Critic's Notebook: 'Documenting Hate: New American Nazis' Presents a Chilling Picture
This 'Frontline' special focusing on white supremacist groups, premiering Tuesday night, is the sadly necessary sequel to last summer's documentary about Charlottesville.
In their seeming never-ending efforts to prevent Americans from getting any sleep, the good folks at Frontline have produced yet another documentary designed to haunt our waking nightmares. Documenting Hate: New American Nazis, an unfortunately necessary sequel to last summer's Documenting Hate: Charlottesville, provides a window into the white supremacist groups that have been gathering strength in recent years. This special, a co-production with ProPublica that premieres Tuesday night on PBS, ties into yet another horrific incident in our recent past, the slaughter of 11 Jewish worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Correspondent A.C. Thompson has the unsavory task of delving into such organizations as R.A.M., or the Rise Above Movement, which he describes as a "neo-Nazi Fight Club." But the documentary's main focus is on the Atomwaffen Division or AWD ("Atomwaffen" is German for "nuclear weapons"), an extreme Florida-based group that calls for its members to commit lone-wolf acts of violence. Thompson talks to a former member, calling himself "John," whose voice and features are disguised. John describes how the organization, which he estimates has 60 members and even more "initiates," disdains the tactics used by those alt-righters who publicly wreaked havoc in Charlottesville, Virginia, only to be arrested for their troubles. "The answer is to go underground," John says.
One of the group's members, Devon Arthurs, was arrested after killing his two roommates and is currently in a Florida mental hospital. Arthurs cooperated extensively with law enforcement authorities, telling them how the AWD actively recruited current and former members of the military. The organization set up "hate camps" in which members with military experience provide training in firearms and guerilla tactics. One such figure, "Jeremiah," says in an interview that the organization coveted military vets because they have the "fighting spirit" that many alt-right figures lack.
Various security and intelligence experts talk about how AWD and other such organizations are driven by "leaderless resistance," the idea that small groups or individuals are capable of doing great damage. One of those who threaten to carry out such acts is an AWD member who calls himself "Rape." When confronted by Thompson at a death metal concert and asked for an interview, Rape turns out to be surprisingly polite, offering a mild "no comment" rather than a raised fist. But Jeremiah, informed of the encounter, warns Thompson not to be fooled by his seemingly mild manner.
The group's de facto handbook is Siege, written by James N. Mason, a longtime neo-Nazi and former pen pal of Charles Manson. Thompson examines Mason's archives, which are located, rather inexplicably, at the University of Kansas, and include a knitted keepsake from Manson.
Thompson also interviews Mason himself. The now 66-year-old white supremacist has lost none of his viciousness with age. Asked about the white supremacist who ran down and killed a protestor at Charlottesville, Mason enthuses, "Bless his heart." How about Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing? "Another hero," Mason enthuses. "The white race is in danger," he helpfully explains, blaming — who else — the Jews. And then he says something that probably won't be included in the 2020 Trump campaign ads: "With Trump winning the election by surprise, and it was a surprise, I now believe that anything is possible," Mason declares.