April 4, 2019

IntelBrief: The Atomwaffen Division (AWD): A Brief Profile

A screenshot from Atomwaffen’s first recruitment video (VICE). 
  • The Atomwaffen Division is a Neo-Nazi group formed in 2015 with a cellular-based organizational structure and an estimated membership of several dozen to 80, located across the United States.
  • The group fetishizes Nazi relics and Third Reich propaganda and its ideology can be described as at once both eschatological and millenarian.
  • AWD’s popularity swelled following the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017.
  • Recruitment posters for the group have appeared at colleges and universities all over the United States.


The Atomwaffen Division (AWD) is a Neo-Nazi group founded by Brandon Clint Russell. AWD is strongly influenced by the ideas of notorious white supremacist James Mason, but also pays homage to a ‘who’s who’ of terrorists, murders, and right-wing extremists, including Charles Manson, founder of the National Socialist Liberation Front Joseph Tommasi and author of The Turner Diaries, William Pierce, who wrote the book often referred to as ‘the bible of the racist right.’ The group’s leadership idolizes the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and is also believed to draw inspiration from a group known as The Order, founded by notorious white supremacist Robert Jay Mathews in the 1980s. AWD formed in 2015; the group has a cellular-based organizational structure with anywhere from several dozen to 80 members, possibly more, located across the United States. 

Brandon Clint Russell, a member of the Florida National Guard, announced the official formation of the group in 2015, boasting several dozen members with a heavy concentration in Florida, but also with cells or ‘smaller chapters’ spread throughout the U.S. Since its inception, recruitment posters have appeared at universities all over the country. Russell was arrested in Florida in 2017 and charged after authorities discovered bomb-making materials in his apartment; the DOJ indictment states that Russell was found in possession of ‘a cooler in the garage containing the explosive HMTD (Hexamethylene Triperoxide Diamine), along with various other explosive precursors, multiple pounds of ammonium nitrate, nitro-methane, empty shell casings, fuses, and electric matches.' 

The group boasts  transnational linkages as well, including with Sonnenkrieg Division, a white supremacist group based in Europe, with a strong membership base in the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe. In German, Atomwaffen means ‘atomic weapons,’ another nod to the organization’s desire to connect with others who view Adolf Hitler with admiration. The Atomwaffen Division grew out of the website Iron March, a forum popular with fascists that helped recruit AWD’s core membership, serving as a nucleus for hate and with consequences that moved beyond the internet and into the real world. Regular visitors of this site have gone on to form their own fascist groups in both the U.S. and Europe. Overall, AWD’s popularity has swelled following the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017. Atomwaffen member Samuel Woodward’s murder of Blaze Bernstein, a California college student killed for being Jewish and gay, was one of the more high-profile Atomwaffen attacks. The organization has been linked to killings in Florida, Virginia, and California. Some analysts claim that AWD is relatively small for a terrorist group and thus does not pose a significant challenge; however, that is precisely the point: it is crucial to combat the group in its embryonic stages before it can mutate into a more formidable organization.

In its propaganda, the group disparages so-called ‘keyboard warriorism’ and encourages its members to engage in violent activities, although social media undoubtedly serves an important role as a network enabler. AWD’s ideology is racist, peppered with streaks of homophobic rhetoric and containing quasi-Anarchist undertones. In online forums, its members have expressed a desire to bring down ‘the System,’ by which it means national governments and prominent societal institutions. The group fetishizes Nazi relics and Third Reich propaganda and its ideology can be described as at once both eschatological and millenarian. Writings attributed to the group and its members reference Satanism, placing it at the fringes of the right-wing, even among the varied extremist groups populating this far pole of the ideological spectrum. Groups with millenarian ideologies can be extremely dangerous because their goals and objectives do not lend themselves easily to negotiations. Changes in public policy will never assuage them, as they claim only to be interested in the hastening of the apocalypse, through violent means if necessary.


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