Montreal neo-Nazi, outed this week, was lead cheerleader for deadly U.S. cell
Man who posted as 'Charles Zeiger' cultivated a web of hate online that has been linked to real-world violence
A leading neo-Nazi propagandist, who was identified this week as a Montrealer, is being described as the "primary publicist" of a radical U.S. group that has been linked to the murders of five people.
"Charles Zeiger," a pseudonym used by one of the most prominent contributors to the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, used his position to champion the early activities of the Atomwaffen Division.
In recent months, the group's name has surfaced in connection with five different murder cases, including the fatal stabbing of a gay, Jewish university student in California.
Atomwaffen, which means atomic weapons in German, claims to be inspired by the serial killer Charles Manson and propounds that history will end in a race war. Its founder, Brandon Russell, is serving a five-year prison term in the U.S. for having a stash of explosive materials.
A report released Friday by the Southern Poverty Law Centre said Zeiger was one of the figures responsible for boosting the group's notoriety after it announced its existence in 2015.
"[He] was AWD's primary publicist and helped the group rise to prominence by regularly promoting it on the Daily Stormer," the SPLC said, referring to Atomwaffen by its acronym, AWD.
Earlier this week, the Montreal Gazette reported that Zeiger is an IT consultant living in Montreal's Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough, whose real name is Gabriel Sohier Chaput.
CBC News has not independently verified this information.
A new anti-hate group, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, used its first public statement to call for criminal charges to be laid against Chaput.
Evan Balgord, the network's executive director, said Friday he was "confident" there was enough evidence against Chaput to warrant charges. Montreal police have only said they are "aware of the situation."
Called deadly group 'patriots'
Atomwaffen emerged from Iron March, an online forum that was abruptly shut down last year. The forum had a small but highly dedicated membership that reached into Canada and Eastern Europe, as well as the United States. It was cited as an influence on one of the people planning to bomb a Halifax mall, Lindsay Souvannarath.
The content of Zeiger's posts on the forum indicated he played a key role in its administration, possibly serving as a webmaster, said Balgord, who said he was conducting his own investigation into Zeiger's activities along with researchers from the SPLC.
Among Zeiger's most notable contributions to the site was editing and re-releasing the writings of James Mason, who published an influential neo-Nazi newsletter in the 1980s known as SIEGE. It advocates cell-based terrorism to pursue a racial revolution.
"I was blown away by James Mason's clarity and hard-core rhetoric. This is a 550-page CALL TO ACTION," Zeiger said in releasing his edition of the manifesto.
Atomwaffen was formed not long after the manifesto was republished. Its leaders have cited its influence, according to several media reports in the U.S.
The group began by pasting stickers and posters on university campuses, calling on students to "join your local Nazis."
Zeiger and other writers on the Daily Stormer lauded such campaigns.
"The heroic patriots of the Atomwaffen group has [sic] continued their campaign to spread their message of love (and 20 per cent hate) to the centres of learning in america [sic]," Zeiger wrote on the Daily Stormer in 2016.
But in May 2017, the group was linked to the first in a series of murders when a Florida teen, who had recently converted to Islam, admitted to killing his two neo-Nazi roommates.
The investigation also led to the discovery of the cache of explosives belonging to Russell, the Atomwaffen founder who shared the same apartment.
Around this time, the Daily Stormer community began to take its distance from Atomwaffen. Zeiger's own position, though, is unclear.
"I really doubt he condemned Atomwaffen the same way as the others did, based on the radio recordings and the writings he put out in the world," said Keegan Hankes, a research analyst with the SPLC.
Hankes said Zeiger has long advocated a two-pronged strategy for a neo-Nazi overthrow of the state, contending the work of law-abiding public organizations needs to complemented by underground ones willing to undertake militant actions.
The investigative news outlet ProPublica obtained an internal Atomwaffen document that suggested the group had members in Canada, as well as in several U.S. states.
Iron March's popularity in Canada
Atomwaffen is not the only neo-Nazi group to have emerged from Iron March and to be linked to violence.
The site was used by U.K.-based National Action, which saw six members arrested on terrorism charges in January. A 140-page pamphlet written by Zeiger was circulated among National Action members.
The SPLC also describes Iron March as the "incubator" of American Vanguard, later Vanguard America.
James Fields was seen holding a Vanguard America shield before he was arrested for allegedly killing an anti-racism activist at last year's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Zeiger boasted of his work with Iron March while appearing on a neo-Nazi podcast in late 2017.
"I think the most noteworthy stuff is related to all the nationalist groups that kept popping up from Iron March," he said, mentioning both National Action and Atomwaffen.
In 2014, Zeiger posted several times on Iron March remarking about its "unbelievable popularity surge in Canada," according to a selection of the forum's archives provided by the SPLC and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
"He should be taken seriously. He's definitely rubbed shoulders with some people who've inspired some pretty nasty stuff," Hankes said.
From online to racist book clubs
Zeiger has maintained a low profile since the Charlottesville protests, which he attended with other members of the Daily Stormer.
His byline hasn't appeared on a Daily Stormer article in months, nor has he released a podcast recently on his usual social media channels.
In that time, the Daily Stormer's founder and publisher Andrew Anglin began criticizing many of the groups who attended Charlottesville for openly displaying Nazi symbols, believing it hurts the popularity of the white nationalist movement.
That's angered more radical groups, such as the Traditionalist Worker Party and the League of the South, which accuse Anglin of betraying the cause. Other radical right-wing groups have criticized Daily Stormer for moving away from explicit Nazi/fascist imagery.
The Daily Stormer is also currently threatened by lawsuits and struggles to find servers to host its site.
Its activists have been focusing their attention on organizing what they call "book clubs," or real life meetings. These are considered critical stepping points on the road to radicalization.
"But they've tapered off in the last months amid the criticism" directed at the Daily Stormer, said Carla Hill, a senior investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League.
According to online messages obtained by the Montreal Gazette, Zeiger appeared to be arranging "book clubs" in an online discussion forum of Montreal neo-Nazi sympathizers. The encrypted forum it was using was abandoned in January when users feared it had been infiltrated.
Zeiger's extreme message means he is relatively isolated from other far-right groups in Quebec, such as La Meute or Storm Alliance.
The groups, moreover, are separated by language and demographics. Zeiger's body of work appears to be entirely in English, and his followers tend to be younger than the baby boomers who fill the ranks of the province's larger far-right groups.
But Balgord and other experts warn it would be a mistake to underestimate the size of his potential audience in Montreal, and more generally, in Quebec.
Neo-Nazi groups have claimed, internally, they have as many as 60 members in Toronto, Balgord said. The number in Quebec could be roughly double that.
"Based on some rough math, the scene in Montreal is more significant than a lot of people realize," he said.
With files from Brennan Neill and Justin Hayward