communicating in confidential online chats
in recent months have shared scores of documents detailing the
use of bombs, grenades, mines and other incendiary devices.
documents, which range from instructions on detonating dynamite to U.S.
military manuals for constructing improvised explosives and booby
passed around during online conversations among members of Anticom, a
and militant group that has emerged during the past year.
of the online
chats were made available to ProPublica by Unicorn Riot, a
collective that has reported critically on racist marches and
political rallies in cities around the U.S.
or Anti-Communist Action, views itself as a guerilla army fighting
it has called the radical elements of the country’s political left. On
social media channels, Anticom openly embraces fascist ideology and
and the group’s members have engaged in hate-filled talk involving
Muslims, immigrants and African Americans. In recent weeks Anticom has
out of the shadows as its members have provided security to so-called
champion Richard Spencer at a speaking event in Florida. Anticom also
organize a “White Lives Matter” protest in Shelbyville, Tennessee, last
is unclear how seriously the documents shared in the chats were
explored by any
of Anticom’s members or followers, much less whether the documents were
actually used to craft incendiary devices. But the transcripts of the
include racist talk and open mentions of mass killings.
user who posted the bomb-making documents, for instance, said he or she
to overthrow the U.S. government. “Death to all non whites,” the user
a chat forum post on April 26. Another Anticom member encouraged
construct a bomb and use it to carry out an attack in the style of the
Boston Marathon bombing.
chatroom logs shared with ProPublica show that Anticom members were in
communication with another extremist group, several members of which
surfaced in federal investigations.
May, federal agents searching the Tampa home of 21-year-old Brandon
discovered an array of explosives and bomb ingredients: fuses made from
shells, a white cake-like explosive substance called HMTD, more than
of ammonium nitrate and other explosive precursors, and two different
radioactive material. The agents promptly arrested Russell, who was
member of the Florida National Guard and a leader of Atomwaffen, a
fascist group calling for a “white revolution in the
authorities only uncovered Russell's bomb-making materials after his
and fellow Atomwaffen member Devon Arthurs killed two of their
Arthurs later told law enforcement that he acted in order to prevent
acts of domestic
terrorism, and that Atomwaffen intended “to build a FourthReich.”
participated in “neo-Nazi internet chat rooms where he threatened to
people and bomb infrastructure,” and was plotting to blow up a nuclear
plant near Miami, according to Arthurs.
pleading guilty in September to illegally possessing explosive material
unregistered destructive device, Russell is currently awaiting
which is scheduled for early next year.
attorney, Ian Goldstein, cast doubt on any link between Anticom and his
client’s explosives charges. Law enforcement didn’t find any manuals
building bombs in Russell’s home or on his computer, Goldstein said,
Anticom and its online chats never came up during his research for the
prosecutors in Florida would not comment on the case, or any potential
between Anticom and Russell and his neo-Nazi cell.
asked the FBI whether it was looking into Anticom and the bomb plans.
does not confirm or deny specific investigations. However, any
regarding violent criminal activity or threats of terrorism should be
promptly to the FBI,” said a national FBI spokesperson.
broadly, the FBI representative noted that the bureau concerns itself
potential acts of terrorism, not unpopular political beliefs. “Our
focus is not
on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit
other criminal acts. Furthermore, the FBI does not and will not police
through a designated spokesperson, did not dispute the authenticity of
logs, but said the group had months ago taken steps to ban people
violence from the online chats.
course we denounce that kind of behavior,” the person said. “If an
member built a bomb, he'd be banned as soon as we found out.” Despite
intensely hateful views expressed by many Anticom members, the
said “all races and ideologies are welcome” in the organization so long
person dismissed any suggestion that Anticom had a connection with
size is unknown, but it boasts chapters in at least 15 U.S. and
cities, and members have shown up waving the black-and-yellow Anticom
events across the country. (One of the organization’s logos shows a
being hurled from a helicopter, a tactic used by right-wing death
Chile and Argentina.) Anticom’s confidential online chats, which were
on an encrypted server hosted by service called Discord, give some
sense of the
organization’s possible scale: people using more than 1,200 different
participated in the discussions.
Simi, director of the Earl Babbie Research Center at Chapman
that violent and radical talk are part of the culture of white
— and that talk typically does not lead to action. Still, he
material was worrisome.
it takes is one person to do something with that information,” said
has interviewed dozens of white supremacists and co-authored the book
the span of about seven months this year — from early February to late
September — Anticom members posted more than 90,000 messages on the
server before being kicked off the service by company officials. The
discussions include plenty of profanity-laden racist and anti-Semitic
people with usernames like “Augusto Pinochet,” “deplorablepatriot,” and
“Haupstürmfuhrer Pepe.” More worrisome, though, are the incitements
April 26, one Anticom member posed a question to the rest of the group:
want access to my pdf library?” the person wrote. “137 pdfs of how to
in the PDF format, the cache of documents includes recipes for making
bombs from ammonium nitrate, scientific papers on the chemical
different explosive agents, an Army manual on deploying anti-personnel
and a guide to using radio frequencies to detonate explosives, a tactic
frequently used by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
of the bomb documents are highly technical, likely to be of little use
anyone but a skilled chemist or engineer. Other documents are old, like
book showing how to build hand grenades. As a whole, however, the
could easily provide a person with the tools to kill and wound scores
Berger, a fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in
Netherlands, said social media companies like Discord tend to downplay
dangers posed by racial extremists using their networks and are often
curb their activities. “White supremacists and antigovernment
always collected and distributed this kind of content. The internet
process easier and cheaper and more anonymous.”
said Discord should consider contacting law enforcement, if only out of
of caution. “It’s probably not appropriate to freak out,” Berger said,
situation like this merits more scrutiny.”
spokesperson for Discord, which is primarily used by video game
want to communicate by voice or text, while playing games, said the
chats were shut down in September once Discord was “alerted to activity
violation of our terms of service.” The company barred other white
groups off its servers in the aftermath of the lethal Unite the Right
Charlottesville in August. According to the spokesperson, Discord had
in contact with any authorities, but would cooperate in any
should one be undertaken.
Army manual shared by Anticom members offers step-by-step plans for
fire bombs by adding chemicals to gasoline or other readily available
But the documents go well beyond explosives. There are instructions on
military-type assault rifles and M249 machine guns, as well as
chat logs also describe plans for engaging in violence at political
during the past year. In the days before an April 15 rally in support
President Donald Trump in Berkeley, California, one Anticom member
event would turn into a “bloodbath.” After the rally, which
was marked by
a series of brutal street battles between right-wingers and leftists,
Anticom member boasted of breaking a rival’s jaw in the fighting.
originally ran at ProPublica and is
reprinted here with permission. ProPublica is a non-profit news
produces investigative journalism in the public interest.
was a recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for public service, the 2016
Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for
reporting and a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.
April 10, 2017 ProPublica and the New York Daily News won the Pulitzer
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