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The Making of an American Nazi

The Atlantic logoThe Atlantic 6 days ago Luke O’Brien

a woman looking at the camera © Provided by Atlantic Media Company On December 16, 2016, Tanya Gersh answered her phone and heard gunshots. Startled, she hung up. Gersh, a real-estate agent who lives in Whitefish, Montana, assumed it was a prank call. But the phone rang again. More gunshots. Again, she hung up. Another call. This time, she heard a man’s voice: “This is how we can keep the Holocaust alive,” he said. “We can bury you without touching you.”

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When Gersh put down the phone, her hands were shaking. She was one of only about 100 Jews in Whitefish and the surrounding Flathead Valley, and she knew there were white nationalists and “sovereign citizens” in the area. But Gersh had lived in Whitefish for more than 20 years, since just after college, and had always considered the scenic ski town an idyllic place. She didn’t even have a key to her house—she’d never felt the need to lock her door. Now that sense of security was about to be shattered.

The calls marked the start of a months-long campaign of harassment orchestrated by Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the world’s biggest neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. He claimed that Gersh was trying to “extort” a property sale from Sherry Spencer, whose son, Richard Spencer, was another prominent white nationalist and the face of the so-called alt-right movement.

The Spencers had long-standing ties to Whitefish, and Richard had been based there for years. But he gained international notoriety just after the 2016 election for giving a speech in Washington, D.C., in which he declared “Hail Trump!,” prompting Nazi salutes from his audience. In response, some Whitefish residents considered protesting in front of a commercial building Sherry owned in town. According to Gersh, Sherry sought her advice, and Gersh suggested that she sell the property, make a donation to charity, and denounce her son’s white-nationalist views. But Sherry claimed that Gersh had issued “terrible threats,” and she wrote a post on Medium on December 15 accusing her of an attempted shakedown. (Sherry Spencer did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the time, Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin barely knew each other. Spencer, who fancies himself white nationalism’s leading intellectual, cloaks his racism in highbrow arguments. Anglin prefers the gutter, reveling in the vile language common on the worst internet message boards. But Spencer and Anglin had appeared together on a podcast the day before Sherry’s Medium post was published and expressed their mutual admiration. Anglin declared it a “historic” occasion, a step toward greater unity on the extreme right.

It was in this spirit that Anglin “doxed” Gersh and her husband, Judah, as well as other Jews in Whitefish, by publishing their contact information and other personal details on his website. He plastered their photographs with yellow stars emblazoned with jude and posted a picture of the Gershes’ 12-year-old son superimposed on the gates at Auschwitz. He commanded his readers—his “Stormer Troll Army”—to “hit ’em up.”

“All of you deserve a bullet through your skull,” one Stormer said in an email.

“Put your uppity slut wife Tanya back in her cage, you rat-faced k***,” another wrote to Judah.

“You f***ing wicked k*** whore,” Andrew Auernheimer, The Daily Stormer’s webmaster, said in a voicemail for Gersh. “This is Trump’s America now.”

Over the next week, the Stormers besieged Whitefish businesses, human-rights groups, city-council members—anyone potentially connected to the targets. A single harasser called Judah’s office more than 500 times in three days, according to the Whitefish police. Gersh came home one night to find her husband sitting at home in the dark, suitcases on the floor, wondering whether they should flee. “I have never been so scared in my entire life,” she later told me.

That Anglin, a 33-year-old college dropout, could unleash such mayhem—Whitefish’s police chief, Bill Dial, likened it to “domestic terrorism”—was a sign of just how emboldened the alt-right had become.

Anglin is an ideological descendant of men such as George Lincoln Rockwell, who created the American Nazi Party in the late 1950s, and William Luther Pierce, who founded the National Alliance, a powerful white-nationalist group, in the 1970s. Anglin admires these predecessors, who saw themselves as revolutionaries at the vanguard of a movement to take back the country. He dreams of a violent insurrection.

But where Rockwell and Pierce relied on pamphlets, the radio, newsletters, and in-person organizing to advance their aims, Anglin has the internet. His reach is exponentially greater, his ability to connect with like-minded young men unprecedented.

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He also arrived at a more fortuitous moment. Anglin and his ilk like to talk about the Overton Window, a term that describes the range of acceptable discourse in society. They’d been tugging at that window for years only to watch, with surprise and delight, as it flew wide open during Donald Trump’s candidacy. Suddenly it was okay to talk about banning Muslims or to cast Mexican immigrants as criminals and parasites—which meant Anglin’s even-more-extreme views weren’t as far outside the mainstream as they once had been. Anglin is the alt-right’s most accomplished propagandist, and his writing taps into some of the same anxieties and resentments that helped carry Trump to the presidency—chiefly a perceived loss of status among white men.

Six days into his Whitefish campaign, Anglin announced phase two: an armed protest. “Montana has extremely liberal open carry laws,” he wrote on The Daily Stormer. “My lawyer is telling me we can easily march through the center of the town carrying high-powered rifles.” He scheduled the event for January 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and predicted that about 200 people would show up for a “James Earl Ray Day Extravaganza” in honor of King’s assassin. He promised to bus skinheads in from the Bay Area.

As national news outlets picked up the story, frightened Whitefish residents gathered for a community meeting, where Dial, the police chief, saw a 90-year-old Jewish couple trembling with fear. Some people had alarm systems installed. A rabbi had paranoid visions of skinheads in the woods with night-vision goggles and scoped weapons. The police increased patrols.

Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, swooped into town, as did representatives of the Anti-Defamation League. The president of the World Jewish Congress demanded that authorities halt the march, calling it a “dangerous and life-threatening rally that puts all of America at risk.” Anglin stoked the hysteria by claiming that European nationalists, along with a Hamas representative and a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, were coming too. “Nothing can stop us,” he declared.

In the end, no one showed up—no European nationalists, no Hamas representatives, no armed skinheads. There was no “March on Whitefish.” Instead Anglin slunk away, having panicked a small town for a month. The Whitefish attack cemented his reputation as the trollmaster of the alt-right. But it left some wondering about the movement’s commitment to its cause. Was this all just a sick joke?

Over the coming months, however, Anglin continued to build his audience and urge his followers to take their hate offline, into the real world. In August, when white nationalists actually did stage a major rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, many of his readers were there, chanting slogans he had coined. The alt-right, it became clear, was coming off the message boards and into the streets.

By then, I’d spent months reporting on Anglin, trying to understand who he was and how he’d built such a following, as well as how serious a threat he and the rest of the alt-right actually posed. Anglin’s path to white nationalism was disturbing, and more circuitous than I could have imagined. But it fit a pattern that scholars have identified, in that he seems to have been driven, at least initially, more by a desire for status and belonging than by deeply held beliefs. Anglin wanted to be somebody, and the internet gave him a way.

Columbus, Ohio, is a funky, still kind-of gritty city, and I went there in January looking for clues to Anglin’s past. On a rainy Saturday, about 45 protesters, some with black masks covering their faces, gathered outside a drab two-story building in Worthington, a suburb of Columbus, where Anglin’s father, Greg, runs a Christian counseling service.

Anglin has long kept his own location secret. For years he floated around Europe, and one family member told me that around 2015 he was holed up in Russia, his last known foreign address. Another source showed me Facebook messages from Anglin’s childhood best friend that indicated Anglin was still living there last year. But he maintained a footprint in Columbus through his father, who has said he was “not really involved with Andy’s site.” In fact, Greg was involved. He’d registered The Daily Stormer’s trade name and filed paperwork for his son’s limited-liability corporation, Moonbase Holdings—a likely reference to a conspiracy theory that Hitler survived World War II by escaping to a secret lunar base.

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No payment processor would touch The Daily Stormer, but Anglin had little trouble raising money. Since 2014, he has taken in about $250,000 worth of bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, from unknown sources, according to John Bambenek, a cybersecurity expert who has been tracking neo-Nazis’ bitcoin wallets. Anglin urged his readers to send checks as well. Those donations went to Greg’s office, which was why the protesters had gathered outside, many of them from the Columbus chapter of Anti-Racist Action, a national antifascist network.

Anglin had first come to my attention in the summer of 2015, after he endorsed Trump on The Daily Stormer. When I interviewed him over email for HuffPost last year, he lied to me repeatedly—about his site’s traffic numbers, his financing, his location. Before that article came out, he falsely accused me on The Daily Stormer of fabricating information from the FBI regarding his whereabouts. More than once, I offered to walk him through my reporting, but he refused to hear me out. He also refused numerous requests to talk to me for this article.

Since our last exchange, I’d watched him tirelessly spew hatred while boasting that “only bullets” could stop him. But he never came out from behind his keyboard. And although he showed no scruples about smearing others and flagging them for harassment, he became wildly defensive when anyone dared examine his life.

The Daily Stormer had become arguably the leading hate site on the internet, far surpassing Stormfront, whose message boards had brought white nationalism into the digital age back in the 1990s. Anglin was a punchy, prolific writer who used snark and hyperbole to draw in Millennial readers. “Non-ironic Nazism masquerading as ironic Nazism” was how he described his approach. Irony gave him cover to claim that he was just kidding around. He cited Infowars, Vice, and BuzzFeed as inspiration, but the closest analogue in terms of format and tone, he said, was Gawker. Like the now-shuttered gossip site, The Daily Stormer aggregated the news with attitude. Unlike Gawker, Anglin doctored everything to reflect his racist worldview.

Anglin wrote about his longing for a race war and urged his readers to prepare for combat against nebulous forces unleashed by Jews, blacks, Muslims, Hispanics, women, liberals, journalists—anyone who might impede the alt-right’s assault on the nation. Like many young men on the extreme right, Anglin hadn’t just given up on the idea of the United States as a liberal democracy. He wanted to burn it to the ground. “There is rapidly approaching a time when in every White Western city, corpses will be stacked in the streets as high as men can stack them,” he wrote. “And you are either going to be stacking or getting stacked.”

Anglin’s influence extended offline with Daily Stormer “book clubs,” which he created to engage his followers in “real world actions.” The clubs were small chapters of readers who gathered in cities in the U.S., Canada, and other countries. A Columbus group met at a gun range. Other clubs had been kicked out of bars after openly expressing anti-Semitic views or flaunting Nazi paraphernalia. Anglin pressed his readers to study martial arts, learn to use firearms, and engage in “simulated warfare” through paramilitary training with pellet guns.

Among the protesters in the rain outside Greg’s office, I met Anglin’s preschool teacher, Gail Burkholder, who described being shocked when she’d learned that her former student had grown up to be a notorious white nationalist. “Why would I think one of my students would become a Nazi who wants to kill me?” said Burkholder, who is Jewish. She’d spotted Anglin’s name in the news after Dylann Roof murdered nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof reportedly left comments on The Daily Stormer, and he has become a hero to Anglin’s readers, who honor him with “bowl cut” memes.

Roof wasn’t the only killer who read The Daily Stormer. In 2016, Thomas Mair shot and stabbed a British member of Parliament. This year, James Harris Jackson was charged with killing a black man with a sword in New York City and cited The Daily Stormer as an ideological influence. Devon Arthurs, an 18-year-old former neo-Nazi who converted to Islam, shot and killed two of his three roommates in Tampa, who were still neo-Nazis. Police arrested the surviving roommate for hoarding explosive materials.

Until the Roof massacre, Burkholder hadn’t thought about the “adorable,” “happy-go-lucky” boy in her class who loved dinosaurs. Anglin was a normal kid back then, whose only remarkable quality was his extraordinarily nasal voice—it was so bad that Burkholder thought he might have a sinus problem, and raised the issue with his mother, Katie, at a parent–teacher conference.

But that was nearly 30 years ago. Everyone who’d known Anglin when he was young seemed to wonder the same thing: What had happened to turn him into a neo-Nazi?

Video: “The Most Dangerous Form of American Extremism”

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By all outward appearances, Andrew Anglin had an ordinary, comfortable childhood, at least until adolescence. He grew up in a big house in Worthington Hills, an upper-middle-class neighborhood, where he collected X-Men comics, played computer games, ate burgers at the original Wendy’s restaurant, and got into music with his best friend, West Emerson. And he loved to read. One book that left a deep impression on him was Weasel, which tells the story of a boy in frontier Ohio seeking revenge against a psychopath who, having run out of American Indians to murder, takes to slaughtering white homesteaders.

When Anglin entered the Linworth Alternative Program, Columbus’s “hippie” high school, as a freshman in 1999, other students found him a quiet, insecure kid who craved attention and wanted to fit in. A declared atheist, he styled his reddish hair in dreadlocks and favored jeans with 50-inch leg openings. He often wore a hoodie with a large f*** racism patch on the back.

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Anglin was one of only two vegans at Linworth, and before long he began dating the other, a brunette named Alison in the class ahead of him, whom he wooed by baking vegan cookies. She was a popular girl who introduced him to a diverse and edgy clique of kids. To them, Anglin seemed sweet and funny, if a little too eager to latch on to causes. Alison was deeply into animal rights. Suddenly, he was too.

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He also got deeply into drugs, according to half a dozen people who knew him at the time. He did LSD at school or while wandering through the scenic Highbanks Metro Park, north of the city. He took ketamine, ate psychedelic mushrooms, and snorted cocaine on weekends. He chugged Robitussin, and “robo tripped” so much that he damaged his stomach and would vomit into trash cans at school.

At home, Anglin spent hours in his parents’ basement downloading music and visiting early Flash-animation sites. According to Cameron Loomis, a former friend, Anglin’s favorite online destination was Rotten.com, which collected images of mangled corpses, deformities, and sexual perversions.

Anglin set up his own website, for a fake record label called “Andy Sucks! Records” that he used to dupe bands into sending him demo tapes. Here, his leftist leanings were on full display: He wrote posts encouraging people to send the Westboro Baptist Church death threats from untraceable accounts, and he mocked the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations. He wasn’t so different, back then, from the antifascist activists who would one day protest outside his dad’s office.

But people who knew Anglin in high school told me that, for reasons that were unclear, his behavior became erratic and frightening sometime around the beginning of his sophomore year at Linworth. Visitors to his house saw holes in his bedroom walls, and they knew that when he was upset, he would smash his head into things. Several recall an episode at a party: Anglin burst out crying after Alison drunkenly kissed someone else, then ran outside and bashed his head on the sidewalk over and over.

He harmed himself in other ways, too. He tried to tattoo the name of his favorite band, Modest Mouse, on his upper arm but gave up after two and a half letters, leaving him with moI etched on his skin. He stretched his earlobes by jamming thick marker caps into piercing holes until they dripped blood. He claimed to feel no pain and used lighters to melt the flesh on the inside of his forearms. He provoked people into assaulting him but never fought back, instead laughing as the blows fell. Two kids beat him into a gutter once. Anglin just lay there until they stopped, out of pity and confusion.

Former friends recall that Anglin’s parents seemed blind to their son’s alarming behavior. And while he could be tender toward his younger siblings, Chelsey and Mitch, and loyal to his friends, he also had a sadistic side. Alison (who asked that her last name be withheld from this article) told me that during Anglin’s sophomore year, she called him, distraught: She said she’d passed out at a party and been raped by a friend’s older brother. She needed compassion and support, but Anglin just laughed and broke up with her.

“You’re a sl**,” she remembers him saying.

Several girls Anglin had gotten to know at another high school began calling her house at all hours of the night, according to Alison and other sources. “You deserved it,” they’d say. “You sl**.” Alison says the abuse went on for weeks, as Anglin showed friends a video he’d made of them having sex.

After the breakup, Dan Newman, another friend at the time, remembers Anglin once bashing his head into the walls of his bedroom in such a frenzy that his mother had to call the police. Several classmates told me that Anglin didn’t date again in high school and sometimes tried to kiss other boys, including one black student he especially liked. Whether this behavior was authentic experimentation or just for shock value, it’s notable in light of the extreme homophobia Anglin has since expressed on The Daily Stormer and elsewhere. He has advocated, for instance, throwing gays off buildings, isis-style.

By Anglin’s junior year, Greg and Katie’s marriage had come undone. People who knew Katie back then described her to me as a browbeaten woman who lived in fear of her husband. A person who was close to one of Greg’s former clients, along with two Columbus pastors familiar with Greg’s work as a counselor, told me that Greg got involved emotionally, and sometimes sexually, with his female clients. Court documents related to his divorce support this claim: A former client is identified as his girlfriend. Greg would later make her a partner in his counseling practice. (Neither of Anglin’s parents responded to requests for comment.)

Shortly after the divorce proceedings began, Anglin found a new emotional outlet: listening to a right-wing radio host who claimed that 9/11 was an inside job. This was Alex Jones, who would go on to become America’s premier conspiracy theorist. For Anglin, he was an entry point into the “internet truth movement,” an online realm filled with all manner of paranoid delusions. Soon Anglin was pulling classmates aside to warn them about lizard people. After graduation, few of his friends saw or spoke to him again.

To spend any significant amount of time in truther forums is to feel the traps being set, the hooks sinking in. What if?, the mind wonders. For those short on critical-thinking skills, the forums can be infectious and addictive. Here, one might conclude, are fellow detectives working to excavate realities hidden from the “normie” mainstream—that jet contrails contain chemicals sprayed into the atmosphere by the government, for example, or that the moon landing was faked.

Anglin threw himself into this world after high school as he drove around the country, listening to truthers and living out of his Honda Civic. In 2004, he spent a night in jail in Santa Barbara, California, after being arrested for drunk driving. When he returned to Columbus after months on the road, he enrolled at Ohio State University to study English, but dropped out after one semester. In early 2006, he was arrested near campus for two minor drug offenses. (He pleaded guilty to one charge; the other was dismissed.)

Anglin was by then spending a lot of time on 4chan, a website that lets users post images and comments anonymously, and that has drawn droves of socially isolated young people thumbing their noses at political correctness. The channers started memes and organized pranks that would later evolve into troll campaigns such as Gamergate, which targeted women in the gaming community with death threats and other abuse. On one board in particular, users vied to see who could make the most-racist comments, ostensibly as a joke. Over time, the humor receded and the racism stuck. “4chan was more influential on me than anything,” Anglin told me over email last year before he cut off communication.

In November 2006, Anglin launched his own conspiracy-theory website, virtually all traces of which were removed from the internet during the time I was reporting this story. He called the site Outlaw Journalism, a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson, whom he idolized, though Anglin’s writing more closely resembled the rantings of Alex Jones—outrageous posts laced with misogyny and anti-immigrant sentiment. “Welcome to the future,” he wrote. “We’re living in a science fiction nightmare.”

In March 2007, Anglin published his first post about Donald Trump, highlighting a video clip from a 2000 roast of Rudy Giuliani. In the video, the then-mayor is dressed in drag and sprays perfume on his fake breasts. Trump shoves his face into Giuliani’s chest. Anglin labeled them both “f**s” and wrote that Giuliani must be having a “twisted homosexual transvestite affair with Donald Trump.”

Elsewhere on his site, Anglin wrote about blood rituals and underground tunnels used by pedophiles and fetus-eaters. He wrote that the government was a “scientific dictatorship” trying to implant microchips in citizens’ brains to create a “worldwide slave grid.”

This delusional thinking eventually overwhelmed Anglin. “I just about lost my f***ing mind on that conspiracy s***,” he admitted on a podcast years later. He withdrew to a relative’s farm, most likely his maternal grandmother’s 84-acre property south of Columbus, which had woods, a stream, and fields. “I had some issues, and moved to the country,” he wrote on Outlaw Journalism in May 2007, noting that his thoughts were “about 200 percent clearer.” He took in the stars at night and enjoyed the “ecstatic luxury of taking a long walk on non-paved surfaces.”

But he couldn’t stay away from the truthers. He created the Outlaw Forum, a 4chan-esque board where people could burble about conspiracies. Before long, they began harassing other truthers with whom Anglin clashed. It was his first cybermob.

The internet truthers had embraced a new medium, but their mode of thinking was hardly novel. In his famous 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote about the conspiratorial fantasies of Barry Goldwater supporters in terms that sound strikingly contemporary: “The modern right … feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.”

A similar anxiety about displacement runs through the internet truth movement, which helps explain why it has been a key gateway for the alt-right. Obsessed with systems of control, many truthers end up harping on Jewish influence in society. Some deny that the Holocaust occurred, contending that it was an elaborate ruse designed to let Jews play victims at the expense of everyone else. The Holohoax, as it is known, gives its adherents an excuse to blame everything they hate on a cabal of Jews: Feminism. Immigration. Globalization. Liberalism. Egalitarianism. The media. Science. Facts. Video-game addiction. Romantic failure. The NBA being 74.4 percent black. According to the Holohoax, it’s all a plot to undermine traditional white patriarchy so Jews can maintain a parasitic dominion over the Earth.

Anglin didn’t buy into the Holohoax right away, but a nascent anti-Semitism infused his early writing. He riffed about the “Zionist Occupied Government” and urged readers to contact the German Embassy to protest the conviction of an infamous Holocaust denier for breaking a law against inciting hatred.

As Anglin’s prospects narrowed, his worldview got even bleaker. In February 2008, he was arrested for driving while impaired and spent 10 days in jail, according to court records. The following January, he reported working 50 hours a week in a warehouse and still being unable to afford his own place. That June, he published what would be his last post on Outlaw Journalism for years. It was a warning about the banking system, one-world government, organ harvesting, and plant–animal gene-splicing. “Glowing green monkeys are able to have baby glowing green monkeys,” he wrote.

“The only logical path for humanity to take is to utterly abandon [civilization] and return to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle,” he concluded. He wanted to fish and hunt and grow his own food, to live in a hut, to spend time “having fun, telling stories, making music, creating art, dancing, making love to the wife, joking with the old folks and generally living it up.”

So he got on a plane and flew toward the jungles of Southeast Asia. It was there, after a darker plunge into delusion, that he would take his final step into neo-Nazism.

The rain poured off the thatched roof of Anglin’s bamboo hut. Outside, tropical ferns shook with water. He’d arrived in the jungle, but it had been a winding journey. After leaving Columbus, he’d meandered through Asia until he reached the Philippines. He’d been reading Joseph Campbell, the writer famous for his work on mythology, and thinking about how to forge his own heroic narrative.

Anglin wanted a tribe—a real one. And he’d been looking. He hiked into the mountains with boys who carried drinking water in plastic Monsanto fertilizer jugs and went to Manila to find squatter villages where people “drink from sewers.” He explored the island of Mindanao on a moped and posed for selfies wearing a wry expression, a Marlboro hanging from his lips or tucked behind his ear. In one video he made, he stood shirtless on a beach describing the horrors of deforestation.

Anglin established a home base at the Sampaguita Tourist Inn, a $10-a-night hotel in Davao City, where he lived for months at a time off money his father sent. He liked to sit in the lobby with his laptop, drinking Nescafé and planning his next move. At the time, Davao was ruled with an iron fist by its authoritarian mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, now the president of the Philippines. (Anglin shook Duterte’s hand once and has made praise of the violence-prone politician a staple of Daily Stormer coverage.) It was the third-biggest city in the country but hardly a mecca for 20-something Americans. That’s why, in 2009, Anglin came to the attention of Edward, a 33-year-old New Yorker and the only other young American in the hotel. Edward, who asked that his last name be withheld, spent months at a time in the Philippines over the course of several years. He and Anglin became friends and went out to eat together almost every day.

Edward thought Anglin was fun and intelligent, with excellent taste in music. Edward had once run a small music-distribution business, but Anglin still introduced him to new bands, such as the Felice Brothers. Yet there was something off about Anglin, who said he wasn’t going back to the United States. “He was running away, clearly,” Edward told me. But from what? Edward recalls Anglin claiming that he’d been trafficking cocaine back home. “I honestly thought that’s why he’d left America,” he said.

Edward told me that Anglin acted like he was smarter than everyone else, and in a country where young white men are “treated in a godly way,” Anglin’s ego only grew. He had a complex about being short—he claims to be 5 foot 7, but several people I talked with put his height closer to 5 foot 4. In Davao, however, Anglin hit on every pretty young Filipina he saw and had success with many of them, sometimes taking advantage of their hope that an American husband could be an exit from poverty. Most of these girls were 18 or 19 years old, but Edward says some were younger. He remembers Anglin once picking up a 14-year-old in a bar and bringing her back to the Sampaguita to spend the night.

Yet Anglin was troubled by the ways Western society seemed to have degraded Filipino culture—he despised Christian missionaries and was appalled to see Filipinos listening to Lady Gaga instead of traditional music. “You see the way white people—and it is white people—went around the whole world … and f***ed everybody,” he said in a podcast he recorded at the time. “I think the white race should be bred out.” He voiced similar sentiments in other podcasts.

Then, on one of his forays from Davao, Anglin found his tribe. In 2011, he spent several weeks in a small village in southern Mindanao among the T’boli people, who live around mountain lakes covered in lotus blossoms. The T’boli are known for their traditional music, dance, beadwork, and weaving. “Their life was all so beautiful and amazing,” Anglin said on one of his podcasts.

Here was his return to nature. Anglin reported being about a day’s journey from electricity. Everything in the forest had spiritual significance for the T’boli. Each time Anglin crossed a stream, for example, he rubbed a wet stone across his face, hands, and feet to ask for guidance from the water spirit, which always knew the path through the forest. “I love these people,” Anglin said after a trial run in the jungle.

Anglin emerged with a plan: He would return to the jungle, build his own hut, and exist “completely outside of the system.” He would live with the T’boli at first, but he hoped to push even deeper into the mountains in search of Muslim tribes and “people that are still fighting with spears, killing miners and loggers.” He would also, counterintuitively, launch a website called Reality Situation to chronicle his new off-the-grid life. He put his belongings up for sale to raise cash for a horse, chickens, and ducks. There was a messianic zeal to his plan. “I’m going to do it,” he told another truther. “I’m going to live without money. And I’m going to set up a community that does the same. And I’m going to video tape it.”

Anglin launched Reality Situation in January 2012, before heading back into the jungle. He was reading about UFOs and downloading paranormal podcasts. He was still obsessed with brain-chipping and TV mind control, fake moon landings and satanic sex rituals. His vision of a rainforest utopia was no less unhinged.

“Colonel Kurtz meets Travis Bickle” is how Edward described his friend’s mind-set around this time. “He was going to go back to the jungle to be the white savior and teach everybody how to grow crops properly.” And according to Edward, Anglin had another motivation: “He was going out there to marry two 16-year-old Muslim girls. He’d already met them and was buying them livestock for the dowry.”

For the next six months, Anglin all but disappeared from the internet. In May 2012, he put up a lone post on Reality Situation in which he said he was planting trees, developing sustainable farming, and educating children about the dangers of Christianity and capitalism. Then he vanished again.

What happened to him in the jungle is a mystery. He later said he’d drunk too much of a “strong coconut wine” and “began to feel deeply depressed and alone.” His fanciful notion of “picking fruit and hunting wild boar” and being treated like a hero was, he realized, a “romantic fantasy.” Again, he blamed others for his failure. This time it was the Filipinos’ fault.

“Their minds were as primitive as their mode of living,” Anglin wrote, declaring that only among the “European race” would he feel at home. “It is only they who share my blood, and can understand my soul.”

Edward saw him one last time, back in Davao. Anglin seemed transformed. He’d shaved his head and was dressed in a street-tough style, with a white tank top and baggy jeans. He was angry, especially about the subject of race-mixing. He also had a gun.

Anglin told Edward that the tribe had rejected him. “They’re a bunch of idiots,” Anglin said. “Monkeys.”

He shut down Reality Situation, left the Philippines, and, after a stint in China, returned to Ohio. In December 2012, he launched a new site called Total Fascism, an earnest precursor to The Daily Stormer. “From the flaming wreckage of the alleged Truth Movement,” Anglin wrote, “a group of people has begun to emerge … We have found the truth. We have found the light. We have found Adolf Hitler.”

Anglin sequestered himself onthe family farm again. Now he advocated “brutal extremism.” He wrote that he was not calling for violence “at this time” but added: “If I thought violence could work to free us of the yolk [sic] of the Jew, I would absolutely and unequivocally endorse it.”

He developed an almost religious infatuation with Vladimir Putin, or “Czar Putin I, defender of human civilization,” as Anglin called him. For Anglin, Putin was a great white savior, a “being of immense power.”

This fixation on strength is common among members of the alt-right, but Anglin took his devotion to power to a wild extreme. “He thinks in terms of a fascist Disney film,” a prominent white nationalist who has collaborated with Anglin told me, adding that Anglin believed that if he tried hard enough, disciples would flock to his cultish vision and help him summon another Hitler into existence. “He imagines he has some magical power.” Over his heart, he’d tattooed the spidery black sun of the Sonnenrad, an occult symbol in a mystical strain of neo-Nazism whose followers embrace such notions as Hitler being an avatar of Vishnu.

In March 2013, Anglin, or perhaps his father, used Greg’s email address to register the domain name for The Daily Stormer. Then Anglin left the country again. First he went to Greece, where he stayed in a hostel in Athens for three months. He found work giving tours of the Parthenon and other sites and attended meetings of Golden Dawn, Greece’s ultranationalist far-right political party.

On July 4, 2013, The Daily Stormer launched in beta mode, replacing Total Fascism. Anglin named his new site after Der Stürmer, a virulently anti-Semitic Nazi-era weekly that Hitler had read devoutly. (As Anglin would later write, the official policy of his site was: “Jews should be exterminated.”) The Daily Stormer was unlike anything else in white nationalism: The design was clean, the posts were infused with Anglin’s wry humor. It was Nazi Gawker, and it caught on.

a group of people standing in front of a birthday cake with lit candles © Provided by Atlantic Media Company

Anglin’s editorial approach, which he has explained in various podcasts, borrowed from both Mein Kampf and Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. From Hitler, Anglin learned to dumb down his argument: Good guys versus bad guys. A few themes repeated over and over. From Alinsky, he learned counterculture tactics: Attack people instead of institutions. Isolate targets. Make threats. One Alinsky rule in particular stuck with Anglin: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

Ridicule was hard to counter. So Anglin mocked. He made people laugh. “The whole point is to make something outrageous,” he said on the site. “It’s about creating a giant spectacle, a media spectacle that desensitizes people to these ideas.” He considered jokes about Josef Mengele training dogs to rape Jewish women “comedy gold.”

In 2014, Anglin was living in Europe when he found a partner in Andrew Auernheimer, a.k.a. “weev,” a neo-Nazi hacker and troll. Auernheimer grew up in the Ozarks and went to federal prison in 2013 on identity-theft and hacking charges. After his conviction was vacated on appeal a year later, he moved abroad. He now lives in Transnistria, a small, Russia-backed breakaway region on Moldova’s eastern border.

Auernheimer ran the tech side of The Daily Stormer, and also contributed his considerable gifts for subversion by making printers on U.S. college campuses pump out swastika-bedecked flyers for the site. “I don’t know what I would be doing if it wasn’t for him,” Anglin said in an interview with another white nationalist last year. “He’s the one basically holding the whole thing together.”

Anglin, meanwhile, gained infamy for his troll attacks. In 2015, he tormented the University of Missouri during student protests against racist incidents on campus. He used Twitter hashtags to seed fake news into the conversation, falsely reporting that members of the KKK had arrived to burn crosses on campus and were working with university police. He claimed that Klansmen had gunned down protesters and posted a random photo of a black man in a hospital bed. As his rumors spread, the campus freaked out.

But Anglin wasn’t content to troll alone. He wrote instructions for his followers on how to register anonymous email accounts, set up virtual private networks, mask their IP addresses, and forge Twitter and text-message conversations. He created images and slogans for them to use. Anglin warned his Stormers not to threaten targets with violence, a disclaimer meant to shield him from law enforcement.

Still, Anglin’s mob was a terror. He sicced his trolls on American University’s first black female student-body president. He had them go after Erin Schrode, a Jewish woman running for Congress in California, as well as Jonah Goldberg and David French, writers for National Review. As I reported this story, Anglin sent his trolls after me, too, and my interactions with them confirmed my suspicions that they were, by and large, lost boys who felt rejected by society and, thanks to the internet, could lash out in new and destructive ways. When I tried to draw them out about their lives, some admitted that they struggled with women. One told me that he struggled with his own homosexuality. Most imagined they were rising up against an unchecked political correctness that maligned white males. The more the liberal establishment chose to revile them, the more they embraced their role as villains.

In recent years, psychologists have found a powerful connection between trolling and what’s known as the “dark tetrad” of personality traits: psychopathy, sadism, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. The first two traits are significant predictors of trolling behavior, and all four traits correlate with enjoyment of trolling. Research published in June by Natalie Sest and Evita March, two Australian scholars, shows that trolls tend to be high in cognitive empathy, meaning they can understand emotional suffering in others, but low in affective empathy, meaning they don’t care about the pain they cause. They are, in short, skilled and ruthless manipulators.

In the summer of 2015, another great white savior—himself a troll—appeared to Anglin, this time gliding down a golden escalator in Manhattan in front of a crowd of paid extras. A few days after Donald Trump declared his presidential candidacy—launching into an attack on Mexican “rapists”—Anglin endorsed him as “the one man who actually represents our interests.”

Anglin immediately put all his resources toward willing a Trump presidency into reality. He churned out cheerleader posts and deployed his trolls on behalf of Trump, directing several of his nastiest attacks at Jewish journalists who were critical of the candidate or his associates.

Anglin hadn’t been to the polls in years, but he wasn’t going to miss a chance to vote for Trump. His absentee ballot arrived in Ohio from Krasnodar, a city in southwest Russia near the Black Sea, according to Franklin County records. That the Russian government wouldn’t know about an American inside its borders publishing a major neo-Nazi website seems improbable.

Anglin worshipped Putin, and seemed like exactly the type of online agitator Russia might use to sow chaos during the U.S. election. In March, Auernheimer told Daily Stormer commenters that he was setting up the site’s forum on “a much beefier server in the Russian Federation.” Anglin would later swear on his site—“under penalty of perjury”—that he’d never taken money or direction from the Russian government.

But whether Anglin knew it or not, his site appears to have gotten a boost from someone in Russia. A collective of data scientists called Susan Bourbaki Anthony conducted an analysis of The Daily Stormer’s reach on Twitter from February 2 to March 2, 2017, and found that Anglin’s content was being spread by a mysterious network of accounts. This network, which is still active, has amplified divisiveness in American political discourse on Twitter since at least early in the year. It includes bots and “sock puppets” (accounts operated by actual people under false identities), and essentially shuts down each night from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast—midnight to 6:30 a.m. local time in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The election helped elevate The Daily Stormer from one of several influential white-nationalist sites to a key platform of the alt-right, though the site wasn’t nearly as popular as Anglin wanted people to think. He and Auernheimer often bragged that it got millions of unique visitors a month, but comScore put the site’s monthly visitors closer to 70,000. Still, Anglin knew how to make noise—and by any metric, the post-Trump trend line for his site pointed up.

In May 2016, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer had asked then-candidate Trump about the death threats and harassment Anglin’s army had leveled against the journalist Julia Ioffe after she wrote a profile of Melania Trump for GQ magazine. (Ioffe now works at The Atlantic.)

“I don’t have a message to the fans,” Trump said.

The fans. His people. “We interpret that as an endorsement,” Anglin told a reporter when asked about Trump’s refusal to condemn white nationalists.

Iwent back to Columbusin mid-February. I’d learned that Anglin might be in town for a legal hearing—for some reason, he’d filed a motion to expunge his 2006 misdemeanor drug conviction—and I intended to approach him at the courthouse.

The day I arrived, the city’s weekly paper, Columbus Alive, published a long feature about Anglin. The next evening, Anglin walked into a supermarket where a protester who’d been quoted in the story worked. She later told me that despite the bitter cold, he wore only a white T‑shirt and black track pants. Holding a can of Monster Ultra Blue, an energy drink, he approached her and looked her in the eye. “How’s it going?” he said, before strolling off into the night.

I was staying near the old Exile bar, once the premier leather joint in Columbus and an early moneymaker for the Anglin family. The Exile was one of two gay bars that had been owned by Anglin’s uncle Todd until he died of aids, after which Greg took over. The bars continued to stage foam parties and fetish nights while Greg, according to two sources, performed gay conversion therapy at his counseling practice. Greg had amassed a sizable, if shabby, real-estate portfolio in town, and I visited several of his properties, trying, unsuccessfully, to locate his neo-Nazi son.

I thought Anglin might be crashing with his childhood best friend, West Emerson, whose Facebook page included a “favorite” Hitler quote and alt-right references. Emerson was prone to bragging about his friendship with Anglin. He told more than one of my sources that he and Anglin communicated every day. In messages he sent to one source, he claimed to be talking with Anglin “now as we speak.” But when I reached out to Emerson, he refused to talk with me. (Emerson told The Atlantic that he did not share Anglin’s views, hadn’t seen him in 15 years, and didn’t even know his phone number.)

A week after the Columbus Alive story was published, Anglin doxed the reporters. He published their contact information and put up photos of their homes and cars, their spouses and children, including a six-month-old infant. “Take action,” he told his trolls, who harassed the targets with calls, emails, and offensive mail. The reporters didn’t feel safe in their homes. Police had to increase patrols in their neighborhoods.

One evening, I drove to what I thought might be Anglin’s mother’s house. It was dusk, and the only light on was in the living room. From a distance, I thought I saw a thin woman standing by a window, but by the time I parked my car, the light had gone off. I rang the doorbell, then knocked and waited a few minutes. There was no answer. I quickly scratched out a note—“I need somebody who loves Andy to speak on his behalf”—and stuck it in the door. A few days later, I left Katie a voicemail at work. She never responded.

I’d been at the right house. Anglin later posted a photo of my note and accused me of engaging in a “vicious scorched-earth campaign” to threaten his family and friends. He labeled me a terrorist and said I was trying to silence him. Angry Stormers called and emailed me. One tried to feed me false information about Anglin’s whereabouts. I received half a dozen spoof emails trying to infect my computer with a virus.

But Anglin himself remained elusive. His hearing was scheduled for 10 a.m. on a Monday morning. But the night before, a waterline burst and damaged five floors of the courthouse, including the one where his hearing was to take place. All proceedings on those floors were postponed. I went to the courthouse at nine the next morning anyway, hoping that Anglin might still show up. It took me some time to talk my way up to the right floor and find a clerk. She told me that Anglin and his lawyer had come in early and had his record expunged. I had just missed him.

In April, Tanya Gersh and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued Anglin in federal court for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of a Montana anti-intimidation statute. He’d have to answer for what the lawsuit called a “campaign of terror” that had given Gersh panic attacks and landed her in trauma therapy.

That she had to file a civil suit instead of pressing criminal charges was telling. There was little the authorities could do about the hate speech The Daily Stormer published, which is protected under the First Amendment—and Anglin knew it. He often mentions Brandenburg v. Ohio, a Supreme Court case that addressed a fiery oration by Clarence Brandenburg, a Klansman, in 1964 on a farm outside Cincinnati. Brandenburg preached violently about Jews and blacks and suggested that if the government continued to suppress white people, “revengeance” might be taken. The Court ruled that his ravings were protected because they were too abstract to incite “imminent lawless action” and did not meet the previously established “clear and present danger” standard. This “Brandenburg test” defines how far hatemongers can go, and Anglin has been careful to keep his violent language vague. He is, for example, within his rights to publish that “Moslems should be exterminated.” He is not, however, allowed to threaten a specific Muslim with extermination.

Where he has potentially crossed a legal line is with the trolling he orchestrates. Cyberstalking—defined as using the internet in a way that “causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person”—is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. (Many states also criminalize cyberstalking.)

But this activity is difficult to prosecute when trolls know how to conceal their identity. A lone troll might leave his victim only one voicemail telling her to burn in an oven, which would fail to meet the criteria for cyberstalking. When hundreds of trolls do the same, though, the effect can be terrifying. “It’s like a bee swarm,” says Danielle Citron, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Law and a leading expert on cyberharassment. “You have a thousand bee stings. Each sting is painful. But it’s perceived as one awful, throbbing, giant mass.”

Even if Anglin doesn’t participate in the harassment directly, however, he arguably solicits cyberstalking and aids and abets it, according to Citron. These are crimes in their own right—just not ones that law enforcement is prepared to take on. Few local police departments have the means to go after trolls, and Citron says that federal investigators who are swamped with child-pornography, fraud, and terrorism cases tend not to make cyberstalking investigations a priority.

And so Gersh had to go after Anglin in court. A week after she filed her suit, Auernheimer set up a crowdfunding campaign on WeSearchr, a platform run by Chuck Johnson, a far-right troll and propagandist who has claimed that he has ties to the Trump administration. Within a month, Stormers had raised more than $150,000 for Anglin’s legal defense. Anglin then hired Marc Randazza, a First Amendment lawyer who has represented Mike Cernovich, another far-right propagandist.

The lawsuit is scheduled to enter the pretrial stage in December. It marks the first time a notorious internet troll has been sued for instigating a campaign of harassment and intimidation. It could force the courts to decide whether calling for a troll attack—Anglin’s admonition to “hit ’em up”—is protected speech. The risk, however, is that if Anglin prevails in court, sadistic trolls will be free to tear across the internet with even greater abandon.

For his part, Randazza argues that restricting Anglin’s trolling would set a dangerous precedent. Anglin “has every right to ask people to share their views, no matter how abhorrent those views are,” Randazza told me. “This is the s***ty price we have to pay for freedom.”

The alt-right leaders cameto Charlottesville from far and wide this August for the largest gathering of white nationalists in more than a decade. Richard Spencer, Mike Enoch, Matthew Heimbach, Eli Mosley, even David Duke, the old Klansman who has taken up the new label in an effort to get hip to Millennial racism. All of them except Anglin.

“We are angry,” Anglin had written a few days before the rally. “There is a craving to return to an age of violence. We want a war.” Many of his underlings made the trip. Ready for street combat, some brought homemade shields painted with skulls. But Anglin was never one to put his body on the line.

By all reports, he had stayed in the U.S. after his court date in Columbus and gone even deeper underground over the spring and summer. The SPLC hired process servers to notify Anglin of the Gersh lawsuit, but they couldn’t find him anywhere—despite repeatedly visiting seven different addresses. At one apartment in Columbus, Anglin’s younger brother, Mitch, opened the door but refused to help, saying he “can’t do that” to his brother. At another address, the process servers got the impression that Anglin had barricaded himself inside.

Randazza mocked the SPLC’s inability to find his client. (Anglin would soon be fending off two more federal lawsuits: one filed by Dean Obeidallah, a Muslim American comedian and radio host who alleged that Anglin had libeled him, and another brought by Charlottesville residents against the alt-right leaders responsible for the deadly rally.) Anglin told CNN that he’d moved to Lagos, Nigeria, and when the network ran his lie the Stormers had a long, hard laugh. One tried to fool me into thinking that Anglin was in the Czech Republic. But I’d gotten a credible tip that he was holed up somewhere in the Midwest.

The Stormers had a private chat server through a company called Discord, and I used an alias to listen in as they talked amongst themselves about genocide, often in graphic terms. “All I want is to see [Jews] screaming in a pit of suffering on the soil of my homeland before I die,” Auernheimer wrote. “I don’t want wealth. I don’t want power. I just want their daughters tortured to death in front of them and to laugh and spit in their faces while they scream.”

In July, Auernheimer posted a new rule in the Discord forum: “Do not talk to police … If we find out you have talked to the police for any reason you will be banned.” It appeared that law-enforcement officials might have finally taken an interest in Anglin’s operation. Perhaps in response, Anglin grew even more maniacal. He went on a popular alt-right podcast and rambled to the baffled hosts about the “electric universe” and “deconstructing reality” and assured them that “as soon as we finally do exterminate these Jews, we’re going to be fighting aliens.”

On his site, he pushed a “White Sharia” meme and published posts encouraging men to beat and rape women, take away their voting rights, and treat them like property. Women were “lower than dogs,” he wrote. “They are all vicious, amoral, mindless whores who do not deserve respect or admiration of any sort.” The meme distressed and confused many of his readers, especially the few women who frequented the site. Other Stormers couldn’t understand why Anglin wanted to promote a concept associated with Islam. But Anglin was relentless, and after dozens of posts, his meme caught on.

“White Sharia” was one of the phrases members of the alt-right shouted in Charlottesville in August. It was what James Alex Fields Jr. chanted before he drove his car into the crowd of antiracist protesters and was charged with the murder of Heather Heyer.

Anglin was triumphant—here was his vision for the Whitefish march, come to fruition. He’d done as much as anyone to promote the rally, turning his site into a key organizing hub. “The Alt-Right has risen. There is no going back from this,” he wrote. “This was our Beer Hall Putsch.” And when Trump again refused to denounce the white nationalists, Anglin exulted. “No condemnation at all,” he wrote. “Really, really good. God bless him.”

The day after the rally, Anglin wrote a post saying that Heyer was an “overweight slob” and claiming that “most people are glad she is dead.” Within a day it racked up more Facebook shares than any previous Daily Stormer post. On the private chat server, Auernheimer hatched a plan to send Nazis to Heyer’s funeral. But for all the talk on the alt-right about expanding the Overton Window, Anglin had failed to see that the more savage his words grew, the smaller, ultimately, his sphere of influence became.

The Daily Stormer was dropped by GoDaddy, its domain registrar; then by Zoho and SendGrid, which provided email services; and by Cloudflare, which protected against cyberattacks. The site went dark. Other alt-right sites were also shut down. Discord shut down the server where Anglin and his associates conspired, along with chat rooms for other racist groups. Richard Spencer had warned about “The Great Shuttening,” and now here it was.

Anglin and Auernheimer scrambled to get The Daily Stormer back online. They were rejected by half a dozen other domain registrars. Even Rozcom, the Russian national registrar, denied them. As of press time, they had managed to get a version of the site up, hosted in the Philippines and rebranded as “America’s largest pro-Duterte news site.” But Anglin had lost many readers, and his comments section—which provided the real energy for the community he’d built—had been decimated.

His panic was almost palpable as he tried to walk back the fearsome reputation he’d cultivated. “I am not actually a ‘Neo‑Nazi White Supremacist,’ nor do I know what that is,” he wrote in mid-September. He claimed that his violent rhetoric was never sincere but simply a way to mock those who slap a Nazi label on anyone who “stands up for white people’s rights” or “refuses to believe the stupid lies about Hitler” or rejects the “alleged Holocaust” narrative. Anglin now shared what he said had been his true editorial approach all along: “Ironic Nazism disguised as real Nazism disguised as ironic Nazism.”

Five days later, he posted about “the world being ruled either by reptiles from another dimension or some other type of reptilian or insectoid race of aliens.” Where the irony started and stopped was hard to know. I emailed Anglin one more time asking for an interview. He didn’t answer. The next day, he wrote a post calling for the mass execution of journalists. “I want to see pieces of journalist brains splattered across walls,” he wrote.

At times while tracking Anglin, I couldn’t help but feel that he was a method actor so committed and demented, on such a long and heavy trip, that he’d permanently lost himself in his role. I thought of a quote from Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Like so many emotionally damaged young men, Anglin had chosen to be someone, or something, bigger than himself on the internet, something ferocious to cover up the frailty he couldn’t abide in himself. Fantasy overtook reality, and now he couldn’t escape. Who was he if not the king of the Nazi trolls?

a close up of a man © Tom Dilly Littleson
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