(JTA) – The 20-year-old former classmate of Jewish college student Blaze Bernstein, charged in his murder, belonged to an extremist neo-Nazi group.
Samuel Woodward is an “avowed Nazi” and a member of Atomwaffen Division, an extremist neo-Nazi group, the ProPublica news website reported. Woodward was charged with murder in a complaint filed earlier this month in Orange County Superior Court. At press time, he had yet entered a plea. It is believed that Bernstein was pursuing a romantic relationship with Woodward, and that Bernstein kissed Woodward in the hours before the murder, which Woodward rebuffed, the affidavit said. Bernstein had been visiting his parents’ home in Lake Forest while on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania. His body was discovered in a shallow grave in Borrego Park on Jan. 9.
ProPublica, a non-profit investigative news website, cited three people with “detailed knowledge” of Woodward’s recent past who said Woodward was a member of the Atomwaffen Division, an armed Fascist group with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the U.S. government through the use of terrorism and guerrilla warfare. Atomwaffen started in 2015 and is estimated to have about 80 members scattered around the country in small cells. Woodward joined the organization in early 2016 and later traveled to Texas to attend Atomwaffen meetings and a three-day training camp, which involved instruction in firearms, hand-to-hand combat, camping and survival skills, ProPublica reported citing the former member. Social media posts and chats shared with ProPublica by Woodward’s friends show that he openly described himself as a “National Socialist” or Nazi. He “was as antisemitic as you can get,” one of the sources told ProPublica.
Atomwaffen was connected to a double homicide in December in Virginia when a 17-year-old boy allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend’s parents after they convinced her not to see him anymore, calling him an “outspoken neo-Nazi.”
The teen shot himself, but survived. He reportedly was an avid fan of Atomwaffen, the Huffington Post reported.