Neo-Nazi group gaining membership in Florida

The Anti-Defamation League says the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen posts propaganda posters similar to this on college campuses nationwide
The Anti-Defamation League says the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen posts propaganda posters similar to this on college campuses nationwide

The Tampa man arrested in Key Largo last Sunday on federal explosives charges is a self-proclaimed white supremacist and member of a small neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen, German for “atomic weapons,” that appears to have a growing following nationwide, and particularly in Florida.

Lonny Wilk, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate groups, said Atomwaffen “has been on our radar” well before the May 21 arrest of Brandon Russell and before the double homicide to which his roommate, Devon Arthurs, confessed last Friday.

Some of its members claim Atomwaffen is most active in Florida, although its propaganda has been spotted across the country — mostly on college campuses, Wilk said.

A mission statement of sorts on the group’s Iron March website states: “We are a very fanatical, ideological band of comrades who do both activism and military training. Hand-to-hand, arms training and various other forms of training. As for activism, we spread awareness in the real world through unconventional means. Keyboard warriorism is nothing to do with what we are.”

At the crime scene in Tampa — an apartment shared by Russell and Arthurs — police and federal agents uncovered explosives, guns and white supremacist propaganda, as well as a framed photograph of Timothy McVeigh, the domestic terrorist who in 1995 bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

Russell, 21, told Tampa Police last Friday he was a member of Atomwaffen. A search of the garage underneath his apartment uncovered a cooler full of explosives — which he said were made years earlier for a college engineering club project. The police were there to investigate the murders of two men — Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found in the apartment.

Arthurs, 19, confessed to killing them because he said they repeatedly insulted his new-found Muslim faith, police say. There’s no indication Russell is connected to the murders.

Russell returned home from U.S. Army National Guard duty at the same time Arthurs led police to the bodies May 19. After being questioned by the FBI and Tampa police, Russell left Tampa and headed to the Keys some time between Friday and Sunday, before the FBI determined he should be arrested on the explosives charges.

Before his conversion, Arthurs was also a neo-Nazi, and Atomwaffen members posting on Iron March claimed Himmelman and Oneschukm as one of their own this week. They railed against Arthurs for killing them, and also expressed support for Russell.

‘He was our brother’

“His name was Andrew Onseschuk. He was our brother and friend. His name was Jeremy Himmelman. He was our brother and our friend,” an Iron March member wrote. “His name is Brandon Russell. He is our brother and our friend.”

Another poster said: “It’s enraging that two good men were killed because of some sperg who drank the Salafi koolaid.” Sperg is a derogatory term for someone with Asberger syndrome. Salafi is a conservative, ultra-orthodox Sunni Muslim.

One Iron March poster wrote that murders of Himmelman and Oneschuk should serve as a catalyst for Atomwaffen members to step up their activities, including potentially engaging in violence.

“This event will become an important milestone in Atomwaffen’s history. You guys need to become harder and crueler now. There should be no tolerance for any dissident opinion. I won’t say abandoning Atomwaffen and going seig lone wolf is either a logical or cowardly position to take. But this is the moment which decides if Atomwaffen becomes radical or not.”

Wilk said Atomwaffen likely started in early 2016. The Iron March website launched in 2011, which leads Wilk to believe Atomwaffen was formed by members of the online forum. The group creates “highly-visible, provocative graphics” for white supremacists to distribute on college campus and other places.

“Universities targeted have included the University of Central Florida, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, Old Dominion University, Boston University, University of Wisconsin, University of Chicago and Penn, among probable others,” Wilk said in an email.

According to the ADL, Atomwaffen has feuded recently with a like-minded neo-Nazi group calling itself American Vanguard, which also targets colleges and universities. Members of these groups tend to be males in their 20s, according to the ADL.

Russell had not been formally charged as of Thursday afternoon with possession of unregistered destructive devices and unlawful storage of explosive charges. His lawyer, Ian Goldstein, said his client intends to enter not-guilty pleas “if and when formal charges are filed.”

William Manley, spokesman for the Florida National Guard, said Russell is still considered a member.

“He’s still a member of the Florida National Guard and entitled to due process,” Manley said in an email. “As the investigation/case progresses, his status will be reviewed.”

Russell enlisted in February 2016. He is a transmission systems operator with the rank of private first class, Manley said.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204