When will the Space Nazis attack?

James Mason and the "Nuclear Weapons Division"

It's like another world. Only a few minutes' walk separate the fenced-in apartment complex in the center of Denver from high-gloss boutiques and fine restaurants, but there is no longer any trace of prosperity here. Homeless people camp in the immediate vicinity, and people smoke crack in the parking lot.

In front of the house entrance it is sociable in the midday heat. A dark-skinned man walks up and down the fence and seeks contact with the residents. Two younger people are lugging furniture into the neighboring house. You talk to each other, you know each other. Only the gray-haired elderly gentleman who walks towards the gate shortly before 4 p.m. with a shopping bag full of vegetables does not fit into the picture. He doesn't look at the neighbors, he disappears into his apartment without greeting.

You can understand why the 66-year-old isolates himself from the outside world if you know the photos from his apartment. You understand it even better when you know about your past.

James Mason in his Denver apartment

James Nolan Mason was extreme even as a teenager. At 14 he joined George Lincoln Rockwell's American Nazi Party, and in the 1970s he was involved in the National Socialist Liberation Front. He is in jail several times. Once because he and an accomplice attacked a group of dark-skinned men. Another time he is charged with child molestation. During a house search, the police found nude photos of a 15-year-old girl as well as swastika flags and pictures of Hitler and Goebbels.

In the 1980s, Mason decides to write down his fantasies of violence and power in a book. He calls it "Siege" (German siege). In the bizarre collection of newsletters created in collaboration with sect leader Charles Manson, he not only denies the Holocaust and incites against Jews and homosexuals. He calls for the formation of decentralized terrorist cells, for an armed struggle against the system. Mason's goal is to pass on his inhuman worldview to future generations. For a long time he was unsuccessful. That will change in 2015.

Propaganda photos of the "nuclear weapons" cell, Texas

In that year the Nazi group "Atomwaffen Division" was founded in the Internet forum "Ironmarch.org", a platform on which right-wing extremists from all over the world exchange ideas. The extremists discover James Mason for themselves. They absorb his confused, radical ideas more and more euphorically, "Siege" becomes compulsory reading, Mason their ideological father. But that's not the only thing that makes the group so dangerous, according to terrorism experts. The members are heavily armed and ready to use their weapons. In so-called "hate camps" they are preparing for a "race war" which, in their opinion, is imminent. Among the participants are US soldiers who lead target practice. According to a statement by a dropout from the "nuclear weapons" category, newcomers have to endure waterboarding, among other things. Who is behind the "Atomwaffen Division"?

The first murder occurred on May 19, 2017. Devon Arthurs, 18 years old, shot dead his two roommates Andrew Oneschuk (18) and Jeremy Himmelman (22), all three of whom were members of the "Atomwaffen Division". Arthurs later stated that the two men did not respect his beliefs. Arthurs gradually alienated himself from the group's right-wing extremist ideology, converted to Islam and sympathized with the "Islamic State".

Arthur's murderer (left), victims Oneschuk and Himmelman (right)

The leader of the troop also lived in the flat: Brandon Russell. The police found firearms, ammunition and bomb-making materials in his garage. Russell had previously announced in internal chats that he wanted to blow up a power plant. He is sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

The killing continues

On December 22, 2017, 17-year-old Nicholas Giampa shot dead his girlfriend's parents in Reston, Virginia. They had forbidden the daughter to interact with him because they rejected his right-wing extremist views. Giampa is an avowed James Mason fan and "Atomwaffen Division" member. At the scene of the crime, he aimed the gun at himself and pulled the trigger, but survived.

Gunman Giampa

Less than a month later, the most recent murder occurs. The investigation into the case is still ongoing. SPIEGEL was able to speak to police authorities and the victim's mother on site, as well as view private chat messages between the murdered person and friends. This allows the case to be reconstructed in detail. What happened in Lake Forest, California?

When the remaining "nuclear weapons" members learn that Woodward has been arrested for the murder of a homosexual Jew, they celebrate the crime. They call him a "one-man demolition force for gay Jews." At the beginning of the process, they create T-shirts with Woodward's likeness, complete with a swastika on their foreheads.

"Atomwaffen Division" are not internet trolls who spread disparaging graphics over the internet. The members share their propaganda in their own social media bubble and secret communication forums. SPIEGEL received an exclusive insight into the group's internal chats.

What quickly becomes clear: "Nuclear weapons" not only incite against Jews, homosexuals and blacks. They glorify right-wing extremist terrorists and mass murderers like Timothy McVeigh, Dylann Roof and the Norwegian Anders Breivik.

Letter from Theodore Kaczynski

They are in correspondence with Theodore Kaczynski, the imprisoned Unabomber. They have set up a chat channel where they can discuss with each other what questions they are going to ask the three-time killer next.

Between discussions about their idols, National Socialism and first-person shooters, however, sentences like: "Bomb your local refugee center", "Bombing police stations is a form of artistic expression" or "I want to blow up a government building".

Instructions for building bombs

It is difficult to assess how far some Internet boobies are from concrete acts: The members share links to archives with hundreds of documents preparing for armed struggle and terrorist attacks. These include manuals that describe in detail how to carry out attacks on power plants, power grids and motorway bridges. There are dozens of instructions for building your own pipe, car and nail bombs. Explanations of how to produce highly potent explosives from household resources or how to build time detonators are right next to it.

More than just right

"Nuclear weapons" not only glorify right-wing terror, their chat messages convey a confused picture. Members post photos of decapitated or murdered people. They share execution videos from the "Islamic State" and extremist interpretations of verses from the Koran. They call school assassinations like those at Columbine High School a "perfect act of revolt."

The group is also extremely misogynistic. Members refer to women as "selfish sociopaths of no value", as "sluts" and "property". Every sexual abuse is "justified", writes one. "I wouldn't even call it rape," another. Pedophilia is also not a taboo. "If she bleeds, she can give birth" and "Birth is consent" are just a few of the many quotation examples.

From National Socialism to child abuse to IS: How does it all fit together?

At some point it is no longer enough for the members of »Atomwaffen« to just read »Siege«; they want to meet the author in person. After allegedly searching for years, they find James Mason in hiding in 2017. A friendship and a business relationship develop. The man, who actually had the halfway successful phase of his Nazi career behind him and was in danger of sinking into absolute insignificance, is to be brought into the digital age by the young Nazis. Mason's dusty Nazi propaganda appears under the label "Siege Culture" in a new guise. From then on, »Atomwaffen« published his articles on a website and recorded podcasts with him. But the focus of Siege Culture is on Mason's books. According to his own statement, the rights to the works now belong to John Cameron Denton, the spokesman for "nuclear weapons".

Denton: "James Mason gave us the torch."

Mason with "nuclear weapons" members (left), Denton visiting Mason (right)

Members of the "Atomwaffen Division" take on the layout, promotion and sales. Five books are already available. Including a new edition of Siege and an even more bizarre collection of scriptures in which Mason describes Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Seven more books are planned. They are printed and distributed via Amazon's self-publishing platform »CreateSpace«.

The man to whom young Nazis pilgrimage is shuffling down East Colfax Avenue in Denver at 8:25 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Past the park with the many homeless people, down the street to the bus stop, where he waits away from the other people. He seems in a good mood. What's going on in that head? What does this man have to say about so much violence and hatred? James Mason does not speak to journalists, he has been in secret for more than ten years. But he likes to talk to an interested tourist from Germany. A hidden camera interview:

For »nuclear weapons«, the cooperation with James Mason means above all recognition within the scene. She helps the group to capture violent youngsters, and not only in the USA anymore. The cult of Mason's »victories« has spawned a worldwide network of fanatics. For some, contact is limited to the Internet, while others travel the world to meet their comrades. New "nuclear weapons divisions" are even being set up abroad. A selection:

"Atomwaffen Division" serves as a water heater for violent men worldwide and James Mason is their fire. His disciples promote inhuman views and want to be as extreme as possible. Rhetorically, the Nazis have already reached a high level of escalation. One form of improvement that still remains for them is action.

"Many of you have to increase your existential commitment to racial segregation," writes a member named "Groz" at the end of July 2018 in the chat. "The Internet can only give you tips, no experience."

The visual story "Das Hass-Netzwerk" won the Rias Award in the "Digital Media" category. The authors Alexander Epp, Roman Höfner and Roman Lehberger trace how a group of militant right-wing extremists formed underground in the USA, planning and carrying out attacks and murders and spreading them globally. From the jury's reasoning: "The gripping report about the fanatical right-wing radical groups is told through the innovative use of digital media and thus sets standards for online storytelling".

Watch a SPIEGEL TV film about the "Atomwaffen-Division" here

Authors, camera, editingAlexander Epp, Roman Höfner
CooperationRoman Lehberger
Animation, graphicsMax Heber
layoutElsa Hundertmark, Lorenz Kiefer
programmingChris Kurt, Lorenz Kiefer
Final editingKatrin Zabel
documentationClaudia Niesen
editorial staffJens Radü

Aerial photographyGoogle Earth, Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, Landsat / Copernicus, Data LDEO-Columbia, NSF