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From Russia to Sweden and the United States, there’s a growing network of White nationalist groups that stretches around the world. The reporting team at Verified: The Next Threat investigates how these militant groups are helping each other create propaganda, recruit new members and share paramilitary skills.

We start with a group called the Russian Imperial Movement, or RIM. Its members are taking up arms in Russia’s war against Ukraine, which they say is a battle in a much larger “holy war” for White power. Newsy senior investigative reporter Mark Greenblatt interviews a leader of the group who says RIM’s goal is to unite White nationalists around the world. The group even runs training camps where White supremacists from around the world can learn paramilitary tactics.

Russia’s White nationalists are making connections with extremists in the United States. Greenblatt talks with a neo-Nazi named Matt Heimbach, who was a major promoter of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Soon after Charlottesville, Heimbach invited members of RIM to the U.S. and connected them to his network of American White power extremists. 

We end with a visit by Greenblatt to the State Department in Washington, where he interviews two top counterterrorism officials. They say they’re aware of the growing international network of White supremacists, but explain that White power groups are now forming political parties, which makes it more difficult for the agency to use its most powerful counterterrorism tools.

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Listen: Verified: The Next Threat

Credits

Reporter: Mark Greenblatt | Editor: Taki Telonidis | Associate producer: Jess Alvarenga | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Additional music: Allison Leyton Brown | Fact checker: Nikki Frick | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: Screenshot from vk.com/partisan_kurs / ruspartizan.com via Verified: The Next Threat podcast trailer | Executive producers: Brett Myers and Taki Telonidis | Host: Al Letson

Special thanks to Susanne Reber, Ellen Weiss, Bruce Edwards, Natasha Del Toro, Sean Powers, Lauren Knapp, Riin Aljas, My Vingren and Alexey Veselovskiy.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Speaker 1:Reveal is brought to you by Progressive. Have you tried the Name Your Price Tool yet? It works just the way it sounds. You tell Progressive how much you want to pay for car insurance and they’ll show you coverage options that fit your budget. It’s easy to start a quote and you’ll be able to find a rate that works for you. It’s just one of the many ways you can save with Progressive. Get your quote today at progressive.com and see why four out of five new auto customers recommend Progressive. Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates. Price and coverage match limited by state law.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. The war in Ukraine is now in its sixth month. Experts say it could grind on for a long time, maybe even years.
Speaker 3:Russia’s military continues its advance in Eastern Ukraine this weekend.
Al Letson:Russia’s getting help on the battlefield from fighters who belong to a little-known group called the Russian Imperial Movement or RIM. RIM posted this video online a few weeks ago which they claim shows a special weapon being fired at Ukrainian positions. For the Russian Imperial Movement, fighting in Ukraine isn’t about supporting President Vladimir Putin. In fact, they’ve openly called for a different leader. For RIM, Ukraine is a battle in a much bigger war, an international holy war. Their goal is to unite white Christian nationalists in a global fight for white power. RIM soldiers claim they’re more committed to the invasion of Ukraine than Russia’s own military. They’re taking casualties, but are not deterred.
Speaker 4:We continue to work and fight and in general, we are really full of spiritual uplift because unlike some units from the Ministry of Defense, we know what we are fighting for. For us, this is a religious war.
Al Letson:Today, Mark Greenblatt, senior investigative correspondent with Newsy, is going to take us inside the Russian Imperial Movement. He’s been looking at them with a team from the podcast series Verified: The Next Threat. Mark’s discovered that RIM is not working alone. It’s part of a growing network of white nationalist groups that stretches around the world. They’re helping each other create propaganda, recruit new members, and share paramilitary skills. Before we get started, we want to warn you that this show contains hate speech which listeners may find disturbing. Here’s Mark.
Mark Greenblatt:To really understand RIM, let me take you to St. Petersburg to the Peter and Paul Cathedral where members of RIM’s military wing gathered to celebrate one of their heroes. This is a video RIM posted online last year before the war in Ukraine, but you wouldn’t know it by the looks of this crowd who showed up in this place of God in camouflage military uniforms. They think of themselves as fighting for Russian Orthodox Christianity and they’re showing off their devotion to the cause at the tomb of Russian Emperor Paul I. Paul ruled for just four chaotic years in the late 1700s. He condemned innocent people to Siberia to show his unlimited power. He banned foreign travel, Western music and books, and even cracked down on people wearing Western-style clothes. He wanted to get rid of any temptation that could pull Russians away from Russian Orthodoxy.

His mother was Catherine the Great, Russia’s longest-running woman leader, but Paul was against women holding political power. He might be proud to see the people from RIM gathered here at his tomb, all men, no women. For this group, women can join, but it’s the men who set the agenda. Paul ruled erratically, alienating even his own supporters and he provoked military conflicts with France and England. Even members of his own family questioned his competence and Paul’s reign ended abruptly when he was assassinated. Still, the men gathered at Paul’s tomb love this guy and want to see a return to the kind of society he tried to create, one ruled by white Christian males. They’re finding people who agree with them all over the world, extremists who want to join the fight in their own countries.

So I decided to track down the leader of the Russian Imperial Movement, Stanislav Vorobyev. “Dear Mr. Vorobyev, I’m working on a long form investigative project …” And late one Saturday night in February of 2021, I wrote him an email. “And I’d like to hear more about your hopes and plans looking ahead. While this note is a bit of a shot in the dark, I hope very much you’ll write back and share your perspective.” I figured it was a long shot and more than a week went by with no reply, but then I opened my inbox and saw an email that stood out from all the others. It was in Russian and we had it translated.
Stanislav Vorob…:Dear Mark, our organization is legal and open to communication. However, it is difficult for me to answer your questions in writing as it will take a long time.
Mark Greenblatt:About two weeks later … Good morning.
Stanislav Vorob…:[Russian].
Mark Greenblatt:Thank you for joining us. I’m sorry about the technical problems to connect. We’re face-to-face on Skype and he’s sitting there drinking a cup of coffee, looking serious and tough. He’s about 60 years old and other than Stanislav’s silver-and-black goatee, I can’t get over how much this guy looks like an older version of that Russian boxer that’s played by Dolph Lundgren in the Rocky movies.
Stanislav Vorob…:[Russian].
Mark Greenblatt:We talk about his life before he started RIM in 2002. He tells me that he graduated from the same law school as Vladimir Putin and says that he was a government prosecutor for a time. He’s still a practicing lawyer today. That’s how he pays the bills. I thought I would take a moment to just pause since I can’t be there in person. At one point, I convinced Stanislav to show me around his apartment in St. Petersburg. He pivots his computer so I can see what’s on his walls.
Stanislav Vorob…:[Russian].
Mark Greenblatt:This guy doesn’t just talk about Russian Orthodoxy. He has icons all over his home. For RIM, there is no separation between church and state. The group wants to ban people from other faiths from ever holding a government job or any position of power in Russia and they want to put in place strict limits on showing anything positive about other religions in the media. Would the ban be on all forms of positively portraying other religions or just in state-sponsored television?
Stanislav Vorob…:Propaganda of religious values is allowed only using the language of the people who are proponents of the religion in question. If it’s a performance that is promoting the values of Judaism, for example, or the Talmud, it should be in Yiddish. Or if it’s propaganding Islam values, then it should be using the Arab or Tartar language or another language that is spoken by the people who are proponents of that religion, but not in Russian under any circumstances.
Mark Greenblatt:For the first dozen years, RIM mostly looked inward, pushing Russian domestic politics towards nationalism, but that narrow focus began to change in 2014, the last time Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia’s goal was to take over Crimea and back then, RIM trained hundreds of fighters to pick up guns and go to the front for combat. Stanislav tells me that he’s a veteran of the Russian military and was on the ground in Crimea for RIM when Russia annexed it.
Stanislav Vorob…:We took the last flight to Crimea. After our flight, the sky was closed by Ukraine.
Mark Greenblatt:What was it like in Crimea at that time?
Stanislav Vorob…:We saw widespread excitement of the population.
Mark Greenblatt:So that’s his perspective. Many in Ukraine have a different view, that they had their land stolen in a power grab. I ask if other countries, even members of NATO, might be next. Do you hope to see similar annexation, similar excitement in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia?
Stanislav Vorob…:We are an imperial movement so we would wish to reclaim the lands which traditionally belonged to the Russian Empire. This is our wish, but it doesn’t mean that we are going to take any actions to annex them. So we support it, but we are not going to initiate it.
Mark Greenblatt:RIM didn’t put its guns down after Crimea. Instead, it opened up its military training operation to extremists from around the world and this gave them street cred with white supremacists. It also generated income and drew in donations. US officials say one individual alone raised the equivalent of $3.5 million for the cause.
Speaker 7:[Russian].
Mark Greenblatt:This is a commercial for one of RIM’s training camps called Partizan. It’s the Russian world for guerrilla. The video was posted on the camp’s Russian social media channel and to raucous heavy metal, it shows guys in camo firing military-style assault weapons and getting tactical training too, the kind that can make you more lethal in an attack. Government officials in the US and Sweden say, in 2016, two members of a Swedish neo-Nazi group called The Nordic Resistance Movement traveled to RIM’s camp and flew home with new skills. Later that year and early in 2017, they began planting bombs that targeted immigrants and refugees in Sweden.
Speaker 8:The neo-Nazis have, for example, been linked with bombings near asylum-seekers’ hostels which left two people seriously injured.
Mark Greenblatt:The Swedes were convicted of the bombings, but Stanislav denies that RIM trained them.
Stanislav Vorob…:If they underwent training in explosives, then they wouldn’t make up the childish devices they were using. They would make real explosives, real mines. This is the evidence of the fact that they did not receive explosives training at our facilities since the device that they made is a toy.
Mark Greenblatt:Still, we’ve reviewed the evidence in court records and there are passport stamps, emails, phone and hotel records that all point toward the neo-Nazis flying into Russia for RIM’s weapons training. In April of 2020, the US government came to the conclusion that RIM posed a very real national security threat to the US, one they could not ignore.
Speaker 9:Today, the State Department is designating the Russian Imperial Movement, also known as RIM, as a specially designated global terrorist. We’re also designating three of RIM’s leaders, Stanislav Anatolyvich Vorobyev.
Mark Greenblatt:Designating the Russian Imperial Movement as a terrorist group was a really big deal. Up to then, the list was made up almost exclusively of Islamist extremist groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Al-Shabaab. The designations allow the US government to freeze assets, block travel, and monitor communications more widely, but almost no one noticed when RIM got added to that list because at the time, the pandemic dominated the news.
Speaker 9:These designations are unprecedented. This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacist terrorists.
Mark Greenblatt:Stanislav, the United States government has said that you are a terrorist organization. What do you say?
Stanislav Vorob…:The American government has no proof whatsoever of our so-called terrorist activities. We, as a religious organization, are fundamentally against terroristic activities and acts.
Mark Greenblatt:Still, Stanislav is more than happy to tell me about how RIM continues to train people in guerrilla tactics and he even extends a personal invitation for me to come to Russia. How would it cost me to go through your training today? If I wanted to come through it, what would it cost me?
Stanislav Vorob…:Our prices are not high. In the United States, they could be higher, $1000 or a few thousand dollars. In our case, it is $500. It’s enough for training.
Mark Greenblatt:For a week of training, $500? What would I learn if I came?
Stanislav Vorob…:You will learn how to shoot using a firearm. You will go to the shooting range to undergo firearm training. Medical training is also part of the course as well as tactical training, but meals, lodging, and ammunition is separate.
Mark Greenblatt:For the record, I didn’t go, but US officials say RIM did provide paramilitary-style training to white supremacists from Germany, Poland, and Finland. It’s all part of RIM’s effort to unite and even train Christian white warriors from around the world.
Stanislav Vorob…:We are bringing an idea. This is what makes us dangerous for some people. To those guys who recognized us as terrorists, our ideas are what makes us dangerous.
Mark Greenblatt:He tells me about a new project that he’s recruiting for. He calls it the Last Crusade. The inspiration for that, the First Crusades, the Holy Wars from the Middle Ages that led to a lot of persecution and killing all carried out in the name of God.
Stanislav Vorob…:It’s a historical term. A crusade is a well-known thing, a well-known phenomenon to rid Jerusalem from the infidels. So it is called the Last Crusade since it will be the last. It will be sufficient to have just this crusade. There will be no other future crusades necessary after this last one.
Mark Greenblatt:How will you ensure that it will be the last one?
Stanislav Vorob…:We are hopeful of that, that it will be indeed the last.
Mark Greenblatt:The modern-day crusaders aren’t just fighting non-Christian infidels. They feel under assault from the big global forces that push for multicultural societies and freedom of religion like most Western democracies. Those values don’t mix well with extremists who want white Christians in power. I want to know who Stanislav’s allies are in America. Are there people that you’re still connected to right now that are trying to help learn from you or you learn from them in the US?
Stanislav Vorob…:I believe it’s a secret.
Mark Greenblatt:You won’t say.
Stanislav Vorob…:No.
Mark Greenblatt:Why not?
Stanislav Vorob…:The thing is we are designated as terrorists. Therefore, any conduct with us by any American political organization would create problems for this organization. Right? Isn’t that logical?
Mark Greenblatt:Is it fair to say that you’re still connected with Americans in the US who are like-minded in one way, shape, or another?
Stanislav Vorob…:Yes, you can say so.
Al Letson:When we come back, we meet the American extremist who once brought the Russian Imperial Movement here to the US and who has some pretty disturbing things to say about this country.
Matt Heimbach:I pray for the death of the United States everyday. I hate this country. I hate everything it stands for. I hate the Constitution. I hate it from the first day of colonization ’til now. If I was offered citizenship tomorrow in Russia or Iran, I would definitely get on a plane and leave.
Al Letson:You’re listening to Reveal.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson and today, we’re with reporter Mark Greenblatt from Newsy. He spent more than a year connecting the dots between white supremacist groups around the world, including the Russian Imperial Movement, and groups in the US. It’s May 2018 and some of Europe’s most extreme right wing voices, including white supremacists, have traveled from 11 countries to a conference in Paris. They include a Holocaust denier from Belgium and a violent French nationalist. The flags from each group drape behind them. Leaders take turns leaning into the microphone and sharing their vision for the future of the far right and white power. Mark reports on how extremists here in the US are paying attention.
Mark Greenblatt:Two of the far right leaders sitting on the podium in Paris are wearing crisp white shirts, red ties, and suits. Stanislav Vorobyev from RIM, he’s up there too, but he’s casually dressed, wearing a relaxed plaid short sleeve shirt. He’s come to France to make new allies for a coming battle.
Speaker 11:I give the floor to a comrade, Stanislav Vorobyev, who has given us the honor of coming to France for this forum of Europe. He’s here representing the Russian Imperial Movement whose flag you admire with its colors of Russia eternal, of imperial Russia, of Christian Russia, of Russia forever.
Mark Greenblatt:Stanislav announces a new international holy war has begun and he dives into his recruiting pitch, focusing on how bankers and Jews are threatening white Christian power and need to be stopped.
Stanislav Vorob…:As a Christian organization, we do not forget that there are enemies of our God, Jesus Christ. There are various movements in Judaism. One of the most dangerous movements does not preach Zionism as a movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland. On the contrary, they preach the idea that Jews should be in all countries and have complete power.
Mark Greenblatt:Three years later, Stanislav is on Skype telling me that this so-called Last Crusade is growing and expanding beyond France and far beyond Europe.
Stanislav Vorob…:We are currently in the process of gathering like-minded people throughout the world, including people from Australia, America, and New Zealand, wherever there are Christian communities. It’s about consolidating all traditionalists forces and about resistance to the New World Order. This is the super idea.
Mark Greenblatt:The New World Order, that’s a concept that’s really important to key in on. Stanislav says it’s the big common enemy for the Last Crusade. Now, the New World Order is an old conspiracy theory that Stanislav’s breathing new life into. Extremists as far back as the 19th century have talked about a secretive, powerful elite often linked to Jews who are said to be conspiring to rule the world. Today, many of the loudest believers in this conspiracy say that this secret society does a lot of its work through Israel, the United States, and global institutions like NATO.

I really wanted to know who Stanislav looked to in the US as a potential ally, but he wouldn’t name names. So I tracked down a guy who I heard once hosted RIM here in America. He’s a 31-year-old extremist from Chattanooga, Tennessee named Matt Heimbach. What is the New World Order to you?
Matt Heimbach:It’s capitalism and capitalists have no loyalty to their nation state or their community or their race or anything like that. Yeah, it’s just capitalism.
Mark Greenblatt:Before we go any further, a word of warning. Matt uses words and racist ideas to explain his worldview in a way that’s going to upset a lot of people. We’re choosing to share parts of this with you because he’s a key player who connected RIM to other Americans. Matt says he and RIM bonded over a shared belief that there’s a secret group of people trying to run the world.
Matt Heimbach:I mean a Zio-capitalist conspiracy made up of people who are ethnically and religiously Jewish, yeah, sure, but that’s in concert working hand-in-glove with plenty of gentiles that are advancing the same agenda, that want the same thing, that want the exploitation of the working class. But there is a strong role of the Jewish hierarchy of the top tier that is involved with capital and its control.
Mark Greenblatt:Matt’s held these types of anti-Semitic views for a long time. He started a white power club back in college and grew to become such a prominent neo-Nazi leader that the Southern Poverty Law Center once dubbed him the Little Fuhrer. It’s what led him to network with European neo-Nazis.
Matt Heimbach:I had connections with European nationalists already and eventually, that got into meeting members of RIM.
Mark Greenblatt:Where were you in Europe when you actually for the first time connected with them?
Matt Heimbach:I think I was at an Alliance for Peace and Freedom meeting that was in the Czech Republic.
Mark Greenblatt:Matt had been studying extremist movements in Russia and Europe for years, looking up to them.
Matt Heimbach:The American white nationalist movement, pardon my language, but is like (beep) stupid and has been stupid for a really long time. When I got involved in college activism, there was no propaganda. I had to go back to a 25-year-old National Alliance leaflet to get a graphic that I then I could change the words on to have propaganda. Nothing had been created with white nationalism, but Europeans have, they have music. They have really cool art design. They have propaganda leaflets. Almost every party has not just one, but multiple newspapers.
Mark Greenblatt:After meeting RIM in Europe and learning from others there, he came back to the US and became a major promoter of that deadly Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia back in 2017.
Speaker 12:Jews will not replace us!
Mark Greenblatt:During the two-day rally, a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens. Just a few weeks after Charlottesville, Matt decided to invite his new friends, the Russian Imperial Movement, to fly across the ocean and land on American soil for the first time and to Matt’s delight, the Russians accepted.
Matt Heimbach:So that was fun. I got to go hang out in Dollywood, do a lot of sedition against the American government, going on rollercoasters and wee, having good Southern barbecue, going to battlefields, and taking them to the American History Museum and stuff like that.
Mark Greenblatt:But this was far from a quick tourist trip. Matt says the visit lasted weeks and included stops in places like Washington, DC. There’s a photo of Matt and a delegate from RIM posing together in front of the White House holding up a Russian Imperial flag. By this time, Matt had converted to become a Russian Orthodox Christian, the same religion RIM says it’s fighting for. Matt says he connected with the Russians over their hatred of global elites and the US.
Matt Heimbach:I pray for the death of the United States everyday. I hate this country. I hate everything it stands for. I hate the Constitution. I hate it from the first day of colonization ’til now. If I was offered citizenship tomorrow in Russia or Iran, I would definitely get on a plane and leave.
Mark Greenblatt:Matt says that the Russians also made a stop on the West Coast on their trip to meet with a group that initially was founded by skinheads in Southern California.
Matt Heimbach:They visited some members of the American Freedom Party as well, but that apparently did not go very well.
Mark Greenblatt:As Matt tells it, that group was on the far right, but not radical enough and lacked a global focus that would really connect with RIM.
Matt Heimbach:It’s just a bunch of boomers that are a bunch of jackass conservatives. So that’s not exactly revolutionary, world solidarity, fight globalism stuff.
Mark Greenblatt:So Matt introduced the Russians to his network of American extremists. In 2018, Matt’s hate group dissolved after he was arrested for domestic battery. He also got in trouble over his involvement in the Charlottesville rally. Later, a jury in a civil trial held him and other white supremacists liable for conspiracy. In 2020, he announced he was renouncing extremism, but then late last year as we were on a Zoom call, Matt began talking for the first time about a relaunch with a laser-focused mission on toppling so-called global elites.
Matt Heimbach:If 200 Wall Street bankers took a unexpected dive or the Halliburton boardroom got lit up, is that murder or is that self-defense? If the systems they’ve created are murdering thousands of people every single year and expanding this murder around the world to the tune of millions, I don’t know if I would consider that violence. I would call that self-defense.
Mark Greenblatt:Would that be justified?
Matt Heimbach:Oh, absolutely.
Mark Greenblatt:Threat experts tell us Matt’s latest version of extremism poses a genuine threat that needs to be closely monitored and better understood, including by law enforcement.
Matt Heimbach:There’s a lot to want to be radical about and I think the situation calls for extremism.
Mark Greenblatt:We talked about Molotov cocktails sort of in some of these instances going into whether it was Halliburton or Tesla, but is that the solution? What do you do to stop-
Matt Heimbach:Oh, yes. Yes.
Mark Greenblatt:Say that again.
Matt Heimbach:Yeah, yeah. No, these people have names and addresses. Okay? Their kids have names and addresses and the capitalist class by hook or by crook has to be liquidated. It’s called class war for a reason.
Mark Greenblatt:You want to bring out a class war against the global elites?
Matt Heimbach:It’s already here. The class war is already here. I don’t want to make, manifest, or do anything that doesn’t already exist. I just think we should defend ourselves.
Mark Greenblatt:Some people will say Matt Heimbach’s off his rocker and he’s advocating for harming certain people here.
Matt Heimbach:How many billions need to be displaced and how many cities need to be swallowed by the ocean before we can all just look around and say these specific people did this? Because they did.
Mark Greenblatt:When you say these global elite leaders have names and addresses and so do their families, what do you want to see happen?
Matt Heimbach:Oh, I mean put them on trial. George W. Bush should go on trial. Barack Obama should go on trial. Donald Trump should go on trial. Joe Biden should go on trial. All these people should be brought before a tribunal and be given a fair and honest trial. I do believe the people that fundamentally run the current global system are mass murderers. They’re not good guys.
Mark Greenblatt:But when the system doesn’t arrest or put these people on trial, there are names and addresses of these people.
Matt Heimbach:There are names and addresses and I will not be … I mean I’m not a soldier. Right? I will not be ordering anyone to do anything, but I will not condemn revolutionaries that stand in their own self-defense.
Mark Greenblatt:You won’t pull the trigger yourself, but you’ll applaud if it were to happen?
Matt Heimbach:If they did the right thing, wouldn’t you?
Mark Greenblatt:I’ve never sat in conversation with someone who appears to be openly advocating for the murder of elected officials and I’m feeling nervous. Still, I can’t tell for sure if this is just overblown talk or something to really worry about. So we’re in the mountains of Georgia here to see Heidi Beirich who is a PhD and expert in global extremism and she’s really going to help us decode all of this Last Crusade stuff that we’ve been hearing about. Looking forward to getting her expertise on this for sure. Here she is.
Heidi Beirich:You missed the front door. Hey, Mark.
Mark Greenblatt:Hello.
Heidi Beirich:It’s nice to see you in person.
Mark Greenblatt:Very good to see you in person. This is gorgeous out here.
Heidi Beirich:Come on in.
Mark Greenblatt:Heidi’s co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and I ask her about the threats that Matt made.
Heidi Beirich:What Heimbach is doing is he’s lighting a match and he’s handing the matchbook to somebody else. This isn’t something now where if you ignore it, it’s going to go away. So this is a very volatile period with a lot of activated white supremacists and neo-Nazis online. They’re going to hear this rhetoric and the scary thing is that somebody might act on it. The threats against children in particular are really scary. I think the world does need to know about this. Law enforcement probably needs to know about what Matt Heimbach is up to.
Mark Greenblatt:I also play Heidi some tape from two groups that the Russian Imperial Movement introduced me to as allies of the Last Crusade. It turns out they’re taking the fight to a new level, forming alliances with governments that are sworn enemies of the US.
Manuel Andrino:I went to Iran, then to Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, and to many other places. If there is something I am reputed for, it’s for not being easily scared.
Mark Greenblatt:That’s the voice of Manuel Andrino, the leader of La Falange, a Spanish extremist group. Now, this guy tweeted a photo of himself from a 2018 visit to Tehran where you can see him standing in front of the Iranian flag inside what looks like a government building. He says the photo was taken right before he was going to meet with an Iranian Vice Minister. RIM also introduced me to Gonzalo Martin, a founding member of a far right European organization called the Alliance for Peace and Freedom. Now, he brags about the group’s connections to Syria and the designated terror group Hezbollah.
Gonzalo Martin:Hezbollah I know is considered a terrorist group in America. I know this, but for European people, they do nothing against us. If there is an Arab country, a Muslim country that respects the Christians, then I would have contact with them, but if there is a country like Saudi Arabia that is persecuting minority Christians and they are also allies with America and Israel, then you know who is your enemy.
Heidi Beirich:I think it’s really, really disturbing. I mean there’s sort of an access of regimes out there that are opposed to the United States and to the West, often anti-Semitic, right? So Israel becomes a boogeyman in this or Jews do. That’s extremely troubling because that means access to resources in a way that you don’t have by just selling T-shirts and music and whatnot. One of the concerns people had always and terrorism experts will tell you well the big difference between Al-Qaeda or ISIS, for example, and white supremacists is they weren’t just non-state actors. They had access to state resources, right? ISIS took over big parts of Iraq, things like that. Al-Qaeda had connections to the government of Afghanistan before 9/11, these kinds of things, or the Taliban. When I hear white supremacists starting to talk to governments, it worries me greatly because there’s a huge difference in terms of resources. We don’t need our white supremacists in Europe and the United States, Canada, wherever, Western white supremacists hooking up with a regime that is vehemently anti-Western.
Mark Greenblatt:Heidi says one of the key things that’s helping extremists sell their conspiracy theories and find new recruits is streamlining their message about a common enemy and then spreading the word through social media and private chat rooms.
Heidi Beirich:They’re coming to get you, white person. That’s going to be a very powerful lure for people and a powerful thing to say to try to radicalize people. So that’s what’s happening. There’s like a consolidation of propaganda and that has made it easier to address, I think for the far right, a common enemy.
Mark Greenblatt:One of the most prominent conspiracy theories being pushed is the so-called replacement theory about white Christians being replaced by immigrants and people of color and Jews are often accused of plotting to orchestrate it all. It’s at the heart of a lot of mass shootings taking place around the world.
Heidi Beirich:This is what drove Christchurch.
Speaker 16:At least 49 people are dead and dozens of others are wounded following shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday.
Heidi Beirich:The El Paso Walmart shooting because that was about Latinos, immigrants, nonwhite immigrants. The attack in Pittsburgh was going after the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. So it was actually something anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant, right? The Jews who are bringing in the nonwhite immigrants to wipe us out. This idea is the one motivating all kinds of terrorism right now.
Mark Greenblatt:Including the recent attack in Buffalo where an 18-year-old killed 10 African Americans at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood. The shooter’s manifesto railed against Jews and the alleged replacement of white people. I wanted to talk to the FBI about how closely they’re watching people like Matt Heimbach and other white nationalists who are building these international connections, but they turned us down.
Al Letson:When we come back, State Department counterterrorism officials open up about how the agency tracks hate groups across borders and why cracking down on them is not so easy.
Irfan Saeed:It’s always harder to counter something that’s sort of always out in the open, right?
Al Letson:You’re listening to Reveal.
Missa Perron:Hi, this is Missa Perron, membership manager here at Reveal. Reveal is a nonprofit news organization. We depend on the support of our listeners. Donate today. Please head to revealnews.org/donate. Thank you.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. The shooter in Christchurch, the gunman at a Walmart in El Paso, the one at a Buffalo supermarket, they were all willing to kill because they believed in a white supremacist conspiracy theory spreading around the world like a virus. Mark Greenblatt, senior investigative reporter with Newsy, wanted to get some answers from American government officials in Washington about what they’re doing to identify the biggest international threats, the ones that inspire attacks here in the US.
Mark Greenblatt:So I am walking to the headquarters of the US Department of State. We are about to walk in to talk to some of the top counterterrorism officials in the United States.
Al Letson:It’s the State Department’s job to watch for terror threats abroad before they make their way to US soil. Mark scored a rare interview with a top official who’s on the front lines of stopping terror attacks in the US.
Mark Greenblatt:Before meeting Irfan Saeed, I had this image in my mind of a Jack Bauer character from the TV show 24. You know the guy. He runs around in a leather jacket and pistol taking out terrorists.
Jack Bauer:You think for a second that I am scared to put a bullet in your brain? You don’t know me.
Mark Greenblatt:But when Irfan greeted me at his office, he looked more like a sharply dressed CEO who lightened things up with some fun socks. I watched like 24 with Kiefer Sutherland. What do you do everyday?
Irfan Saeed:I’ve never seen 24, but I can tell you that it’s diplomacy is what we do here. Our job is to work with people around the world to ensure that terrorist groups can’t operate, terrorist groups don’t have safe havens, and individuals who are potentially drawn to terrorism, we put in those circuit breakers so they can’t finish that loop of actually becoming a terrorist. This is a threat to the United States. It’s a strong threat to the United States, but from the State Department’s perspective, we’re at the water’s edge out. So for us, we’re looking at how racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists are metastasizing around the world and we are definitely seeing an absolute uptick on that.
Mark Greenblatt:I tell Irfan about the global connections that we’ve been finding between what the government calls REMVEs or racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists. We talk about how some of the groups in this network have been kicking it up a notch. They’re meeting with other organizations that have been designated as terrorists by the US and other countries and they are engaging with nations, nation states even like Iran.
Irfan Saeed:I think when you talk about how REMVE actors have learned, this is what they’ve learned. Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko, Al-Shabaab, they lived in the shadows. They committed crimes. They plotted attacks. The REMVE actors are like, “We’re out in the open. We’re right here. We’re going to be standing for parliament and we’re going to get jobs in government and we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that you see us and you see our narrative.” Are they necessarily pushing that narrative towards violence? Not necessarily and that’s where, again, we have to draw that line with what we can and cannot do. There’s still freedom of speech. There’s still freedom of expression. Although some might find it abhorrent, they are protected under this Constitution to say certain things and that we just can’t counter.
Mark Greenblatt:What he’s saying here is really important. White nationalists are evolving. They’re forming political organizations and parties that can give them cover. La Falange in Spain is a political party. There’s the AFD in Germany. Even the Nordic Resistance Movement, hardcore neo-Nazis, set itself up as a political party in Sweden.
Irfan Saeed:It’s always harder to counter something that’s sort of always out in the open, right? They have certain protections in place. We just need to be careful on how we’re engaging.
Mark Greenblatt:If you listen closely, it’s almost like you can hear how far the pendulum has swung since the post-9/11 days when officials threw out civil liberties in the name of the war on terror.
George W. Bush:It’s essential that our intelligence community know who our enemies are talking to, what they’re saying, and what they’re planning.
Mark Greenblatt:The US government started warrant-less wiretaps and even detained suspects without charging them.
Speaker 21:Nearly half of the 60 remaining detainees will never be charged in part due to a lack of conclusive evidence.
Mark Greenblatt:Whatever it took to stop threats. Today, the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism is saying it doesn’t want to go too far. It’s taking into account freedom of speech and the First Amendment, something most of us would welcome, but that still leaves the question, “What are they doing to counter those who cross the line from just talking about who they hate to actually inspiring or committing violence?” Irfan tells me one tool his team uses is diplomacy often with social media companies.
Irfan Saeed:If it’s illegal content, terrorist content, or it’s content that violates their terms of service, we bring it to their attention and then they will take the necessary action. We do not force companies to take down content.
Mark Greenblatt:But I wanted to get back to learning about why State is not using its most powerful tool, designating more white supremacists as terrorists. They’re not allowed to target US-based groups like the Proud Boys, for example, but they can go after foreign extremists who pose a threat to US national security. Just last year, America’s intelligence agencies said that those REMVEs posed the biggest threat for a mass casualty attack in America and they said of all domestic extremists, white supremacists have the most concerning transnational connections, but get this. Since 9/11, the State Department has only designated one white supremacist group, the Russian Imperial Movement that we heard about earlier, while they’ve designated a long list of Islamist groups as terrorists.

Hillary Batjer Johnson oversees the terrorist designation team for State. People who have left this bureau who I’ve spoken to have described it as … When you are trying to designate someone as a terrorist, they’ve described this as very, very red tapey and frustrating and slow. Is that accurate.
Hillary Batjer …:Yeah. I mean first of all, designating an individual or a group we should take very, very seriously. We want to use this tool appropriately. We want to make sure that we are designating who we should be designating and that we use that tool in a way that’s actually going to have maximum effect in a sense of either trying to coerce and change behavior or limit their resources or their ability to travel. These groups and these individuals are very diffuse. They’re spread out and that makes it very hard for designation purposes to be able to actually go after groups and individuals. We have to tie an activity, a terrorist activity to a group and its command and control of that group.
Mark Greenblatt:Still, there seem to be some important groups that have been tied to violence that are not designated as terrorists like the Nordic Resistance Movement whose members traveled to Russia for military training and then were convicted of planting bombs at refugee centers in Sweden. The group was even named in the US National Strategy for Counterterrorism in a section labeled The Terrorist Adversary. I read to Hillary the report’s exact words about the group. The Nordic Resistance Movement is a prominent transnational self-described nationalist socialist organization with anti-Western views that has conducted violent attacks against Muslims, left wing groups, and others. The group has demonstrated against United States government actions it perceives are supportive of Israel and has the potential to extend its targeting to United States’ interests. How does the Nordic Resistance Movement on page nine of the National Strategy for Counterterrorism labeled as a terrorist adversary … What is the red tape that’s there that one hand of the US government can call them a terrorist and yet the group that can actually take their money away and stop them and actually do something about it hasn’t yet? That’s what I’m trying to get to the core of.
Hillary Batjer …:So we’re assessing every one of these groups that are out there, the REMVE actors that we keep exchanging information with our foreign partners on. When we work with the FBI, with DHS, we’re looking at these groups for any ability to designate them and we are very aggressive in trying to use our designation authorities.
Mark Greenblatt:It seems like this was going to be her answer no matter how hard I push, that they were doing everything possible. Then as we’re wrapping up, she says something I’m not expecting.
Hillary Batjer …:No, I mean it’s hard. A designation [crosstalk]. I’ve got a great designations team and their frustration level just as general as they would love to be able to deploy this tool everywhere and we just don’t have the resources and staff and the information.
Mark Greenblatt:With that, the conversation wraps and I say goodbye, but as I’m leaving, I’m thinking about what Hillary just told me. They’re short on resources and that seems like a big deal. I checked back in with global extremism expert Heidi Beirich.
Heidi Beirich:Well I mean I just think it’s an outrage. Nobody in the federal government should be saying the reason that we can’t take on terrorism is because we don’t have the staffing or we don’t have the resources especially with an administration that says it’s committed to addressing this issue, to taking action on this issue.
Mark Greenblatt:But I did some more digging and found that the Bureau of Counterterrorism may have good reason to gripe. To my surprise, just as threats from around the world have been growing, the bureau’s budget is dropping. In fiscal year 2016, the budget was more than $400 million, but by 2022, it was down by more than 20%. But then just a few weeks ago, a sign that the State Department may be getting more aggressive, one of the Swedish bombers from the Nordic Resistance Movement has now been listed as a specially designated global terrorist. This was one of the very guys that we had pressed Hillary about at the State Department and that wasn’t all. The government added two more men affiliated with the Russian Imperial Movement to the list. One of them was on that trip to the US organized by white nationalist Matt Heimbach, the other a key fundraiser. In a news release, the State Department said the US government remains deeply concerned about the evolving racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist threat worldwide.
Al Letson:That was Mark Greenblatt, senior investigative reporter with Newsy. You can hear the entire six-episode series Verified: The Next Threat wherever you listen to podcasts. Taki Telonidis edited the show. Thanks to Susanne Reber, Ellen Weiss, Bruce Edwards, Natasha Del Toro, and Sean Powers. Additional reporting by Lauren Knapp, [inaudible]. Special thanks to associate producer Jess Alvarenga and Alexi Vesilovsky. Nikki Frick is our fact-checker. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy The Great Mostafa. Score and sign design by the dynamic duo, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, Fernando My Man Yo Arruda, and Allison Leyton-Brown. Our post-production team includes Kathryn Styer Martinez. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our CEO is Kaizar Campwala. Sumi Aggarwal is our editor-in-chief, and our interim executive producers are Brett Myers and Taki Telonidis.

Today’s show marks the end of an era here at Reveal. Our executive producer Kevin Sullivan is leaving the show for new adventures. It’s hard to sum up what Kevin has meant not just to the show, but to me. I was hired in 2013 to host the Reveal pilot episodes. Back then, everyone thought the idea of doing a weekly hour-long investigative journalism program was crazy. Impossible, people told me and I agreed. I did the pilots because I wanted to challenge myself, but doing a weekly show, I didn’t think it was possible. Enter Kevin John Sullivan. In the first meeting he had with the small staff, he told us that we were going to make a weekly show. He promised he wouldn’t let us down. Kevin was so sure of himself that at that point, I was all in. I still wasn’t sure we could do it, but I believed in him.

In the eight years that followed, we did the damn thing. We worked on hard stories, stayed up late nights grinding, and sometimes we’d clash in these explosive ways. He’s blunt and demanding, always pushing for excellence. Everyone at Reveal will tell you that. They’ll also tell you that even though he could be hard about the work, he genuinely cared about you as a person. He didn’t just say it. He’d prove it with action over and over again. He kept his promise from that first meeting with the staff. He never let us down. He believed in us and in turn, we believed in him. So from the entire staff of Reveal, thank you, Kevin. Thank you.

Our theme music is my Commorado, Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson and remember, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 23:From PRX.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Jess Alvarenga (they/she) is a former associate producer for Reveal. They are an audio producer and documentary filmmaker from the American South. Meeting at the intersection of art and journalism, they use storytelling as a way to document and reimagine immigrant narratives, particularly those of the Central American diaspora. In 2017, Alvarenga was awarded an individual artist grant from the Houston Arts Alliance and the City of Houston for their work on the city’s Central American population. They have a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.