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A New Wave of Neo-Nazism Has Become Visible in Wake of Jacksonville Shooting

Exactly one week after the murder of three Black people in Jacksonville, two neo-Nazi rallies took place in Orlando.

Neo-Nazis march with swastika flags as groups Blood Tribe and Goyim Defense League hold a rally on September 2, 2023, in Orlando, Florida.

Exactly one week after the August 26 racist murder of three black people in Jacksonville, Florida, two neo-Nazi rallies were held about 140 miles south in Orlando, where masked and uniformed men shouted racist and antisemitic slogans. These events are signs of a new wave of neo-Nazis who are more eager for street violence than their predecessors in recent years.

The smaller of the two rallies was held at Disney World and organized by the Order of the Black Sun, a local neo-Nazi group. It drew about a dozen people who displayed slur-emblazoned banners and signs. According to Diego, an activist with the anti-fascist group Miami Against Fascism who asked to be identified only by first name for safety reasons, similar Disney World rallies occur nearly every month.

Of far greater importance was a larger rally in Altamonte Springs, a suburb of Orlando, advertised as “The March of the Red Shirts,” which at least 50 people attended. The main groups leading the rally were Blood Tribe and Goyim Defense League, joined by smaller organizations including Vinland Rebels Fascist Action. Other than the leaders, all attendees dressed in red shirts and black masks as they rallied under a large swastika flag. It has been many years since a rally this large, using explicit Nazi imagery, has happened in the United States.

Blood Tribe’s first public outing was in March, when 20 masked members disrupted an LGBTQ+ event in Wadsworth, Ohio. Blood Tribe’s leader Christopher Pohlhaus, who goes by “The Hammer,” was armed and his followers shouted homophobic and epithets, threatening “There Will be Blood.” This was followed by a similar appearance in April.

Jeff Tischauser, a senior researcher from the Southern Poverty Law Center, noted that Pohlhaus lives in Maine but has been pushing hard to expand his group nationally. Florida, in particular, has been the center of a surge of national reaction. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has made the state veer hard to the right, persecuting LGBTQ+ people, mutilating the educational system and even picking fights with corporations like Disney over their inclusive policies. Tischauser pointed to the disconnect between the fact that Florida has an active neo-Nazi scene, but only scattered and small organizations, and speculated that Blood Tribe “see the energy” there — as well as the lack of a major organization — and hope to fill the void.

The Goyim Defense League, the rally’s other main group, has been around since 2018, but the Orlando event represents a new approach for it. Leader Jon Minadeo Jr. recently moved to Florida — as have a number of other far right activists, drawn by the DeSantis-led political climate. Previously, the Goyim Defense League had concentrated on a bigoted version of provocative propaganda that was laser focused on antisemitism. In addition to flyering, some of the tactics Minadeo used included livestream himself driving around and harassing Jews.

The momentum, mainstream access, and size of the U.S. far right positions it to roll back social gains and move reaction forward in a way not seen in many years.

While in the past the Goyim Defense League was a loose national network, Tischauser said the Florida rally “is definitely a switch in tactics.” Before, the group shied away from placing neo-Nazism at the center of its public presentation, even though it was common enough on the sides. But in Orlando, the Goyim Defense League shirts incorporated blatant neo-Nazi symbolism which included “88,” the alphanumeric for “Heil Hitler.” The rally also marked what might be a transformation into a more serious, on-the-ground political group, rather than a platform for internet theatrics.

These are not the only U.S. neo-Nazi group that has formed in the last several years. Since 2019 the group NSC-131 has been active in New England. (NSC is an acronym for Nationalist Socialist Club, while 131 stands for ACA — Anti-Communist Action.) They also hold aggressive and provocative demonstrations.

Neo-Nazis tend to act somewhat differently from other kinds of white supremacists. They have distinct ideas and tactics and often have a different set of alliances, and disputes, with other far right factions. Neo-Nazi groups also tend to attract the more violent elements of the broader far right.

Blood Tribe in particular seems to function more as a politicized gang than a traditional organization. Both Diego and Tischauser see Blood Tribe as stepping into the space once occupied by the far right Proud Boys. That group, which is more moderate ideologically, has moved away from the street brawls that marked the Trump era and toward supporting other far right grassroots groups, for example in school board fights. And the Proud Boys’ leadership has also just been handed long prison terms for January 6. The head of the group, Enrique Tarrio, received 22 years, while Joesph Biggs, another prominent member, received a sentence of 17 years.

These new neo-Nazi groups also distinguish themselves from Patriot Front, the biggest explicitly fascist group that emerged from the “alt-right.” While many on the so-called alt-right sought to emulate Hitler’s Nazis, they generally expressed their admiration behind closed doors. Patriot Front uses patriotic, as opposed to neo-Nazi, imagery in their public-facing propaganda, and — with a few exceptions — they have shied away from confrontation, preferring stickering, flyering and unannounced pop-up demonstrations. Patriot Front has also been repeatedly infiltrated by anti-fascists, who have leaked the organization’s internal communications.

Blood Tribe is organized around a different approach. Its members trumpet rather than downplay their outward-facing politics. They intentionally push the envelop to portray an aura of threats and violence. They want people to fear them.

This new wave is, in part, a result of the robust state of the U.S. far right as a whole, which has been able to outlive the Trump presidency, continue to dominate the Republican Party, and keep energized and active. Anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns have been its most popular issues, and far right activists have taken over school boards, banned books from libraries and disrupted Drag Queen Story Hours.

There is no doubt that the far right will only pick up steam as the election approaches, and especially if Trump is convicted. Within that movement there is always a militant edge, partly underground and partly on the street. Neo-Nazis have always positioned themselves as the hardest of the white supremacists, and their stress on hating Jews is in tune with the antisemitic propaganda that has flooded social media.

The old days of neo-Nazis portraying themselves as good citizens while guarded by a phalanx of police are gone. In comparison, the young blood is more aggressive. And the Orlando rally raises the question: Will this new wave of neo-Nazis become a more emboldened (and violent) force, as they were in the 1980s and ‘90s?

The momentum, mainstream access and size of the U.S. far right positions it to roll back social gains and move reaction forward in a way not seen in many years. Those opposed to this agenda will need to carefully track the changing landscape of the far right and understand each group’s tactics in order to effectively counter it.

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