ProPublica: Neo-Nazi Group Celebrated Blaze Bernstein’s Murder Online

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Members of Atomwaffen Division, a notorious neo-nazi group, gloated in the weeks following Blaze Bernstein’s murder. ProPublica, which first tied Bernstein’s accused killer, Samuel Woodward of Newport Beach, to Atomwaffen, obtained their secret chat logs in a damning new exposé published this morning. The nonprofit investigative team of A.C. Thompson, Ali Winston, and Jake Hanrahan sifted through roughly 250,000 messages that spanned over a six-month period offering new insights into the violent extremists. 

The Jan. 2 murder of the 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student visiting his Lake Forest home during winter break became a flash point for discussion. “Arn was the one man gay Jew wrecking crew tbh,” user “Henrich” posted on Jan. 31 (Woodward used the aliases “Saboteur” and later “Arn” in the group chat). “Samuel ‘Gay Jew Wrecking Crew’ Woodward, that’s his new name,” Kaleb J. Cole, posting as “Khimare,” added. Sean Micheal Fernandez, posting as “Wehrwolf,” predicted “copycat crimes” beneficial to the group in the wake of Woodward’s arrest.

But not all was celebratory in the encrypted Discord chat service primarily used by video gamers. ProPublica’s previous reporting sowed suspicions about what member may have leaked Woodward’s affiliation to the press. “Rats and traitors get the rope first,” one member posted. 

Based on the chat messages, ProPublica surmises that Atomwaffen (which means “nuclear weapons” in German) is active with cells in at least 23 states, including California. James Cameron Denton, who goes by “Rape” in the chats, is the group’s national leader. They organize three-day training “hate camps” to prepare for violent insurrection. Woodward attended a smaller training in Texas last year. 

Woodward also actively posted in the group chat before and after the Bernstein murder. He claimed to have met James Mason, a 65-year-old neo-nazi who authored the ultraviolent book Siege and is venerated as an intellectual father of sorts by group members. Woodward’s messages swayed from complaining about not having a girlfriend to praising Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf

Three days after the Bernstein murder, Woodward returned with a tone of resignation, writing to the group, “i just wanted to let you know i love you so much.” 

Woodward pleaded not guilty on Feb. 2  to the crime of fatally stabbing his former Orange County School of the Arts classmate and burying the body at Borrego Park in Lake Forest. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas held a press conference before Woodward’s court appearance to publicize a legislative effort by State Senator Janet Nguyen to add hate crime protections for those murdered because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Rackauckas didn’t directly address Woodward’s ties to Atomwaffen. He’s being held on $5 million bail and hasn’t been charged with any hate crime enhancements.

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