The children were crafting Christmas tree ornaments when the neo-Nazis arrived. As the tiny hands fastened gems with glue guns, the angry mob outside jabbed theirs into the air, brandishing the “Heil Hitler” salute.
“F****t scum off our streets,” the men chanted, according to a video posted on social media.
Their incantations thundered through the walls of the Fall River Public Library, where two dozen children — 4 through 14 — sat in a semicircle on the carpet, poised for story time. The men fumed, poised for a fight.
“Nazism is the way,” they declared.
The children and the neo-Nazis were drawn to the library that day last December for the same event: an hour of crafts and book reading, led by a drag performer. But their motivations diverged radically.
“These are full grown men in full military garb screaming in favor of a movement that exterminated millions of people,” the story hour organizer, Sean Connell, recounted.
The roughly two dozen men wore black bandanas and hats promoting the organization that channels their hate: NSC-131, a self-described “pro-white, street-oriented fraternity dedicated to raising AUTHENTIC resistance to the enemies of our people in the New England area.” Those enemies, they say, include drag performers, immigrants, Jews, communists, all people of color, and, sometimes, law enforcement.
NSC-131, which was founded in 2019 and now has some 30 to 40 members, has targeted drag story hours and other community events, distributing Nazi literature, chanting slurs at marginalized groups, and sparring with counterprotesters. Despite their regional focus, the group’s unflinching embrace of Nazism and pledges of violence have landed them on the radars of extremism researchers across the country.
Most worrisome, the experts say, is that the group’s known ranks include a cadre of service members, trained by the American government to fight and kill. At least 10 military veterans have been linked to NSC-131, according to Globe analysis of media reports, court documents, and independent research.
At least three served in the Marines: one heads NSC-131′s Rhode Island chapter; a mortarman who served at Fort Devens until 2019 helps recruit members; another veteran — who claims he left the Marines in 2008 because he refused to serve under Barack Obama — pushes his dream of expelling all people of color from Maine.
The group’s firearms training is run by a former Air Force staff sergeant — who has expressed admiration for mass shooters. And a former Massachusetts National Guardsman — who maintained security clearance after leaving the force — has been spotted posting racist recruitment fliers.
Together, they practice hand-to-hand combat and target shooting in the backwoods of New England. Together, they gather outside libraries, police departments, and city squares, in balaclavas and military fatigues, clutching banners that read: “Keep New England White” and “Race Mixing is White Genocide.” And together, they offer a rare but recurring challenge to American democratic values.
The modern white nationalist movement covets former service members, viewing them as crucial recruits needed to bolster a group’s public reputation and military readiness, according to experts who track their activities. And a tiny but meaningful percentage of veterans heed that extremist siren song, abandoning allegiance to the United States in exchange for their dream of a white ethnostate.
“They are perceived to have a unique set of skills and knowledge that could be of outsized importance to extremists who envision a future civil war that involves irregular warfare and insurgency,” said Catrina Doxsee, who analyzes domestic terrorism trends at the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “The recent uptick in success on this front is a very concerning development.”
NSC-131 — the letters are short for the Nationalist Social Club — is one of many groups within this movement to have sprung up in the last five years. The Southern Poverty Law Center labels them a “neo-Nazi group based in New England” that doesn’t “cloak their white supremacist views.”
“We’ve gotten so used to hearing white nationalists speak that we’ve kind of normalized it,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, an Iraq combat veteran who now runs Task Force Butler, a nonprofit focused on combating far-right extremism. “But if you ask yourself, ‘What would it take to make New England white?’ The answer is genocide or forced migration.”
Still, no matter how forthright a group might be about their allegiances and intentions, police and prosecutors often struggle to hold them accountable when they make racist threats or instigate violence. The country’s proudly sweeping First Amendment rights make plenty of room for the outlandish and appalling as well as the ordinary and the tame. They allow a group like NSC-131 to flash the Nazi salute at a children’s event without consequence. When an avowed white supremacist does land in court, it is often on charges totally peripheral to ideology.
As a gung-ho, teenage neo-fascist from Malden, Christopher Hood quickly rose through the ranks of the Patriot Front — a white supremacist group spawned in the aftermath of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.
By 2019, Hood was overseeing the Patriot Front’s Massachusetts chapter, supervising the funds needed to purchase recruitment leaflets and stickers. But he chafed against the slow and deliberate style of the cult-like white nationalist group and made it known to fellow members. The Patriot Front’s national leadership soon considered him too undisciplined in his public messaging and too open to violence to remain in the group, according to internal Patriot Front communications obtained by the Globe.
Hood was formally pushed out of the Patriot Front in October 2019, according to the leaked correspondence. He then flirted with joining Atomwaffen, an international neo-Nazi network linked to at least five murders, as well as The Base, a white nationalist terror group. But by December, he settled on founding an extremist group of his own: NSC-131.
The “131″ in the group’s name is an alphanumeric code for ACA, or “Anti-Communist Action.” The phrase signaled “a strong opposition to Marxist, Communist, and far-left groups,” which, its members claim, are “trying to subvert our folk into self-hate and guilt,” an administrator of the group’s Telegram channel wrote in a February 2020 message.
Hood wanted to be forthright about NSC-131′s alignment with Nazism. Other white nationalist groups use patriotic symbols as a proxy for white supremacy. But Hood declared the swastika “the most potent sign of White Pride.”
Since 2019, NSC-131 has held roughly 112 public events, according to data compiled by the grass-roots group New England Nazi Watch. Members waved a flag from the Nazi SS Heimwehr Danzig unit — best known for slaughtering 33 Polish civilians — while taunting library workers in Providence. They fastened a poster that read “Jews Did 9/11″ atop an overpass in Saugus. On a march toward Portland City Hall, members flashed the Nazi salute and toted a sign that read “Defend White Communities.” A photo posted by NSC-131 after the Portland rally shows a member winding up to strike a counterprotester, accompanied by the caption: “Does your crew even punch commies bro?” The event prompted no charges.
“They go to places where they know their opponents will be offended by their actions, so they can draw out the resistance and attack them then claim self-defense and the right to protest,” said Mike German, a former special agent with the FBI focused on infiltrating far-right groups. “But the thing is, most people who are just politically active don’t also carry a switchblade and brass knuckles.”
Police discovered the knife on Hood and the brass knuckles on Tyler Larson when the duo were arrested while distributing anti-immigrant fliers throughout East Boston in 2019. The case — based on the charge of carrying a dangerous weapon — was dismissed.
In response to a request for comment from the Globe, Hood sent via social media a meme of a cat on a lawn, accompanied by the words, “Enjoyin my time, playing in the grass, and your [sic] so mad, Lol.” He added, “all images or videos of our activists in physical altercations were brought on by outside agitators beyond our control.”
In one photograph of the group, the men stand in a snowy patch of New Hampshire woods. Balaclavas with a skeleton print mask their faces. A red flag with a green pine tree in the corner — the more publicly palatable logo of NSC-131, meant to evoke New England’s landscape — is held taut by two NSC-131 members in military fatigues. One hand is thrown into the air in a Nazi salute, the other clutches an assault rifle.
It’s firearms training day for NSC-131 in the backwoods of New England.
The group’s public Telegram channel, which has 5,865 subscribers, teems with photos like this, of members posing with and firing military-style rifles with high-capacity magazines. In one exchange, an Air Force veteran offers to share his firearms expertise with the group. “How many combat veterans do we have in this group? Or vets in general,” he asks.
The grand total is unclear. But the former staff sergeant is one of the 10 known to be connected to the group, according to a report by Goldsmith, the combat veteran turned extremism researcher, as well as Globe analysis.
Others include Christopher Pohlhaus, who served four years in the Marine Corps before moving to Maine with the dream of somehow turning it into an all-white ethnostate. Pohlhaus accompanied NSC-131 at an October 2022 protest in Lewiston aimed at the city’s sizable Somali community. In one video, published by Pohlhaus on Telegram and captured by the New York-based Counter Extremism Project, the veteran — who had moved to Maine less than a year earlier — demands the East African immigrants — who have lived in Maine for decades — leave “my state.” Pohlhaus has since accumulated some 120 acres of rural property in the state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog.
Two other Marine Corps veterans — Austin Conti and Stephen Farrea — anchor NSC-131′s presence in Rhode Island. Both were arrested last summer while posting white nationalist fliers throughout East Providence and sentenced to community service by a Sixth Division District Court judge. Farrea — once a corporal in the Marine Corps — was discharged after his online advocacy for white supremacy was leaked by activists in 2019. In the chats, Farrea said he became interested in white nationalism after reading about an Iraq War veteran who helped plan the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Many of these details were compiled by Goldsmith and his team from Task Force Butler. Together, they wrote a 300-page report that exposed the inner workings of NSC-131 and its constellation of members and affiliates. The report specifically identified Hood, Farrea, Conti, Pohlhaus, and dozens of others in the NSC-131 network. He distributed the document this spring to 35 politicians and law enforcement agencies across New England. As of July, just the offices of the New Hampshire and Massachusetts attorneys general have met with Goldsmith to discuss its contents.
“When it came to police departments, I am not sure I got any confirmation that they had received it,” said Goldsmith.
The report warns of NSC-131′s ambitions to expand across New England and recruit people from the military veteran community. People like Kyle Morris, a 23-year-old decorated Army veteran from New Hampshire.
In court documents related to a firearms case, prosecutors laid out Morris’s spiral into extremism. He joined the military at 17 and served as a combat engineer in Afghanistan. After being discharged honorably in 2020, he joined a local militia group called the New England Minutemen. But the young veteran’s violent rhetoric disturbed the group and its members voted to expel him. Morris regularly advocated for lone wolf attacks on the Massachusetts State House and Black Lives Matter protesters. And leadership feared he would commit a mass shooting.
Marooned from the militia group, Morris found fraternity in NSC-131, whose members were either unconcerned by or unaware of his terroristic threats.
“We have Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Coordinated Brutal Force. Our parties are way better too,” a NSC-131 member once wrote on Telegram.
Federal authorities began investigating Morris after he applied for a job within the Department of Homeland Security and repeatedly lied during the interview process. A search of his property in Salem, N.H., revealed more than 25 firearms, including two illegal machine guns, two Nazi flags, a Nazi uniform, and a framed picture of Adolf Hitler.
This spring, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the unlawful possession of machine guns. His threatening words and Nazi loyalties did not result in charges.
They rarely do.
It’s far easier for police and prosecutors to land someone in court for traditional crimes — involving guns or drugs — than to convince a judge that repulsive hate speech or terroristic threats break the law.
“Our country’s legal infrastructure historically doesn’t see white supremacy as a national security threat,” said German, the retired FBI agent. “The groups are prosecuted in a far more lenient fashion than what we typically see in gang or international terrorism prosecutions.”
This summer, Christopher Hood appeared in Boston Municipal Court after brawling with a counterprotester outside a drag story hour in Jamaica Plain. At the start of Hood’s trial in June, the judge barred the prosecution from describing his motives, ideology, or role in NSC-131.
“Any reference to the defendant as a leader of a National Socialist Club 131 is overly prejudicial,” said Judge Maureen Flaherty.
Video footage presented in court showed a counterprotester smacking Hood’s hat, prompting the NSC-131 leader to put the man in a chokehold. Boston police Officer Matthew Walsh, who was responsible for crowd control at the protest, testified that he was already in the process of escorting the counterprotester away when Hood “also grabbed on . . . in like a hold, almost near his neck, like a body hold.”
Flaherty took great care in selecting a jury with no professed knowledge of NSC-131. But the case never went to trial. Flaherty ordered a “not guilty” verdict after ruling that prosecutors did not provide enough evidence for the jury to make a fair decision on the charge without speculation or guesswork.
“There is no evidence that at least one lawfully present person was put in fear,” she told attorneys.
Hood left the courthouse that June day without offering comment and piled into a car of men in black masks, some covered in the NSC-131 logo, which incorporates Nazi Germany’s SS lightning bolt. As the SUV pulled away, its license plate came into full view.
On it? An insignia that indicates that the car owner is an American military veteran.
Globe reporters Mike Damiano and Ivy Scott contributed to this report.