(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. He is being held in the county jail in lieu of a $2 million bail. The felony murder charge includes a sentence enhancement for using a knife. He will be arraigned on Friday and has not yet entered a plea.
Woodward was arrested after crime lab technicians determined that blood found on a sleeping bag in his possession belonged to Bernstein. The murder weapon reportedly has not been found.
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, a week after he went missing from there.
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. Two of the sources are Woodward’s friends, the third is a former member of the group.
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 anti-Semitic 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 killed Buckley Kuhn-Fricker and Scott Fricker, and shot himself, but survived. He reportedly was an avid fan of Atomwaffen, the Huffington Post reported.