A violent hate group held a training camp outside of Pahrump earlier this year. The group is called Atomwaffen Division and they're a small white supremacist group that claims to be preparing for a race war.
Law enforcement said the group spent a couple of days camping in rural Nye County, training with weapons and making propaganda videos to recruit more members.
Police have connected this group to at least five murders around the country. The group is not very large. The Anti-Defamation League estimated they have about 20 different cells in the U.S., including a small one in Nevada.
Robert Futrell is the chair of UNLV’s sociology department. He also co-authored the book "American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate."
“Atomwaffen is German for 'nuclear weapon' or 'to go nuclear,'” Dr. Futrell explained. “They are one of many neo-Nazi groups that have formed since the 1980s. They're particularly on the extremist side. They follow writings of James Mason, who, in the 1970s, was part of the American Nazi Party."
He said the group idolizes people like Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh and Dylan Roof.
“They advocated for leaderless resistance, anti-government attitude, establishment of a fascist state,” Dr. Futrell said.
He said Atomwaffen Division, like many other current day white supremacist groups, are less up front about who they are.
“White supremacists; they carry a stigma in wider society and leaders have, over the last two decades, talked about growing hair out if you're neo-Nazi, skin head, covering up tattoos, getting education, getting good jobs, infiltrating institutions, not being out about who one is,” Dr. Futrell said.
He said they operate largely underground and talk about grand plans of destroying infrastructure and government.
“They connect on the internet, they connect across states, they have ways they connect face-to-face in localities of course, but their main public face was YouTube and the propaganda videos, they also started leafleting at various colleges and universities,” Dr. Futrell said.
He said “hate camps," like one that took place in rural Nye County, are a way for the group to bond. He said what draws people to join groups like this, in part, is the need for belonging.
Tony McAleer used to be a skinhead.
“It didn't happen overnight, neither coming in nor going out,” McAleer said. “When I was 10, I walked in on my dad with another woman and that really rocked my world, and that's when God fell off the pedestal and I was really angry and I felt betrayed and angry at all of the authority figures in my life.”
He said that anger eventually led him to join the White Power movement.
“It isn't really the ideology that pulls people in. I got a sense of power when I felt powerless,” McAleer said. “Someone asked me once, ‘You're such a nice guy, how did you lose your humanity?’ I said, ‘I didn't lose it, I traded it for acceptance and approval until there was nothing left.’”
He said what turned his life around was connecting to another human being.
“The thing that changed it for me was finding myself in the delivery room when I was 23 and getting handed this beautiful little baby girl.”
He said he slowly started to pull away from the movement, but he still kept some of the same ideology.
“If I really wanna make a contribution to the white race, I'll focus on these two children and make sure they thrive and survive, and that's how I rationalized in my brain,” McAleer said.
It took befriending a Jewish counselor and coming clean about his neo-Nazi past for change to really take hold.
“In that moment, here's a man that loves me as a human being, wants to heal me, sees who little Tony is and wants to see the best in me, and here I am, shrinking in my chair in shame because I had once advocated for the annihilation of him and his people,” McAleer said.
McAleer helped start a non-profit called Life After Hate. It's focused on helping people leave hate groups and changing their mindsets.
“There's exiting that happens all the time but it's complicated because depending on how deep you are in the culture it takes a while, and sometimes it never happens, sometimes you're always struggling with the tendencies to think in the ways that they did previously,” Dr. Futrell explained.
He said while people are leaving all the time, society should still be very aware.
“They go to the same schools, they shop at the same grocery stores, they are in our midst and this shouldn't be something that scares people but there is a normalized quality to their outward expression these days,” Dr. Futrell said. “It's a violent culture, fantastical visions racial genocide, most people don't engage in that violence. They talk about it, they claim to advocate for it, but they themselves typically won't.”
However, he said with any extremist group, there's bound to be people that spin out of control.
“As long as this culture persists we can be horrified when those things happen, but we shouldn't be surprised,” Dr. Futrell said.
The Nye County Sheriff's Office said they became aware of the training camp that took place after the fact. They said they got no calls from civilians about the group and law enforcement had no run-ins with them.
One of the members had a membership at Front Sight, which is a firearms training institute in Pahrump. The owner said as soon as he found out about the man's affiliation with the group, his membership was revoked for life.
For anyone interested in the non-profit, Life After Hate, and all of the work they do to combat hate groups and help people get out, here’s a link to their website.
Copyright 2018 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.