An arrest in Virginia

A man with ties to Atomwaffen Division was arrested as part of 'swatting' ring

Hello, and welcome to The Informant, a publication covering hate and extremism in America, written and edited by me, Nick R. Martin.

If you're here today looking for the follow-up to my investigation, “The wrong house,” well, I'm afraid you're going to have to wait just one more week for it. Part two of the investigation will be published next week. What can I say? Good journalism sometimes takes longer than expected.

For now, I'm bringing you a bonus intelligence briefing today with the latest news and analysis on the beat. You'll also get briefings on Tuesday and Thursday this week.

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Here’s a quick rundown of what’s in today’s issue:

  • John William Kirby Kelley, a man who authorities say has ties to Atomwaffen Division, was arrested in connection to an online group believed to be responsible for the “swatting” attacks of hundreds of people.

  • Kaleb Cole, the Washington state leader of Atomwaffen, is believed to be in Texas after being charged in his home state with a weapons violation.

  • Militia leader Kevin “KC” Massey was found dead in Texas.

  • Two U.S. senators want an investigation following revelations that a private prison employee used to be an active member of the neo-Nazi message board Iron March.

  • Bonus: I was interviewed for a feature about The Informant by Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab.

An arrest in Virginia

This is big. Federal authorities in Virginia announced on Friday they had arrested a man with ties to the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division who was allegedly part of an online group that doxed and “swatted” hundreds of people, including judges, journalists and executives.

Swatting is a tactic in which someone anonymously calls in a bomb threat or phony hostage situation to police, hoping that tactical teams will raid the target. It can sometimes have deadly consequences.

Journalist Brian Krebs, who was among those targeted in the attacks, posted news of the arrest on his website on Friday:

An FBI affidavit unsealed this week identifies one member of the group as John William Kirby Kelley. According to the affidavit, Kelley was instrumental in setting up and maintaining the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel called “Deadnet” that was used by he and other co-conspirators to plan, carry out and document their swatting attacks.

Prior to his recent expulsion on drug charges, Kelley was a student studying cybersecurity at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. Interestingly, investigators allege it was Kelley’s decision to swat his own school in late November 2018 that got him caught. Using the handle “Carl,” Kelley allegedly explained to fellow Deadnet members he hoped the swatting would get him out of having to go to class.

I spent some time this weekend combing through the 29-page affidavit (PDF), and there were a couple things that stood out to me:

  • Atomwaffen ties: Federal authorities were somewhat vague on this point, but they mentioned that Kelley and other people being investigated in the case “are affiliated with or have expressed sympathy for” the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division. Federal authorities said they found photos on Kelley’s phone with Atomwaffen propaganda. They also found “multiple photos in which Kelley and other individuals are dressed in tactical gear and holding assault-style rifles. The faces of some of the individuals are concealed by masks and tactical helmets.”

  • The feds are working with a snitch: The affidavit mentioned someone described as “Individual 1” who was cooperating in the investigation “because he is currently charged by state authorities.” The document says Individual 1 is cooperating because he’s hoping to get his charges dropped.

But perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of this is that, according to Krebs, a member of the group who went by name “Chanz” has also claimed to be the administrator of SiegeCulture, an Atomwaffen-linked website that spreads propaganda for the group’s ideological leader, James Mason.

Keep an eye on this case. There could be a lot more to come out of it.

Where is Kaleb Cole?

Kaleb Cole, the leader of the Washington state cell of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, hasn’t been seen since he was charged with a weapons violation in December. Now, a prosecutor in King County, Washington, tells radio station KUOW that Cole is believed to be in Texas.

Of note: Texas is also the state where Atomwaffen leader John Cameron Denton and other members of the group live.

Militia leader Kevin ‘KC’ Massey is dead

Kevin '“KC” Massey was found dead on December 23 in Van Zandt County, Texas, according to the Dallas Morning News. He’d been on the run from federal authorities since May.

Massey became well known in 2014 for leading a group of border vigilantes in South Texas that conducted what they considered “citizens arrests” of migrants.

Massey was unhinged and dangerous. Here’s how the Morning News put it in August:

He vowed to remain at the border until regulators "sealed the border or there's some sort of civil war," federal authorities said.

When ATF agents raided his Brownsville hotel room in 2014 and searched his truck, they found a cache of weapons and ammonium nitrate, an explosive chemical used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, court records show. South Texas prosecutors say Massey has expressed support for Timothy McVeigh, whose deadly attack on that city's federal building killed more than 160 people and injured over 680 others.

More Iron March fallout

Two U.S. senators are calling for an investigation of a privately run ICE detention center in Nevada amid reports that an employee there used to be an active member of the neo-Nazi message board Iron March.

Michelle Rindels of The Nevada Independent has the news:

The letter from Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen comes after VICE News reported this week that Travis Frey, a captain at the Nevada Southern Detention Center run by CoreCivic, posted on the site Iron March while employed by the private prison company. CoreCivic later said Frey was placed on administrative leave pending a review, but the senators said the revelation raises questions about the standards to which the company holds its employees.

“It is imperative that any private company contracted with the federal government to operate a detention facility be held to the highest standards of care and management,” the senators wrote in a letter released Friday. “It is also critical that transparency and oversight not be hindered because the facility is operated by a private entity through a federal contract.”

The Informant is featured at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab

I was recently interviewed by Hanaa’ Tameez of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab about the creation and launch of The Informant. We talked about a lot, including what drove me to start this publication, how I detox from the hate I look at every day, and what advice I have for other journalists who are interested in covering hate and extremism.

From the interview:

Tameez: Do you have any advice for young journalists getting into this beat, or anybody who transitioning to this beat in their newsroom?

Martin: I think this is advice for any new beat that somebody starts on but it applies to the hate and extremism beat: File a lot of public records requests. Because you’re going to find stuff in there that that you had no idea that was out there, that nobody had any idea it was out there.

I’d say pick a group in your area and file a records request with local and state law enforcement for any information that they have on that group. It’s a little bit of a fishing expedition, but more times than not, you’re going to come back with stories in there — and it also allows you to see how law enforcement interacts with these groups and how they operate to a certain extent. So that’s how I would start.

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