Neo-Nazi hate group linked to California murderer
Samuel Woodward, 20, was arrested on January 12 on suspicion of killing 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein and was charged with murder. Prosecutors allege that Woodward stabbed Bernstein more than 20 times during a late night meeting before burying the body in a shallow grave in an Orange County park, where it was eventually discovered. The two men attended high school together.
Woodward told police that Bernstein, who was gay and Jewish, tried to kiss him while they were in the park, according to a sealed affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register.
Sheriff’s investigators were led to Woodward by entries in Bernstein’s social media accounts. In text conversations made in June, according to the affidavit, Bernstein told two female friends about his interaction with Woodward.
Orange County investigators are trying to determine whether the stabbing was a hate crime.
A report by ProPublica on Friday said three people who knew Woodward said he was a member of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the US government through the use of terrorism and guerrilla warfare.
Two of the people were friends of Woodward's, and one is a former member of the Atomwaffen Division. The organization is alleged to celebrate Hitler and Charles Manson, and members have been tied to four other murders and an elaborate bomb plot over the past eight months.
“Even though they are small, a combination of social media, white nationalism and developments before and after the Charlottesville march have made this group dangerous,” Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, said in an interview with the Orange County Register. “This is a group that glorifies violence. Their hero is James Manson and they want to start a race war.”
Woodward was said to have joined the organization in 2016 and traveled to Texas to attend a meetings and a three-day training camp that involved firearms training, hand-to-hand combat and survival skills.
ProPublica obtained photographs of Woodward at the meeting which show him and others making the raised arm Roman salute while wearing skull masks. In other photos, Woodward is unmasked and easily identifiable.
Newer hate groups such as Atomwaffen Division, which has been kicked off Twitter, according to Levin, are known to target all types of recruits, particularly wealthy young men.
“Upscale, young, angry, white youth are the exact demographic these newer hate groups want. We’re in an era where bigots are more likely to wear collared shirts than hoods.”
Atomwaffen Division’s website posts “strict requirements” for those who wish to join. They must be white, no mixed race allowed. They must not be dating or married to a member of any other race. They must be physically fit or be willing to improve their fitness. And they must complete a required reading list at the top of which is Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
Woodward is scheduled to appear in court on Friday, and has not yet entered a plea.