How a Terror Group Recruited Budding Neo-Nazis

Members of groups like Patriot Front and the Green Brigade told members of the Base they felt like the neo-Nazi terror cell was the next step.

Vice/November 24, 2020

By Mack Lamoureux, Ben Makuch and Zachary Kamel

A neo-Nazi terror group under a nationwide FBI crackdown attempted to integrate members of a quickly growing but less militant far-right group, revealing the strengthening ties within the country's broader white nationalist movement.

The Base, the group under investigation by the FBI, aspired to be the decentralized, militant training arm of the entire far-right ecosystem. Despite the group’s apparent collapse following the arrest of nearly a dozen members globally this year, a series of secret recordings obtained by Motherboard from within the group showed how the Base successfully added members and leaders of several nationalist white-supremacist networks to its ranks.

The recordings make it clear that the disparate actors in the extreme far right are networking and successfully building coalitions—something experts have warned could make the larger global fascist movement exceedingly dangerous.

In October 2019, Chris Hood sent an email to the Base. Semi-notorious in Boston and beyond for his far-right antics, Hood proclaimed that he had a network of nearly 30 militant friends in New England ready to take the next step in their journey with the neo-Nazi cause. They were members of the group Patriot Front—a large and active U.S. white supremacist organization—and hoped to join the Base. Rinaldo Nazzaro, the Base’s leader, was elated.

Hood was quickly vetted by cell leaders. He told the group he had been previously doxxed and arrested for putting up white nationalist propaganda in his town. Despite his having been doxxed and arrested, members of the Base believed Hood’s exuberant dedication to the cause could be a useful asset for expansion.

Chris Hood and Patriot Front did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment on this article.

Patriot Front formed in 2018 and comes from the same far-right nucleus that Vanguard, a group that James Fields, the terrorist who killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville with his car, was a part of. Patriot Front is well known for its trolly stunts and activities promoting white supremacy, and claims membership in the hundreds, as reported by Buzzfeed in a recent investigation.

Experts have long said that groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Front work as a gateway into more militant and extreme organizations. Nazzaro explicitly agreed with this sentiment when discussing one Patriot Front member's application to the Base. “I look, personally, at Patriot Front like a gateway drug to us,” he said during a secretly recorded vetting call. “I think you guys are a good means of recruiting people, pulling them a little further into our sphere.”

During the call, Brian Lemley Jr., one of the Base members who was arrested in January, laughed and said Hood could be the first convert as the Base starts to “slowly consume Patriot Front.”

In the call with Hood, the Patriot Front member described a journey similar to many members of the group. He said that he was a Proud Boy for a short period of time, but was quickly let down by the group because they weren’t far enough right. This led him to seek out more hardline far-right actors before he found himself with Patriot Front. Throughout his membership, he grew to be a trusted member of the organization and became their organizer of the northeast United States. After over a year in the group, he began to find that the regular activities of Patriot Front—typically street activism like trolling, postering, and attempting to make viral videos—weren't satiating his need for action.

“We were getting more and more disenfranchised with the current formula of things,” said Hood on the call. “Spending hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours to plan these things and pull them off for a couple hundred likes and views on Twitter … We’ve been talking about reaching out to you guys, just more about militant-right type of stuff. That’s kind of the direction some of the guys want to go in.”

The two groups “support different tactics and ideologies,” Joshua Fisher-Birch, a researcher at the Counter Extremism Project, told VICE. Fisher-Birch said that groups like Patriot Front helps more militant groups like the Base as it becomes a fertile recruitment ground.

“The Base sought to train and link members of different white supremacist groups as long as they shared their accelerationist goals, mainly, that they acknowledge that the fall of government and society is necessary,” said Fisher-Birch.“It is important to note that because this ideology is so extreme, that it is a relatively small number of people who are interested in joining but allowing members to continue their membership with other groups would increase the potential quantity of recruits.

“This type of organization would also allow the Base to attempt to recruit from a small pool of individuals from white supremacist groups who might otherwise be siloed.”

Fisher-Birch said it was a recruitment tactic reminiscent of another infamous neo-Nazi terror group. “This is similar to Robert Jay Mathews’ attempt to recruit individuals from different groups to join the neo-Nazi group The Order in the early 1980s,” he said. (The Order went on to become a highly effective organization that was responsible for a slew of bankrobberies, arsons, and the assassination of a Jewish radio host. Mathews, its leader, eventually died in a gunfight with FBI agents in December 1984.)

In the fall of 2019, Hood and three other Patriot Front compatriots were vetted and allowed into the Base. The plan was to start with them and then slowly bring in others. Hood was worried that going from Patriot Front to the Base would be a “big step,” but hoped “if a couple of guys get in and have a good experience the rest will follow in due time.” During this time, fall of 2019, the Base was seeing a boon of new applicants, and members would sometimes spend hours each day answering emails and vetting recruits. In one call between Nazarro and cell leaders, Nazarro warned of the dangers of "burnout," emphasizing the need to pace themselves as the organization grew. Many of the prospective members came from organizations similar to Patriot Front, but Motherboard isn’t naming them so as not to drive up recruitment.

Hood would eventually be kicked out of Patriot Front for his dealings with the Base, but lived up to his reputation within the group, eager for action and reaction. On November 10, 2019, Hood organized a meetup in Boston with three other Base associates. They met at 8 p.m. at a Panera Bread in the city’s Fenway district, and their vandalism made headlines the next day. Unlike his previous postering spree Hood was not caught for this one. He became an asset for them and would later use the organizational skills he picked up in Patriot Front to set up the Base’s Telegram channel.

It wasn’t just well-known white supremacist youth groups that the Base recruited from: They also would happily take members from lesser-known groups, as was the case with the Green Brigade, an eco-fascist organization created online in 2019. Green Brigade drew its Gen-Z members from meme websites like iFunny and would eventually be linked to a mink farm fire in Sweden. The leader of the group, a 20-year-old Oregon-based neo-Nazi who called himself the Ecologist, sent an email to the Base that was obtained by Motherboard outlining how his group could help them and proposed an “alliance between the two groups.”

During his vetting call, the Ecologist was nervous and sloppy, a sharp contrast to the Hood’s cocky and composed attitude. At one point, he spoke about the “bombings” and “arsons” he hoped he and his neo-Nazi compatriots would accomplish before Nazzaro quickly told him to never speak about his aspirational terror attacks on channels that may be monitored. The group forgave his exuberance, however, upon learning of his network of people. When the Ecologist told the Base that several members of his organization couldn’t make the jump to the group, as they were under the Base’s age limit of 17, Nazzaro had an idea: Use the Green Brigade to groom the young neo-Nazis until they were of age, like a Hitler Youth for the new millennium.

“The way I view it is that those [underage guys] can’t be a part of the Base until they turn 17,” said Nazzaro. "But if you want to keep them in your organization, and you have a use for them and keep them compartmentalized, that’s fine.” 

While the Green Brigade would maintain the appearance of autonomy, and the Ecologist disputed allegations that the group essentially became a wing of the Base in other secret chats, the groups were tightly tied. Motherboard spoke with a former member of Green Brigade who said that this affiliation caused dissent and that many who did not adhere to the extreme national socialist views of the Base abandoned Green Brigade.

While a group of fascists hyper-focused on the environment cohabitating with more hardline neo-Nazis thirsty for violence isn’t something you see everyday, in the Base it was welcomed. “There is strength in numbers and the more like minded guys we can pull together that have the motivation that can get out there in real life and train that makes us stronger,” said Nazzaro during a vetting call. “As a result we’re open to people who have membership in other organizations … We’re here to train people and network and what people do outside of the base with that training and contacts is their business.”

For Nazzaro, this was a numbers game. While the turnover rate of Base members was high, at least one or two true believers stuck around from every large assimilated group. Two Green Brigade members and two Patriot Front members, with several others waiting to be vetted, were members of the Base when it collapsed following the 2020 arrests. By sifting through these groups Nazzaro would find what he was looking for, members who, as he put it, are “willing to get their hands dirty.”

“We definitely have a revolutionary mindset and that’s the kinds of guys that we’re looking for,” he told one Patriot Front applicant. “Why? It’s not just to be edgy or something, it’s because we don’t see any other political solution, so I mean if we can’t achieve what we need to through conventional means, political means, it kind of just leaves one conclusion.”

Nazzaro has yet to be charged by the U.S. government and is currently living in Russia. The first trials of Base members begin later this year.

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