YouTube has deleted the account of Atomwaffen Division, an American neo-Nazi group that was thrust into the spotlight after several media reports linked it to a spate of murders.
“This account has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy prohibiting hate speech,” a banner read on the group’s YouTube channel as of Wednesday.
YouTube’s move came a day after the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) asked the video-sharing platform to ban the group’s channel.
According to a recent report by the Daily Beast, YouTube initially refused to remove the group’s channel, despite clear indications that Atomwaffen Division’s content violated YouTube’s policies against hate speech.
The channel hosted videos such as one titled “Gas the k*kes, race war now”. Other videos showed members training with firearms.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an Alabama-based hate monitor, Atomwaffen Division is a national socialist organisation that was formed out of Iron March, an online fascist forum that was booted from the internet in September 2017.
Atomwaffen Division, founded in 2015, openly celebrates German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson, the American cult leader who died in November 2017.
Last month, ProPublica, a US-based media outlet, published an investigative report based on Atomwaffen Division members’ discord logs, spanning more than 250,000 messages the publication obtained.
In that expose, ProPublica found that members joked about and celebrated murders allegedly committed by Atomwaffen Division members.
The group has been linked to five murders, including the January stabbing of Blaze Bernstein, a 19-year-old gay Jewish student in California. Samuel Woodward was charged with Bernstein’s murder.
Keegan Hankes, an analyst in the SPLC’s intelligence project, estimated that Atomwaffen Division has 80 members across the US.
“This is a group whose stated purpose is to work toward civilisational collapse,” Hankes told Al Jazeera. “They are seeking to destabilise and work toward the collapse of modern society.”
Hankes said the group harbours a “dark, dystopian and apocalyptic vision of the world” and operates as “a system of revolutionary cells”.
This is a group whose stated purpose is to work toward civilisational collapse. They are seeking to destabilise and work toward the collapse of modern society.
In December, Nicholas Giampa, a member of Atomwaffen Division, allegedly killed his girlfriend’s parents in Virginia.
In May, Devon Arthurs, 18, allegedly killed his two roommates. When police arrived at his apartment, they found the bullet-ridden corpses of 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk.
Himmelman and Oneschuk were also members of the neo-Nazi organisation.
Officers also found the group’s founder, 22-year-old Brandon Russell, sitting on the floor crying.
Russell was subsequently charged, convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for possession of bomb-making materials.
Atomwaffen Division has sparked controversy and division among neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups in the US.
The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website headed by Andrew Anglin, has mocked and criticised Atomwaffen Division.
On Gab, a social media outlet popular with neo-Nazis and white supremacists owing to its lack of hate speech regulations, Anglin has described Atomwaffen Division as a “terrorist organisation”.
Anglin also accuses the media of unfairly describing Atomwaffen Division as a neo-Nazi group.
“Any time one group is involved in something that brings federal scrutiny, all the other groups worry,” Hankes explained.
“Most of these groups are not only aware of each other, but they’re hanging out in the same online spaces.”
Hankes added: “People start worrying once you’ve got an investigation going on. They’re all concerned about their own skin.”
The controversy over Atomwaffen Division comes at a time when the SPLC says the number of US hate groups rose for a third consecutive year in 2017.
Neo-Nazi groups, which in 2016 numbered 99, saw the largest increase last year, growing by 22 percent and reaching 121 groups across the country.
According to the ADL, Atomwaffen Division has been active in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, Massachusetts, Washington, North Carolina and Virginia, among other states.
In October 2016, Atomwaffen Division joined up with White Lives Matter and the Aryan Renaissance Society, also neo-Nazi groups, to protest outside the ADL’s offices in Houston, Texas.
At the time, Al Jazeera reported on that protest, where participants claimed that white Americans are enduring a “genocide” at the hands of immigrants and owing to interracial marriage.
The group has also distributed propaganda and fliers at several university campuses across the US, including the University of Washington, Evergreen State College, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago and State College of Florida at Bradenton.
Last year, the SPLC documented some 300 incidents of racist flyers being distributed on more than 200 campuses.