Atomwaffen Division Financing
Backgrounder and counter-terrorist financing options
By Jessica Davis.
In this post, I explore the financing mechanisms used by Atomwaffen Division and the new iteration of the group, National Socialist Order. Both AWD and NSO, as well as James Mason, one of the ideological leaders of AWD, are all listed terrorist entities in Canada. Like many ideologically-motivated violent extremist groups, AWD is largely self-funded by its members, and uses its funds for low-complexity attacks. The group also raises some funds through propaganda sales, but how these funds are used, stored, and managed, remains unclear. Counter-terrorist financing options are limited due to the group’s financial (and networked) structure, but financial intelligence and financial exclusion practices are likely to yield the greatest results against the group and subsequent iterations of the group and its members.
Introducing Atomwaffen Division
Atomwaffen Division (AWD) is a neo-Nazi terrorist group founded in the United States in 2015. In 2020, the group announced that it was disbanding, although shortly thereafter members of the group created the National Socialist Order (NSO), which is widely considered to be the same entity. In 2019, there were approximately 60-80 members of AWD and a smaller number of “initiates”; however, AWD/NSO uses a decentralized cell structure, so estimates of actual membership vary₁. AWD has offshoots or associated cells in several countries including Germany (Feuerkrieg Division)₂ , the UK (Sonnenkrieg Division – although the exact nature of the relationship between the groups is debated), Poland, Canada, Czech Republic, Ukraine₃, and Russia. AWD originally organized online, mostly through Discord (a communications platform), and while there is no publicly available information suggesting that the group raised money through Discord, the platform does provide the ability for users to generate funds through private servers, advertisements, donations, and sponsorship.
Most of the AWD/NSO funding likely comes from members’ self-financing. For instance, AWD member William James Tschantre cashed in $3,000 of savings and quit his fast-food job before purchasing a pair of rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. The group might also use propaganda sales to support some aspects of its organization as well as some of its members. For instance, AWD has used Amazon CreateSpace to sell propaganda₄, and AWD has sold merchandise including t-shirts, mugs, books, and according to information provided by Canada to the Financial Action Task Force, the group has used some of these funds to support other members accused of crimes₅.
The American Futurist website and tangentially associated with AWD/NSO was set up in 2020 to spread Mason’s propaganda. The site accepts donations through Bitcoin and Monero, and there are also instructions for sending physical currency to a post office box. According to a note on the website, the funds are not used for “petty personal purposes” and are instead funnelled to “projects of interest”₆.However, no further information on the site conclusively links it or the funds that could potentially be raised, directly to any NSO/AWD member.
AWD has also used YouTube to spread propaganda, but there is no information to suggest that their channels were monetized or were a significant source of funds. There is also no information to suggest that they charge fees for members to attend training camps (see below)₇.
AWD has held training camps (commonly referred to as “hate camps”) at which they conduct weapons training and learn combat skills. One of these held in the Nevada desert lasted three days and was organized by Michael Lloyd Hubsky. The costs involved in running the camp are unknown, but as with other terrorist training camps, it is likely that members pooled funds to acquire the goods and weapons needed for the camp, essentially self-financing their training activities. Individual members also likely paid for their own travel to and from the camps.
The murders that AWD members have committed to date have been lone-actor, low-complexity attacks using weapons that the perpetrators already owned, and while perpetrated by AWD members, it remains unclear if all of the incidents were motivated by the group’s ideology and perpetrated to advance its goals. (For a run-down of many of these incidents, see Ware, “Siege: The Atomwaffen Division and Rising Far-Right Terrorism in the United States”). Many of the members acquired their weapons and ammunition well in advance of any planned incident. For instance, one member was arrested with an AR15 and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, a weapon he had likely acquired some time before the incident₈. In some cases, cells may have been preparing for more complex attacks. Following the arrest of AWD member Devon Arthurs, a cooler with HMTD was found by police, as well as other explosive precursors, components including electric matches, and empty ammunition casings with fuses (which can be used as detonators).
Reports also suggest that members travel to visit with international cells; in these cases, individual members have also likely paid for their own travel expenses during their trips abroad.
AWD/NSO members exploit the economic and financial systems in the areas they operate, meaning that they likely use the formal financial system (banks) and cash to move and store funds. However, the group’s accelerationist ideology, and particularly their efforts to bring about the demise of the social order, suggests that they might be particularly inclined towards using alternatives to the formal financial system such as cryptocurrencies, other financial technologies, or gaming platforms with payment mechanisms.
According to information submitted by Canada to the Financial Action Task Force, AWD’s resources and financial structure are primarily based online, with reliance on money transfers services₉.
Managing and Storing Funds
There is little information to suggest that AWD/NSO or their various associated cells have significant financial resources. However, a reference from the Southern Poverty Law Center to “internal AWD financial papers” suggests that the group might employ some financial management practices and may have more financial resources than this preliminary assessment suggest.
- Intelligence Gap: AWD/NSO financial management practices
- Intelligence Gap: AWD/NSO financial tradecraft