Filed under: Analysis, Anti-fascist, Southeast, The State, White Supremacy
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Those who keep an eye on American fascisms may have read that on May 19th, Devon Arthurs, 18, a self-described “Salafist National Socialist,” shot two of his roommates, Andrew Oneschuk, 18, and Jeremy Himmelman, 22, in their Tampa Palms, Florida apartment the three shared with Brandon Russell, 21. Russell was a physics student at South Florida University, and also a private first class in the Florida National Guard and founder of the neo-Nazi group “Atomwaffen” (German for “atomic weapons,” or by some accounts “to go nuclear,” which uses the forums, Iron March), of which the other three had also been members. Most coverage so far has focused on the ‘bizarre’ fact of Arthurs’s conversion to Islam, widely quoting his statement to police at face value and thus seemingly arguing that Islam itself led to the shootings.
Only a few outlets have failed to bury the lead, which is that Russell and other members of Atomwaffen may well have been assembling a radioactive ‘dirty bomb,’ and the cops either released or failed to detain Russell after speaking with him on the day of the shooting, the same day investigators found chemicals and electrical devices the FBI characterized as bomb-making materials, along with radioactive thorium and americium, Nazi propaganda, and a framed picture of white nationalist mass murderer, Timothy McVeigh.
While the ‘Islamist’ aspect has dominated coverage, it almost seems banal by now to point out that had all four of the men been Muslim, perhaps immigrants, perhaps dark-skinned, with the makings of a dirty bomb, ISIS propaganda and a framed picture of Mohamed Atta, this would have be front-page news around the country a week ago.
Meanwhile, fascists have greeted the Trump administration’s signals that government pursuit of ‘extremists’ would ignore white supremacists and focus primarily on Islamists, and one imagines, anarchists, antifascists, Native warriors, anti-capitalists, etc, making all but explicit the racial, colonial and counter-insurgent subtexts the definition of ‘terrorism’ has always borne in American culture.
Since the rise of Trump, official reluctance to arrest or prosecute white nationalists, even when publicly inflicting life-threatening violence on activists of color, has become increasingly open leading up to Inauguration Day, when a fascist shot an anarchist in Seattle, and the pogrom-like Tax Day events facilitated by the Berkeley police. While the Oath Keepers militia went to Ferguson in 2015 to support police, in 2017 it seems that the cops are falling over themselves to support fascists, showing blatant favoritism that signals permission to do whatever horrible shit they can.
In March, the Bundy militia were let off the hook for a second armed confrontation with the federal government, while dozens of states have begun passing legislation escalating repression, including labeling activists “economic terrorists,” and already some J20 protesters face 75 years in prison. Recent leaks show #NoDAPL water protectors, who were literally terrorized by white supremacist vigilantes on a number of occasions, were also treated as terrorists and subjected to counter-insurgency techniques. Meanwhile, Brandon Russell only faces 11 years in prison.
This is the context to keep in mind, as we return to the events of May 19th and the question of just what these assholes were up to. That Friday evening, Arthurs killed Oneschuk and Himmelman, (whose families have since tried to claim weren’t neo-Nazis; we call bullshit and say good riddance to bad garbage), in the apartment the three shared with Russell in Tampa Palms, and was arrested after briefly taking hostages at a nearby smoke shop. According to the manager Arthurs ranted, “The world was corrupt, crazy stuff like that… He said he wanted CNN to come.” Police and court documents also indicate that Arthurs made a bunch of comments about Islam to his hostages and to police, specifically about how he killed his neo-Nazi roommates for disrespecting his new faith and as a protest against American military violence in Muslim countries. It also includes a statement all the more chilling in light of what investigators found in the apartment shortly after, “He also stated that his two deceased roommates, along with a third roommate, Brandon Russell, were neo-Nazis and that he wanted to prevent them from committing planned acts of domestic terrorism.”
Russell evidently evaded the massacre by arriving on the scene shortly after the killings, as he was returning home from National Guard duty. But even after law enforcement found bomb making materials in Russell’s apartment, in which two people had just been murdered, and after he admitted his neo-Nazi beliefs to police, he then was apparently just turned loose. Currently, there seems to be no publicly available information regarding his whereabouts or activities any time between then and two days later when he was arrested in Key Largo on charges of possession of an unregistered destructive device and unlawful storage of explosive material.
Watson Fincher, a former white nationalist associate who remained friends with Arthur while (he says) distancing himself from his far-right past, gives some insight into Atomwaffen, yet another group that like much of the Alt-Right has often not been taken more seriously than as ‘just a bunch of nerds larping.’ Fincher professes shock: “I thought maybe they [Arthurs and Russell] would blow up a mail box or beat someone up and go to jail for six months,” and says he had been hoping they would, “grow up and leave it behind.” By his account, Arthurs and Russell were longtime friends from the Orlando area, whom he got to know through online white nationalist chat rooms.
At some point prior to his conversion to Islam, Russell named Arthurs second-in-command and the two got the apartment together with Oneschuk and Himmelman, who moved down from the Boston area to live with them (a prime reason for calling bullshit on some relatives’ claims that the two were not neo-Nazis; they said the two had never explained how they knew the Floridians). According to Fincher, Atomwaffen “claimed to have 20 to 40 members, some of whom, like Russell, were either in the military or thinking of joining. They join the military mainly to gain fighting skills… A lot came from bad homes, or if they didn’t, had zero direction and dead-end jobs.”
Fincher recalls how “words eventually evolved into actions” as the duo began alt-right propaganda campaigns on campuses around the state and ran a website that urged readers, ISIS-like, to carry out lone wolf violent terrorism of the sort Alt-Right adherents have been committing with increasing frequency. Atomwaffen members elsewhere have been carrying out similar activities as well as “militant training.” In January, Radar Online reported on their combination of proselytizing to academia and not just recruiting like ISIS but actually praising Islamist violence from the Pulse massacre to Hamas (which needless to say has been controversial on the Alt-Right), noting their social media accounts describe Omar Mateen and Timothy McVeigh as ‘heroes,’ saying “Hitler would have supported the Palestinians.”
It’s not clear yet what, if anything, this might have had to do with Arthurs’ conversion to Islam, or how that will complicate this case. Fincher says Arthurs, “Would jump from one ideology to the next… He was an atheist. Then Catholic. Then Orthodox Christian. Then Nazi. Then Muslim. He latched onto the esthetics of anything that looked cool.” As Siyanda Mohutsiwa famously tweeted on Nov. 9th, “When we talk about online radicalization we always talk about Muslims. But the radicalization of white men online is at astronomical levels.” A recent study in 2016 found that in fact, neo-Nazi and Alt-Right groups online were growing faster than the Islamic State.
Indeed, in fact, it’s going nuclear. To recap: we have Brandon Russell, a self-proclaimed “fanatical” extremist known to have called for terrorism and genocide, who is part of a movement that has been carrying out such violence with increasing frequency, who leads a group called “Atomic Weapons” and seems to have been literally fucking building an atomic weapon. Meanwhile, police, who have just been told by his closest known associate that he has been planning a terrorist attack, is apparently allowed to just walk away from the active crime scene of a double homicide at his residence and disappear for two days before being taken into custody, for the first time.
As we stay tuned for developments, let’s be clear about what this tells us about the reality we now inhabit. The Alt-Right is an out-of-control and increasingly violent terrorist movement that the government has no interest in reining in. American settler society is so profoundly based around white supremacist violence that it still cannot call white supremacists terrorists, even when the violence they aspire to is planetary.
Atomwaffen represents the kind of post-ironic Alt-Right that is now beginning to show its own, true face. Their self-description states: “We are [a] very fanatical, ideological band of comrades who do both activism and militant training […] keyboard warriorism is nothing to do with what we are […] if you don’t want to meet up and get things done don’t bother.” Its roots in millennial internet and gamer culture, misogyny, and heterodox pluralism towards Islam argue its inclusion within the overlap of the Alt-Right and a more classic type of far-Right paramilitary group.
While there is something to be said for critiques of ‘antifa-centric’ activity, it’s also not like we can just choose to not live in a moment when fascism is an existential threat, when it wouldn’t be lethally dangerous to not take people like this very seriously. Here’s one more tidbit of this nuclear neo-Nazi nightmare to keep you up at night, as Heavy.com relates:
Oneschuk’s Facebook cover photo shows men in camouflage and weapons posing with a Trump sign. On the comment thread, he appears to be commenting that Trump will destroy NATO, which he supports.
“Tfw your president wants to put nato in the ground too,” Oneschuk wrote under the photo. A friend commented, “tfw trump will fix this sh*thole,” and Oneschuk responded, “He’s going to make pre fallout 3 real.”
The Fallout video game series deals with a post apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by nuclear war.