An FBI investigation of Atomwaffen Division, a homicidal neo-Nazi guerrilla organization, is gathering steam, with criminal charges filed in recent weeks against two members of its Virginia cell and an active-duty soldier who belongs to an offshoot group.
Atomwaffen Division members have been hit with various state and federal charges in numerous states since 2017, but the FBI has also been conducting a broader probe since at least spring 2018, according to three law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigations.
The bureau’s domestic terrorism division led the investigation into the Virginia cell, which netted Atomwaffen’s top-ranking member in that state—a gun store employee charged with illegally buying and reselling an assault rifle to another man, who is identified in internal Atomwaffen materials as a member of the same cell.
Other recent cases include the August arrest of Conor Climo, a former Army combat engineer and security guard charged with planning attacks on a synagogue and a bar with a largely LGBT clientele, and the Sept. 21 bust of Jarrett William Smith, 24, an Army soldier stationed in Kansas who is charged with sharing viable bomb-making instructions online and strategizing to attack Beto O’Rourke, CNN’s New York headquarters, and Antifa activists. The feds say Climo was affiliated with Atomwaffen Division and its offshoot, Feuerkrieg Division; Smith claimed membership in Feuerkrieg, according to an account on the messaging platform Telegram that was tied to Smith in court papers.
The Atomwaffen Division investigation comes amid a tide of rising concern over right-wing terrorism, which the FBI says is now its top priority. According to an Anti-Defamation League report, all fatal terrorist attacks in the United States last year were connected to far-right ideology. Mass shootings this year in Southern California and El Paso, Texas, were allegedly carried out by perpetrators who espoused far-right and racist beliefs.
Atomwaffen Division has been linked to five murders in the U.S., while several of its fellow travelers in Britain’s Sonnenkrieg Division have been charged with terrorism-related offenses in the United Kingdom. Founded in 2016 by Brandon Russell, a young member of the Florida National Guard, Atomwaffen Division is a secretive, nihilistic guerrilla organization that seeks the violent overthrow of the United States government and venerates terrorists such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. It follows the writings of National Socialist Liberation Front veteran James Mason and also incorporates Satanism and the occult in its internal ideology.
Law enforcement considers Atomwaffen Division to be highly dangerous, with a modus operandi and virulent ideology that harks back to The Order, or Silent Brotherhood, a 1980s white supremacist terror cell responsible for armored car robberies and the murder of a Jewish radio host.
Two connected firearms cases brought by federal prosecutors over the past two months targeted Atomwaffen’s Virginia cell, which was at one point among the largest state-centered units, boosted by disaffected members of the now-defunct white nationalist Vanguard America
On June 5, FBI agents arrested Brian Patrick Baynes, of Fairfax, on gun possession charges for allegedly lying on a federal background check form about drug use.
FBI Special Agent Michael Bauknight said in a sworn affidavit that after downloading and decrypting the contents of an unidentified person’s phone in April, the bureau recovered messages between an undisclosed person and Baynes discussing purchases of marijuana, psychedelic mushrooms and LSD. The messages dated back to May 2018 and included communications over Wire, a Switzerland-based encrypted messaging platform.
During that period of time, Baynes filled out ATF documentation to buy a Sturm Ruger .22 caliber rifle, as well as the lower receiver for an M4 rifle, authorities said. Baynes also tried to buy a Glock 43 9mm pistol from a Vienna, Virginia, gun store.
Three days after Baynes tried to buy the Glock, FBI agents arrested him and seized a small arsenal: three assault rifles, 14 magazines and more than 1,300 rounds of ammunition, according to court records.
The court papers do not say Baynes was involved with Atomwaffen Division, but internal Atomwaffen financial documents obtained by this reporter include his name and an email address connected to him. According to Atomwaffen’s internal chat logs and information from a former member, Baynes went by the alias “Ted Bundy” within the group.
Federal prosecutors in Virginia declined to comment on Baynes, who pleaded guilty to all charges on Aug. 8, or on his involvement with Atomwaffen. A June court order listed “no contact with domestic or international terrorist group” as one condition for Baynes’ release pending sentencing.
One of Baynes’ rifles, a SAM7R, laid the groundwork for the FBI’s September arrest of Andrew Jon Thomasberg, a 21-year-old McLean resident and the reputed leader of Atomwaffen’s Virginia cell.
Thomasberg worked at Sterling Arsenal, a local gun store, and purchased the SAM7R through the shop without his employer’s knowledge and against company policy, according to court documents. Thomasberg allegedly resold the rifle to Baynes for $1,336.19 in an illegal transaction known as a “straw purchase,” according to testimony of a cooperating witness.
Court documents also reveal the feds received information about Thomasberg from his roommate as early as late December 2018. The roommate told FBI agents that Thomasberg owned three to four guns, and “regularly carried a handgun.” Another cooperating witness told the FBI that Thomasberg had armed himself at all times for at least two years, according to an affidavit by Special Agent Shawn Matthews, who works in the domestic terrorism section of the FBI’s Washington field office.
According to press reports from a preliminary hearing earlier this month, an FBI agent testified that 20 firearms were recovered at Thomasberg’s home in McLean.
Thomasberg’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast, but after the preliminary hearing, Thomasberg’s mother claimed he was being scapegoated. “The United States seeking out a rich, white kid—not cool,” she told reporters.
Atomwaffen’s internal chat logs, however, paint her son as a devout fascist and bigot who is deeply involved with the group. Thomasberg went by the moniker “GrecoViking” within the group, and was known as the leader of the Virginia cell, according to a former Atomwaffen member who requested anonymity due to safety concerns.
The persona Thomasberg displays in Atomwaffen’s chat logs is that of a virulent neo-Nazi who advocated an apocalyptic race war, displayed significant knowledge of gun manufacture, espoused hatred for non-whites, and venerated both cult leader Charles Manson and Mason, the ideological godfather of Atomwaffen.
“I want my children to be raised in a nat soc world,” Thomasberg wrote on Sept. 11, 2017, using shorthand for National Socialism, the logs show. He left Vanguard America after it fell into what he called “a shit spiral” following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, bringing Baynes and other Virginia Vanguard members to Atomwaffen with him.
Also mentioned by Thomasberg in the chatlogs is Jeffrey Clark, a Washington, D.C., neo-Nazi who recently pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges in exchange for a sentence of time served and three years probation. Clark's brother, Edward Clark, killed himself just hours after the October 2018 massacre in a Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting. Earlier this year, ProPublica reported that Clark's online handle, “DC Stormer,” was mentioned in Atomwaffen's chats as a potential member.
Atomwaffen propaganda was recovered from Clark’s home late last year, according to an affidavit by the same FBI agent who detailed the allegations against Baynes.
A review of Atomwaffen’s communications logs show Thomasberg discussing the Clark brothers. “They’re on some black pilled bs. Tbh ive been thinking ab [about] booting em,” Thomasberg wrote on Sept. 25, 2017.
It is unclear whether Clark’s case, which began in November 2018, led the FBI to Thomasberg and Baynes.
Thomasberg also discussed white supremacist ideology, bigotry, and fascination with arcane Nazi history on Atomwaffen Division’s Discord server. In a discussion about a legendary Nazi Party artifact known as the Blutfahne, or “Blood Flag,” that went missing during the Soviet conquest of Berlin, Thomasberg vowed to recover it. “Ill invest my resources to find it, and if I do, Im responsible for its safekeeping,” he wrote. “If we can get it, it will signify we carry the torch of NS [national socialism]'”
He also openly discussed his work at Sterling Arsenal, and his plans to start a firearms company. “Saving up for a haas minimill v2 rn [right now with my old man,” Thomasberg wrote on Sept. 1, 2017. “I'm planning on selling my shit to anyone with green dollahz—I want my rifles to be around long after I'm gone,” he wrote.
Based on the logs, Thomasberg appeared to revel in his Atomwaffen affiliation, going so far as to engrave the insignia on the body of one of his guns, a Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol. He posted a photograph in Atomwaffen's Discord server on Aug. 29, 2017, stating that he used a laser engraver at his workplace to modify the firearm.
The federal government’s evidence exhibits against Thomasberg includes encrypted Signal messages between him and Baynes that demonstrate his ideological leanings: he referred to Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers and Christchurch shooter Brandon Tarrant as “saints,” and discussed his willingness to harm people of color.
Discussing a shooting at a San Diego County synagogue in April, Thomasberg remarked in a text to another extremist that “at least he did something. We havent done shit since cville really.”
In another message, Thomasberg told Baynes about an encounter with a group of African-Americans at a local mall.
“[L]et a motherfucker try something...ill go full St Roof in an instant,” Thomasberg wrote, referring to Dylann Roof's massacre of nine African-American churchgoers in South Carolina.
“We’ll have fun in prison my guy,” Baynes wrote back.