In an approximately three-minute audio recording released on Soundcloud on March 14, James Mason, a long-term member of the American neo-Nazi scene and author of Siege, announced that the neo-Nazi extremist group Atomwaffen Division (AWD) was disbanding. The declaration follows the arrest of John Cameron Denton, one of the group’s alleged leaders, and four other suspected members for threatening journalists. However, even if AWD itself were to cease to operate or function, the violent neo-Nazi ideology behind the group will continue to live on.
Mason claimed that he was contacted on March 9, 2020 by members of AWD, who requested that he record a public announcement on behalf of the group. Mason stated that AWD was disbanding immediately because of infiltration and arrests of AWD members by law enforcement, as well as the claim that the media has falsely portrayed AWD as a terrorist group.
According to Politico, the U.S. State Department is considering designating at least one white supremacist group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), which would allow the federal government to pursue material support charges against the group’s members and investigate their finances. Former U.S. government officials and counterterrorism analysts have suggested AWD as a possible candidate. It is extremely likely that Mason and AWD are claiming to have dissolved the group in anticipation of a possible designation.
Similar neo-Nazi groups have previously been proscribed in the United Kingdom, such as National Action, and AWD may attempt to adopt lessons from that group’s experience. For instance, National Action members have changed their group’s name or focused more on underground meetings and activities. In the U.S. and Europe, the Feuerkrieg Division, an ideological similar group to AWD, also announced that they were disbanding in mid-February, although this has been contested by anti-fascist activists who claim that this was a ruse. Anti-fascist researchers who have infiltrated FKD’s chats have stated that the group is attempting to rebrand.
Mason stated that AWD material will continue to remain online, however this is beyond the control of AWD members. Mason further declared that anyone claiming to be a member of AWD or using AWD’s insignia in the future is an imposter. He also again denounced the AWD “Fission” breakaway group which released videos and photos in the fall of 2019, repeating that they are not part of AWD. Mason also stated that AWD does not believe in the use of violence or “illegal threats and conspiracy,” blaming illegal actions on a “breach of discipline.” The February arrests of Denton, Kaleb Cole, Cameron Brandon Shea, Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, and Johnny Roman Garza for threatening journalists would appear to negate Mason’s claim.
On Monday, March 16, AWD’s anonymous onion website accessible via the Tor browser is still online, and it had not been updated to reflect Mason’s announcement. Similarly, the Siege Culture website, which is dedicated to spreading Mason’s work and ideology, and its affiliated onion address are still online.
While it is possible that AWD might officially cease functioning as a group, the ideology that inspired them will live on, as will their members and supporters. AWD has promoted the book Siege as a totalizing ideology, and there is no indication that their members will abandon it or its calls to commit acts of violence. Mason himself has advocated in favor of lone actor action over group activities. It is possible that AWD members will try to create a new, smaller, and more decentralized group with trusted individuals that is less focused on producing online propaganda. AWD’s propaganda output, including videos and flyers, attracted the attention of numerous researchers, activists, and journalists. Future endeavors might emphasize intragroup activities such as training or ideological education, and deemphasize propaganda production and distribution. Mason’s declaration that material will continue to exist online is a way to distance AWD from any potential future content uploaded by supporters. Finally, it is possible that the group will continue to organize in some degree, similar to National Action’s rebranding as NS131 and then Scottish Dawn following proscription.
Mason and the Atomwaffen Division have not given the public a reason to trust their word. Their claim of ceasing operations when faced with prosecutions and potentially being added to the FTO list should not deter continued monitoring and investigations of the group and its members no matter what banner they choose to organize under.