An American Neo-Nazi Allegedly Tried to Derail a Passenger Train
Purported Amtrak plot fits a recent pattern
On Oct. 22, 2017, 26-year-old Taylor Wilson of Missouri — a member of a neo-Nazi group who had expressed interest in “killing black people,” according to the FBI — breached a secure area of an Amtrak passenger train as it passed through Nebraska. He then grabbed the controls.
His purpose was to “wreck, derail, and disable railroad on-track equipment to wit, an Amtrak train,” according to the FBI, in a recently unsealed affidavit on several charges including an act of terrorism and violence against railroad carriers. Wilson had attended the far-right Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12 — where one anti-fascist counter-protester died in a vehicular attack — and had stockpiled a hidden cache of weapons at his home and consumed books on making bespoke weapons such as the Poor Man’s James Bond by Kurt Saxon, according to the affidavit.
It is not clear what neo-Nazi group Wilson had allegedly joined. In his possession was a business card for the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, one of the oldest organizations of neo-Nazis and far-right skinheads in the United States.
The FBI interviewed an acquaintance of Wilson who claimed he recently joined a neo-Nazi group and had been acting strangely since June 2017. Fortunately, Wilson was unable to follow through with his alleged plan, as the conductor and others restrained him aboard the train, turning him over to police.
This news is not shocking. The American domestic far right has historically been the deadliest source of terrorism in the United States, and is the leading group in terms of frequency of attacks, only being surpassed in the number of deaths caused since 9/11 by radical Islamic extremists.
Far-right violence is also increasing. “In the last few years, and especially since 2007, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of attacks and violent plots originating from individuals and groups who self-identify with the far-right of American politics,” the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point noted in a 2013 study.
Wilson’s alleged terrorist attempt followed the vehicular attack by a far-right militant at the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, which left one dead and 19 injured. Wilson’s recent radicalization into extremism as outlined in the affidavit should be understood in context of that rally. The fact that this alleged attack occurred shortly afterwards is also worth further study.
In the past two years, there has been a level of political organizing and mobilization on the American extreme right that is unprecedented in many of its followers’ lifetimes. This activity not only includes established far-right groups such as the NSM, but has spurred the creation of new groups and platforms for communicating and organizing. These activities have included organized harassment, street violence and staged, public propaganda displays — the latter due in part to the authoritarian nature of far-right groups which require their members to carry out a high tempo of activity.
New online platforms, such as the websites The Daily Stormer and The Right Stuff, host forums and podcasts that have allowed followers to engage with extremist and racist ideas in playful manner, lowering the barriers to entry for new followers. Several groups, such as the white supremacist organizations Identity Evropa and Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, have dressed up racism in suits and ties.
Meanwhile, racial stereotypes treated as jokes on anonymous forums such as 4chan’s /pol/ helped normalize racism, anti-Semitism and extreme forms of right-wing politics, further helping funnel a new generation of recruits into organized groups.
A Nov. 4, 2017 demonstration on the rooftop of a parking garage in Austin, Texas by Patriot Front, a neo-Nazi group which splintered from Vanguard America, and the Kek Group — which originated from 4chan’s /pol/ forum and boasts of having four chapters in the state. Photo via social media
The rally in Charlottesville, referred to by the organizers as “Unite the Right,” was an attempt to mobilize and direct this energy into a nation-wide movement. Organizers and participants of the rally spoke openly of hoping for a civil war while preparing for violence, sharing bomb-making manuals and raising funds for equipment and travel expenses, according to thousands of pages of leaked logs from neo-Nazi chat rooms.
The infighting which ensued afterwards, however, have plunged the far right into a crisis over their tactics, leaders and future.
Voices calling for amplifying violence have attempted to exploit this chaos and lack of direction. One loose network of neo-Nazi ultra-radicals called the Atomwaffen Division — extreme even by the standards of broader neo-Nazi movement — advocates a form of “leaderless resistance” and bottom-up terrorism inspired by the works of James Mason, the one-time founder of the National Socialist Liberation Front and author of the newsletter Siege.
A similar group to Atomwaffen in the United Kingdom is National Action, a designated terrorist organization in that country. British police rounded up six alleged members of the group on Jan. 3, 2018, following the arrest of three other purported members in 2017.
The United States has no legal designation for domestic terrorist groups, and only designates foreign terrorist groups through the State and Treasury departments, making membership in the Atomwaffen Division legal.
The main organizing hub for Atomwaffen, the neo-Nazi Iron March forums, was scrubbed from the Internet in November — with rumors on Nazi webforums focusing on whether the Russian government may have pressured the site’s Russian administrator into shutting it down. Regardless, Atomwaffen-linked Twitter and YouTube accounts have continued to promote the group’s lurid propaganda, Nazi hiking trips, advocacy of “white revolution” and commemorations of Charles Manson.
Atomwaffen could be the deadliest neo-Nazi group — to the extent that it is a group and not merely a brand — currently active in the United States. While often treated as a juvenile joke in among the wider far right, there have been at least four murders linked to the network in the past eight months. The most recent two involved the slayings of Buckley Kuhn-Fricker and Scott Fricker of Virginia by their daughter’s 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Nicholas Giampa, police say.
The parents urged the daughter to break up with the Giampa after seeing his social media posts — which included Atomwaffen propaganda, his boasting of bullying a transgender person into committing suicide, and the words in his Twitter bio: “Read Siege.” Twitter deleted his account within several hours of the publication of a Huffington Post story on his social media history. He had been active on the account for several months.
On Dec. 2, Nicholas Giampa sneaked into Buckley and Scott’s home, shooting and killing both, according to police. He then turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger. He remains in critical condition at a hospital in Reston, Virginia.