The Base’s operations would eventually stretch far beyond Nazzaro. This past November, 18-year-old Richard Tobin, an alleged member of the Base in South Jersey, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit vandalism of two synagogues in the Midwest. Two months later, in Maryland and Delaware, the FBI arrested three alleged Base members on weapons and other charges: 27-year-old Patrik Mathews, a former combat engineer in the Canadian Army Reserve turned international fugitive; 33-year-old Brian Mark Lemley; and William Garfield Bilbrough IV. On January 15, police in Floyd County, Georgia, helped by the FBI, arrested another three alleged Base members — 21-year-old Luke Austin Lane, 19-year-old Jacob Kaderli, and 25-year-old Michael Helterbrand — charging them with plotting to overthrow the government and to kill a married couple they believed to be members of antifa. Two days later, the FBI arrested 22-year-old suspected Base member Yousef Omar Barasneh of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, for allegedly desecrating a synagogue. When they burst into his parents’ house, he was still in bed, a loaded firearm beside him, according to a court document. Base members have also been identified in Europe, South Africa, and Australia, among other places.
The sweep and breadth of the American arrests was particularly noteworthy because the entire premise of the Base was that its decentralized cell structure would guard against just this sort of vulnerability. The group’s name was the English translation of Al Qaeda, whose radicalism and strategy of “leaderless resistance,” if not its racial makeup, are widely admired among neo-Nazis. Of course, like Al Qaeda, it did have a leader, and in a Guardian article on January 23, reporter Jason Wilson was able to identify the man whom Base members knew only as Norman Spear or Roman Wolf. He was, in fact, Nazzaro, an alumnus of the elite Delbarton School in Morristown and a current resident of Russia. It was a reminder, in this time of rising white nationalism, not only of all the rocks still to be turned over, and of the creatures wriggling in the dark beneath them, but of their surprising cultural penetration, numbering among them not just Dylann Roof–style revanchists but an educated, onetime Flatiron District resident with Establishment ties.
In the wake of his outing, people wondered how someone from such a background could become a neo-Nazi, but just as quickly two other possibilities were raised. Might he have been a federal agent and the Base a honeypot created expressly to lure extremists so that the FBI could easily corral them? Or could he be a Russian asset, a covert operative or useful idiot deployed by Vladimir Putin’s SVR as part of its broader campaign to sow chaos and division in the U.S.? The last possibility was perhaps the most disturbing: Was this the unmade season seven of The Americans, updating ’80s KGB sleeper cells with ’20s Manchurian racists?