Cameron Shea, 24, described by the Department of Justice as the “leader” of Atomwaffen Division, pleaded guilty yesterday to federal hate crime and conspiracy charges. They stemmed from a campaign in which he personally ordered a “show of force” involving members of the neo-Nazi terror group to place posters on the homes of journalists and activists across the country.
Last year, five members of the group were rounded up by the FBI after printed threats were sent to the homes of journalists and activists in Florida, Arizona, and Washington state. Shea himself sent an Anti-Defamation League official that, according to a DOJ release, “depicted a Grim Reaper-like figure wearing a skeleton mask holding a Molotov cocktail outside a residence, with the text “Our Patience Has Its Limits …. You have been visited by your local Nazis.” So far, four of the five members arrested have pleaded guilty to charges related to the national campaign against the group’s perceived enemies.
Shea, who is set to be sentenced in June of this year, faces a possible 15-year prison term for his crimes.
In 2015, Atomwaffen Division—named for the German word for nuclear weapons—first formed on the infamous white nationalist website IronMarch and would go on to be linked with five stateside murders. In the beginning, its skull-masked aesthetic and propaganda videos featuring armed men and menacing threats of violence were a shocking example of a new era in domestic terrorism.
For many analysts and onlookers, it was a terrifying development. This wasn’t a foreign-based terror group like ISIS, but an organization America had given birth to inside its own borders.
Four years later, domestic terror has become a regular fixture of American public life, thanks in part to the Capitol Hill insurrection and a host of other far-right groups making headlines.
Atomwaffen Division itself, though, is largely defunct; the group publicly dissolved (although a Russian chapter still says it exists). Some of its key members founded a new group; as recently as last week, others were pleading guilty to terror related crimes.
Florida native Tyler Parker-Dipeppe, 21, pleaded guilty in September 2020 for his role in the national threat campaign, faced sentencing last week, where it was revealed that he had concealed from his co-conspirators that he was transgender. The U.S. District Court judge in Seattle, where the charges were tried, decided not to impose prison time on Parker-Dipeppe, citing his difficult childhood and violent home life growing up as transgender in an unaccepting household.
“None of us have suffered the difficult situation this defendant has endured as a result of his gender identity confusion,” said the judge. The lawyer for Parker-Dipeppe, who faced physical abuse from his father as a child, said he looked for acceptance as a teen, which led him down the rabbithole of the neo-Nazi terror group.
While it was clear that Parker-Dipeppe was a bit player inside the group, attorneys from the Department of Justice still sought a 16-month prison term, but accepted the judge’s decision and acknowledged the struggles he had faced as a kid. Johnny Roman Garza, 21, another low-ranking figure in the plot who plastered the home of an Arizona journalist with a threatening message and also pleaded guilty in September 2020, was sentenced to 16 months of prison time. Kaleb Cole, 24, from Washington state, who was considered one of the ringleaders (along with Shea) of the campaign, elected to go to trial. He is set to appear in September.
Then there’s John Cameron Denton, 26, a Texan native and the longtime leader of the group who went by the alias “Rape” and pleaded guilty to swatting in July 2020. Denton, who had swatted ProPublica (apparent revenge for exposing his role in the group) and a Trump cabinet official, was arrested at the same time as the four other members of the group for his separate plot.
Though the latest pleas and sentencing spell the true end of Atomwaffen Division, once the premiere neo-Nazi terrorist organization in the U.S., there’s no denying the group’s influence. Among other things, it established a cult following for Siege. an insurgency manual penned in the 1980s and worshipped by the group as the blueprint for war against the U.S. government. The book and its teachings, along with the model of Atomwaffen Division, went on to inspire several other terror groups, namely the Base, which still exists and is under an intense FBI crackdown.
Since it first started on IronMarch, which became a digital ground zero for where the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville was organized, Atomwaffen Division wanted to be a force of terror.
“[Atomwaffen Division] has specifically advocated for violence since they were founded in 2015,” said Joshua Fisher-Birch, a terrorism analyst at the Counter Extremism project who monitors the group and its adjacent movement. “[S] everal of their members have been charged or found guilty of crimes including explosives-related offenses and murder. The neo-Nazi organization’s violent character should be considered during sentencing, especially because there continue to be numerous non-group affiliated individuals inspired by [Atomwaffen Division’s] legacy, brand, and ideology.”