The Prep-School Nazi

Before he was Norman Spear, hate group founder and possible Russian asset Rinaldo Nazzaro was just another Jersey boy.

Photo-Illustration: Megan Paetzhold
Photo-Illustration: Megan Paetzhold
Photo-Illustration: Megan Paetzhold

Six years before he would found a neo-Nazi group called the Base — Mein Kampf–ing its launch with a tweeted Hitler photo and the caption “Führer, you were only the beginning. We will finish what you started” — the prep-school grad from New Jersey was getting dressed in his room at the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District.

His father, Michael, helped him into his tuxedo jacket. Playing the best-man role, his friend Don fastened a white lily to the lapel. Later, he would be known to his followers as Norman Spear. Now, at 39, he was just Rinaldo Nazzaro. An earlier engagement hadn’t worked out, but today he was getting married.

Across town, at the Gramercy Park Hotel, Lyudmila Sergeyeva, Nazzaro’s pretty, dark-haired 31-year-old Russian fiancée, was having her hair done. She put on a strapless Vera Wang wedding dress and ivory Vera Wang Lavender slingback pumps. Her florist Stacey arrived with a bouquet, inspired by Kate Middleton’s, of garden and tea roses and flax flowers. “All white and pure,” as the bride would write later in a Facebook testimonial.

Like the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, which has been linked to five murders and reportedly shared some members with the Base, Nazzaro’s group would be interested in “accelerationism” — a strain of white nationalism aimed at hastening “the boogaloo,” or societal collapse, through real-world action, including violence. “I’ll be the lightening rod [sic],” Norman Spear would tell one person over Twitter, “but you need to pay me back in blood (preferably not your own).”

Together, Ron and Lyuda, as their friends knew them, were carried uptown in a black stretch limousine to St. Nicholas Cathedral on East 97th Street. In keeping with Russian Orthodox practice, the bearded priest placed crimson-and-gold crowns on their heads. Afterward, wearing wedding rings from Tiffany, they posed for photos in nearby Central Park. That evening, they joined their guests for a reception at Remi, a Northern Italian restaurant on West 53rd Street. As a videographer captured the scene — later editing the footage into a six-and-a-half-minute video scored to Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply” and Alicia Keys’s “No One” — the couple danced with family and an ethnically varied group of friends.

Nazzaro and Sergeyeva’s wedding photos.

The Base’s operations would eventually stretch far beyond Nazzaro. This past November, 18-year-old Richard Tobin, an alleged member of the Base in South Jersey, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit vandalism of two synagogues in the Midwest. Two months later, in Maryland and Delaware, the FBI arrested three alleged Base members on weapons and other charges: 27-year-old Patrik Mathews, a former combat engineer in the Canadian Army Reserve turned international fugitive; 33-year-old Brian Mark Lemley; and William Garfield Bilbrough IV. On January 15, police in Floyd County, Georgia, helped by the FBI, arrested another three alleged Base members — 21-year-old Luke Austin Lane, 19-year-old Jacob Kaderli, and 25-year-old Michael Helterbrand — charging them with plotting to overthrow the government and to kill a married couple they believed to be members of antifa. Two days later, the FBI arrested 22-year-old suspected Base member Yousef Omar Barasneh of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, for allegedly desecrating a synagogue. When they burst into his parents’ house, he was still in bed, a loaded firearm beside him, according to a court document. Base members have also been identified in Europe, South Africa, and Australia, among other places.

The sweep and breadth of the American arrests was particularly noteworthy because the entire premise of the Base was that its decentralized cell structure would guard against just this sort of vulnerability. The group’s name was the English translation of Al Qaeda, whose radicalism and strategy of “leaderless resistance,” if not its racial makeup, are widely admired among neo-Nazis. Of course, like Al Qaeda, it did have a leader, and in a Guardian article on January 23, reporter Jason Wilson was able to identify the man whom Base members knew only as Norman Spear or Roman Wolf. He was, in fact, Nazzaro, an alumnus of the elite Delbarton School in Morristown and a current resident of Russia. It was a reminder, in this time of rising white nationalism, not only of all the rocks still to be turned over, and of the creatures wriggling in the dark beneath them, but of their surprising cultural penetration, numbering among them not just Dylann Roof–style revanchists but an educated, onetime Flatiron District resident with Establishment ties.

In the wake of his outing, people wondered how someone from such a background could become a neo-Nazi, but just as quickly two other possibilities were raised. Might he have been a federal agent and the Base a honeypot created expressly to lure extremists so that the FBI could easily corral them? Or could he be a Russian asset, a covert operative or useful idiot deployed by Vladimir Putin’s SVR as part of its broader campaign to sow chaos and division in the U.S.? The last possibility was perhaps the most disturbing: Was this the unmade season seven of The Americans, updating ’80s KGB sleeper cells with ’20s Manchurian racists?

Rinaldo Nazzaro grew up in Livingston, a well-to-do commuter suburb in North Jersey’s Essex County. His mother, who seems to have been the dominant parent, worked in the travel business, including as a ticket agent for Alitalia. He had a Roman Catholic education and graduated from Delbarton, which is operated by monks of the contemplative Benedictine order and was recently ranked fourth among all schools in New Jersey. Nazzaro liked his experience at Delbarton well enough that two and a half decades later, he’d still be contributing to the school in alumni fundraising drives. (He and members of his family did not respond to requests for comment.)

Still, though he had longer hair than most at the prep school, he wasn’t someone who made a strong impression on a lot of people. He spent four years at Delbarton, in a class of just around 90 boys, but several people I spoke with who overlapped with him at the school don’t remember much about him beyond his having been a quiet kid not in the sporty mainstream who was called “Ronny” and often wore a Ron Hextall Flyers jersey.

He spent his college years at Villanova, then a proudly conservative place, run by Augustinians and nicknamed “Vanillanova.” It was the early 1990s, and Nazzaro affected a grunge style: growing his hair out, wearing a beard, covering his head with a wool hat, sporting a long dark coat, and listening to a lot of Alice in Chains.

A classmate and fellow philosophy major who was close to Nazzaro for a time (and who, like many other people interviewed for this article, didn’t want his name appearing near words like “neo-Nazi”) recalls playing guitar with him. He “could be intense sometimes, but he was not a violent or aggressive person,” this person says. “He was kind of like a rock-and-roll stoner dude.”

When a photographer from the student newspaper posed a vox pop question to several students — “What woman do you admire most in history and why?” — Nazzaro smirked goofily and gave an answer clearly aimed at getting a rise out of the conservative campus: “Mary Magdalene, because she was the closest apostle to Jesus.”

Nazzaro had a serious side, too. “Shortly after we met,” the Villanova friend recalls, “he kind of decided to stop getting intoxicated for a good long period of time. He was happy to hang around us, and we were happy to have him, but he made that decision. Not a lot of us at age 20 in college were making that decision or taking a real look at that. He said he felt like getting it together.”

Nazzaro became involved with the anti-corporate Democratic Socialists of America, the future party of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters, which was having a moment at Villanova and seemed to attract the school’s outliers. Michele Rossi, who chaired the DSA on campus at the time, recalls Nazzaro as “smart, but rather spacey … sweet, cared about the vulnerable.”

“What I remember most of Ron is he was someone struggling to find a way to belong,” says Walter Greason, who was one of the few Africana-studies students on campus as well as vice-president of the student government and whose subsequent academic career at Monmouth University has focused largely on confronting racism. “I think philosophy gave him a way to feel he was deeper, so he didn’t have time for the marketing majors. And being part of DSA gave him a way to express anti-government kinds of ideas.”

The summer after his junior year, in 1994, Nazzaro dropped out of Villanova for reasons that are unclear. “Last I heard of Ron,” his college friend says, “he told me he wanted to go to law school and work with battered women, women who’d been in an abusive situation.”

Instead, his activities over the next decade are murky, but he eventually gravitated to government-adjacent work. In early 1999, Nazzaro did a two-month internship with the National Defense Council Foundation, a small think tank in Alexandria, Virginia’s Old Town devoted to special operations and energy security. For the conservative Washington Times, he co-bylined a pro-drug-war op-ed, “Marijuana Canard,” with the NDCF’s founder and director, Major Andy Messing. When I reached Messing recently, he struggled to recall Nazzaro. “He would have been at the foundation twice a week for six hours per day being directed to read defense-related materials. Out of the dozens of former interns I had, he just doesn’t stand out.” The NDCF, according to another former intern from Nazzaro’s era, had a special interest in asymmetric warfare — a subject that would later preoccupy Nazzaro’s white-nationalist alter ego Norman Spear.

Three years later, during the post-9/11 defense-contractor gold rush, Nazzaro incorporated a company called Omega Solutions International in Virginia. It billed itself as a “security consulting firm … specializing in command, control, and intelligence (C2I) for homeland security, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency missions at every echelon.” He’d later claim, under his Base pseudonyms, to have been a military intelligence contractor who’d been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2003, he set his sights on an apartment in Arlington, Virginia, in the Belvedere, a condo tower just across Key Bridge from Georgetown. It was a fifth-floor one-bedroom with a balcony that overlooked Route 50 with a southeastern view of the Potomac River, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Iwo Jima Memorial.

When Nazzaro first toured the apartment, he was accompanied by his mother, Gianna. Nazzaro was quiet. His mother, the condo’s seller says, was “nice, a positive person. His mom was in charge, calling the shots, providing the money. She did all the talking and all the negotiating on price. I thought it was odd, but I didn’t care.” The condo was being put in his name, but at the closing, it was his mother who pushed a check across the table, paying the full purchase price, $282,000, from her own account. (Six years earlier, she’d set up an entity named Rinaldo Enterprises Ltd.)

Around that time, Nazzaro got engaged to a woman who appears to have been an Army veteran who’d previously been stationed in North Carolina in the psychological operations division at Fort Bragg. The marriage didn’t happen. “Ron and I were engaged so long ago (over ten years),” the woman, who apparently now holds a management position at the State Department, wrote me in an email. (She didn’t respond to further contact attempts.)

Maybe seeking a fresh start, four years after moving into the Arlington condo, Nazzaro left it. “He certainly didn’t seem like a neo-Nazi,” says a person of color who did business with Nazzaro around the time Nazzaro sold the Arlington apartment for $417,000 in 2007. Nazzaro, who struck this person as “hip,” said he was moving to New York. “He seemed like he might be a club guy.”

Nazzaro soon built a new life in Manhattan, closer to his mother. He bought an apartment for $585,000 in Jade NYC, a newly renovated building on West 19th Street featuring designs by Jade Jagger, where his neighbors included model Miranda Kerr. He reincorporated OSI in New York. His mother had gotten remarried to Jon Grouf, a Harvard Law–educated partner at the white-shoe corporate firm Duane Morris, which did legal work for Omega, helping with its incorporation and the later registration of a trademark for Watchtower, Omega’s “proprietary” and “cloud-based” software for “operational intelligence awareness.” (A spokesman for Duane Morris says the firm had no idea of Nazzaro’s “reported connection to an extremist hate group” until this month, never did work for the Base, and has had “no connection or contact with either Omega or Nazzaro for over two years.”)

During this period, Nazzaro met Lyudmila Sergeyeva, who came from Cheboksary, in the ethnically Turkic Chuvash region of western Russia. She had studied accounting at Baruch College and worked at Chase bank as a teller and at Altour, the travel agency where Nazzaro’s mother worked. “She was flighty, sweet as pie, very good-natured,” says a fellow inaugural co-owner in the building. “There was nothing malicious about her.” The same person said of her husband, “He was never around … she was nebulous, I couldn’t get a straight story. I suggested we get dinner. I never met him. I always suspected he was something like a CIA operative.” This person observed that the couple seemed to have money.

A longtime morning doorman at the Jade said, “Oh, Ron. I know he was in the Army. He was always on a mission — in Washington, abroad. When the FBI was here, I tell them the same thing.”

To outward appearances, things seemed to be going well for Nazzaro. Soon, he and his wife had a daughter, the first of two. They moved to Washington, D.C., again living at a tony address. They bought a townhouse condo on N Street, just off Wisconsin Avenue, for $675,000. They looked like a prosperous young family, pushing their City Mini around the cherry-blossom-strewn brick sidewalks of Georgetown.

But there were signs of instability. The couple sold off their D.C. condo after just a year and moved north again into an apartment owned by Nazzaro’s mother and stepfather in North Bergen, New Jersey. Some people who interacted with him after he returned from Iraq and Afghanistan felt that he had changed, and there was now something — it was hard for them to articulate exactly what — off about him.

In winter 2017, he and his wife and daughters, along with his father, spent three days at Disney World; in a 30-minute video taken by his wife on that trip, Nazzaro is nearly always unsmiling. As his older daughter sits on his shoulders, gazing rapturously at the Magic Kingdom while “Once Upon a Time” plays, Nazzaro says, in a flat tone, “Lived happily ever after, the end.”

That fall, the Nazzaros moved to Russia. By then, according to Fontanka, a St. Petersburg newspaper, he had obtained Russian citizenship and a Russian passport. Under normal circumstances, the move might have a simple familial explanation: The desire to be closer to their kids’ maternal grandparents. Or it might appear to be a relocation driven by the age-old itch for a new beginning. But in light of later events, it’s impossible not to wonder whether Nazzaro was cannily putting himself beyond the reach of legal extradition.

After Nazzaro’s move to Russia, Omega was sued over the Watchtower trademark by a cybersecurity firm that already had an identically named similar product, and Nazzaro’s firm lost the case, never filing a response. But Nazzaro was still trying to make money as a security vendor. He was among the listed attendees at a defense expo in Moscow. He apparently put up a LinkedIn profile under the name Aldo Condottiero (Italian for “mercenary”). And the move seems to have been more than merely geographic. In a video posted to YouTube by his wife from March 2018, he was wearing a “Russia: Absolute Power” T-shirt with a picture of Putin on it.

Nazzaro’s emergence as a neo-Nazi was oddly sudden. Rapid conversion to toxic thinking is common among neo-Nazis, who like to share stories of the moment when they were “red-pilled,” or saw the light. (Not coincidentally, the Base’s online library contained a section on “masculinity”: There’s more than a little overlap between the red-pilling of the online manosphere, with its fixation on the wrongs done to men, and the red-pilling of the fascistsphere, with its fixation on the wrongs done to white people.) But typically they take their new worldview public in baby steps. Nazzaro was different. In December 2017, shortly after the move to Russia, and four months after the now infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, he appeared in the online far-right scene using the name Norman Spear, and with a Twitter avatar that included a photo of himself, his head now completely shaved, a long, bushy beard covering his jaw, and a fully developed ideology.

At first, he drew attention on Twitter and YouTube, where he uploaded a series of videos of himself talking about “guerrilla warfare theory”; Bitchute, a site that archived a number of these videos, identified him as a “Defense Studies expert and former CIA field intelligence officer.” (New York was unable to find support for claims that he served in the CIA or for his ever having been in the military.) Soon, he was being invited onto far-right podcasts, where he railed against the impotence of traditional white nationalism — with its peaceful marches on the one hand and its inconsequential lone-wolf shootings on the other. He spoke instead of the need for “a revolutionary vanguard” and advocated for an existing group called the Northwest Front. It was run by Harold Covington, a white separatist in Washington State who for years had been pushing to implement “the Butler Plan,” also known as the Northwest Territorial Imperative, focused on creating a white ethnostate in the Pacific Northwest.

On the podcast “Paper Beats Rock,” Spear said “I’ve been NS” — National Socialist, or Nazi — “for a while … we all kind of know what the problems are, what’s facing our race … Eventually a lightbulb just went on.” He lamented “the oppression that whites are experiencing” and said he thought it would take 20 years to achieve the “final solution” of an Aryan nation. Two weeks later, in a podcast interview on Lone Wolf Radio, he said that he hoped to achieve his own migration to the Northwest “in hopefully no more than a year … America is no longer American.” In subsequent interviews and tweets, Spear elaborated a vision of “leaderless resistance,” a movement with an Al Qaeda–like cell structure, and blithered about “Zionist Freemasons.” To bypass Twitter’s hate-speech filters, he deliberately misspelled words, tweeting that “majority of Americans are mentally )ewish so even if all genetic and spiritual )ews expelled USA would still have a )ewish problem — unfixable in time available.”

Spear seemed determined to move from talk to action. By April 2018, he had fixed on a place to birth his new nation, tweeting drone footage of Republic, a small town in rural Ferry County, Washington, with the caption: “Terrain analysis, an integral part of the intelligence preparation of the battlefield.” On Gab, an online platform popular among hate groups, he posted that “it’s only terrorism if we lose — If we win, we get statues of us put up in parks.”

That summer, Covington died at age 64, and Spear started the Base. While still pushing the Northwest plan, the Base was more action-oriented, a platform on which cells could self-organize, rather than a top-down group. While Spear used Twitter and other public-facing platforms to bait recruits, conversations among the group’s members took place out of public view, in encrypted chat rooms. You couldn’t just sign up for the Base. There was a vetting process, where applicants were asked about military experience because, as Spear put it, “the Base is a survivalism & self-defense network.”

Spear was not like his followers in certain ways. He was older and more articulate. His sudden emergence as a confident ideologue was unusual, as was his verbal restraint: He tended to avoid using the most vile racial slurs. He also came, though they didn’t know it, from a vastly more privileged background (to the extent that his followers’ identities have been revealed).

Spear regularly encouraged Base members to be mindful of operational security, or OPSEC. But in November 2018, the group drew unwelcome attention from Vice, which published an exposé based in part on getting inside the group’s encrypted chat room on Riot. Vice found a digital library including instructions for making chemical weapons as well as comments by Spear that “it doesn’t need to be zero or zyklon. Think escalation of force … We need non-attributable action but that will still send a message and/or add to acceleration as much as possible.” Members posted images of themselves, sometimes in groups, hidden behind skull masks and balaclavas, holding rifles and engaged in paramilitary training.

When the Vice article came out, Spear was de-platformed by Twitter, but he soon reappeared using a new pseudonym, Roman Wolf. And he redoubled his focus on bringing the Base into the real world. The following month, four days before Christmas, a company he’d incorporated in Delaware, Base Global LLC, bought three ten-acre blocks of land in Ferry County, Washington, for $33,000.

The land acquisition, like the Base itself, was a creation of the internet. Nazzaro seems never to have gone to Ferry County. He found the extremely remote property online and looked at the area via drone footage on YouTube. He also had a couple of phone conversations with the listing agent, telling him that he lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was an English teacher. He wanted some land in America far away from everything, he said, to retire on in the future. When it was time to sign the paperwork, a local title agent did so on Nazzaro’s behalf.

 “He was super-polite and cordial,” the listing agent says. “He never talked about shooting.”

As the Base began ramping up IRL activities — including allegedly holding a three-day live-fire training camp at a 105-acre farm in Silver Creek, Georgia, in August 2019 — Roman Wolf’s talk of OPSEC became laughable. In July, an undercover FBI agent made it through the vetting process and was invited to join the group’s encrypted members-only chat room. That month, Eugene Antifa, an Oregon-based group, seemed to have a source inside the group when it warned on Twitter that the Base was planning a “hate camp” in Washington State and said Spear had purchased land there. After flyers began popping up in Manitoba, Canada, reading “Save Your Race, Join the Base,” Ryan Thorpe, a young reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, decided to go undercover and infiltrate the group.

As part of his vetting, Thorpe filled out a questionnaire, responding to questions about military experience, any knowledge of chemistry or engineering, firearms training, his political worldview, his location, and his desired pseudonym. After that, Wolf engaged him over Proton Mail (an open-source, privacy-obsessed, encrypted email service) asking about his experience with Seige, an influential accelerationist book written by a Nazi named James Mason. Thorpe quickly did a crash course to answer plausibly. Thorpe then did a live voice interview over Signal. Six to eight members were on the call, but for most of the hourlong conversation, “Roman Wolf was the one asking questions.” Wolf left no ambiguity about his worldview. “I’d been presenting myself as white nationalist,” Thorpe says, “and that almost wasn’t hardcore enough. This is close to a direct quotation: ‘We have some run-of-the-mill white nationalists in our midst, but most of us are National Socialists or fascists.’ He said, ‘This will be the most hardcore collection of pro-white individuals in the world.’”

Wolf asked if Thorpe had seen the Vice exposé, which Wolf called “‘a hit piece,’” Thorpe says. The article, Wolf said, had taken the wind out of the group’s sails, and it was only now returning to its prior strength. “Yeah,” Wolf told the undercover reporter, “a reporter infiltrated our chat. We’ve upped our security. That won’t happen again.”

After Wolf noted that Thorpe wasn’t on social media — “they seemed weirded out by that,” Thorpe says — he asked how Thorpe had come to his beliefs. “I said I’d grown up in a conservative household,” Thorpe recalls. “But as I got older, I began to question a lot of things I’d learned from my parents. Then I started on Wikipedia, went down the internet rabbit holes, became aware of prominent thinkers … Roman said, ‘That’s interesting, I had a pretty similar path to the cause.’”

After the call, Thorpe was cleared to meet a local Base member in person. The reporter already had a shaved head, and after razoring off his mustache and covering up his more cosmopolitan tattoos, such as an em-dash-30 journalist symbol, he went to meet the man in a park. The Base member, who Thorpe would later figure out was Patrik Mathews, the member of the Canadian Army reserve, said he’d never met the group’s founder but that once, when he’d set out to travel to the U.S. to take part in a paramilitary camp, “Roman planned to present him with a Base flag at that camp.” (Mathews was stopped at the border and never made it to the flag ceremony, but Thorpe was left with the impression that on at least that occasion, Wolf had been back in the U.S.)

Thorpe’s work signaled the beginning of the end for the Base. After his article identifying Mathews, “Homegrown Hate,” went live in August, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police executed a search warrant on Mathews’s home, and according to prosecutors, Mathews fled across the border into Michigan, where Brian Lemley and William Bilbrough, after driving 600 miles from Maryland, took him into hiding. In September, Yousef Omar Barasneh allegedly spray-painted anti-Semitic symbols and words on Beth Israel Sinai synagogue in Racine, Wisconsin. In Hancock, Michigan, that same weekend, Temple Jacob was spray-painted with swastikas and the Base’s Runic symbol.

In late October, the FBI interviewed Richard Tobin, an 18-year-old resident of Brooklawn, New Jersey, who the government says admitted to goading members of the Base’s “Great Lakes cell,” including Barasneh, into acts of vandalism. Tobin told Special Agent Jason Novick that he’d launched “Operation Kristallnacht” to “tag the shit” out of synagogues. He noted that he’d considered “suicide by cop” more than once and that he thought carrying out a suicide bombing would be “pretty badass.” In a second interview, he said he’d been depressed for the past three years and often felt triggered by the state of the country. At a mall in Edison, New Jersey, for instance, he’d become “enraged” by how many black people were around; he wanted to “let loose” with a machete he had in his car. A few weeks later, Tobin was arrested.

Meanwhile, the FBI was closely tracking the movements of Mathews and his two saviors. Using a “sneak and peek” warrant, agents entered an apartment in Newark, Delaware, where they found Base flyers, communication devices, empty rifle cases, “go bags” with military rations, knives, and a video of Mathews wearing a gas mask and expounding on his beliefs. The FBI then installed a video camera and microphone in the apartment and, over the next month, captured hours of video of the men talking about guns and playing with an assault rifle, which Mathews repeatedly aimed, practicing magazine reloads and executing tactical entries from the kitchen into the living room. Talking about an upcoming gun-rights protest in Virginia, Mathews was recorded saying: “You want to create fucking some instability, while the Virginia situation is happening, make other things happen, derail some rail lines, fucking like shut down the highways, oh road block, great let’s shut down the rest of the roads, you know, you can kick off the economic collapse of the U.S. within a week, after the boog starts.” Lemley talked about using a thermal-imaging scope on his rifle to ambush civilians and police. “I literally need, I need to claim my first victim … If there’s like a PoPo cruiser parked on the street and he doesn’t have backup, I can execute him at a whim and just take his stuff. He literally has zero chance of not being ganked.”

After the sweep of arrests and the outing of Nazzaro, the neo-Nazi community quickly coalesced around the idea that he’d been a government agent running a sting operation, but a researcher I spoke with at the Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t give much weight to that sentiment, noting that white supremacists are constantly accusing each other of being government agents. Tobin, for his part, reportedly believed Nazzaro to be a Russian spy, which isn’t a totally crazy idea. It’s well established that white nationalists are fanboys of nationalist, authoritarian Vladimir Putin — marching in Charlottesville, they chanted “Russia is our friend!,” and former KKK grand wizard David Duke has said that Russia offers “an unmatched opportunity to help protect the longevity of the white race” — and the lovefest goes both ways. Russia’s bot and troll hordes amplified far-right memes during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the country’s support for extreme-right politicians across Europe has been widely noted. The New York Times recently reported that the FBI, driven by intelligence that Russia is actively trying to nudge American extremist groups toward violence, is looking closely at Nazzaro’s Russian ties, and in particular at one neo-Nazi group’s funding (it is unclear whether that group is the Base).

People who knew Nazzaro when he was younger are perplexed by the turn he’s taken. “The organizing is what struck me the most when I read the stuff about him,” Walter Greason says. “His capacity to build an online network, I’m still very surprised at. They’re saying he’s the founder of this thing. That’s not something I’d see him doing.”

 “When I read the headline,” Nazzaro’s old Villanova friend says, “I said, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s the last thing I’d have expected with that kid.”

The Prep-School Nazi