Police and federal agents around the country are investigating a neo-Nazi group that the FBI says was trying to build an al-Qaida-style terror network.
Seven members of The Base were arrested last week on a variety of accusations including plotting violence at a Second Amendment rally in Richmond, Virginia, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Some allegedly planned to kill people involved with Antifa and members of the media in Georgia, according to the FBI.
At least one undercover agent was able to get access to the group and some of the members’ online chats. Court filings and reports paint a picture of an extremist group with small cells around the country and ties stretching from rural Georgia to the Pacific Northwest.
What you need to know about The Base:
Organized like a terror group
According to the Anti-Defamation League, “The Base is a small militant neo-Nazi organization that emerged mid-2018 and is primarily active in the U.S.” The extremist group's leader, who has several aliases, described The Base as “kind of like a nationalist survivalist LinkedIn type of thing.”
The FBI said in court filings that members communicated through encrypted messaging systems and chat rooms. “In these communications, they have discussed, among other things, acts of violence against minorities (including African Americans and Jewish Americans), Base military training camps, and ways to make improvised explosive devices,” according to the filings.
“The Base cells have a significant degree of autonomy regarding their activities, and criminal conduct is typically not centrally coordinated in order to foster 'plausible deniability' among those not directly involved,” the FBI said.
According to The Guardian, “The Base” can be “an approximate English translation of 'al-Qaida.' ”
3 arrested in Richmond plot
Investigators say three men based in Maryland and Delaware planned to attack a Second Amendment rally in Richmond, according to ABC News.
The FBI arrested Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, and William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, and a Canadian national, 27-year-old Patrik Jordan Mathews.
On Aug. 19, Mathews left Canada and entered the United States near the Minnesota border, where he was picked up by the other two men and driven to Maryland, the Department of Justice said.
The men managed to piece together a working machine gun late last year, and in January they bought more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition, the feds said.
Police arrested the three before the Virginia rally, which ended peacefully.
3 arrested in Georgia
Police in Georgia arrested three other alleged members of The Base this month after they plotted to kill members of Antifa, an antifascist group, according to the Floyd County Police Department.
Investigators said “they were involved in a white supremacist group with plans to overthrow the government and murder a Bartow County couple.”
The Base had a training camp in Silver Creek, Georgia, an unincorporated rural area near Rome, about 50 miles northwest of Atlanta, police said.
An undercover FBI agent was able to infiltrate the group in July 2019, according to the department. He was there for discussions about the alleged murder plot and one of the men talking about planning to kill members of the media, according to police records.
Luke Austin Lane, 21, Michael John Helterbrand, 25, and Jacob Kaderli, 19, were charged with “conspiracy to commit murder and participation in the criminal gang known as 'The Base,' " police said.
Police arrested a seventh member of The Base last week in Wisconsin, 22-year-old Yousef O. Barasneh.
According to the DOJ, "Barasneh vandalized the Beth Israeli Sinai Congregation in Racine, Wisconsin, by spray-painting swastikas, the symbol for The Base, and anti-Semitic words on the exterior of the synagogue.”
A connection to Russia
Before Friday, the true identity of the leader of The Base was a mystery.
According to The New York Times, the man went by the names Norman Spear or Roman Wolf.
“Little is known about Mr. Spear, who calls himself a veteran of the conflicts of Afghanistan and Iraq and has been described on some social media accounts as living in Russia," The Times reported.
The British newspaper The Guardian reported Thursday that the leader’s real name is Rinaldo Nazzaro.
Credit: Social media photos
Credit: Social media photos
Nazarro, 46, “has a long history of advertising his services as an intelligence, military and security contractor. He has claimed, under his alias, to have served in Russia and Afghanistan.”
Nazarro has strong Philadelphia-area connections, including graduating in 1991 from the prestigious Delbarton School Catholic prep school in New Jersey, according to The Guardian.
A spokesman at Villanova University told The Philadelphia Inquirer Friday that a student named Ronald Nazzaro attended the university from 1991 to 1994, then withdrew before graduating. The student newspaper at the time listed him as a philosophy major.
He has held an address in North Bergen, New Jersey, but is now believed to be living in Russia. A video posted online in March showed him in Russia wearing a T-shirt with the image of President Vladimir Putin and the words “Russia, absolute power.”
The BBC, which on Friday also published its investigation of Nazzaro, traced him and his Russian wife to a property in St. Petersburg that was purchased in July 2018. Nazzaro’s New Jersey address was used for an entity called “Base Global” that has purchased land in Washington state, the location for a planned “white homeland," the BBC reported.
The Guardian was only able to locate one photograph of a man believed to be Nazzaro using his real name, from a question-of-the day section in the Villanovan, the university’s student newspaper, in 1994. A source who had met “Norman Spear” in person told the newspaper he believes that the 1994 photo of Nazzaro is the same person he met.
The Guardian said it had been investigating The Base for months before publishing the name of the man they believe is the founder of the extremist group.
The publication said it tracked down the man's real identity after he bought 10 acres in rural Washington. People were reportedly concerned he was going to create a training camp for The Base.
An arrest in November
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in November that federal authorities arrested another man affiliated with The Base, Richard Tobin of Camden County, for allegedly ordering the vandalism of synagogues in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Authorities said Tobin, 18, had envisioned the vandalized synagogues as part of a nationwide campaign he had dubbed “Operation Kristallnacht” — a reference to the organized ransacking of Jewish homes, schools and hospitals by Nazi paramilitaries and civilians in Germany in 1938.
Court documents say Tobin admitted to his involvement with an online forum for white supremacists identified in court papers only as “Group 1.” Details from the affidavit correspond to The Base, which describes itself as a “white protection league” and shares manuals on carrying out lone-wolf terror tactics, bomb-making, chemical weapons and guerrilla warfare.
— Reporting by William Bender of The Philadelphia Inquirer was used to supplement this story.
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