The FBI says there is 'cause for concern' after weapons and drugs were found in a car belonging member of the white supremacist group.
Aidan Bruce-Umbaugh and Kaleb James Cole were still on the first leg of the 3,740-kilometre trip from Houston to Seattle.
They’d been driving for more than eight hours and had crossed most of Texas, but their trip came to an abrupt stop when they were pulled over last month in Post, Texas, according to court records.
Both dressed in tactical clothing when the routine traffic stop brought them to a halt, Bruce-Umbaugh and Cole are reportedly members of Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group linked to a lengthy list of failed attacks in recent months and at least five murders since 2015.
Police deputies asked if the pair had any weapons stashed in the blue Ford Focus. “Oh yeah, we have rifles in the back,” replied Bruce-Umbaugh, the criminal complaint notes.
The police officers searched the vehicle and found a nine millimetre pistol, two AK-47 rifles, an AR-15 pistol, thousands of rounds of ammunition, marijuana and THC oil, according to the criminal complaint.
The officers ticketed and set free Cole, but they arrested Bruce-Umbaugh, who admitted that the weapons and drugs belonged to him.
Now locked up, Bruce-Umbaugh is facing a federal charge for possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance.
If convicted, Bruce-Umbaugh could wind up in prison for up to ten years.
“The large amount of weapons and ammunition seized from the defendant is alarming and we understand there is a cause for concern,” Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno of the Dallas Field Office said in a statement.
“The FBI works with our law enforcement partners daily to protect our communities from harm. We want to reassure the public that swift action was taken to remove weapons from a dangerous individual.”
As US authorities grapple with an uptick in white nationalist bloodshed, the arrest of the obscure neo-Nazi highlights the ongoing threat of mass violence carried out by so-called “lone wolf attackers”, individuals radicalised online and prompted to carry out shootings and other attacks.
After an alleged white nationalist gunman shot dead at least 22 people at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas, in August, federal, state and local law enforcement stymied a string of would-be attacks around the country.
At the time of publication, TRT World was unable to reach the US Department of Justice for comment.
Experts say Atomwaffen Division, a shadowy group founded in 2015, represents the most extreme and violent fringes of the white nationalist movement, often glorifying the notion of civilisational collapse and calling for the toppling of the US government.
“Atomwaffen was the most predictable moment in the white nationalist movement in a kind of post-Trump era,” Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today and an expert on the US far right, told TRT World.
“Anytime the white nationalist movement fails to meet its goals and starts to decline, there is a contingent within that goes off the deep end,” he said.
Washington white nationalist rally sputters in sea of counter-protesters on the first anniversary of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia pic.twitter.com/PSAHHT0vVy— TRT World (@trtworld) August 14, 2018
‘Hand-to-hand combat and firearms’
In 2015, Atomwaffen Division announced its inception on Iron March, an online forum founded by a Russian white nationalist that brought together neo-Nazis from across the world.
Among the other groups tied to Iron March were Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, the United Kingdom’s banned neo-Nazi group National Action, and Italy’s self-described fascist party CasaPound.
Although Iron March was mysteriously shuttered in late 2017, Atomwaffen Division’s activities have continued to increase in recent years.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an Alabama-based hate monitor and civil rights organisation, Atomwaffen Division is made up of “a series of terror cells” and most of its members adhere to a violent form of Satanism.
The group draws ideological and strategic inspiration from late cult leader Charles Manson, neo-Nazi James Mason, and William Luther Pierce, the now-deceased leader of the National Alliance.
Investigative reports by ProPublica and other media outlets have uncovered evidence of the group’s activities in Florida, Texas and around the Pacific Northwest region of the US, among others.
More worrisome still, some members have been exposed as active or former enlistees in the US military.
The group’s first link to murder came in May 2017, when then AWD leader Brandon Russell shot and killed two of his roommates, both of whom were also involved in the organisation.
Russell reportedly killed the pair after they mocked him for recently converting to Salafi Islam.
The last murder took place in January 2018, when AWD member Samuel Woodward stabbed to death Blaze Bernstein, a gay Jewish teenager, in California.
Although nearly two years have passed since the killing, AWD members have continually been arrested and charged with crimes suggesting they planned to carry out more attacks.
In August, the FBI arrested 23-year-old Conor Climo, whom the agency said possessed parts to make a bomb, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The following month, the bureau arrested Andrew Thomasberg in Maclean, Virginia, for allegedly illegally selling firearms.
Thomasberg had joined AWD after leaving the now-defunct white nationalist group Vanguard America after the deadly Unite the Right rally in August 2017.
“Propaganda videos admitted into evidence - which spew hateful rhetoric against Jews - depict members of the AtomWaffen Division at self-described ‘hate camps’ practicing hand-to-hand combat and shooting firearms,” the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas said in a statement released last month after Bruce-Umbaugh’s arrest.
The far-right extremist group “The Base” has allegedly been recruiting far-right extremists online to give them paramilitary style training to prepare for a race war pic.twitter.com/9Wgt8Fy9kF— TRT World (@trtworld) August 23, 2019
‘Trump-inspired’ hate crimes
Since US President Donald Trump came to office in January 2017, the country has witnessed a sharp surge in far-right and white nationalist activity, including a lengthy spate of violent rallies and a more recent uptick in deadly attacks, such as mass shootings.
Although Trump has often disavowed the attacks, critics and experts blame the right-wing president from drumming up fear over immigration and mainstreaming violent rhetoric.
“There were nearly a thousand hate crimes in month after Trump was elected, and half were [committed by] people who either referenced Trump’s name or rhetoric directly,” journalist David Neiwert, author of Alt-America, told TRT World, referring to the month following the November 2016 presidential election.
In August 2017, white nationalists and neo-Nazis from around the country descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for Unite the Right, the country’s largest far-right rally in recent years.
Throughout the day, far-right protesters clashed with counter-demonstrators and community members, and the rally ended with a participant ramming his car into a crowd of anti-racist marchers and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
In the wake of that rally, Trump claimed that “both sides” – protesters and counter-demonstrators – included “fine people”, prompting widespread criticism.
The number of neo-Nazi and white nationalist rallies has decreased during the two years following Unite the Right, but some believe the threat of mass violence has continued to grow.
‘Planning how to execute you’
In September, the US Department of Homeland Security produced a strategy document that revealed plans to clamp down on the growth of white nationalist violence around the nation.
In the past, several city police departments, counties and statewide law enforcement agencies have blocked TRT World’s Freedom of Information Act requests seeking more information on the group’s activities in Texas.
In October, fears were raised when news emerged that a local chapter of Atomwaffen Division had taken root in Germany.
Self-described members of a German branch of Atomwaffen Division sent emails to two members of the progressive Green Party, threatening to the murder the politicians.
“We are currently planning how and when to execute you,” one of the emails, addressed to Cem Ozdemir, a Green Party politician of Turkish descent.
“At the next rally? Or will we get you outside your home?” the email continued.
Back in Lubbock, Texas, a federal magistrate judge denied Atomwaffen Division member Aidan Bruce-Umbaugh’s request for bond last week.
Defence attorney Michael King, however, has insisted that the federal government has failed to provide adequate evidence to establish a definitive link between Bruce-Umbaugh and Atomwaffen Division.
“We will continue to investigate factual and Constitutional defences as this case proceeds and wish to highlight that Mr Bruce-Umbaugh has never before been arrested or convicted of any crime and should still be presumed innocent,” King said, as quoted by the local Lubbock-Avalanche Journal newspaper.
For his part, expert Shane Burley predicts that “it is going to get worse before it gets better”.
“We need to have a better language and skill set in how we deal with the stages of decline in the white nationalist movement,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has a good answer for how to deal with Atomwaffen.”