911 Operator: Huron County 911. You have an emergency?
Eric Webb: I’m trying to collect a weapon from my son. I’m more fearful of the guys that are out here with them. He does have some white nationalists that are out here with him.
911 Operator: And who is your son?
Eric Webb: His name is Tristan. I let him live in my house with my ex-wife, now he’s got a bunch of white nationalists livin’ with ’em.
Geraldine Moriba: This is season two of Sounds Like Hate, a podcast series from the Southern Poverty Law Center. I’m Geraldine Moriba.
Jamila Paksima: And I’m Jamila Paksima. We are examining where we come from, the history we accept as truth, and how sometimes our views influence the people we love the most towards violent extremist beliefs.
Geraldine Moriba: A warning to our listeners, this episode contains offensive and violent content.
Eric Webb: I guess there was some rally up here recently. My son’s almost 18, but he said it’s legal for him to walk around at this rally with an SR 556, which is, you know what it – I don’t know if you know, it’s an AR-15…
911 Operator: Yes, I know I know exactly what it is. I was working that day. I know exactly what you’re talking about. And, yes, he could walk around and he did walk around with it. So, um, and it’s legal, it is, it’s legal. It’s open carry. He can do it.
Eric Webb: If he was to do something stupid, and with all the news goin’ on. But I also worry about my son’s life.
911 Operator: How many guns are, do you say that you’re responsible for that you’re responsible for that you’re trying to collect already? Or what did you collect already?
Eric Webb: I got like a couple of shotguns, uh, a couple of 22s, um, what was it? There’s a 22 handgun and, like, this little cool little Derringer gun, the 22. The big boy. The SR-556.
911 Operator: SR-556? That’s, that’s the assault rifle?
Eric Webb: Yeah, that the one he was marching around with.
Geraldine Moriba: That’s Eric Webb talking to a 911 operator in the summer of 2020.
911 Operator: 911. Uh, yeah.
Eric Webb: I just called you about Tristan this, and now the boys, the three of ‘em came out and attacked me. Justin was with them.
911 Operator: OK, I thought, I thought you, I thought you left, sir.
Eric Webb: No. I told my ex-wife, you have until 11 or 11 o’clock or else I’m going to start the eviction process.
911 Operator: Are you safe right now?
Eric Webb: Down the road. About a quarter mile.
911 Operator: OK. I do not want you to go back to that house. Do you understand me, OK?
Eric Webb: No, but I can’t leave my 16-year-old in this situation.
911 Operator: Did he actually assault you?
Eric Webb: No, he tried to, I was driving down the street, tried to take a swing at me at my car … and he’s laughing like, like the Joker laughed.
911 Operator: OK.
Eric Webb: They both came out here. Him and the 31-year-old came to my car.
911 Operator: Do not approach the house by yourself.
Jamila Paksima: Webb is the father of Tristan. When his son was 17 years old, he lived with about five other men together on the Webb family farm. They were all members of The Base, an accelerationist, neo-Nazi group. In season one, we reported on their violent plans to prepare for the collapse of America.
Geraldine Moriba: Webb’s property had become a fortified compound where white supremacists with The Base strategized and trained. The last time Webb checked in, he was chased away as he backed out of the driveway.
One of the armed men lunged at him through the open driver’s window of his truck.
Eric Webb: He had such rage in his eyes. But that turned to fear in that split second ‘cause he knew I wasn’t stopping. He let go and rolled and I called the police.
Geradline Moriba: Less than an hour later, the police arrived.
Eric Webb: One of the deputies came out, we talked. He said, “Well, what did he hit ya? He damage your car?” I’m, like, “No.” I told him there’s really no police report to file.
Jamila Paksima: After this incident, he didn’t return for another four months, not until the FBI raided his property on Oct. 29, 2020.
He agreed to let us go along with him to see what remained. We are the only journalists granted exclusive access inside the final headquarters of the neo-Nazi hate group The Base.
Almost as soon Tristan moved into the farmhouse, he invited other like-minded, already radicalized men to join him. Their ages ranged from 17 to 31.
Jamila Paksima: There’s a lot of gasoline cans everywhere.
Eric Webb: I know. I bought a bunch for, you know, like I said, I have generators.
Jamila Paksima: OK.
Jamila Paksima: Inside the house, we saw no weapons. Most likely they had been seized by the FBI. What remained were empty handgun cases and ammunition boxes scattered on the floor.
Eric Webb: This is where Tristan’s room was.
Jamila Paksima: In Tristan’s room, there were three stickers with racist phrases on his mirror and an additional five on the window.
Eric Webb: “It’s OK to be white.” “Hate is not a crime.”
Jamila Paksima: And on the back of his bedroom door, he wrote “white power” with swastikas on either side.
Eric Webb: I was hoping Tristan would take up plumbing or, like, he doesn’t really want to go to college. I just, how can you live like this? This house looks like it’s been abandoned for, like, 20 years.
Jamila Paksima: Doesn’t this hurt?
Eric Webb: It’s disgusting. It’s – I think of my dad and, you know, he loved being out in the country, and when you see just trash.
What I was hoping Tristan was gonna do with more young men as labor is clear all this out, but it’s, like, almost in worse shape than it was before.
Jamila Paksima: Upstairs, we entered Watkins’s room, the den of the local leader of The Base who was arrested by the FBI. His walls were painted black.
Eric Webb: This is Justin’s room. And there’s a swastika on the bathroom door.
Jamila Paksima: There was a large mound of clothes on the floor. A stained mattress was overturned. The room smelled like cat urine. There were dirty dishes in the drawers and unopened packages of spam lunch meat singles in the closet.
Eric Webb: I really do think I thought it would just be a bunch of guys lifting weights, getting in shape, shooting guns. And I grew up that way. I wasn’t thinking about the possibilities.
Geraldine Moriba: But they were doing more than lifting weights and shooting guns. The Webb property had become a hate camp with paramilitary training for a race war.
Eric Webb: This looks like a dark place where there was no good.
Geraldine Moriba: Webb had expectations his 17-year-old son and the other men would work the land and care for animals.
Eric Webb: And this is where they planned to have their pigs. They had three pigs, they had to get rid of them because of COVID and they were eating too much. They, uh, I guess they killed them. Not a big fan of that.
Jamila: So, they slaughtered them and ate them?
Eric: No, they just slaughtered them. I don’t know how – I didn’t ask too many questions.
Geraldine Moriba: And that’s the problem: Webb needed to ask more questions. Questions about the compound his son had set up for white supremacists, and questions about their paramilitary training plans. He took no responsibility for any of it.
Tristan Webb: Hi, how’s it going? It’s Tristan.
Jamila Paksima: Hey, Tristan, thank you for calling. It’s OK that I record our conversation for your interview?
Tristan Webb: Uh, sure.
Jamila Paksima: You’re 18, right? So you can authorize this on your own since you’re officially an adult?
Tristan Webb: Yep.
Jamila Paksima: I spoke to Tristan about what was going on at the compound. He says his mother and brother moved out of the house a few weeks before the FBI raid occurred. He says the situation was not what he had hoped for.
Tristan Webb: They weren’t plotting anything at all, not in an offensive manner, just an action to get things done in training-wise, whether you get robbed and, you know, or if you have antifa at your doorstep.
Jamila Paksima: And who do you think would come and attack your property?
Tristan Webb: We weren’t too far from Detroit or Flint or Bay City. So, we, uh, were more preparing for my migrations of people, of city dwellers, or things like that.
Jamila Paksima: It’s a mistake to ignore or dismiss Tristan’s extremist, racist views. The insurrection on the U.S. Capitol indicates his beliefs are broadly held and perhaps even normalized.
Peter Simi: Absolutely.
Geraldine Moriba: Peter Simi is a professor of sociology at Chapman University in Southern California.
Peter Simi: When you see what happened Jan. 6, and the number of people who turned out, you know, in other words, that were willing to travel from all parts of the country during a pandemic, nonetheless, for the initial rally that then turns into the insurrection. That, in and of itself, should tell us something.
Geraldine Moriba: He has extensively studied “formers,” people who leave the violent far right, including Wade Michael Page, an Army veteran who fatally shot six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in 2012. Simi is also a board member of Life After Hate, an organization helping to support other formers.
Peter Simi: I’m not sure how long we can sustain our attention and really confront this problem for the deeply ingrained problem that it is.
Geraldine Moriba: Why does it continue to persist?
Peter Simi: It’s part of the founding of our country. You know, it was written into the Constitution. Many states entered the Union – for instance, the state of Oregon entered as a whites-only territory. This, it’s part of the country’s DNA, and until we tackle it in that kind of respect, until we have that kind of truth, we can’t get to any kind of reconciliation that might really start to eat away at the persistence of the problem, because we don’t ever get to the truth of the matter. We imagine extremists to look a certain way, to maybe not be able to speak clearly or coherently, or to look extremely dangerous, but many people look like your co-worker, your colleague, your classmate, your neighbor. Until we stop imagining that it’s not our neighbors, it’s not our family members, it’s not our co-workers, then we’re not going to really be able to confront this problem the way it needs to be confronted.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: As soon as we get started here. Typically, these run like 30 minutes, up to an hour, depending on how the conversation goes or what questions you might have.
Geraldine Moriba: We started this investigation by listening to 83 hours of secret audio recordings made inside the “vetting room” of The Base. We used machine learning to analyze what was said by over 100 men on these calls and found that 88% of the ages mentioned by recruits were under 30. The youngest recruits said they were 17. Tristan’s call was typical of the youngest recruits.
Tristan Webb: I’ve gotten probably five or six solid guys that are, uh, definitely going to help out and move up and join the community.
Jamila Paksima: There’s another recruit from those secret calls we’ve been investigating.
Chris Hood: Usually, I’d probably start by giving my name, but I don’t know if that’s the best idea, um.
Jamila Paksima: Like Tristan, he became radicalized in high school. As a young white nationalist, he joined multiple groups. His pseudonym is Chad Bradley.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: Oh, Chad, we can’t, we can’t hear you. Uh.
Jamila Paksima: His real name is Chris Hood, and he is 22.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: So, let’s just start out with a general question. And just tell us a little about yourself.
Chris Hood: OK.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: You know, your background, your experience in activism is pretty impressive. Could you go into that a bit?
Geraldine Moriba: Rinaldo Nazarro, the former leader of The Base, asked most of the questions on their vetting calls. In this one, Hood claims to know one-to-two-dozen potential white supremacists eager for paramilitary training whom he could help recruit.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: Can you just tell us what groups, what, what you’re a member of now and what you have been a member of in the past?
Chris Hood: So, I was in the Proud Boys, but as of now, uh, I’m with the regional director for the Northeast, for Patriot Front. We’ve definitely been wanting to get into more of the, you know, survivalist or self-defense, uh, type of stuff that, you know, we’re definitely used to the idea of, like, traveling far distances to meet with other, like, networks of guys that do similar things and, you know, planning things that kind of veer, you know, out of the lines of legality. You know, as of recently, we did this, like, confrontation at, like, an antifa rally, and that didn’t pan out well for legal reasons.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: So, it sounds like you, your crew has sort of reached, uh, like, the end of your rope.
Chris Hood: I don’t know. We definitely got disillusioned with, you know, the standard schedule of P.F. I mean, I guess not giving too much detail, you know, there’s not a peaceable solution, to, you know, our, our racist problems, then, you know, there’s a numerous amount of actions that you could take.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: Yeah. And you are – you definitely, you know, hit the nail on the head with what we’re aiming for, people wanting to be active in real life. You know, we definitely, um, are pretty militant. But we also, I think all would agree with you, your assessment that, you know, we’re not gonna be, like, storming Washington, D.C., right? I mean, that’s, like, uh, just we don’t have the, the numbers, uh, to do that. I mean, not now, at least, you know, if ever, but we want things to accelerate, you know, we want things to get worse in the United States.
Jamila Paksima: Trying to impress, Hood assured Nazzaro he’d help him grow The Base with white supremacists from New England.
Chris Hood: Well, I have about, I think it’s, like, 28 guys in the Northeast area, so between Mass., New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. ‘Cause they’re gonna go, like, “Oh, shit, like, he’s recruiting for, like, The Base now or whatever.” I think there’s four or five definitely, and there’s definitely more than that I think would be interested, interested in, like, formally joining or, or, you know, participating at the very least in, like, meetups or anything like that.
Jamila Paksima: Immediately after this vetting call, Nazzaro shared his excitement about Hood with fellow Base members, whom he often referred to as his “comrades.”
Rinaldo Nazzaro: Coming from Patriot Front, being in that, yeah, he’s a pretty, I would say, he’s a pretty big one.
Megan Squire: I think I first picked him up as part of a Proud Boys data collection. He’s in several of my databases, um, for using social media as Chris Hood.
Geraldine Moriba: Megan Squire is a professor of data science, cyber security and online extremism at Elon University. Her internet records on Hood go back to 2018, when he was still a senior in high school.
Megan Squire: He was in a white culture and heritage group. Twelve thousand people. Looks like he was also going down as a “maybe” for an event called Rally for the Republic, and, if I recall, that one was in the summer of 2017.
Geraldine Moriba: Chris Hood has moved between organizations, some that he claims to be the leader of locally, some he’s a member, but he goes between multiple organizations. Is that typical of these guys, these extremists?
Megan Squire: Yeah, it can be. So, just one second and I’ll run a query, um, if you just give me one second. Don’t worry, this will be worth it. OK. Oh. Ay yai yai. OK, so, looks like Chris was into a Proud Boys group, an Alt-Knights group, which is the wing, that’s the fighting wing, the street-fighting wing of Proud Boys, back in that timeframe. He was in another Proud Boys vetting group specific to the Northeast region of the country. He was in, according to this, he was in a League of the South group, which I think is really interesting ‘cause that’s a neo-Confederate kind of the “South will rise again” type of group, um, typically not super full of people from Massachusetts. He was in a white culture and heritage group. That’s a pretty good variety of groups and this is in the 2017 timeframe. So, what we can tell from that is that he has taken that sort of seed list of groups and he’s, um, expanded that by the 2020, 2021 timeframe. So, now he’s in not just Proud Boys and sort of white culture groups, but he’s, you know, extended that to Patriot Front and then ultimately to these, um, National Socialist and acceleration type of groups. So, that’s a radicalization trajectory or pathway.
Geraldine Moriba: Is that what happens? It’s a rabbit hole and you get in and then you go deeper and deeper and is that the normal trajectory?
Megan Squire: Yeah, that’s a common trajectory. Another data point that I didn’t say a second ago is that one of the roles listed for one of the Proud Boys groups shows that he was an administrator. That means he’s connecting to the ideas more.
Geraldine Moriba: In February of 2019, after an altercation with the police in Boston, Chris Hood was one of three fascists who were arrested. According to a police report, Hood had a knife, and another had brass knuckles. The group had a stack of flyers which stated: “Keep America American.” It also said, quote: “Report any and all illegal aliens. They are not immigrants; they are criminals,” unquote. And it provided a number to a tip line for the Department of Homeland Security and ICE.
In response to this hateful propaganda, the Boston mayor, Marty Walsh, State Senator Joseph Boncore, Representative Adrian Madara, and Councilor Lydia Edwards sent out this joint statement via Twitter: “Boston rejects hatred, racism and promotion of white supremacy in all forms … those seeking to promote bigotry will always fail in the face of unity that is stronger, lasting and resilient.”
Chris Hood: I can’t remember. I think I sent you guys the address.
Jamila Paksima: On Hood’s next secret recording with The Base, they planned his first in-person meet up with members at a diner in Hartford, Connecticut. By this point, Hood had quit Patriot Front and was actively recruiting for The Base. Here, Nazzaro is discussing his concerns about Hood with other Base members.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: So, he had, he had come with – when he first joined, this kind of mad blitz to get everyone he knew to join The Base. Yes, Chris did message me, um, and said that, given his legal situation … he’s, he’s out on bail, uh, because of his, from his run in with the Boston PD, had a knife on him, which I guess is illegal in Boston.
Jamila Paksima: Hood’s upcoming court appearance didn’t slow his recruiting drive for The Base. It’s unclear how many men he recommended altogether. Here’s one who said he served in the Navy.
Speaker 104: I am white, proud white nationalist, second-generation European.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: Um, OK. So, do you know that we are considered a domestic terrorism, um, group by the FBI?
Speaker 104: No. I’m sorry. I didn’t know that. Are you?
Rinaldo Nazzaro: Yeah. Yes. Yeah, we are.
Speaker 104: Oh, awesome.
Rinaldo Nazzaro: And how long have you known Chris?
Speaker 104: Mmm, about a year. I met him through Patriot Front. He reached out to me.
Jamila Paksima: At his hearing, hood was represented by Augustus Invictus, a reputed white nationalist lawyer and an inciter at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Invictus served time in South Carolina for domestic violence against his ex-wife. Hood paid a mere $500 bail for the incident with the Boston police, and, in the end, the charges were dropped.
Geraldine Moriba: In response to the George Floyd demonstrations in Boston, Chris Hood came out of the shadows. This time he was with a new group, the Nationalist Social Club 131 or NSC-131. It’s another leaderless organization, and one of 12 hate groups identified in Massachusetts in 2020. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, NSC-131 has 13 chapters in the U.S. and others in Germany, Hungary and France.
Reporter: So, who do you represent? What’s your name?
Chris Hood: My name is Chris. I represent the Nationalist Social Club.
Reporter: OK. And what is that?
Chris Hood: We are a pro-white, street-oriented fraternity.
Reporter: Pro-white, street-oriented fraternity?
Chris Hood: I think that’s all you really need to know. Everything else you can see out here today and learn about.
Chris Hood: That’s why it’s NSC. Nationalist Social Club. FBI, FBI, make sure you note that down.
Donald Trump: And we are going to Capitol. We are going to give them the kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.
Geraldine Moriba: Sometimes the evidence of what extremists are plotting as they move from group to group is right there waiting to be discovered. There was another prospective Boston member on The Base’s vetting calls looking for a new group. This one used the pseudonym “Descendant.”
Jamila Paksima: He claimed to be a member of the Proud Boys. What he stated on his call shows storming the U.S. Capitol building is an idea that had been floating around.
Speaker 40: What really needs to happen right now is about 200,000 true patriots need to march up into fucking, into the Capitol building and just kill everybody fucking in it and then turn around and say, “Look, we’re done. This is what’s going to happen from this point on because our, our forefathers gave us the keys to the kingdom and told us what we needed to do.”
Jamila Paksima: In October of 2020, right before the election, police were contacted for a series of stickers which showed up and a recruiting flyer for NSC-131. Two New Hampshire towns, Brookline and Milford, were targeted. Milford Police Captain Craig Frye scraped a sticker off a street sign himself and then reported it to the FBI.
Police Captain: We don’t need those stickers around here.
Reporter: The Nationalist Social Club, also known as the 131 Crew.
Police Captain: It’s very disturbing. If it’s targeted at one group of people, it’s a hate crime, and that, you know, that can go state or federal.
Reporter: So far, Captain Frye located one of the stickers, but it appears this flyer, the one calling for “white men” to organize a local crew, was already taken down.
Geraldine Moriba: Squire’s research confirms Hood and a small group of Massachusetts white supremacists were in Washington, D.C. We found NSC-131 New England had posted a night image of the Capitol on Jan. 5, 2021, before the attack on the Capitol building, with the message: “NSC New England is in Washington, D.C., to ensure white safety.” It also said: “We are not here to support Donald Trump.”
Megan Squire: Yeah, I started looking at them because they’re on Telegram as well. There’s 800 people on the Telegram channel. Here’s a screen share. Um, where’s my Telegram window? Here it is.
Geraldine Moriba: Could you describe this photo?
Megan Squire: Um, yeah, it’s got a guy holding the camera, in the foreground is their NSC-131 calling card, with the strikethroughs on the Communist hammer and sickle, and also, interestingly, a dollar sign. And then behind is this mayhem of the Capitol being overrun and just crowds of Trump supporters and MAGA types and all that stuff.
Geraldine Moriba: This is a photo to deliberately tag the location on Jan. 6 at the insurrection?
Megan Squire: Yep, that’s what it looks like. Oh, they stole a Capitol Police. Um…
Geraldine Moriba: So, this is a helmet?
Megan Squire: Their sticker on top of it.
Geraldine Moriba: So somehow somebody went to the insurgency in D.C. and walked away with a U.S. Capitol Police helmet, a souvenir.
Megan Squire: It’s a trophy shot the same way when they stood at the wrong house and pointed at the address and took a photo. It’s a bounty photo, a trophy shot, whatever you want to call it, of, like, it’s designed for, for them to share among themselves and kind of take, take pride in that they accomplish this thing, in this case, stealing the gear of a Capitol Police officer, which, by the way, is all marked up and smashed. Oh, it looks like they stole a face shield from police as well.
Geraldine Moriba: And this is only tagged with the name of the group, so we don’t know who posted it?
Megan Squire: Right. It’s been shared a lot, though, um, on Telegram. You can tell that because the number of views is 13,000, but there’s only 1,300 people in this channel. So, it’s been shared outside the channel pretty extensively.
Geraldine Moriba: Chances are, this group NSC-131 will go under. Another will replace it. And Hood will move onto yet another group. Sociologist Simi agrees.
Peter Simi: When these groups fracture, there’s always other groups that a person can run to. And so it – just because one group fractures doesn’t mean everybody now disengages, some people just simply re-engage with other groups. So, if we were able to take advantage of group fractures and provide the kinds of supports that might keep those individuals from just simply re-engaging with another group, that could be, I think, very helpful.
911 Operator: OK, take a deep breath, ready?
Sergeant: Uh, okay.
911 Operator: Shit storm, a little shit storm. OK, so I have a 911 call on my line. His name is Eric Webb. So, Eric is here right now. He called his son Tristan, which is one of the three that were here at the protest with the big, long guns. He said, “Tristan, I want you to give me all my guns that are registered to me. I don’t want any part of any of my guns that are registered to me to be involved in anything harmful or bad.” Can he even do anything because Tristan’s minor and he’s only 17? Can he have that gun?
Sergeant: I don’t know. I don’t know. The FBI has been out there and stuff, and they didn’t take ‘em away, so apparently they can have them there, have them in their own home.
911 Operator: OK, so tell ‘em that he’s going to have to take them to court to get the gun back?
Sergeant: Yeah. He can take ‘em to court or somethin’ to get the gun. I’m not gettin’ in the middle of that hornet’s nest with those freaks. Tell him just to get out of there.
Geraldine Moriba: Altogether, Tristan was in The Base for a year.
Eric Webb: He said something about the negativity of it all. He didn’t want to die for, he didn’t want to just die for nothing.
Geraldine Moriba: The FBI released a list of the items they seized from The Base’s Michigan hate camp. They found a dozen gas masks, a machete, knives and swords with Nazi symbols, several bullets, surveillance cameras, tactical gear, and a guitar with white nationalist stickers. Missing from the FBI list were firearms they likely seized.
In Michigan, handguns do not have to be registered. It’s okay to open carry if individuals have lawful intent to use them. Tristan claims he did everything by the book.
Tristan Webb: I mean, we would follow gun laws to the “T” at the house. I mean, we would, every time we travel, we’d have our guns in gun safes, ammo, um, separated.
Geraldine Moriba: Two weeks prior to the raid in Bad Axe, the FBI had already arrested 13 members of another white power militia group in Michigan for conspiring to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Jamila Paksima: Tristan may have left The Base, but his beliefs haven’t changed. He says what he really wanted to build was a homestead for whites only, a compound where they could train for a race war, plant their own crops and stockpile foods for their own kind of people.
Tristan Webb: Yeah, we had barrels and barrels of, um, freeze-dried food, of sealed bags of beans and rice and sugar, and water purification supplies, and gas storage.
Jamila Paksima: Eric Webb says he may be responsible for sparking the prepping interest in his son, and worries that maybe he should have focused on the addictions and dependencies within the family. He says addiction continues to manifest in every generation, starting with his own father.
Eric Webb: His addiction was sexual. He had to have a woman in his life. That’s, that’s why I’m divorced because that’s how you get love. I say, just don’t fall for that fleshly addiction.
Jamila Paksima: Carol Teegardin, Tristan’s grandmother, agrees her family has addictions and believes hate is an addiction, too.
Carole Teegardin: I was an alcoholic and then I got sober. I’ve been sober 32 years, but I remember, you know, what addiction feels like, and I think they’re both addicted to that. I think Eric’s addicted to this QAnon stuff. And I think Tristan’s addicted to the, what he calls, what is it. Uh. It’s the same thing as white supremacy – it’s national socialism. I think he’s addicted to it and addicted to the people surrounding it, and addicted to the drama of it.
Geraldine Moriba: Simi’s research reveals how the process of leaving a hate group can be much like breaking an addiction.
Pete Simi: Based on life history interviews with former members, one of the things that stood out to us during the interviews and the analysis of the, um, data was that in about a third of the cases, individuals made references specifically to being like, feeling like they were addicted to hate. But an even larger number, about two-thirds, described essentially unwanted and involuntary kind of relapses, even if momentarily, back into kind of hating and believing and feeling in terms of, of how they felt as a white supremacist.
Geraldine Moriba: They’re going to be people who are listening, they’re gonna say this is a cop-out, it’s a cop-out to call white supremacy an addiction. How do you respond to that?
Pete Simi: I don’t disagree, necessarily. We’re not suggesting it be treated like a medical problem, per se. When you think about it as a public-health issue, you don’t just address it as a medical problem; public-health issues are dealt with in sociological ways; it’s an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary approach that looks at social problems from a variety of different perspectives and, of course, prevention is key from a public-health approach. And certainly, we would do very well to invest a lot more in thinking about how to prevent the problem of white supremacy. And I want to add another layer to this, when we think about whether there may be some addictive properties in terms of hate and being involved in a hate group, we should also be thinking about this at a societal level. In other words, when you look at our country’s history and how enmeshed in white supremacy, in fact, it’s at the core of our founding, there’s, there’s an argument to be made that at a societal level we’ve been addicted to white supremacy. We’ve been addicted to hate because of how central role it’s played in our country’s history and the deep psychological, at a collective level, impact it’s had and how entrenched it is.
Jamila Paksima: Now Webb says he should have reminded Tristan of the truth about their heritage.
Eric Webb: Well, my great-great-grandmother was Jewish.
Jamila Paksima: That means that Tristan has Jewish blood in him.
Eric Webb: He doesn’t want to believe that.
Jamila Paksima: So, now you’re regretting it. Now you’re regretting you let them be here, but you let it go on. You knew it was happening. I mean, you knew that…
Eric Webb: A bit… I’m a bit naive. I thought, “Hey, he’d fix things up and they can have their stupid beliefs,” but looking back I wish I would have just said no.
Geraldine Moriba: The question is: What can parents do to prevent radicalization or help a child who’s already in this space?
Peter Simi: This requires a certain kind of awareness, a certain kind of, uh, understanding that these, uh, threats exist, that these, uh, groups are widely circulating. This is not something of the past, it’s something very much, uh, a contemporary issue that we face.
Geraldine Moriba: Simi says there are things parents can do.
Peter Simi: I can tell you, just individually, you know, I have a 21-year-old son. He, at one point in high school, for example, became, in a really kind of, started listening to a lot of, uh, so-called death metal. Well, you know, that, uh, immediately triggered for me, “Well, OK, death metal for the most part is fairly harmless, uh, relatively speaking. But there is a segment of, of death metal called NSBM: National Socialist Black Metal.”
Geraldine Moriba: This is also the genre of music Tristan Webb was listening to in high school.
Peter Simi: And it, it is part of this larger subculture of death metal. And so what can happen is a person, a young person starts out listening to just regular, you know, death metal and then at some point may wander, accidentally or, or not accidentally, into the National Socialist death metal. And, of course, the National Socialist death metal folks are looking for that to happen. So, when I, when I found out about that, I immediately started talking with him about, you know, this and I started finding out, you know, I listen to the music with him and talk to him about the lyrics, and talking to him about the games he’s playing, talking to ‘em about the kind of communication that’s happening, um, on these games, because a lot of times that’s where, it’s, it’s not the game itself, but it’s the fact that they’re able to communicate with the kids that are playing these games, are communicating with each other, and that sometimes includes, um, recruiters for white supremacist groups who are, who are looking to bring young people into the fold. And more recently, he’s gotten into mixed martial arts, which is another subculture where white supremacists have developed quite a foothold of both the United States and, and in Europe. I think the common denominator, hopefully what’s helpful from what I’m seeing for, for parents, is that it’s about conversations with our kids. It’s about having very direct conversations, asking them questions, not, “How is your day going?” but much more specific types of questions, uh, about their life and about what they’re doing.
Geraldine Moriba: If you’re a parent of somebody who’s already in the space and you can’t get in and you can’t identify what they’re receiving ‘cause you don’t have the passwords, what do you do?
Peter Simi: Once that happens, obviously, the level of difficulty increases exponentially in terms of what parents, uh, how parents can respond, how much they can effectively intervene. So, that’s why early prevention is so important. What do parents do? Well, one of the places I think we need a lot more investment, in terms of our infrastructure, our community-based resources to help parents in this situation, and we just, as a nation, we haven’t invested in our infrastructure in this realm, for the most part tremendously underfunded, and, uh, there’s not enough of them and there’s not enough availability.
Geraldine Moriba: Fortunately, Simi says his own son is doing well.
Peter Simi: I am worried that, uh, in this younger generation now of folks who are getting radicalized, those background characteristics aren’t as necessary as they used to be to get radicalized because of the power of social media and, you know, access through gaming platforms and, frankly, because it seems like society has moved in this direction in terms of the mainstream part. And you have people, you know, in the White House and Congress and state legislators who are talking, you know, speaking this language and so young people, this is all kind of filtering down, and I think young white people in particular, obviously…
Geraldine Moriba: It’s more acceptable.
Peter Simi: It’s more acceptable, but if something is normal and acceptable, it’s really not, like, you don’t need anything for radicalization to happen because all they’re doing essentially is adopting what’s, what’s been deemed as acceptable.
Donald Trump: That name gets further and further away from China, as opposed to calling it the Chinese virus.
Donald Trump: They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.
Donald Trump: African Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous.
Donald Trump: The Black Lives Matter, if you look at what’s going on with the bats and the – they’re a lotta thugs.
Donald Trump: Many of the principles of radical Islam are incompatible with Western values and institutions.
Donald Trump: What do you want to call ‘em? Give me a name. Give me a name. Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.
Jamila Paksima: Former president Donald Trump didn’t start a movement; he emboldened racists and extremists who were lying in wait.
Cassie Miller: Well, I think what you’re seeing is the movement of extremist ideas and strategy into a larger part of the political right in this country.
Jamila Paksima: Cassie Miller is a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. She agrees the most critical solution is prevention.
Cassie Miller: We can prosecute people who are associated with these groups when they have committed crimes, like we’ve seen with The Base, um, and that is one strategy, but that can’t be our entire strategy because that’s only dealing with the end result of radicalization. What’s gonna be more effective is if we try to prevent radicalization from happening in the first place. So, one of the things we can do is, is really invest in research, um, and develop programming, um, that will stop people from becoming radicalized in the first place, and this depends on, you know, community-based solutions. Um, it depends on stopping the spread of misinformation, um, you know, and it depends on creating a society where far-right extremists have fewer grievances to try and weaponize. Um, you know, listening to the people who become members of The Base, so many of them felt like they had no future, um, so they were really willing to sacrifice everything because they felt like they had nothing to lose, um, and that’s something that is extremely sad, and I think that we need to view them with, with some form of empathy, um, you know, and what we can do is build a more secure and more stable society where people can raise their families, they can access health care, and housing, and education, not worry about plummeting into debt.
Jamila Paksima: When I spoke with Tristan last, he was in New Orleans. He said he was there to “decompress” with a woman named Gigi. They met online.
Eric Webb: He met a girl and she’s not into this stuff, and she’s just a really good influence. I really believe she’s a positive force in his life.
Jamila Paksima: So, I spoke with Gigi to see what sort of positive force she is in Tristan’s life.
Jamila Paksima: Hi, Gigi. How are you?
Gigi: I’m doing well. How are you?
Jamila Paksima: I’m good. What would you say that your personal faith and ideology are?
Gigi: National socialist.
Jamila Paksima: Gigi is 19 years old and the second white supremacist girlfriend we were told about. She says she’s originally from Russia and is now living in Louisiana, studying criminal justice. She also mentions her brother was incarcerated for a hate crime.
Gigi: My, uh, oldest brother, um, got – we went through something very similar and a, so… It’s not, like, this is, like, a first-time thing, it’s not like it was something very shocking for me to hear.
Jamila Paksima: When he was contacted by the FBI in New Orleans, she knew what to expect. She’d seen it before.
Jamila Paksima: So, I’m sharing this with you, not to burst your bubble, but I think you, you ought to know that your son has found another like-minded woman who believes in this stuff. And he’s not away from it, and I don’t think she’s the one who’s gonna pull him out.
Eric Webb: That young girl worries me; I still have hope.
Jamila Paksima: What’s the path out? How do you get your kids out of this?
Eric Webb: There’s only one path out, in my opinion. It, it – when you boil it simply down: love over hate.
Jamila Paksima: Webb uses platitudes to answer questions about responsibility. What he never explained is exactly what he, or anyone else, are trying to do now to hold Tristan accountable and pull him out of this extremist mindset. The last time we spoke with the Webb family we learned Eric sold the family farm. And as for Tristan, he and Gigi are talking about getting married.
Look out for updates from us on the criminal cases against The Base members actively being prosecuted across the country.
Geraldine Moriba: In our next episode of Sounds Like Hate, we report on one woman’s mission to relocate a century-old monument of a Confederate soldier from the front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse in Alabama.
Camille Bennett: Oh, this one was interesting: “If you decide to riot in my neighborhood, just remember, sticks and stones may break my windows, but hollow points expand inside you.” This is the new way to burn crosses on your yard.
Geraldine Moriba: These are complicated stories about people who hold onto false histories and terroristic ideologies – and draw boundaries that are skin deep.
Jamila Paksima: If you are a parent or caregiver concerned about online radicalization, visit the SPLC or the PERIL Project at American University to obtain your handbook, Building Resilience & Confronting Risk in the COVID-19 Era. And, if anyone on these recordings happens to be someone you might know, or if you have a tip you’d like us to investigate, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Geraldine Moriba: If you know someone who has experienced a hate incident or crime, please contact the appropriate local authorities or elected official. You can also document what happened at splcenter.org/reporthate.
Jamila Paksima: This is Sounds Like Hate, an independent audio documentary brought to you by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Produced by Until 20 Productions. I’m Jamila Paksima.
Geraldine Moriba: And I’m Geraldine Moriba. Remember to subscribe to find out when new episodes are released. Please rate and review. It really helps. And thanks for listening.