When the police arrived, 22-year-old white supremacist Brandon Russell was seated on the curb outside of his apartment in Tampa, Florida. His head was in his hands as tears streamed down his face. The horror of what he’d just witnessed haunted him; the founder of the “Atomwaffen Division” neo-Nazi cell had returned to the home he shared with three other young neo-Nazis after a weekend away in May 2017. Two of his roommates had been shot dead by his third roommate, 18-year-old Devon Arthurs.
The Tampa police searched the apartment. In the unit’s garage space, the detectives found a cache of weapons and supplies for a bomb-making operation, including “sacks of explosive precursors,” radioactive materials and two Geiger counters. In the apartment, the police found a copy of Mein Kampf, the white power novel The Turner Diaries and a framed photograph of Timothy McVeigh.
For young white supremacists, these three items are an unholy trilogy — a starter kit for racial violence. They’re also physical proof that the young white supremacists typically labeled “lone wolves” are, in fact, part of a highly motivated, loosely organized international network who all share the same hateful agenda.
In the wake of the recent mass shooting of 13 people at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, many have begun to decode the manifesto left behind by the shooter, Payton Gendron, to try to make sense of the attack. Early analysis has shown that Gendron pulled large portions of his manifesto from the New Zealand Christchurch mosque shooter’s manifesto, simply swapping out the use word “Muslim” for “Black.” Though some of what is included can be seen as intentional trolling of its readers, he also mentions previous mass shooters, like Brenton Tarrant (the Christchurch shooter), John Earnest and Dylann Roof by name. And much of the rhetoric and ideology he borrows — like other violent white supremacists before him — stem from the same hateful philosophies and key figures in the movement.
In 2019, when New York Times journalist Jamelle Bouie visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial that commemorates the victims of McVeigh’s violence, he noticed that the museum largely ignores what motivated the killer. As Bouie notes, “there is little discussion of McVeigh’s ideology,” and that visitors do “learn that McVeigh read and drew from The Turner Diaries — a lurid fantasy of apocalyptic ‘race war’ by the neo-Nazi author William Pierce — but we’re left in the dark about his ties to larger networks of white power activists.”
Pierce’s novel tells the story of a fight to make a white ethnostate and the genocidal violence necessary to achieve it. As The Atlantic previously described it, “Before there was an alt-right, there was The Turner Diaries.” Indeed, Pierce’s self-published novel “has helped inspire dozens of armed robberies and more than 200 murders in the decades since its publication.” This includes McVeigh, who had a photocopy of a highlighted passage from the book on him the day of the Oklahoma City bombing:
“The real value of our attacks today lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties. More important, though, is what we taught the politicians and the bureaucrats. They learned this afternoon that not one of them is beyond our reach. They can huddle behind barbed wire and tanks in the city, and they can hide behind the concrete walls of their country estates, but we can still find them and kill them.”
In 1995, before McVeigh’s bombing, there were an estimated 220 militias in the U.S. By the following year, there were 850. And with every year since, other violent white supremacists have studied McVeigh, including Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in a mass shooting in Norway in 2011 and wrote in his manifesto about how McVeigh’s violence inspired his own. A decade later, McVeigh has become symbolic shorthand for young white supremacists. Like when white supremacist Jason D’Juan Garfield posted, “Just fucking McVeigh the DNC” on a private Facebook group, called “Right Wing Death Squad,” before he was arrested by the FBI in 2019. (At least one member of the Facebook group was also in contact with members of Brandon Russell’s cell of neo-Nazis in Tampa.)
Then there’s David Lane, the white supremacist who wrote the “White Genocide Manifesto.” Lane was once a member of The Order, a white power group directly inspired by The Turner Diaries. In addition to coining the term “white genocide” — later used in the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto, and copied into Gendron’s screed — Lane also came up with the white supremacist slogan now known as the “14 Words”: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” At one point in his own manifesto, Gendron asks himself, “What do you want?” He answers with the 14 Words.
That’s the nature of the modern white power movement –– they communicate with each other through memes and manifestos, codes and symbols and how-to guides for mass carnage. They urge each other online with shitposts and livestreamed violence, coordinating future strikes while selling each other weapons — each generation attempting to improve on the efforts of the last. These young men are not “lone wolves”; they’re part of an international movement with decades of violent screeds and acts of mass murder that build on one other — a movement that’s only been strengthened by advances in technology and digital communications.
In fact, the concept of an army of “lone wolves,” and the plausible deniability of a larger movement that comes with the term, was set into motion by former American Nazi Party member James Mason, who wrote missives about the coming race war to try to inspire the foot soldiers. “We must have acts of revolution, the sooner the better, the more the merrier,” he implored in his book Siege. “But these are all of a nature that they can and MUST be carried out by INDIVIDUALS and that removes all requirement for talk, the possibility of ‘conspiracy’ and the danger of a leak! The lone wolf cannot be detected, cannot be prevented and seldom can be traced.”
In 2017, when Devon Arthurs shot and killed his neo-Nazi roommates in Tampa, he warned authorities that they didn’t understand what they were up against. “The things that they’re planning were horrible. They’re planning bombings and stuff like that on countless people, they’re planning to kill civilian life,” Arthurs told detectives.
But law enforcement was slow to listen. After the FBI spoke with the other surviving roommate, Russell, they released him. He told the agents that what looked like bomb-making supplies were merely model rocket parts. Hours later, Russell was arrested alongside another neo-Nazi with homemade body armor, an assault rifle and a thousand rounds of ammunition. The arresting officer would later recall, “We were convinced that we had just stopped a mass shooting.”
Meanwhile, Arthurs had attempted to convince the FBI he wasn’t the only one to worry about. The neo-Nazi even offered to show the FBI on his computer what they seemed unwilling to see or believe. “I think that it would open some eyes to a much bigger thing than what happened today, and I think that I could definitely, basically save a lot of lives overall,” he said.
Again, these “lone wolves” see each other as “partisans” and comrades in the same race war. Just because the rest of us may not see the same future doesn’t mean we aren’t participants in the same fight –– because they’re waging war, one “lone wolf” at a time.