On Feb. 20, TCB’s co-founder and former senior editor Jordan Green, published the first part in his series of investigative reporting around a neo-Nazi, white supremacist group, 2119. In the course of reporting for Raw Story, Green was harassed and was even targeted in person when a group of Nazis showed up to his house in February. 

As part of TCB’s First Amendment Society, we held an online event in which Green shared his reporting process, how the harassment impacted him personally and the importance of shining a light on extremist groups. The conversation has been shortened and edited for clarity.

Can you give some background first on the kind of reporting that you used to do for City Beat and how you came to do right-wing extremism reporting?

I didn’t really cover extremism very much from say 2006 on to 2016. I was more interested in housing and policing but the election of Donald Trump kind of caught my attention and I really found my vocation with covering right-wing extremism as a reporter at Triad City Beat and also as a freelancer. 

During the same time that I was working at City Beat there was one incident in which a Ku Klux Klan group in Caswell County was holding a Trump victory parade. And it was in December of 2016 and I just got a crash course on all of these different groups that I had no real familiarity with like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters and the KKK I was familiar with the course, and then the Proud Boys was coming on the scene and that kind of blossomed like a toxic flower in 2017.

Walk us through how and why you started reporting on this topic.

It actually started because of my interest in trying to investigate the attack on the power grid in Moore County about a hundred miles from here in December of 2022. There is an anonymous researcher contact from Australia who gave me access to the archives of these chats on Telegram, which they call Terrorgram because it’s a community of neo Nazis who revel in gore and extreme violence and extreme racism. And these Nazis were over their heads with excitement about the attack on the power grid which caused an almost countywide outage for about five days and resulted in the death of an elderly woman who was dependent on an oxygen machine.

One of the profiles turned out to be a 15-year-old kid who was talking about how he was a member of Blood and Soil Crew, a youth crew. And so that’s what first put this group 2119, aka Blood and Soil crew, on my radar. There was excitement about and sharing encouragement and practical ideas about sabotaging industrial infrastructure or attacking the power grid and also a lot of interest about going out and intimidating drag shows and so I just started tracking this milieu.

Can you explain what Telegram is and what role it plays in groups like this?

Telegram is a social media app that is favored by violent white supremacists because it has the least moderation of all of the channels and kind of their selling point is they have servers in maybe a dozen jurisdictions around the world. So they’re basically saying, ‘We’ll never turn over data to law enforcement because you’ve got to get court orders at a dozen different jurisdictions.’ So I’ll say there are a lot of anonymous researchers that spend a lot of time tracking these communications and unmasking the participants. But law enforcement is a little bit behind the curve.

How do you debate whether something is a story so that you’re not platforming a hate group versus justifying it as reporting to say this is happening and exposing this group?

Yeah, extremism reporters debate that amongst ourselves all the time and oftentimes, go back and retrospectively say, ‘We’ll do it differently in the future.’ But I guess the criteria for me is are there activities having a real-life impact? Then acts of vandalism and intimidation like showing up to intimidate people in a drag show or throwing a brick through a synagogue window. Those meet the criteria.

I think when we think of Nazis or Proud Boys, we think of typically grown white men, but these people are underage, typically under 18. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like finding out that this group caters to and also attracts many young people?

Yeah, I mean when I first ran across the 15-year-old that I mentioned on the Telegram channel talking about the attack on the power grid in Moore County, I really thought it was like a 35-year-old because of the kind of violence they promote and their jadedness and how they’re able to project a totally different persona online. I still haven’t really wrapped my head around it.

I guess what I kind of came to grips with is that kids who are adolescents and teenagers experience the internet and social media in a totally different way than those of us who logged on to Facebook in 2008 or 2009. One of my sources, a professor of media studies at West Virginia University, said if your child is online, they’re experiencing white-supremacist content and all kinds of misogynistic content. It’s kind of the gateway to white-supremacist content. So I mean from my perspective we really haven’t been here long enough to understand the intersection of technology in the psychology of teenagers to understand how they become radicalized.

What do you think made these kids gravitate towards these hateful groups?

One thing that I kind of heard from parents and observed is that these kids felt very, very alienated from their peers and they felt like they didn’t fit in. But when they get online, they can create these personas that have a lot of bravado and so forth then they’re getting validation from people. Online radicalization feeds off of a sense of shame and so yeah, I mean, I think they just find validation and encouragement and eventually they start doing things in real life that they film and document and then put on online, too. They push each other to extreme antisocial and criminal and hateful behavior.

I noticed that you got several interviews with members of this group. How do you develop rapport with people who have hateful views to get them to talk to you?

I don’t think it’s as hard as we think, because the fundamental thing about human psychology is people want to — no matter how misguided, horrible and sick — people fundamentally want to be understood and they want someone to hear them. And I think most people feel like their spouses or their employers or other community members aren’t listening to them and don’t understand them. When you really study a subculture and you figure out their ideology and their folkways, they appreciate it whether they know it or not. They respond to it. 

And if you’re writing about them, you gotta call them up and ask them if they want to comment. And you figure it’s just kind of like a lottery. Sometimes they’ll say no, but sometimes you’re surprised and they say yes.

As a reporter, how do you create that buffer to report on hateful subjects like this?

These forces in our society affect people who are mainly not like me. I mean white-supremacist violence is directed predominantly at Jews, LGBTQ+ folks, also, certainly journalists and other kinds of members of what you might call the intelligensia, but I guess it’s just the craft of storytelling. I just try to think about the story that I want to tell and to be intentional about it and put aside my own experiences and my own feelings about it when I tell that story.

Part of your piece talks about how little these kids care about traditional politics. Can you talk a little bit about the role that Donald Trump’s presidency had on the psyche or radicalization of these kids?

The one light bulb moment for me was this 2119 member from Georgia saying that he was disparaging the mainstream white-supremacist group Patriot Front because they’re very concerned with optics and they downplay the swastikas and so forth. And he said they basically struck him as mainstream conservatives like the type of people that he would see at a Trump rally. He was basically saying that it’s boring to him.

I realized that Trumpism  kind of set the baseline for a lot of these white teenagers that were radicalized. I mean if you think about it, they were 12 when Trump rode down the elevator in 2015 and started making vile, racist disparagements against Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. And so for older extremists, January 6 was kind of a high water mark for them but for these kids it’s kind of like the baseline.

For them, the motto is there’s no political solution, so they don’t really put any hope in elections and the only way to reach their objective of creating a white ethnostate is to bring about the collapse of society. And so a lot of these kids valorize the Unabomber.

As part of your reporting on this, you wrote a column talking about how Nazis came to your house. Can you talk more about that?

I got pushback on the story almost as soon as I was reporting in earnest. They made it very clear that they did not want me to report on it and started with trash-talking on Telegram, which escalated to threatening phone calls. And in the interim, the 2119 group ordered a pizza delivered to my house and there was a person outside sitting on the street with a camera, and the next day I saw a picture of myself standing in my doorway on Telegram.

About 10 days before we actually published the story, six violent Nazis came to my house and they staged a flash rally that was less than five minutes. They made Nazi salutes while they were holding traffic flares and held up a sign saying that there’s a consequence for the exercise of the freedom of press. It’s been intense but we never thought about not publishing the story. I mean the backlash to me is validation of the importance of the story.

Raw Story has been amazing. They’ve given me support in ways I can’t really talk about without compromising my security, but they have 100 percent had my back so that I can continue to do this work and do it safely.

I also want to clarify that the Nazis that did the flash rally were not 2119 members, but they’re older guys who are allies of these teenagers. And they’re also individuals that I’ve written about previously so they appeared to be unhappy about the reporting that I’d already done.

What can journalists do to protect themselves when doing this kind of reporting?

If I had to do it over again, I would buy a house under an LLC. Honestly, when I got into this work in 2017, I didn’t imagine this kind of intense backlash. But as journalists, we’re asking people uncomfortable questions. And so a lot of times our attitude is like we should ourselves be an open book and people have issues with us, but it is very important for journalists to protect your privacy.

Why was this story an important one for you to tell?

There is a growing network and activation of violent Nazis in our region, particularly North Carolina and Tennessee coming together, and they’re small in number, but I think their impact goes far beyond their numbers. I think it’s concerning and it’s worth paying attention because it’s people with very violent ideas that are attached to a larger movement and ecosystem within the white-supremacist movement. And they appear to be more mobilized than they were four years ago and it’s really anybody’s guess what kind of havoc they’re gonna play with the craziness around the presidential election and political polarization.

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