In November last year a new far-right channel appeared on Instagram and Telegram. At first glance, most of its content looked indistinguishable from other far-right…
In November last year a new far-right channel appeared on Instagram and Telegram. At first glance, most of its content looked indistinguishable from other far-right groups we monitored on Telegram. However, on closer inspection, the US-based group, calling itself the National Partisan Movement (NPM), explicitly said it was recruiting and accepting new members between the ages of 14 and 19. Central to the group’s messaging was the rejection of older generations of fascist leaders.
An early post on its Instagram account had the following caption:
The messaging was clear: young people only [Gen Z – “Generation Z” – refers to those born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s].
While shocking, it was not the first time we had come across this problem. In September last year, HOPE not hate exposed an entity called The British Hand, a terror-advocating youth group that primarily recruited its (young) members via Instagram. Likewise, when investigating this new group, we found this same pattern of using Instagram as a recruitment and outreach platform (Telegram was simultaneously used for organising and for the group’s internal chat). Clearly, when it comes to attracting terrifyingly young people into the far right, Instagram is becoming the platform of choice.
While the NPM is led by a 15-year-old boy from America, most of its members reside in Europe. In total, the group counts just over 70 members. The youngest is 12. Approximately 15 members are based in Sweden, which is the group’s second most active country after the US, though importantly the NPM’s second- and third-in-command are also based there. These two men, Filip and Thomas, 17 and 18, respectively, have previously engaged with the nazi Nordic Resistance Movement and eco-fascist activism. In the UK the group has at least eight members. These members have promoted material from proscribed nazi terror group National Action.
The young age of the NPM’s membership is deeply worrying. Vulnerable young people are being exposed to a diet and environment of constant hatred. Yet the group is not solely made up of teenagers. There are also a smaller number of older members in their late 20s. One of these is the well-known American fascist Colton Williams, who has previously been a part of the nazi Traditionalist Workers Party in the US. He acts as an “advisor” to the group and promotes fascist literature to its young members.
The NPM is but the latest example of an internationally-connected, violence-romanticising, far-right group led by young people, organising actions both online and off.
HOPE not hate has followed the group for some time and observed messages from its internal chat, regional chats, Snapchat groups and regular voice calls between members and leaders. The online infiltration has given us a better insight into this type of youth-oriented, far-right group, several of which have appeared in the last few years.
The internal Telegram chat of the NPM pings hundreds of times per day. Since the members are spread from North America to Eastern Europe, the group covers at least nine time zones, and messages arrive in a steady stream at almost all hours. Members are organised into “squads” – smaller groups – but most activity takes place in the main chat group as well as on Snapchat, where the messages disappear after they have been read.
New members are vetted via a questionnaire and in some cases a video call. The vetting process was made more stringent while we were inside the group, requiring new members to join a video call with one or two of the leaders, answering questions and showing at least part of their face. Once inside, members were then asked to join various chat groups and regular voice calls during which the leaders and members discussed upcoming plans. In these voice calls, we were introduced to the organisational structure of the NPM. It was divided into “platoons” and “squadrons”. These discussions also featured regional leaders reporting on the actions they had undertaken during the last week and what they planned on doing in the near future.
As a new member you were given two main rules, the breaking of which would supposedly lead to expulsion: first, do not share any personal information that could identify you, and second, do not “fed post” (send messages or express ideas that are illegal and could attract law enforcement’s attention). The group’s leaders were adamant that they did not want to follow the path of far-right terror groups. Specifically, Atomwaffen Division was singled out as a bad example by leader Thomas. One member wondered why the NPM could not “take a more aggressive [sic] position like feuerkrieg [sic], MD [Misanthropic Division] or AWD [Atomwaffen Division]” but was quickly shut down by leader Thomas, who said: “Idk [I don’t know] abt [about] you but me tom [sic] and Filip don’t want 10 years in prison.”
However, this rhetoric of non-violence is as thin as a sheet of paper, and even after just a few hours in the group, we saw how the leaders also expressed outright genocidal ideas, with a clear desire to use violence expressed by some members.
Despite deriding Atomwaffen, an accelerationist neo-nazi group in the US that advocated terror and was linked to several murders, Thomas has engaged in a Telegram chat connected to Atomwaffen’s latest iteration in Europe and recruited members from it. Other members of the NPM have also been active in this chat, including a 14-year-old from Kentucky who sent a horrifying Snapchat video of what appears to be an execution of a black man and posted a link and screenshot of it in the NPM group, urging others to join his group.
Despite the age of many of its members, posts in the group regularly express antisemitism, Holocaust denial and support for mass murderers. One member wrote on 4 March 2021: “The extermination of any other non-white race is necessary Heil Hitler ! Heil Breivik ! Heil Brenton Tarrant!” [referring to the 2019 Christchurch mass murderer]. Other participants shared clips of the proscribed British nazi terror group National Action and memes depicting mass murder.
Within the confines of the private group chat, hate has been directed towards black people, Jews, Muslims, trans and gay people in a similarly extreme manner. A short video posted by one member showed a man in a skull mask and glasses looking into the camera and announcing: “The real tragedy of Pulse nightclub was that too many got away”, referring to the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016 where 49 mostly Latinx and gay people were killed.
One of the first videos on the NPM’s Telegram channel showed a group of masked figures setting fire to, then stomping on, a Pride flag, and the conversation in the group frequently ventures into anti-trans hate. One member asserted that transgender folks are “not people” and posted a picture of a noose which he captioned: “Send this to blacks and trannies.”
Despite the pretence to eschew violence, in truth the NPM is a viciously extreme and openly violence advocating group.
Like the British Hand – which HOPE not hate exposed in September 2020 – the National Partisan Movement makes use of multiple social media accounts and platforms, and uses them for different purposes, cherry-picking between their features to make the most of their strengths.
Telegram’s group chat and voice call feature, combined with relative anonymity, is used for organising, while Instagram’s wide use in their target age range and focus on visual media makes it useful for propagandising. Its direct messaging function is often used for the first steps of a recruitment before this continues on Telegram or over a Discord video call.
With its ephemeral messages Snapchat is used by several of the NPM’s regional groups for less serious chatter, such as sly images of teachers in the classroom and talking about video games. But it is also utilised for the most extreme conversations, too. Using Snapchat, one member shared a video of an execution. Most of the Swedish members post pictures of their own faces here as well. The short-term nature of disappearing messages gives them a feeling of security. The service also notifies participants if someone takes a screenshot of the conversation, thus providing another means by which to root out potentially disloyal fellow members.
Instagram plays a central role in the organisation and is the source of recruitment for many of the NPM’s members. While some individual members’ accounts have been banned from the platform, the official recruitment account has been active for several months at the time of writing. This follows a trend observed by HOPE not hate. Coverage of terrorist groups on social media has, for good reason, recently centred around chat app Telegram and video-sharing sites such as YouTube. The largely unmoderated Telegram has been fertile ground for the emergence of explicitly violent groups in Europe and North America.
Instagram is useful for spreading propaganda in the form of simple images and videos, plus the platform’s recommendation feature prominently directs those peripherally connected to the group’s main account if one starts following a member or other similar accounts. The Swedish and American members have launched multiple Instagram accounts and screenshots shared in the chat group show conversations taking place with new recruits via Instagram’s direct messages.
As an organisation that was formed during the global pandemic, with its plans for offline meet-ups mostly hindered by social distancing rules, it is perhaps no surprise that the majority of the NPM’s actions have been online-focused.
“Anyone wanna raid my friends [sic] class on google meet?” one American member wrote and another responded: “Are there any n****s in your class?”. It’s a regular occurrence in the group that someone will call for a “raid” of an online classroom of their own school (or that of a friend who has shared login details) to lessons conducted via one of the many different video conferencing tools in use.
Called “Zoom bombing”, this involves hijacking video calls to share upsetting material through the video or via the chat function. Since the spring of 2020, it is something that has begun happening frequently as schools, religious, civic society and local government groups move to online meetings. For the far right, targets are often minority communities and the raids are intended to cause fear and distress, but it can also be used in order to spread far-right propaganda and normalise their ideas.
This practice shows how far-right groups are exploiting features and vulnerabilities that come with online platforms to spread hate, in a situation today where more and more events take place online. For the NPM it means that its members can join in abuse online wherever they are based. These “raids” happen several times a week and Swedish, Dutch, British and Finish members might join in the raid against a school on the East coast of the US.
Zoom bombing should not be discounted merely as an advanced form of prank calling, but as an invasive and harmful tactic, in-part because it targets people in spaces that are supposed to be safe. It clearly demonstrates how there is no clear boundary between hate and threats spread online and offline.
However, the NPM’s activities are not merely isolated to the online world.
Postering, stickering and graffiti is done by members in the UK, US and Sweden in the hope that it will raise interest in the group.
More serious is the case of one member bragging about having vandalised a transgender support centre in Ontario, Canada, throwing rocks through its front window and painting graffiti on its facade. The Canadian member bragged about going back to the centre a few days after the first attack, this time doing nazi salutes in front of its security camera and continuing to vandalise the building.
Members have also discussed acquiring weapons. One American member explicitly wrote that he was planning to buy a weapon at an upcoming gun show and asked for advice from other members. There is no minimum age to own a rifle or shotgun in Kentucky where he was based, but the fact that the boy had a picture of Brenton Tarrant, the mass shooter who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019, as his profile picture makes the prospect more threatening. He had also previously shared Tarrant’s video recording of his live shooting to the group. Upon acquiring this information we reported the individual to the relevant authorities in America.
Similarly worrying is a British member who has posted pictures of himself holding an airsoft rifle and shared posts to the group from Defense Distributed, a project that makes instructions available on how to 3D print weapons and how to modify non-lethal weapons, such as airsoft rifles, to make them deadly.
Many of the NPM’s members are brought in by peers of a similar age, or join of their own accord after seeing the propaganda. But inside NPM there are adult far-right activists who play a role in educating them in fascist ideas. Even between the teenagers there is a large age gap, ranging from as low as 12 up to 17 and 18. This comes with power inequalities.
Colton Williams, a 28-year-old American who was previously a regional leader of Matthew Heimbach’s Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), is an active member in the organisation, despite falling outside of the accepted age range. Williams has spent several years engaging with violent segments of the far right in the US and is described by the NPM’s leader as an “advisor” to the group. He later started his own organisation, the Legion of Saint Ambrose, after several conflicts with Heimbach. Notably, he was more hardline than even Heimbach on racial “purity” and disagreed with the inclusion of members he considered to be “race-mixers”. In private chats in the TWP he also encouraged other members to rape women and appeared at the violent Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 – where anti-racist protester Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist – and took part in the street fighting there.
The NPM chat messages show how Williams discussed ideology with the much younger members, urging them to read key Fascist and National socialist texts such as Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He also forwarded messages from other violent Telegram groups into the chatroom. Williams did not just suggest literature but also told the adolescents in the group that periodic fasting was an important part of improving their physique, which is then taken on by several of them who later describe that they have begun fasting.
Worryingly, Williams is not the only older far-right activist in the NPM who guides the group’s teenage members. Another is a 26-year-old from Lisbon, Portugal whose username is “Hatred”. About a week after joining the NPM, he shared a picture of the Order of Nine Angles (O9A) and Temple ov Blood texts. O9A is a nazi-satanist group, while Temple ov Blood is a US offshoot but still closely connected to the mother organisation.
Both organisations have served as inspiration for some of the most extreme nazi terror groups of the last decades. Temple ov Blood was an important influence on Atomwaffen Division (AWD) and some of its texts were made into required reading for the group. The picture shared by “Hatred” depicted Hostia, Iron Gates (two O9A books) and Siege (written by James Mason and widely circulated through AWD circles). Iron Gates opened with the depiction of a murder of a child and was found in the possession of the recently convicted leader of the Feuerkrieg Division in the UK.
Despite of, or possibly because, they were being led by a 15-year-old, these older members gained outsized importance in the group and have been looked up to by many of the younger members. They are at a clear advantage, which they have used to influence the group in a violent direction.
Monitoring violence-endorsing far-right groups online today comes with many difficulties. Basic details – such as country of residence for a user – can be hard to come by. To judge the severity of threats in contexts that are inundated with them, and inundated with irony, is not straightforward. These aspects are only made harder by groups run by young people.
It is easy to discard their engagement with extreme far-right ideas as a “phase”, driven more by a need to rebel than genuine ideological conviction. Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss of American University, who has studied far-right youth culture, argues that expressing far-right ideas and taking on its language “may provide agency for youth who feel constrained or let down by the adult world” and that “far-right engagement may thus be thought of as a mode of resistance and cultural subversion” for young people.
Factors other than ideology can indeed pull young people to the extreme right and it is also an understandable assumption that many will then move on from the political views they held as children. Young people also usually have a lower capability to acquire weapons than adults and might exaggerate their extremism in order to gain respect from other members of a group.
However, their capacity for violence is far from non-existent. Events in recent months have shown that even when violent ideas are expressed by minors, they should be taken seriously and not simply brushed over. A boy from Cornwall was convicted in February 2021 for being the leader of the Feuerkrieg Division in the UK, a terror-advocating group that put up propaganda in the south of England but organised primarily on Telegram. The boy was 13 when he committed his first terrorism offence and while he never committed an actual attack, he recruited members to the group, including 17-year-old Paul Dunleavy who was jailed for preparing acts of terrorism in November last year.
At the same time, these young people are victims themselves. Children as young as 12 or 14 do not have the agency or experience of an adult and as in the case of the NPM, are also partially fed ideology by older and more experienced individuals. Groups like the NPM make it easier for children and teenagers to find others that share similar views to themselves. They form spaces where very young people, already with some level of conviction towards far-right ideas, can solidify those through a constant stream of material passed between, and from, peers as well as more experienced participants.
However, it is not an easy task to accurately judge the severity and risk of groups like the NPM. Its outside image is harsh and threatening, with social media profiles filled with stylised silhouettes performing nazi salutes in front of a snow-clad landscape and with bold slogans demanding action. Inside the secret chat group, however, the conversation is often juvenile and awkward. Someone asks if anyone has ever had a girlfriend.
Conversations of undue Jewish control in the media get interrupted because someone’s parents ask them to come for dinner. Another shares a picture of a botched attempt to scribble the NPM logo on a lamp post, captioned: “i did my best”.
Often in the group’s voice calls they use language that sounds more threatening in writing than when spoken by the prepubescent voice of a 15-year-old. Which makes it sound like these are boys trying to make their lives more into the video games they play, than a fascist utopia they’ve actually read or heard about. The fact that several of the members still use their real names or recently stopped doing so is an indication that many of them are still new to this world. Another case of naiveté is that of the 14-year-old member writing in the main chat asking for help to buy a weapon.
On the other hand, their lack of experience is not a reason to discard their intent. There is a risk that what they lack in credibility they may try to make up for with action. They might feel a need to prove themselves, within the group and the wider movement, and in some cases might not fully understand the consequences of doing so.
The NPM and its members are aspiring to be noteworthy fascists and that desire takes them on a path to violence. Genuine and deep ideological conviction or understanding is not necessarily required to take action on one’s ideas and commit violence, as we have already seen in the case of the transgender support centre. However speedy their radicalisation has been or how genuinely they hold their beliefs, they have created a group where one is encouraged and directed to act on their hate.
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