FRONTLINE's 'New Nazis' Investigates Proliferation Of White Supremacists In America
The deadly attack on the tree of life synagogue in Pittsburgh last month was a grave reminder that hate and extremism are alive and metastasizing in America. A new documentary film from frontline airs tonight on PBS television. It's called documenting hate. New American Nazis. Here's a clip. This is just the beginning. Of a violent neo nazi movement. What do you think was going on in this house. They were making bombs. Are ones synagogues. Right. The film is produced by my guest A.C. Thompson who is a staff reporter with Pro Publica. AC welcome. Thank you for having me on. Now the group you report on in the film is called the Adam Waffen division. Tell me about them. So it's a relatively new group that was founded in 2015 in Florida and since then has spread out all over the country and also into Canada. We believe the group has somewhere between 60 to 80 members at any given time. So it's a small group but the thing about it is out of all the new white supremacist groups this is probably the most extreme most militant most bent on violence out of all those organizations. And what makes them so extreme. You know they have an ideology that says we're not going to get what we want and what we want is a fascist whites only state. We're not going to get that through protest or politics or electing people to office. The only way we're going to get that is through violence assassination and terrorism and bringing down the U.S. government. And so if that's the foundation of your thought that's going to immediately lead to pretty drastic actions. And how were you able to get so much inside information about this group. Yeah I shouldn't talk about that. But what I can tell you is that we were able to talk to former members who had left the group and had deep misgivings about the group. They've been and they wanted to say hey you know this is what's really going on you're dealing with a domestic terror group that wants to commit mass casualty attacks and nobody has taken them down yet. Nobody has gotten involved here on the law enforcement side. And we think it's important to raise alarms that's basically honestly been the key to the reporting and I'd like to play some audio from the film of a conversation that you had with a former member named John and I should let our listeners know that his voice is disguised. Here's a portion of that conversation we'll hear you first and then him back to Charlottesville. People started coming into the group. SIEGEL How did you support. Not quite as good because your work droughts don't work. All the help people get arrested is jobs and some of your workforce. So it just our place. You have to embrace huge. So so there you hear John say that after Charlottesville the group moved underground. What does he mean by that. I mean does that mean they've stopped committing acts of violence. Know what it means. In the middle of 2017 the unwelcome division said to its members don't go to protest don't show up in public with our banner or flag or our logo. Everything we're doing from now on is in secret. It's clandestine and we are basically laying the groundwork to become terrorist and guerrilla fighting force. And so that's what he's talking about. You're supposed to go off the grid and keep yourself away from the authorities and out of the public eye so that you can strike back at the government the big corporations the Jews people of color et cetera. So what do we know that they've done since Charlottesville and what types of things are they connected to. So north of where you're at in Orange County in Adam Walk-In member Sam Woodward is accused of a hate crime and homicide for allegedly murdering a gay Jewish college student Lais Bernstein in Orange County. So he's pleaded not guilty and is facing trial on that in Virginia. All aware of the group a teenage 17 year old neo nazi allegedly murdered. The parents of his ex-girlfriend because they had been unhappy with her dating a neo nazi in Florida the founder of the group was arrested on better all explosives charges. And when the agents and local police went to his house he had radioactive material high powered explosives all kinds of firearms and ammunition. Geiger counters detonators pieces of pipe bombs and a lot of other stuff. Another member of the group is also implicated in a double murder. So that's the kind of body count and the kind of stuff that we're talking about with this group. Is there a connection between the autumn in division and the massacre in Pittsburgh. So that's a really fascinating question. Robert Bowers the man has been implicated in that killing is an older guy mostly Adam wifing recruits. There's somewhere between 18 and 25 that's pretty much their deal it's mostly younger people. Robert Bowers a middle aged white dude. But what we know is so we don't we don't believe that he was involved with the group but we know that he was communicating online with a pair of brothers who are tied to the group. One of those brothers is handl showed up in the Adam wapp and chat logs and was at least familiar with other members of the group and likely was operating in their circle. The other brother had Adam often propaganda in his apartment. The FBI is now looking into this connection to the tree of life synagogue. We don't know where it's going to go but there definitely seems to be some kind of connection between the Adam opon division these two brothers and Robert Bowers and through your reporting you also found that autumn lofe in division has been recruiting in the U.S. military. How have they been able to do that. And what has been the result. We know that these new white supremacist groups like Adam wapp and are recruiting veterans from the military and also active duty service members and that what they want is the skills that those people bring with firearms with combat with explosives and they want to use it against the government. And so that is a sort of recruiting drive that these groups are engaged in. And so we're just trying to highlight that myself and my colleagues and say hey look this is a problem. The vast bulk of people in the armed services are wonderful people. But there there's this small contingent that seemed to want to use their skills against the government and against people of color. And how have the military and intelligence agencies reacted. Do federal authorities see this group as a terrorist threat. Our understanding is that the FBI is currently investigating the group and when the FBI gave us a statement they suggested that there is an ongoing investigation into the group one on the military side. We know that the military court martialed one person who is in this group that was identified in our reporting who has an active duty Marine and kicked that person out of the Marine Corps but we're not really sure what the military is doing on a systematic level to sort of root out this small hardcore of sort of militant white supremacists that managed to operate within the services. And in covering this. Are there any other takeaways that you learned from this story. You know I tell you a thing that was interesting to me is that when this movement was really having its revival starting out late 2015 2016 it was really animated by a few things. It was animated by anti immigrant sentiment. It was animated by anti Muslim sentiment. It was animated by homophobia and anti LGBT sentiment and a lot of this was sort of coming out of the headlines. You know it was stuff that these people were seeing on CNN or Fox News and they felt angry about in the last year what you've really seen is the movement embracing this deeper anti-Semitism that has sort of propelled the move. The Nazi movement for decades and decades and so now you see a deeper thing coming out. And I think that's what we saw in Pittsburgh documenting hate. New American Nazis it airs tonight at 9:00 on PBS television. And I've been speaking to Pro Publica reporter and producer of the film A.C. Thompson AC. Thank you so much. Hey thank you.
The deadly attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last month was a grave reminder that hate and extremism are alive and metastasizing in America.
Documenting Hate: New American Nazis, a new documentary film from FRONTLINE, looks at the rise of white supremacist groups in America. It airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on KPBS television.
A.C. Thompson, a staff reporter with Pro-Publica, reported and produced the film. He joins Midday Edition Tuesday with more on what he calls the most extreme group he has reported on, Atomwaffen Division.