The dangers of online radical hate groups attracting teens and young people is, unfortunately, nothing new. Just last year, social media site 8chan made the news for being a potential haven for mass shooters. One hate group in particular, however, has made a big name for themselves in recent years. Known as “The Base,” this group is recruiting teens and young people online specifically to carry out violent terrorist attacks. Revolving around neo-Nazi beliefs, the group is led by an American whose stated purpose is to incite a worldwide race war.
Nazi Terrorists Recruiting Online?
The BBC has obtained covert recordings of interviews between senior members of The Base and prospective recruits. The outlet describes how founder Rinaldo Nazzaro, a 47-year-old from New Jersey, questions new recruits on their ideological beliefs, quizzing them on fascist reading material like Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Nazzaro and other senior members also ask about recruits’ familiarity with weaponry on the recordings.
These recordings are the latest development in a years-long effort to uncover the neo-Nazi group’s plans and activities. Nazarro, whom the BBC reports currently resides in St. Petersburg, Russia, debuted The Base in June of 2018. His stated aim was to galvanize “the movement” and “our people,” reports Vice. Going by the alias Norman Spear at the time, Nazarro spoke on the podcast The Roper Report about the group’s goals.
“When you really look at the landscape of the [white power] movement, the majority of it is happening online and that’s something that fundamentally needs to change,” Nazarro said. “[The Base] is focused on meeting and training… We want to build a cadre of trainers across the country.”
Preparing for Violence
The Base places a heavy emphasis on military training among its members. An application on the group’s former website specifically asked applicants to outline any military or engineering experience. While the group was interested in ex-military members, it also provided its own training on things like close-quarters combat and bomb-making, reports Vice.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intelligence Project, described the group’s materials as “[encouraging] individuals toward the terroristic so-called ‘lone wolf’ or terror cell-oriented mentality.” She continued that The Base encourages followers to “prepare themselves to, in fact, become potential threats to public safety.”
In recruiting young members, Beirich said, the group makes use of memes and other aspects of online culture. At one point they shared recruitment material through an official Twitter account, which has since been shut down.
“Unlike the memes of the so-called ‘alt-right,’ propaganda like [The Base promotes] does not depend on popularity to be considered succesful; to be successful, this kind of propaganda only need to find its way to single hosts, or carriers, or bring together a small cell of individuals,” Beirich said. “The Base clearly hopes to capitalize on powerful social media platforms in order to spread this mindset — which is to say, this virus will only infect a small number of individuals, or carriers, but those carriers could manifest catastrophic violence.”
Corrupting Teens Worldwide
The recruitment tapes obtained by the BBC document Nazzaro speaking to several teenage recruits from around the world. He reportedly told one British teen that societal collapse was The Base’s “guiding philosophy.”
He told another that they aimed to create a “power vacuum that we can take advantage of.”
After interviewing one 17-year-old recruit, Nazarro spoke to another senior member about “shaping” the boy’s belief system, saying he “needs a little work ideologically,” but is “definitely headed in the right direction.”
Dr. Cassie Miller of the SPLC called the recordings a “highly unusual glimpse” into the world of neo-Nazi extremism. She noted that there was “no singular pathway to radicalization” since the recruits came from a variety of different backgrounds.
“I think the fact that a lot of these people are so utterly normal is in itself significant,” she told the BBC. “They didn’t possess some traits that predispose them to want to become a terrorist or to become attracted to extremist ideology. I think it’s really best to think of them as a reflection of a society that is deeply politically polarized.”
The outlet also pointed to ties between The Base and other neo-Nazi groups. These include Fascist Forge, a forum run by 25-year-old Matthew Baccari from California. Baccari has been a supporter of The Base online, and even appears on the interview tapes as a senior member.
Meanwhile, authorities linked the Fascist Forge forum to the case of an English 14-year-old who planned a terrorist attack last November. The unidentified boy, the youngest ever to be charged with terrorism in the UK, planned to attack synagogues near his hometown after writing on the forum that a race war was “inevitable.”