christopher pohlhaus

‘He knows when to use humor; he can be very friendly and nice’: The neo-Nazi up the road

'People don’t realize the tides have turned.'

 

Claire Goforth

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Posted on Jan 17, 2024   Updated on Jan 18, 2024, 9:33 am CST

The occasional rumble from the highway and rustling leaves in a gentle breeze were the only sounds on a clear Springfield, Maine day. The fall sun was just beginning to creep from its zenith when Bruce Swan took a break from butchering a black bear at the shop where he processes meat.

The animal that a local hunter had killed was still largely intact; at first glance, you might’ve thought it would rise and roar any minute—until you noticed the tools. Hunting is practically a religion in this remote corner of northern Maine.

After washing his hands, Swan, a selectman for the town of a few hundred who served as pastor of a local church for nearly 30 years, said that word spread slowly but surely that a neo-Nazi bought 10 acres there in 2022.

The news was not well received, even in a place where the shrieks and chirps of night creatures are occasionally interrupted by the sounds of large caliber gunfire that may make a visitor break out in sweat and briefly pray that it was just target practice.

“It seems kind of odd to me that you would call yourself a Nazi, you know, that Adolf Hitler is your hero,” Swan said. “That is offensive to people.”

The neo-Nazi is Christopher Pohlhaus, leader of the Blood Tribe, one of the fastest growing groups of its kind in America.

“We’re here and we are everywhere.”

In October 2022, Vice reported that Pohlhaus, who calls himself Hammer, had acquired land in Maine. Pohlhaus and a partner in the acquisition who he says has since been excommunicated weren’t just planning to camp on the undeveloped parcel—they intended to build a settlement for members of the Blood Tribe where they would live, train, and form a base of operations. In August, he posted a video on Telegram of himself twirling an AK-47 and frolicking around with it captioned, “All this Slavic war training in the Maine woods has me exhausted!”

Pohlhaus has reportedly said the ultimate goal is to turn Maine into a white “ethnostate.”

He told Vice, “I have a tight-knit community of guys that, you know, we want to live near each other. To make Maine a [Nazi] state would take very, very little effort and change to their mentality and the demographics.” Ninety-five percent of Mainers are white, making it one of the whitest states in the nation. Nearly half of registered voters are liberal compared to a little more than a third who are conservative, per Pew Research Center, so it’s not clear he’s right about how easy it would be to convert them to far-right extremism.

In March 2023, Maine-based journalist Crash Barry revealed on his podcast that Pohlhaus’ land was an hour northeast of Bangor. That July, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that it was in Springfield.

Local news picked up the story. 

Soon the op-ed pages of the Bangor Daily News and Lincoln News were filled with letters decrying Nazism and declaring Pohlhaus and the Blood Tribe unwelcome in their community. Several locals told the Daily Dot that military veterans in the area saw his views as an insult to their service.

“One of the writers there kind of put it that our men and women fought in World War II to eradicate or to stop Adolf Hitler’s takeover of America and the world,” Swan recalled someone writing about Pohlhaus.

Pohlhaus himself served in the Marines, which is where he’s said he adopted white supremacy. The authors of a 2022 paper assessing the scope of radicalization in the military described it as a “limited, but possibly growing problem” and noted that roughly 15% of people charged in the Capitol riot have military backgrounds. The paper, which was published in the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, also reported that 33% of criminal extremists with military backgrounds espoused white supremacist or xenophobic views.

One person several sources described as a friend of Pohlhaus’ did write an op-ed defending the swastika, which Swan said “raised some eyebrows.”

By the fall, many people seemed tired of the subject. A clerk at Smith’s General Store in Springfield laughed upon hearing I was there to report on Pohlhaus. 

“Isn’t everybody?” she said.

A ruddy man buying a 12-pack of ginger ale shrugged when asked his opinion of the neo-Nazi up the road. “He’s fine,” he said. “He hasn’t bothered me.”

The nation is in the midst of an ideological migration that accelerated during the pandemic. While people on the left of the political divide are seeking places that aren’t attacking LGBTQ rights and still have reproductive freedom, right-wing radicals like Pohlhaus are choosing places where they think they will find acceptance and perhaps even common cause. Neither Springfield nor Maine at large gave Pohlhaus the reception he seems to have anticipated. Powerful Mainers blasted him in the press; politicians proposed laws intended to curtail his plan to train members on the property; locals plotted legal and not-so-legal ways of getting rid of him and the Blood Tribe.

Last fall, Swan was uncertain of how the attention would impact Springfield.

“What happens when you get all kinds of publicity, is it does two things, it educates people, or it draws the crazies. So time will tell what will happen here, because it has educated people. They’re on pins and needles, if you will,” Swan said thoughtfully. “But whether that is fertile ground for recruitment? I don’t know.”

In the end, the focus on Pohlhaus had the desired effect. In October, he sold the property in Springfield. Earlier this month, he told the Daily Dot he was staying on another parcel nearby that’s registered in someone else’s name to avoid detection. Last summer, he claimed that the Blood Tribe has 100 acres in Maine, though some have expressed skepticism that this is true and he did not provide any evidence to verify it.

This story is part of a series examining the impact extremists are having on their adopted communities around the country. The Daily Dot spent the last several months reporting from places they’ve relocated to in Maine, West Virginia, Idaho, and Florida to find out how the newcomers are being received and what, if anything, locals are doing about it. Reactions run the gamut from unified efforts to make them feel unwelcome in the hopes of getting rid of them to local leaders breaking bread with and defending them.

For this series, the Daily Dot interviewed dozens of people, consulted historic and public records, and spoke with experts on extremism.

The fastest-growing neo-Nazi group in America

Over the last few years, 37-year-old Pohlhaus has become one of the more recognizable faces of neo-Nazism in the country. One of Blood Tribe’s Telegram channels has thousands of subscribers; Pohlhaus’ personal channel also has thousands of subscribers. His visibility was aided by what he described as a 10,000-mile road trip last year during which he recruited new members and networked with other extremists.

Jeff Tischauser, a senior researcher with the SPLC, told the Daily Dot that they first started hearing about Pohlhaus in 2021 when he was a featured speaker at the White Unity Conference held by the Aryan Freedom Network. Pohlhaus’ speech earned him praise from other white supremacists, Tischauser said.

In September, Tischauser described Pohlhaus as “the next big thing in the movement.” He finds the rapid trajectory is both unusual and troubling.

“He knows when to use humor; he can be very friendly and nice,” Tischauser said.

Pohlhaus’ ascent is particularly worrisome to some due to his violent rhetoric. Last week, Tischhauser said Pohlhaus is one of the most dangerous extremists the SPLC monitors.

Pohlhaus’ group carried a banner that said “there will be blood” at events last year. Last summer, Pohlhaus wrote on Telegram “hail Dylann Roof” of the racist mass murderer, “hail hate,” “hail frenzy,” and “hail Hitler.” He separately said, “You’re telling me no white men need to be eradicated? Jews are the only demons? Please…. there are plenty white boys that need to face the wall, and we will never get progress until they do.”

He’s talked about making liberal women “war wives” because he believes their leftist views make it acceptable to rape and impregnate them. When some females on the far-right took issue with it, he doubled down.

Last week, he denied that the Blood Tribe advocates violence and called claims to the contrary “gaslighting sophistry.”

“We’ve never ever expressed a desire to commit violence,” he told the Daily Dot in a Telegram voice memo.

Pohlhaus also said he stands by his comments about war wives. “If you’re a f*cking liberal woman, I’d f*cking use your uterus to bring in my next generation too, b*tch,” he said.

Nazis Maine
Neo-Nazi Christopher Pohlhaus planned to build a settlement for his group, the Blood Tribe, down this long gravel and dirt road.

Pohlhaus encourages members of Blood Tribe to take action in real life and not simply troll from behind a screen.

“You need to get offline, boots on the ground, and show these f*ckers that we’re here and we are everywhere,” Pohlhaus has said.

White supremacists are prone to petty jealousies and infighting. When they do form allegiances, they often just as quickly break them. Pohlhaus said that the Blood Tribe regularly kicks people out.

But he’s also more collaborative than many extremists.

Pohlhaus has been spotted at protests with National Socialist Club, aka NSC-131, a neo-Nazi group active in New England. Per the SPLC, NSC-131 has described itself as “a fraternal group of friends and like-minded individuals in the New England and North Eastern Region of the United States who have a strong opposition to Marxist, Communist and far-left groups trying to subvert our folk into self-hate and guilt.” During his road trip last year, Pohlhaus purportedly met with multiple groups in the hopes of creating a network of white supremacists. Over Labor Day weekend, Pohlhaus was joined by members of groups widely described as neo-Nazis, including the Order of the Black Sun, Aryan Freedom Network, and Goyim Defense League, at a demonstration in Orlando, Florida.

The event was a smashing success for the Blood Tribe. Footage of the red- and black-clad men, most in masks, waving swastika flags and shouting “white power” made national news. Later that night, Pohlhaus initiated roughly a dozen men into his group. Each took an oath and sealed it by cutting their hands on a spear and rubbing their blood into it.

Whatever feelings of triumph they may have felt that night likely vanished in the morning light.

Kent McLellan, a.k.a. “Boneface,” was a prominent member of the Blood Tribe at the time. McLellan had a lot of clout in the group because he supposedly volunteered to fight for the Azov Brigade in Ukraine, which is notorious for having neo-Nazi ties. Upon seeing McLellan’s unmistakable, heavily tattooed face plastered all over the news, neo-Nazis in Ukraine reportedly accused him of lying about fighting with Azov and faking evidence to prove it. By the next morning, it was all over the white nationalist internet.

The Blood Tribe went on to hold a two-day, public trial to determine whether they believed McLellan. At the conclusion of the trial, during which McLellan tried to prove that he did in fact fight in Ukraine, they decided that Pohlhaus had been duped and ruled that McLellan never fought with Azov.

According to Vice, the Blood Tribe apologized for getting fooled.  “I imagine he’s going to have a hard time,” Pohlhaus reportedly said unironically at the time. “A real hard time because you know a guy like that ain’t going to fit in a regular society.”

Last week, he insisted that the Boneface saga wasn’t embarrassing. He also claimed he isn’t in the same position as McClellan, i.e. unable to be accepted by regular society.

“I have a great f*cking life,” he said.

This may come to a surprise to the people who described him as an unemployed couch surfer who at times lives in a camper and “sh*ts in the woods.”

On one of the last warm days of the year, Dennis shuddered as he gazed out at a picture-perfect golf course from the patio of a charming restaurant about an hour south of Springfield. Dennis, a retiree who asked to use a pseudonym, said that his synagogue was frightened to learn that a neo-Nazi had moved to the area. The news called to mind mass shootings at synagogues in recent years—and much worse.

Eighty years and an ocean removed from the atrocities in Germany, Dennis sees that same hate gaining ground.

Pohlhaus isn’t the only extremist who’s made headlines in Maine. In August, a group near the state capital did Nazi salutes and shouted “sieg heil” at passersby, per the Bangor Daily News. In April, NSC-131 clashed with counter protesters in Portland, Maine. Pohlhaus has been seen with the group.

While he believes that people are mostly decent, Dennis believes there’s an ugly undercurrent of hateful prejudice running through the country.

“Antisemitism is always there under the rug,” Dennis said.

Hate has been spreading throughout the country like a virus for years. In October, the FBI reported that hate crimes rose 25% from 2021 to 2022 alone.

The rise in antisemitic incidents has led synagogues in Maine to add extra security measures, such as guards on high holidays, to make sure they don’t become one of those statistics. Dennis sadly said he wishes they could use those funds for education and helping the poor instead.

Maine state Rep. Laurie Osher (D) also attends a synagogue in Maine. Osher, who speaks quickly and gives the impression that she doesn’t suffer fools, said her constituents were horrified to learn about Pohlhaus’ plans in Maine. Jewish people, she said, were “freaked out.”

“I’m disappointed that he thinks this is a place he could feel at home,” Osher told the Daily Dot on a clear fall day, adding, “The entire country is a place he could feel at home. I wish he hadn’t chosen us.”

She fears people aren’t fully aware of the dangers of letting hate and antisemitism fester.

“There’s all sorts of evidence that people don’t realize the tides have turned until they’ve turned,” she said.

Maine state Sen. Joe Baldacci (D) was appalled by reports that Pohlhaus planned to build a community of neo-Nazis in Maine. “It represents a threat to law-abiding citizens who want to live in peace,” Baldacci told the Daily Dot in September.

The fact that Pohlhaus planned to recruit in the area, Baldacci said, was “scary.” He also worried that the Blood Tribe may have ties to even more violent extremists.

Experts on extremism agree that hateful rhetoric can radicalize others who never attend a single event or interact with a group.

Mass shooter Roof, whom Pohlhaus has praised, was radicalized online. The racist mass shooter who killed three Black people in Jacksonville, Florida, last year, cited Roof in his manifesto.

Both Osher and Baldacci proposed legislation that would ban paramilitary training camps, which is designed to thwart Pohlhaus’ plans, as well as those of any other group with the same or similar intentions. Slightly more than half the states have laws to this effect; neighboring Vermont passed a similar law last year.

Baldacci told the Daily Dot that he was hopeful that neither Maine Republicans nor the National Rifle Association would try to block the legislation. The law Osher proposed is working its way through committees. In December, Baldacci said they expect hearings will be held early this year.

Dennis is relieved that Maine politicians are taking the matter seriously. But is it enough? He’s not sure.

“My concern is they’re too busy protecting freedom of speech and not putting the fear of god into malefactors,” he said.

An unwelcome neighbor

On a September evening, the setting sun colored the sky gold, orange, and purple offset by lush green trees on the long gravel drive where Pohlhaus owned property. The idyllic, remote setting makes it easy to see what drew him to the area.

Houses are few and far between here, underscoring the fact that people in northern Maine tend to keep to themselves. One local said that people can get a little crazy in the depths of winter, when there’s just six hours of daylight and temperatures regularly hover well below zero. People in this rural area tend to be more concerned with scraping out a living and surviving another winter than their neighbors’ beliefs.

Earlier that week, an elderly man leaning heavily on his cane while he waited to make a purchase at a marijuana dispensary in Lincoln said of Pohlhaus’ group, “If they don’t bother me, I don’t bother them.”

The Forester Pub in Lincoln is about a 20-minute drive from Springfield. It was packed on a Friday in September. The pub’s name and wood paneling hark to the logging industry that’s still a big part of the Maine economy. Paper mills used to provide a lot of jobs, too. Today the one in Lincoln—the odiferousness of which earned the town the nickname “Stinkin’ Lincoln,” which sticks to it to this day—sits still and silent. Swan, the selectman, said that there were nine mills on the Penobscot River 60 years ago. “Now there’s none,” he added sadly.

Nazis Maine
Paper mills like this one in Lincoln, Maine were once a source of jobs and revenue for the area.

One man imbibing during happy hour admonished me not to ask around about the Blood Tribe. “They just don’t want to talk about it,” he said of the locals. “You should put your notebook away.”

While she waited for a take-out order at the pub, Ashley rolled up her sleeve to reveal a tattoo of an aquatic creature that she said was done by Pohlhaus.

“I didn’t know he was a white supremacist,” Ashley said with a shrug.

By then, Pohlhaus’ name was everywhere. Ashley said her young daughter had even heard about him at school that week.

When Tischauser of the SPLC contacted him in July, Pohlhaus seemed exasperated by the interest in him and his Maine property, saying that reporting on it is “so weird” and “isn’t a news story.”

“Google breaking news, Nazi buys a piece of property,” he added sarcastically.

Pohlhaus said “everybody” in town knew who he was. They may have known his name and that he’s a neo-Nazi, but that doesn’t mean they accepted him. Asked if Pohlhaus was part of the fabric of the community, selectman Swan shook his head.

“He’s not,” he said, laughing softly.

Learning that Pohlhaus planned to create a community for members of the Blood Tribe solicited a strong rebuke from residents of Springfield. Nobody wanted to be known as the place those neo-Nazis live.

In the end, their rejection and all the attention had the desired effect. In October, Pohlhaus sold the 10-acre property there. Pohlhaus blames liberals for his defection from the place he’d once pinned so many hopes on.

“With the militant leftist doxing the location, it was basically too dangerous for families to make the transition up here,” Pohlhaus wrote on Telegram. “People were coming up there all the time, snooping and getting very brazen, even driving down into the clearing.”

“You could call it a leftist W I guess,” he added.

Last week Tischauser said that Pohlhaus seems to be spending a lot of time in Montana. When he sold the Maine property, he had the document notarized in Belgrade, Montana, a small, heavily white city in the southwest corner of the state.

Pohlhaus laughed at the suggestion that he’d been run out of Maine. He told the Daily Dot that he’s still there, somewhere near the old property on land that’s in someone else’s name so it’s harder to figure out where it is. He’s previously claimed that his group has 100 acres in the state. No one has identified where the other parcels are.

Naziland Maine
People in rural Maine tend to keep to themselves—but they also didn’t want to live next to a neo-Nazi settlement.

If Pohlhaus is in Maine, given that he has a tattoo on his face and has been in the news a lot over the last year, it may be only a matter of time before people figure out where.

He may be right that the area is dangerous for him and the Blood Tribe. However, it’s not clear the threat was coming from outsiders like Pohlhaus suggested.

One Lincoln resident who would only give his first name, Joe, told the Daily Dot that Pohlhaus would “probably end up dead.”

“If they don’t know you’re there, they don’t know you’re missing,” Joe added with a discomfiting smile.


Crash Barry contributed to this story.

Read the entire Naziland series
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John Minadeo in front of signs hung on highway that read 'end Jewish supremacy in America' and 'Honk if you know its the Jews'

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*First Published: Jan 17, 2024, 12:00 am CST