An international neo-Nazi group that once boasted dozens of American members, including two who allegedly plotted mass-casualty attacks, political assassinations, and the bombing of a major media outlet, is again actively recruiting extremists in the United States and Europe.
The Feuerkrieg Division (FKD), which was founded in late 2018 by a 13-year-old boy from Estonia and was composed of mostly young men before it announced its dissolution in February 2020, resurfaced on the messaging app Telegram in May. Members of the group announced that they were ready to “embrace chaos” and “invoke terror” in hopes of destroying modern society.
At the same time, FKD recruiting leaflets and propaganda posters began appearing on the streets of Estonia, Bulgaria, and other European countries, where the group had a strong presence previously. “Strive for the collapse” and “join the revolution,” read digital and physical propaganda posters created by the group that were adorned with swastikas and skull-masked figures carrying bloodied assault rifles and doing the Sieg Heil salute.
Moreover, FKD also announced on Telegram that it had forged a partnership with the US-based Injekt Division, a neo-Nazi community founded by a Texas man arrested last month for allegedly planning a mass shooting at a Walmart, styled after the 2019 massacre in El Paso in which 23 people were killed.
In encrypted Telegram channels and chats accessed by BuzzFeed News, FKD members discussed the process of recruiting and vetting US citizens. One of the members involved in the discussion mentioned being 16 years old and living in California. A publicly accessible profile of that member on a gaming platform shows him to be from a small city near Redding. The member is one of the group’s propaganda artists, according to discussions between him and “Commander,” who appears to be the group’s leader and its Telegram channel’s administrator, seen by BuzzFeed News.
While FKD is not banned in the US, a member of Congress is pushing the Biden administration to label the group as a “foreign terrorist organization.” FKD was proscribed as a terrorist group by the British government in July last year.
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Though relatively small with no more than 100 members at its peak in 2018 and 2019, the Feuerkrieg (meaning “fire war” in German) Division stretched across the world and planned to carry out large-scale and high-profile attacks. Like its founder, the Estonian teenager calling himself “Commander,” many of its members were young men and teens.
American members numbered in the dozens and included a Las Vegas man charged with planning attacks on Jewish targets in 2019 and a then-active-duty Army soldier who was charged for publishing a recipe for homemade napalm online and allegedly talked about assassinating Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke and bombing the offices of CNN that same year.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, FKD “embraces the most extreme interpretations of white supremacist ideology” and its membership had been “increasingly American” before “Commander” was briefly detained in Estonia and the group went dormant last year.
“The group celebrates the concepts promoted in Siege,” a collection of hate-filled essays written by Colorado-based neo-Nazi James Mason, the ADL wrote. The group has also paid homage to some of the most notorious terrorists and extremists in recent history, including Dylann Roof, Brenton Tarrant, Anders Breivik, and Timothy McVeigh.
BuzzFeed News was unable to verify whether the “Commander” behind the FKD reboot was the same Estonian teenager previously running the group. But an extremism researcher who closely followed the group previously and an expert who helped European authorities investigate the teen also said the behavior of the person behind the “Commander” Telegram account and channel matches that of the boy who ran them before.
“They look incredibly similar. The likelihood is relatively high that it’s the same individual,” Bethan Johnson, an extremism researcher at Tech Against Terrorism, a nonprofit group that tracks online terrorist content, told BuzzFeed News after reviewing “Commander’s” recent online activity, including interactions with other extremists. “The rhetoric, the imagery, the goals, the language, they all seem to indicate considerable overlap with the Commander as he was known the first time around.”
“Commander” declined to comment when reached by BuzzFeed News.
Authorities in Estonia have not named “Commander” because he is a minor but have said he is from the country’s island of Saaremaa in the Baltic Sea that is known for its beaches and the medieval Kuressaare Castle. He was briefly detained in April 2020, but was too young to be prosecuted. Estonian law says anyone under the age of 14 cannot be legally responsible for their own actions. The Estonian government said it was using “other legal methods” to handle his case.
Reached by phone for comment, an Estonian Internal Security Service official declined to explain their methods, citing the ongoing criminal investigation and the fact that “Commander” is a minor. But in an emailed statement, the official said, “Feuerkrieg Division has been declared a terror organisation, which means we should not underestimate the threat of radicalisation in social media echochambers, even if these angry young men are often only little more than boys.”
Despite its young leadership, FKD attracted many adult men, who published potentially dangerous information about making explosives and planned to carry out large-scale attacks, according to authorities in the US and several European countries.
In August 2019, the FBI arrested then–23-year-old neo-Nazi Conor Climo after learning he was communicating over the encrypted communication app Wire with FKD members and plotting to firebomb a synagogue or attack a Las Vegas bar catering to LGBTQ customers, according to a court filing. Climo told FBI agents he hated Black people, Jewish people, and LGBTQ people and was planning to involve explosives or snipers in his attacks. He also said he had joined FKD because it “offered him glory and the ability to contribute his knowledge of constructing explosive devices toward a ‘righteous’ cause.” Climo pleaded guilty to illegal possession of an unregistered firearm in February 2020. He was sentenced in November to two years in prison. An attorney for Climo did not return BuzzFeed News’ call seeking comment.
Another man linked to FKD was Jarrett William Smith, who pleaded guilty in February 2020 to separate charges that he provided information about explosives to an FBI undercover agent while serving as a US Army soldier in Fort Riley, Kansas, in 2019. An FBI affidavit said Smith, now 25, discussed targeting O’Rourke and an unidentified news organization later revealed to be CNN with a bomb. He was sentenced to more than two years in prison last August. In a letter sent to BuzzFeed News from federal prison in Illinois in May, Smith said he was “not a terrorist” and “not a full-fledged member of FKD”; he claimed “the FBI and media lied” about him.
In Lithuania, a 21-year-old FKD member was convicted and jailed for attempting to detonate explosives in the capital city, Vilnius, in 2019. In Germany, a 23-year-old member was arrested for planning a terrorist attack at a mosque or synagogue in early 2020; he was also later sentenced to prison.
BuzzFeed News’ analysis of FKD members’ online activity suggests their goals haven’t changed.
The new FKD channel discovered by BuzzFeed News was opened in late May with a message from “Commander” saying he had gotten a “new server.” In days, it grew from a few followers to 157 members on June 7; its associated vetting chatroom had 41. The original FKD channel with more than 1,000 subscribers remains open, although no one has posted in it since February 2020.
Later on June 7, after dozens of racist posts and calls for violence, Telegram removed the new channel and chat for violating its terms of service. “Commander” and other members of the group lamented its shutdown in another Telegram channel. Several members then joined an associated channel with more than 1,600 subscribers and a related chatroom with about 100. In those, they continued to discuss FKD and recruitment and celebrate its newly formed alliance with Injekt Division.
Johnson said FKD’s return, as well as its apparent collaboration with another neo-Nazi group, should worry law enforcement agencies in the US and elsewhere. Allying with Injekt Division, she said, is likely a tactic to help new prospects or past members wary of the group’s return “buy in again” and “know this is legit.”
It may also allow each group to tap into the other’s resources as they plot attacks, which, while not moving beyond the planning stages previously, should be cause for concern.
“While they have not been successful in terroristic violence [in the past], they are working their way up to that,” Johnson said. “And that’s their intention.” ●