Neo-Nazis Who Targeted Podcaster and Terrorized Random Family Busted in MI: Cops

Kelly Weill, Spencer Ackerman
YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty
YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty

Two alleged members of the white supremacist group The Base were arrested Thursday morning in connection with a harassment campaign against a Michigan family.

According to the state attorney general, the two men, Justen Watkins, 25, and Alfred Gorman, 35, mistakenly believed the family home belonged to a left-leaning podcast host. The duo allegedly took pictures outside the house dressed in Nazi gear late last year, and posted pictures to the internet with captions threatening Daniel Harper, the host of the anti-fascist podcast “I Don’t Speak German.”

The men are charged with gang membership, unlawful posting of a message, and using computers to commit a crime after what was described as a joint operation between state police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It comes three weeks after the FBI’s high-profile bust of members of an unrelated, Boogaloo-infused Michigan paramilitary group who are charged with plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

An affidavit by Michigan State Police Detective Sergeant Sherry Workman shows that the arrests arose from a “domestic terrorism investigation” conducted alongside the FBI. “The Base” is a rough English translation of “al-Qaeda,” whether intentional or otherwise; the terror groups share no other links.

Sutton Roach, an FBI spokesperson, confirmed that the bureau executed arrest warrants Thursday morning on Watkins and Gorman but declined further comment.

Harper, the podcaster The Base attempted to target, told The Daily Beast the arrests were a long time coming.

“Given the flurry of federal activity around the Base and various related groups between mid-2019 and spring 2020, I assumed that there was either an ongoing investigation or that they had hit a dead end,” he said.

Harper, who tracks far-right groups like the Base, said that, as months passed, he guessed authorities might have been sidetracked by other fringe movements. “There was also the possibility that they had gotten distracted by the ongoing pandemic and/or the boogaloo boys,” he said.

It was unclear whether investigators were unable to find violations of federal law, as the two Base leaders were charged only with Michigan violations. The affidavit does not accuse Watkins or Gorman of outright acts of violence.

According to the police affidavit, sometime after mistakenly stalking a Dexter, Mich. home believed to belong to antifascist podcaster Harper, Watkins boasted on the Base’s Telegram channel that he was ready to commit lurid violence against what he described as a Jew-run America. He allegedly ran what the affidavit calls a “hate camp” in Bad Axe, Mich. where he instructed Base members in “tactical and firearms training” that the fascist organization turned into propaganda and recruitment videos.

"I will train with firearms, explosives, knives, Ryder trucks, and anything else I have to destroy this KIKE SYSTEM THAT IS GENOCIDING MY people," Watkins allegedly wrote in early 2020, in what the affidavit describes as a manifesto posted to Telegram. That manifesto allegedly ended: "To victory with PURE UNADULTERATED ARYANVIOLENCE! HAIL TERROGRAM!"

The affidavit does not indicate how long the Michigan police and the FBI have been investigating the December 2019 incident. But the local sheriff’s office has been aware of it since the residents of the house, Richard and Dawn Shea, reported the tactically-geared men on their porch taking pictures.

The Base encourages terror tactics against its enemies, and often incorporates those people into its propaganda, as members allegedly did with Harper and the pictures of the house.

The affidavit suggests a recent leadership change in The Base, which was founded by Rinaldo Nazarro, a former military contractor who was first identified by The Guardian early this year. Following his identification by the Guardian, Nazarro passed on leadership to Watkins, the latter man claimed, according to the arrest affidavit.

“In early 2020, several members of The Base were arrested across the United States for criminal activities relating to their involvement in The Base,” it continues. “Following the highly public arrests, and ‘doxxing’ (publishing private identifying information about an individual on the internet) of The Base's founder and then leader, Watkins announced that the former leader had appointed Watkins as the new leader of The Base.”

The arrests alluded to in the affidavit include the bust of multiple Base members for allegedly planning a mass shooting at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, this year, and for allegedly plotting an attack on an anti-fascist couple in Georgia. Three of the arrested members, including one who was on the lam from Canada, allegedly hoped the attack on the gun rally would be part of a plot to overthrow the government and establish a white ethnostate, according to an arrest affidavit in that case.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified last month that white supremacist terrorism comprised the “biggest chunk” of domestic terrorism currently menacing America. He also revealed that the FBI had more than 1,000 domestic-terrorism investigations open; 107 people were arrested as the result of those investigations in 2019.

But the bureau has also drawn substantial criticism for opacity surrounding its domestic counterterrorism efforts, particularly while the Trump administration misleadingly portrays an equal or greater terror threat from antifascist and Black-liberation activists. The Daily Beast reported on Monday that the bureau is sitting on a legally-required public accounting of white-supremacist and other domestic terrorism, as well as government efforts to combat it.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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