal.

Even the National Socialist Movement, a decades-old neo-Nazi organization, had decided to stop using swastikas a year prior to Unite the Right, in an “attempt to become more integrated and more mainstream.”

Some groups that were heavily involved in Charlottesville sought to rebrand as a way of distancing themselves from the violence and ugliness of that day—and to evade further scrutiny from the media and feds.

Identity Evropa, whose preppy members marched in khakis and chanted “Jews will not replace us” rebranded to the innocuous-sounding “American Identity Movement” (which is now defunct). Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi organization, splintered and the former leader of the group’s Texas chapter started a new group called Patriot Front, which cultivated a preppy American aesthetic and relies on euphemism to express racist sentiments. They are one of the most active groups currently, but, in the name of good optics, members are banned from performing Hitler salutes in public.

For a couple years following Charlottesville, hardcore neo-Nazism went underground as the entire movement reeled from various lawsuits and other legal consequences of the rally. But around 2019, like cockroaches emerging back into broad daylight, that component of the far-right began regrouping and reorganizing.

Similar Origins

Many of the groups that are taking to the streets were formed within the last five years. Take Blood Tribe, for example. The group was formed in 2021 from the followers of Christopher Pohlhaus, a former marine turned influential neo-Nazi. For years Pohlhaus was active within the far-right, and in 2023 decided to take his following to the street.. Now, just two years removed from that initial formation, Pohlhaus’s band of neo-Nazis can be easily seen at rallies across the country thanks to their blood red dress code.

While all these groups have their own unique formation story, they tend to follow a similar vein to Blood Tribe: an established figure or figures in the movement form a group that recruits young men, in some cases minors, online and takes to the street when they feel ready. Both the Goyim Defense League and the NSC-131 follow this trend.

Similarly: the Aryan Freedom Network, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi organization headquartered in Dekalb County, Texas, is headed by American extremist royalty: Tonia Sue Berry, whose father was the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and Dalton Henry Stout, whose father was an arms dealer and the leader of the Church of the Ku Klux Klan. The Aryan Freedom Network formed as an online networking hub in 2018, held their first in-person conference in 2021 and formalized membership last year. Today they claim to have members across 25 states. In 2022, they began to show up to anti-drag protests.

“There’s definitely a mix of new recruitment and folks that have that organizational knowledge,” said Sarah Moore, an Anti-LGBTQ+ Extremism Analyst at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “We know there are a lot of young folks who are involved in these movements, including minors.

Another group whose tendrils extend across not just the U.S., but  Canada and some pockets of Europe, are the so-called Active Clubs. The Active Clubs were first formed by American neo-Nazi street fighter Robert Rundo in late 2020 while he was essentially in exile in eastern Europe attempting to dodge charges at home (he was eventually arrested and extradited to the United States.) The groups, inspired by European Nazis, are essentially white supremacist fitness/fight clubs. Local Active Club cells can be started by essentially anyone and are relatively autonomous. This ease of entry allowed the group to spread to almost every state in the U.S. and allowed skinheads to gain considerable influence in some cells. Now, after years of gestating, the groups are starting to show their faces publicly, quickly becoming one of the most active visible neo-Nazi groups.

National Socialist Florida is another group that’s formed in the past year that has international ties. The group’s leader, Josh Nunes, who claims to be a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, says he partly modeled the organization after the Australia-based National Socialist Network (ASN), according to ADL. Nunes credits ASN’s leader, white supremacist Thomas Sewell, as a mentor and advisor to his group. In a recent interview with NPR, Nunes said that anti-LGBTQ activism has been hugely beneficial for attracting new members. “We’ve just seen the largest upticks in recruitment from the drag stuff,” Nunes said.

According to researchers, this pulsation of expansion and constriction of groups and public activity is endemic to far-right groups.

"You will see these pulses like the beating of a heart. They come together, fall apart, come together, fall apart,” said Jacob Davey, the head of far-right research for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an anti-extremism think tank. “It's challenging the moments where they do come together which often coincides with very febrile political environments as well; be that around elections, be that around controversial politicians, be that around moments where certain communities such as the LGBTQ community are under scrutiny. That pattern of coming together and falling apart is the heartbeat which runs alongside the mid to long term history of extreme right."

2024 Looms

The conditions that make it possible for neo-Nazis to brazenly march through towns and cities across America are the same conditions that contribute to hate crimes, says Levin. Both are symptoms of a much deeper problem, one that he fears will become even worse as we hurtle towards what’s expected to be a highly contentious election year in 2024.

In May, the Department of Homeland Security put out a threat advisory, warning that individuals could be mobilized to commit violence in the coming months over a variety of factors, including their perceptions of the 2024 election cycle. “Likely targets of potential violence include US critical infrastructure, faith-based institutions, individuals or events associated with the LGBTQIA+ community, schools, racial and ethnic minorities, and government facilities and personal including law enforcement.”

Hate crimes typically fluctuate in peaks and valleys, and the peaks have historically coincided with general election years, said Levin. Last year, hate crimes in America’s 10 biggest cities hit record highs. The largest increases in hate crimes were targeting non-white people, Jewish people, and the LGBTQ community.

Hate crimes in 2023 have seen a slight downturn—as have the number of organized hate groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But the temperature remains very high, and the downturns are not as steep as they should be ahead of 2024.

“I haven’t seen anything like this in my 37 years of tracking it,” said Levin. “This accelerating aggressive Nazism and other types of bigotry is a warning that we are not heeding.”

Source

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress | Designed by: Premium WordPress Themes | Thanks to Themes Gallery, Bromoney and Wordpress Themes