The Neo-Nazi group linked to Samuel Woodward celebrated his alleged involvement in the homicide of College sophomore Blaze Bernstein, a report says.
A month ago, the nonprofit news organization ProPublica reported that Woodward was a member of the Atomwaffen Division, a group classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an active hate crime group. Now, ProPublica has obtained roughly 250,000 encrypted messages from the group through Discord – an online service designed for video gamer communication – over a six-month period. The messages reveal the internal dialogue of Atomwaffen members across the nation.
“I love this,” one member wrote of Bernstein's death.
Other members expressed hope for growing the group's agenda as news of the murder and Woodward's alleged connection were publicized.
“We’re only going to inspire more ‘copycat crimes’ in the name of AWD. All we have to do is spread our image and our propaganda,” wrote Sean Michael Fernandez, who has been identified by ProPublica as one of the group's leaders in Texas.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the hate group formed in 2016 in preparation of a perceived impeding "race war." The New York Times reported that it has since been connected to suspects in at least five homicides in the United States.
According to ProPublica, Woodward frequently posted in the group's online threads, initially under the screen name 'Saboteur' and then as 'Arn.' He wrote about his television preferences, his desire for a girlfriend, and lauded "Mein Kampf," the manifesto of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Woodward also reportedly attended one of the group's violent trainings and wrote about meeting a neo-Nazi activist, James Mason, in person.
Bernstein went missing on Jan. 2, just five days before he was supposed to return to campus for the start of the spring semester. He was discovered dead near the perimeter of Borrego Park in Orange County, Calif. a week later.
Woodward, who attended high school with Bernstein at the Orange County School of the Arts, was charged with the murder of the Penn student on Jan. 17. According to a sealed affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register, he told investigators that on the night of the murder, Bernstein, who was gay, had tried to kiss him.
Following Woodward's arrest, there have been reports that the homicide was a hate crime targeted specifically against Bernstein's sexuality. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said at a press conference on Jan. 17 that investigators had yet to establish a motive, but that they were “open to all evidence.”
“The question of a hate crime is one question that we have about the possibility of special circumstances, and so we’re looking to see whether or not that might be supported,” Rackauckas said at the time.
This is not the first time that the Penn community has been affected by the Atomwaffen Division. In 2017, a member of the group allegedly posted fliers around campus that read "stop the blacks" and "join your local Nazis."
Woodward pleaded not guilty to Bernstein's murder on Feb. 2. His bail was set at $5 million.
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