‘I could die any second’: Records tell harrowing story about Black Hammer standoff in Ga.

911 caller’s desperate plea for police to rescue captives of extremist group

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

The man’s voice on the 911 call is faint, but his words are urgent.

“I’m kidnapped,” he said.

“And who kidnapped you?” the emergency operator asked.

His whispered response: “Black Hammer.”

Based in Atlanta, the Black Hammer Party, a radical sect of Black nationalists prone to poorly planned stunts and bizarre public statements, has elicited ridicule and condemnation from activists from the far left and far right and alarm from extremism watchdogs since their emergence in 2019.

Under the leadership of 36-year-old Stone Mountain native Augustus Claudius Romain Jr., who goes by Gazi Kodzo, the group has vowed to lead a violent revolution, threatened public figures, and according to a newly unsealed federal indictment in Florida, collaborated with a Russian agent to sow dissent in the United States.

But on July 19, Fayetteville Police arrested Kodzo and an associate, 21-year-old Xavier “Keno” Rushin, charging them with crimes that, if they are convicted, could send them to prison for decades.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution acquired a recording of the 911 call as well as police and court records from last month’s incident. According to those records, Kodzo and Rushin are accused of holding two men at gunpoint inside a locked garage in the group’s communal home in Fayetteville while Kodzo forcibly sodomized one of them. After responding to the 911 call and clearing the house, police found a third party implicated in the alleged kidnapping and sexual assault, 18-year-old Amonte “AP” Adams, dead inside the garage, reportedly of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Both Adams and Rushin were members of the group.

Both Kodzo and Rushin remain in the Fayette County Jail. An initial court hearing is set for later this month as they face a series of felony charges surrounding allegations of kidnapping, aggravated sodomy, aggravated assault and gang activity.

“I have to say that the specific situation that unfolded is shocking,” said Rebecca Federman, an analyst with the Antidefamation League’s Center on Extremism who has been monitoring the group for two years.

While the allegations may be shocking, Federman said the fact that police arrested Kodzo and that there was gun violence involving the Black Hammer Party is not. Defectors from the group — including a number of the group’s original founders — warned that Kodzo was building an abusive, social media-centered cult of personality, promoting Kodzo’s image and propaganda out on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok as well as the group’s own webpage.

Survivors told stories of long hours of work punctuated by Kodzo’s humiliating fits of rage, all under the eyes of armed members of the group’s security team.

“It was very controlled, very rigid,” one of the founders who goes by the name Savvy told the AJC for a story about the group in April. Savvy said she escaped the group only after a physical confrontation with Kodzo.

Credit: Chris Joyner

Credit: Chris Joyner

The July 19 police raid occurred at a five-bedroom rental home in a quiet Fayetteville subdivision, where the group had lived since the spring. The episode started with a 911 call from from one of the group’s alleged victims. There was almost a palpable fear in the man’s voice as he tried to alert police to the grim scene inside the home.

The AJC is withholding the name of the victim out of concern for his safety.

Responding in urgent whispers to the questions of the 911 dispatcher, the man said he and others were locked in a garage and were being watched by an armed guard.

“Multiple kids and me,” he said. “We are downstairs in the garage locked in chains.”

He begged the dispatcher to make sure police searched the garage, saying the group’s members had picked him up at an Amtrak station. For months, the Black Hammer Party has livestreamed its “church” meetings at Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta where they would hand out food, clothing, and sometimes weapons like knives to homeless people willing to sit through their proselytizing. In those meetings, Kodzo promised to bring some of them to the “Hammer House” in Fayetteville if they agree to raise money for the group by soliciting donations.

In the 911 call, the man claimed the group lied to him, but he did not give specifics. They will lie to the police, he said.

“Do you have any weapons on you?” the 911 operator asked.

“No,” he said. “But I could die any second.”

Kodzo, who in court papers and police records is listed under his legal name, Romain, has denied the accounts of former members, sometimes in response videos where Kodzo insults them and destroys belongings they left behind. Since his arrest, the Black Hammer Party has spun a counternarrative around the July 19 police raid and subsequent arrests.

In their version posted on the group’s website, the 911 call was placed by a “parasite” who had been treated well, and Kodzo’s arrest is a conspiracy by the authorities to disrupt an organization that was succeeding in its goals to bring about a revolution. In this version, Adams did not commit suicide but was killed by police.

An autopsy has been ordered for Adams, but an official with the Fayette County Coroner’s Office said a backup at the state forensic lab means results may not be available for months.

Federman said she originally started monitoring Kodzo and the Black Hammer Party after a 2020 Twitter stunt in which Kodzo attacked the memory of Anne Frank. But she said it became clear that the group was organized around fulfilling Kodzo’s quest for social media fame.

Credit: Fayette County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Fayette County Sheriff's Office

“This was the Gazi show,” she said. “We could have predicted a downfall, but this specific incident I could have never conjured in my mind.”

She said Kodzo’s belligerence and bravado in his social media posts reminds her of how rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, took to social media to trumpet their actions.

“You are livestreaming, you are bragging. It seems like you feel no culpability,” she said. “I think that these groups thrive on the media attention.”

In another twist in the group’s mounting troubles, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment last week in federal court in Tampa, Fla., charging Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, a Moscow resident with Kremlin connections, with acting as an unregistered Russian agent and conspiring with political groups in Florida, Georgia and California in an effort to create division and chaos.

While not named, there are enough explicit references in the indictment to indicate that one of the groups is the Black Hammer Party and that “Unindicted Co-Conspirator 5″ is Kodzo. Federal prosecutors claim Ionov bankrolled a March trip for Kodzo and other members of the Black Hammer Party to San Francisco to protest Facebook’s ban on pro-Russian posts about the invasion of Ukraine at the social media giant’s headquarters.

Ionov has denied the charges, but the indictment includes details on the exact costs of the airline tickets and refers to texts allegedly sent between Kodzo and Ionov, including one reportedly sent by Ionov showing Kodzo that the protest had been picked up by a Russian news agency. No member of the Black Hammer Party has been charged in the alleged influence plot.

Our reporting

Investigative reporter Chris Joyner has been following the Black Hammer Party for months, documenting its odd and dangerous behavior, as well as its radical ideology. In April, the AJC reported on the group, including its connections to Russia and accused unregistered agent Aleksandr Ionov. Earlier this month, the AJC was among the first to report on the group’s links to a SWAT standoff at a home in Fayetteville where one member died by an apparent suicide. The AJC will continue to follow this important story.