A good rule of thumb for hard-right, Nazi or Nazi-adjacent groups is that one-third of their members are petty criminals, one-third are gay, and one-third are informants. The nature of such groups makes it hard to come up with firm numbers, so you’ll have to trust me. Composed of often no more than a dozen or so individuals, from which people are constantly drifting in and out, makes attempting an actual count difficult if not impossible, but there is abundant evidence that this breakdown is closer than not to the truth. It is certainly true for now-defunct groups like the American Nazi Party and the National Renaissance Party, and nothing in the mountains of post-Charlottesville coverage and doxxing has given me any reason to update the general assumption for hard-right groups today.
Many individuals fall into more than one category. Patrik Hermansson, the most recent alt-right infiltrator, has a bit of a honeypot vibe. It’s probably not a coincidence that the most revealing scoop he produced pertained to Greg Johnson, editor of the rather gay-friendly fascist imprint Counter Currents. There are some individuals that fall into all three categories. Frazier Glenn Miller is now awaiting execution in El Dorado Prison outside of Wichita, for killing three outside a Kansas Jewish Community Center in 2014. Miller turned state’s evidence to testify in the Fort Smith Trial in 1988, a botched attempt by the Department of Justice to apply a seditious conspiracy charge to a slew of racist groups, some of which had never had any contact with one another prior to the trial. In exchange, he was rewarded with a reduced sentence and probably admission into a witness protection program (the government neither confirms nor denies this, but he was assigned a new Social Security number). Some years earlier Miller, an alcoholic and deeply troubled man, was arrested after being caught in flagrante with a male transvestite prostitute. He is an instructive example, because despite his informing, there is no reason to doubt he believed in what he was doing.
The phenomenon of the true-believing informant, strange as it may sound, is relatively common. George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, regularly telephoned the ADL’s man in Washington, Jason Silverman, to update him on party activities. Guy Banister, a former FBI agent-turned activist who was involved in Louisiana’s White Citizens Councils and the Minutemen, was regularly in touch with his former colleagues, which may have helped to shield him when a man who rented space in a building he owned, one Lee Harvey Oswald, came under posthumous scrutiny.
The self-styled leader of something called the “Republic of Florida,” Jordan Jereb, made headlines this week, claiming to the Daily Beast, the Associated Press, and others that the Parkland, Florida shooter is a member of his white separatist group. Jereb, who spent a brief stint in prison, seems to have had a similar relationship with the SPLC as Rockwell had with the ADL. He welcomed the chance to talk, believing he could use them to cultivate his “outlaw image.” Tallahassee police believe there is no connection between Jereb and the shooter, and Jereb has taken to Gab to say he wasn’t so sure after all about his group’s connection to the shooter.
What seems to have happened is a 4chan post mentioned Jereb’s group, the ADL then contacted him, whereupon he gave them a statement that appeared to confirm that yes, Nikolas Cruz was a member of his organization. The ADL proceeded to publish this claim, which was repeated by CBS. Then local students, presumably having read these reports, gave further quotes confirming yes, they’re sure, he belonged to an organization based more than 400 miles away.
The Republic of Florida militia leader has done himself what watchdogs and law enforcement have attempted to do with varying degrees of success for decades: tying domestic radical groups to lawbreakers. It’s a remarkable disinformation own-goal, that only makes sense if you put yourself in the mindset of a thrill-seeking narcissist. One of the ironies of Jordan Jereb is that he purports to be, like many online hard-rightists including the Atomwaffen Division, a devotee of James Mason’s Siege. Mason, as well as William Luther Pierce in Hunter, were writing about this new tactic of “leaderless resistance” to address the endemic problems of both infiltration and the fact that this movement tends to attract people who, well, seem like they might shoot up a school. And yet he wasted no time associating his group with an actual school shooter.
If there weren’t so many people like Jereb in the fringe right, law enforcement organizations would have to invent them. And they have.
To the chagrin of many, domestic law enforcement does not seem to view the alt-right as a problem on the scale of, say, the Klan in the 1960s. Here we have an object lesson in how a government willing to pull out all the stops can suppress a radical movement. Within four years of the 1965 peak of the third wave of klan activity, membership was a fraction of what it once was, its veneer of secrecy utterly destroyed. This was done mostly with the use of informants, who were so numerous as to comprise a substantial portion of klansmen. How numerous? A 1965 memo from the FBI to the Johnson White House reads:
nearly two thousand of our informants and sources .. being operated to obtain up-to-date intelligence data concerning racial matters which we disseminate on a continuing basis. … Particularly significant has been the high-level penetration we have achieved of Klan organizations. At the present time, there are 14 Klan groups in existence. We have penetrated every one of them through informants and currently are operating informants in top-level positions of leadership in seven of them.
According to the FBI’s statistics, in 1965 there were 10,000 klansmen nationwide at the time, which means — assuming only half of these informants “concerning racial matters” were in klans, the number may be higher — one in ten klansmen at its 1960s peak were informants, with the proportion rising over time and as one goes up the chain of command. Contrary to what antifa activists would have you believe, it was not vigilante citizens standing up to fascism that broke the back of the klans, but the righteous bootheel of J. Edgar Hoover.
There are probably no informant networks of this scale in America today, since there are no hard-right groups big enough to justify it. But there are sporadic examples by both law enforcement and watchdogs of infiltration and subversion.
One interesting example that bears mentioning in relation to the Republic of Florida debacle is Roy Bullock, the ADL’s West Coast fact-finding director, who worked for the organization for about four decades. Bullock nearly kicked off an espionage scandal in the early 1990s when it was revealed that he had been handing over information on anti-apartheid activists to the South African government, and being paid for his services. When his houseboat was raided, authorities found files on hundreds of organizations and almost ten thousand individuals, some of which had been stolen from the San Francisco Police Department after they shut down their political intelligence operations. (There is also circumstantial evidence that his files on Palestinian activists were ending up in the hands of the Israeli government.)
The ADL settled several lawsuits out of court with people who had been spied upon, though they claim no wrongdoing. Bullock is germane to today’s case because, in the course of infiltrating a wide variety of Arab-American groups, he was accused of doing things like leaving holocaust denial literature on their tables. This is a common theme of watchdog activities: they will try to equate, tarnish, or otherwise associate a legitimate disagreement with bigotry. It would be useful to the ADL to associate Palestinian rights with holocaust denial, and if there isn’t enough evidence to actually support the connection, what’s a little ratfucking for a good cause?
From 1991 to 1993 the FBI briefly was involved in infiltrating militia groups in Texas, setting up a front organization called the Veterans Aryan Militia which was used to make inroads in the Texas Light Infantry, among others. The VAM was intentionally modeled after The Order, a white nationalist criminal organization famous for several robberies and the assassination of Denver radio host Alan Berg, and according to J.M. Berger’s report for the New America Foundation, it consisted of at least one agent provocateur, and worked to strengthen links between militias and groups like the Aryan Nations, which, up to that point, had been virtually nonexistent.
There is a politics of quarantine with respect to the far-right in America, dating back at least to the Reuther memorandum, which exhorted the Kennedy administration to undertake “deliberate … policies and programs to contain the radical right from further expansion and in the long run to reduce it to its historic role of the impotent lunatic fringe.” Typically watchdogs like the SPLC and the ADL make their case for greater suppression of radical-right groups by saying that bad ideas have escaped their quarantine zone. In the 1990s the growing specter of militias tens-of-thousands strong was invoked by the ADL to justify passing anti-“paramilitary training” statutes that criminalized swathes of previously law-abiding activity. A classic example is the attacks by John Roy Carlson on the America First Committee and other isolationists in 1942, later published as Under Cover in 1943. Carlson argued that the isolationist milieu which, prior to Pearl Harbor, represented a position held by a majority of Americans, was thoroughly tainted by associations with Hitler-lovers, never mind that some of the introductions had been made by the author himself. Something similar happened with law enforcement on the left, it was J. Edgar Hoover’s belief that the civil rights movement was shot through with communists that justified the FBI’s actions against Martin Luther King, Jr.
We heard comparable arguments about the alt-right when it first burst on the scene: that this was new because it was happening on an unprecedented scale, reaching the sort of young people that previously had no interest in politics. 4chan was leaking, they said, and something had to be done to contain it.
What is being done to contain it? Chances are those with an interest in destroying the alt-right will use many of the same tactics that have been used in the past to go after hard-right groups. While I tend to think it’s only a matter of time before a fairly significant alt-right infiltrator is revealed, testifying in court is the most common way they are outed, so if the major players stay out of courtrooms, that might not necessarily be the case. And there are many instances of suspicions, justified or not, leading to infighting and schism. Weev, the hacker-turned-white-nationalist and consultant to the Daily Stormer, has recently taken issue with the Traditionalist Worker Party’s Matt Parrott for talking to law enforcement.
We can be reasonably sure that much of the so-called Nationalist Front, an umbrella group of far-right organizations born from a concordat between Matt Heimbach and Jeff Schoep, is heavily infiltrated by law enforcement. Schoep’s National Socialist Movement is known to be.
It is probably less costly to operate an informant in the alt-right today, existing as it does, mostly online. It’s probably safe to assume that some of the ADL’s new much-heralded programs “combating online extremism” include some of this activity. The SPLC in all likelihood does the same, and law enforcement certainly does. But I have doubts that the watchdogs still engage in the kind of intense infiltration work carried out by Bullock or James Mitchell Rosenberg in decades past (the latter is pictured above, giving a speech at the Mountain Church in Cahoctah, Michigan). Frankly, the ADL’s past leaders were made of stronger stuff than its current ones. It’s hard to imagine Abe Foxman sitting down on MSNBC with Al Sharpton — the man who egged on the Crown Heights pogrom — as “social entrepreneur” and current ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt did not so long ago.
But the last year or so has proved nothing so much as that the alt-right is more than capable of doing their enemies’ work for them. By organizing the Charlottesville white nationalist rally that turned deadly last fall, former Occupy activist Jason Kessler provided the watchdog organizations their greatest fundraising coup in years. And now, the Robespierre of the Republic of Florida seems to think it would be good PR to associate his group with a school shooter.
J. Arthur Bloom is an editor and co-founder of Jacobite. Follow him on Twitter.