An organization that fights for racial and social justice published secret audio recordings Thursday that uncover aspects of how one American white supremacist group seeks to recruit from the U.S. Military and law enforcement and encourages its members to hatch violent plots and undertake paramilitary training to start a race war.
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The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) recordings, published as part of a podcast series called “Sounds Like Hate,” provide insight into the recruiting tactics and terrorism ambitions of a neo-Nazi white supremacist group called The Base, whose American-born-and-raised leader Rinaldo Nazzaro is believed to be living in Russia.
“We want things to accelerate, we want things to get worse in the United States,” Nazzaro says in the recordings, as he interviews a potential new recruit.
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“Our mission’s very, very simple. It is training and networking, preparing for collapse. We want to be in a position where we’re ready, we’re prepared enough, ready enough that we can take advantage of whatever chaos, power vacuum, that might emerge. We want to try and fill that power vacuum and take advantage of the chaos.”.
The law center’s three-part podcast – parts two and three publish later this month – takes listeners through 83 hours of secret recordings as 100 men apply for membership. The recordings were made on an encrypted app called “Wire” by a Canadian journalist who infiltrated the group and via a separate confidential source who provided the recordings unsolicited. The authenticity of the recordings was verified by subject matter experts who recognized Nazzaro’s voice from previous audio appearances and were able to verify other corroborating details.
Much of the conversation makes for disturbing listening and includes racial slurs, offensive language and discussions about how to precipitate the collapse of American civilization and engineer their fantasies of a white ethnostate.
USA TODAY could not independently verify the identities of those featured on the podcast.
Nazzaro repeatedly makes clear in the recordings that he favors recruiting members who have either served in the police or the military because of their experience with guns and/or combat expertise. Several of the candidates Nazzaro interviews claim to have such backgrounds, including some who claim to be on active military duty, although the SPLC acknowledges that some of the statements made by candidates to Nazzaro may be exaggerated to win his approval. An estimated 20% of potential recruits claimed to be connected to the military in some capacity.
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“Right. But I mean, you know, even when you do deploy, I’m assuming that you’ll still be able to maintain contact with us,” Nazzaro says to one candidate being interviewed, who claims to be responsible for operating weapons on tanks in the U.S. Military.
Also discussed: bombings, arson and economic sabotage.
Right-wing extremists responsible for 90% of U.S. terrorist attacks in 2020
The U.S. Marine Corps. Has confirmed that two of the 13 men charged by federal and state authorities in an alleged domestic terrorism plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were Marine veterans. Some of the men are accused of scheming to storm the State Capitol building, take Whitmer and other government officials hostage and start a civil war over their anti-government views and grievances ranging from poor economic prospects to anger over coronavirus restrictions.
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The alleged Michigan plot has renewed attention on warnings from security experts, U.S. Lawmakers and extremism researchers about the growing threat of domestic terrorism from far-right groups, many of them with links to white supremacy extremists.
“Today, white supremacist terrorism is responsible for more deaths on U.S. Soil than jihadist terrorism since 9/11,” the Soufan Center, a New York-based global security think tank, noted in a recent report.
In May last year, Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Michael McGarrity testified before Congress that of the FBI’s 850 open domestic terrorism cases a “significant majority” were related to white supremacist extremists.
And according to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-Based think tank, right-wing extremists were responsible for more than 76% of terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. In 2019; 90% in the first half of 2020.
The Soufan Center says many of these extremists maintain strong transnational links to like-minded organizations and individuals all over the world from Australia to South Africa. But Russia and Ukraine, in particular, have emerged as a “hub in the broader network” where the leaders of American white extremist groups have traveled to learn recruitment, financing and propaganda techniques that in many cases imitate the “tactics, techniques and procedures of groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.”.
In 2018, several members of the Southern California-based Rise Above Movement (RAM) traveled to Germany, Italy and Ukraine to meet with members of white supremacy groups, according to an affidavit and criminal complaint against Robert Paul Rundo – RAM’s founder – and three other members of the group unsealed by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The complaint charged Rundo and his associates with inciting and conspiring to commit violence in connection with several rallies, including the August 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the death of protester Heather Heyer. Three RAM members were later given prison sentences for their part in conspiracies to riot at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, and other alleged political rallies in California.
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Former Vice President Joe Biden said in late April last year that he decided in part to declare his candidacy for the Democratic nomination and presidency after hearing President Donald Trump say of the rally in Charlottesville that there were “very fine people on both sides.” Trump later said he was quoted out of context. However, far-right groups such as the all-male Proud Boys have expressed admiration for Trump and the president has appeared inconsistent in condemning right-wing extremist organizations.
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The SPLC and reporting from news outlets such as ProPublica and Britain’s The Guardian have established that Nazzaro is 47-years-old, attended Villanova University and owns land in a remote corner of Washington state. He says he served in the U.S. Military in Afghanistan and claims to have worked for American intelligence agencies as a contractor. At one point, he owned a security company registered in New York City.
Nazzaro left the U.S. In late 2017 when he moved with his Russian wife and family to St. Petersburg, Russia. The Guardian has reported that the FBI is scrutinizing any links between Russian intelligence or its proxies and Nazzaro. It is believed he is originally from New Jersey.
New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness said in a statement that The Base will in 2020 “likely attempt to recruit new members in the region, rely on members with military expertise and training, and use intimidation tactics to terrorize its victims and spread its white supremacist ideology.”.
Geraldine Moriba, a producer of law center’s podcast, notes in the series that The Base’s members and potential recruits who feature in the recordings “claim to live in 26 different states and participate in small, two-or-three person cells in every quadrant of America. An additional eight countries were represented on these calls.”.
But Cassie Miller, an SPLC analyst on extremism who is featured in the series, said that while Nazzaro appears at pains to make potential recruits believe the group is a “highly sophisticated terror network” with “strict internal discipline” and vetting methods, the opposite may be true. “They accepted almost everyone who applied,” she said.
Members of the public can report suspected terrorists to the FBI at tips.Fbi.Gov or 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324).