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On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced five arrests nationwide of members of Atomwaffen Division, a violent neo-Nazi group fond of stalking and harassing those it disagrees with.

The arrests included the former leader of Atomwaffen, John Denton, who was charged for his part in "swatting events" that targeted a black church, journalists, a university, and an unidentified cabinet official. The journalists were from ProPublica, which had been producing a series called "Documenting Hate" that outed another Atomwaffen member, Kaleb Cole.

Cole was one of the other Atomwaffen members arrested for harassing other journalists and members of the ADL.

On Friday, Andrew Thomasberg, 21, another member of Atomwaffen Division who was arrested last year for possessing firearms while being a drug user and lying while purchasing a firearm, faced sentencing in an Alexandria, Virginia, courtroom. Thomasberg was once a top recruiter for the Atomwaffen as well as the leader of the group's Virginia chapter.


Thomasberg was sentenced to one year in jail for his crimes, and right before he was sentenced, he reportedly renounced his white supremacist beliefs.

At sentencing, his attorney argued that he only turned to white supremacism because he never felt like he fit in and because he'd had a hard time with some things.

Thomasberg's defense attorney Gretchen Taylor responded that her client was "susceptible to radicalization" because "he has never felt like he fit in."

But, she said, it's not what he truly believes. "He's reshaped his world view," she said. "He's lived a pretty sheltered life. . .It's part of growing up."

He suffers from chronic Lyme disease and post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the suicides of several friends, she said: "He was looking for solutions."

Yeah, I never fit in either. I didn't go and become a Nazi about it. If anything, it made me more empathetic. Also, there is no way to actually diagnose "chronic Lyme disease" because, unlike regular Lyme disease, doctors are not actually certain it exists. Thomasberg's text messages to his friends included comments about killing black people. He attended the Charlottesville Unite The Right rally. He called mass murderers "saints." Even if chronic Lyme disease and PTSD did turn him into a Nazi, that would not make him less of a danger.

These arrests are part of the FBI's new objective to crack down on domestic terrorism — white supremacist groups in particular. Given the tendency of these groups to commit far more acts of domestic terrorism than pretty much any other group, that is a good thing. It will keep people a lot more safe than ignoring it will.

And yet, I have some concerns. Not because I have any sympathy for Atomwaffen members — far from it — and not even because I tend to veer on the side of prison abolition in general. I am just not convinced that it won't make them even more dangerous. If the goal here is to discourage these people from being violent white supremacists, is throwing them in prison with violent white supremacist gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood and the Aryan Nation going to make them better or worse?

However, I also admit that I don't actually have a solution. I don't know how to turn a Nazi into non-Nazi. I wish I did! I don't even know that it's really possible. I'd like to think so, because the idea that people can't change is something I find extremely depressing, but there are a lot of people out there who do not think it is possible and that should not be dismissed. Still, I would have to think that if that were the end goal here, putting them in a situation where even people who don't even start out as Nazis often become Nazis, after joining white supremacist prison gangs ... yeah, that might not be the smartest thing ever?

[Washington Post]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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