The FBI has been contacted by officials at two universities after photos of hundreds of Jewish students and staff appeared on a website run by a white nationalist who openly advocates for “exterminating Jews and those who serve them.”
Journalists from student newspapers at Brandeis University near Boston and Yeshiva University in New York City sounded the alarm in recent days after discovering the cache of photos on the anti-Semitic and racist message board VNN Forum.
One of the site’s senior members attacked a Jewish community center near Kansas City five years ago, killing three people.
The forum and its namesake Vanguard News Network are run by Alex Linder, a longtime presence in the white nationalist movement who routinely endorses the killing of Jewish people. He praised the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year and was even banned from Gab, a favorite of neo-Nazis and other racists, for advocating violence.
The appearance of the photos on Linder’s message board prompted Brandeis University officials to contact the FBI, a university spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
A spokesperson for Yeshiva said the university was aware of the situation but had “found no direct threat” to staff or students.
A person familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast the FBI field office in New York received a complaint from Yeshiva University and passed on the information to its counterparts in St. Louis, which would have jurisdiction over any criminal investigation involving Linder, a Missouri resident. A spokeswoman with the FBI in St. Louis declined to comment, adding the bureau would not confirm or deny if it is investigating Linder or VNN.
As of Tuesday morning, the thread had disappeared from the forum.
News of the photos comes as debate continues to boil up about internet radicalization and as havens for hateful content have come under closer scrutiny. Last month, the web forum 8chan was temporarily taken offline by its owner after the suspected shooter in the El Paso massacre posted his racist manifesto on the site.
The photos on VNN Forum were posted by one of Linder’s followers who uses the name Stewart Meadows, a likely pseudonym. Meadows is a prolific if relatively new contributor to the site, having racked up more than 4,300 posts since joining in May 2018. He is listed as a “senior member” at the forum.
Meadows started the photo thread in June 2018 to mock a Jewish journalist based on her looks. But it grew from there, with Meadows posting photos of various Jewish people, mostly women, somewhat regularly for more than a year.
While some of the photos were of Jewish celebrities and politicians, most were of private citizens ranging in age from preschoolers to Holocaust survivors. The photos appeared to have been sourced from an array of websites, including those of prominent Jewish institutions.
A few months after launching the thread, in August 2018, Meadows started paying special attention to photos from Yeshiva, a Modern Orthodox Jewish university in Manhattan. He wound up posting at least 175 photos of students and staff, many of them showing multiple people at the university.
The Daily Beast reviewed the thread and found that Meadows also posted at least 70 photos of students from the Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Queens, New York.
On Thursday, the Brandeis student newspaper was the first to report on the postings, saying it had discovered “photographs and names of nearly a dozen current and former Brandeis students, faculty and staff.”
The university’s president called the situation “appalling and offensive,” according to the newspaper. The Brandeis director of public safety issued a statement to the paper saying there was “no direct threat.”
The following day, the Yeshiva student newspaper came out with its own article about the photographs and reported that campus security had issued a statement encouraging students to “ignore the site.”
Given the history of VNN Forum and the person who runs it, however, assurances from university officials might be cold comfort to those whose names and images appeared there.
Linder is outspoken about his hatred of Jews as well as his belief in using violence against them. He did not reply to an email seeking comment for this article.
In October 2018, before he was removed from Gab, Linder praised the man who carried out the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue. The shooter, he wrote, “went after the CAUSE not the symptoms. For that and his effective slaying of many enemies, we are indebted to him.”
On Dec. 25, Linder published an essay online about what he described as an “effective response to Jews.” It began as a rant about having been barred from various social media networks but quickly turned into a salute to genocide.
“What will change things is when people who care simply identify the Jews and people and buildings and institutions attacking White existence and deplatform them from their lives,” he wrote. “You will see a day when people who care simply shoot journalists on sight.”
Similarly, on March 20, he wrote in a blog post: “There is no way rational response to Jews save exterminating them. And that’s what we must do, and we will do.”
In the years before social media, VNN Forum was a mainstay in white nationalist circles along with the similar message board Stormfront. Over the years, however, Linder’s rhetoric about violence and his clashes with other figures in the movement pushed many away from the site.
One member who stuck with VNN Forum for years was Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., who founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party in the 1980s. He went by the name “Rounder” on the message board and authored more than 12,000 posts over a decade starting in 2004.
Miller’s final post on the site was April 12, 2014. He wrote that he had just spoken by phone to a jailed neo-Nazi, who he noted “sounded confident and healthy.” A day later, following a trip to a local casino, Miller opened fire outside of two Jewish facilities in Overland Park, Kansas, killing three people—all of whom happened to be Christian.
At his trial, Miller represented himself and said the shootings were justified to stop “the Jewish genocide against the white race.” He also told the jury that after years of trying to change things through political means, “armed revolution was my only option.”
Linder testified on Miller’s behalf during the penalty phase of the trial. He called Miller “a man of my own thinking” but declined to say whether he condoned the killings, according to the Associated Press.
Miller was eventually sentenced to death and remains on death row in Kansas.
These days, VNN Forum is a shell of what it once was. Even Linder posts there only rarely, choosing instead to devote his time to blogging and posting on social media. He made a rare appearance and posted an angry message to his community.
“America is in a post-legal era for whites. No matter what the laws say, they are ignored where it suits the Judeo-left,” he wrote. “Your posting needs to reflect this fact. I will not be here much, and if you don't self-police, I will simply shut the place down.”
—With additional reporting by Pervaiz Shallwani