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The FBI informant who helped white supremacists, Joshua Caleb Sutter

For years, Joshua Caleb Sutter, an avowed white supremacist from South Carolina, has published and sold books glorifying torture, child abuse, rape, terrorism, mass murder and more – all in the name of his racist and satanic beliefs.

His self-published books have become go-to texts for some of the most extreme and violent white supremacists across the world. They have become required reading in a sinister satanist cult that has spread to several countries and has already inspired several known terrorists and would-be mass killers. 

The ideas Sutter pushes are so vile they have proven too much even for some of the country’s most dangerous and violent neo-Nazis. In 2018 several people left the white supremacist domestic terrorism group Atomwaffen Division, citing Sutter’s books – and his growing influence in the organization – as too radical even for them.

Since 2004, while his publishing business and his influence over radical white supremacists have swelled, Sutter has had another benefactor: the American taxpayer. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has paid him at least $140,000 over the past 18 years to provide information about the extremist groups he associates with, according to court records. 

How useful that information has been in fighting extremism is impossible to tell. The FBI won’t talk about Sutter and has yet to provide USA TODAY with any documents about the payments to him, or the intelligence he provided, in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act. 

But the relationship between the federal government and one of the chief propagandists of the most radical wing of white supremacy, experts say, raises profound concerns, including whether the agency actually directs public money to help fund the very same extremist movements and hateful propaganda it is supposed to be clamping down on.  

Ariel Koch, a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism
He’s in a win-win situation. He gets money from the government and he can continue doing what he likes to do, which is to publish literature that is distributed by neo-Nazis.

“He’s in a win-win situation,” said Ariel Koch, a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Israel’s Reichman University who studies extremist movements. “He gets money from the government and he can continue doing what he likes to do, which is to publish literature that is distributed by neo-Nazis.” 

The FBI and Justice Department face a dilemma when dealing with domestic extremists like white supremacists: They have to get close to these groups, and that often means paying unsavory characters to gather information. But, as has happened in the past, experts familiar with Sutter’s beliefs say the feds made a big mistake when they started to pay him.

“There’s got to be a line somewhere that says, ‘This is too far, this guy’s building up the organization,’” said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “From my perspective, Sutter was over the line.”

The partnership between the FBI and Sutter was first revealed in the trial last year of a leader of the violent white supremacist group Atomwaffen Division. 

The payments highlight the delicate balance federal agents strike when working with confidential informants inside extremist groups, former FBI agents and security experts told USA TODAY. Paid informants can provide invaluable information, but they also need to be handled very carefully, and the FBI doesn’t always do a good job monitoring the people it’s paying for information, former agents acknowledged. 

The FBI declined to address specific questions about Sutter or the relationship he detailed in testimony last year in a Seattle federal court. 

The bureau, however, generally described the use of informants as an integral part of its national security function. 

“The FBI’s mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States, and intelligence gathering is essential to those efforts,” the agency said in a statement provided to USA TODAY. “While the FBI’s standard practice is not to discuss its sources and methods, it is important to understand that sources provide valuable information regarding criminal activity and national security matters.” 

Sutter did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.

In September, Sutter was called as a witness in the trial of Kaleb Cole, one of the former leaders of Atomwaffen Division. Cole was being prosecuted for his role in a conspiracy to threaten journalists at various publications and researchers at the Anti-Defamation League.

Now in his early 40s, Sutter has been an active white supremacist since his teens. On the stand, he was frank about his long history of working with the FBI. Federal agents first approached him in the early 2000s, he testified, while he was serving a two-year prison sentence for possessing a pistol with an obliterated serial number.

“It was proposed that I could act in a deep-cover capacity,” he told the court, according to a transcript obtained by USA TODAY. “I was instructed to continue the relationships that I had in the right wing.” 

Immediately after his release in 2004, Sutter went to work for the FBI doing surveillance, attending in-person meetings and traveling around the country targeting different networks, he testified. It was work that he did continuously over the nearly 20 years since then, he said. 

“I’ve engaged in travel for person-to-person meetings with targeted individuals and target organizations,” he said. “Surveillance. Use of surveillance equipment. Things of those natures.”

During that same time, experts say, Sutter was building a portfolio of hate-filled publications. But his court testimony didn’t dwell on his other profession. Asked in court what he did for a living, Sutter replied simply, “Publishing.”

The FBI has long paid informants to infiltrate criminal groups such as drug cartels, organized crime and domestic extremist groups.   

“You can’t cast a play in Hell with angels as your actors,” said Dave Gomez, a former FBI executive. “You have to find somebody who associates with the worst of the worst.”

Regulations cover the FBI’s vetting of prospective informants, including whether they “pose a danger to the public or other criminal threat.” Agents are required to document their work, including any criminal activity they authorize as part of their duties.

There are also periodic reviews of informants’ files to determine continued suitability. And the prolonged use of long-term informants – those registered for more than six years – is determined by an internal committee.

But despite the detailed rules, there’s significant evidence the oversight of informants doesn’t always work smoothly.  

In 2019, the Justice Department’s Inspector General concluded the FBI’s vetting process didn’t always comply with federal guidelines. The Inspector General also found “deficiencies” in evaluating long-term informants. 

Those concerns are echoed by some former FBI agents who spoke with USA TODAY.

“There can be a tendency to look the other way – a tendency to not want to pursue any information that might show the informant is up to no good,” said Chris Swecker, a former head of the FBI’s Criminal Division. “At higher levels, these people always play both ends, so reading a source’s motivations is one of the primary skills of an FBI agent.”

Don Borelli, a former FBI counterterrorism official, said the guidelines for managing sources are more than sufficient, but “they aren’t worth much if they aren’t followed.”

“You have to find that right balance that allows you to get the information you need while allowing the informant to do what he needs to do to access the information,” Borelli said. “It’s a balancing act and you have to handle it carefully.” 

As a young man, Sutter helped his father run the Southern Patriot Shop, a hotbed of white supremacist organizing in Cayce, South Carolina. 

Since then, his path from one belief system to another has been so wide-ranging, it is difficult to fully capture. But Sutter himself acknowledged his involvement with white supremacist and other extremist organizations in court and the evolution of his extremism has been documented by several experts. 

According to a 2013 story by freelance journalist Nate Thayer, Sutter was at one point a preacher for the Church of the Sons of Yahweh, a church that practiced the deeply racist religion of Christian Identity and was linked to the Ku Klux Klan. He also dabbled in esoteric Hinduism, worked for the Aryan Nations as a “Minister for Islamic Liaison,” “tasked with building alliances with international Islamic jihadist groups,” Thayer writes, and even created a pro-North Korean organization. 

In his court testimony, Sutter confirmed the same ideas. Asked which white supremacist groups he had worked with, Sutter replied, “Several. But Aryan Nations, Church of the Sons of Yaweh.”

By around 2008, according to Koch and other researchers, Sutter had found his real niche: A dark blend of satanism, the occult and white supremacy. 

Sutter was drawn to the satanic white supremacist movement called the “Order of Nine Angles,” a group that was spreading across the globe via the internet, attracting troubled young men and women interested in violence, gore and the infliction of pain and suffering. 

Founded in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, the order claims to have chapters, called “Nexions,” across the world. This is how Koch, the Israeli academic, described the group in a research paper published earlier this year: “A loose and leaderless network of individuals and groups that merges National Socialism and Satanism; endorses tyrants, cult leaders, non-National Socialist terrorists and child-abusers; promotes violence, celebrates death, and advocates for real-life action.” 

Sutter founded a North American wing inspired by the order, giving it the title “Tempel ov Blood.” 

Koch said it was a “Typically American” version of the British-born occultist movement. “It was more militant, more extreme, more in-your-face,” he said.     

To promote those beliefs, Sutter had his line of work: publishing.

Sutter pushed the beliefs of Tempel ov Blood towards new followers using Martinet Press, the publisher that a variety of extremism experts say Sutter runs with his wife, Jillian Hoy. 

Today, the publishing house of sorts still operates, billing itself as “a decidedly darker spiritual press” and offering everything from occult publications to merchandise like “TOB support patches.”

The couple’s business soon became a go-to printer for up-and-coming white supremacist satanists across the world, including Ryan Fleming, a neo-Nazi from Leeds, England, who published books under the name “A.A. Morain.” (Fleming was later jailed for having sex with an underage girl and communicating with minors via Instagram.)

Books written by prominent white supremacists, including “The Turner Diaries,” photocopied pages of which were found in Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s car when he was arrested, have gained near-mythological status among neo-Nazis, who consider reading key texts a prerequisite to joining their groups. Sutter was effectively building a new library for a new generation of white supremacists intent on causing as much misery as possible.

While an ideology that veers from pro-North Korea totalitarianism to racism to child abuse seems bizarre on its face, experts say the ideas all return to a basic pursuit of chaos. 

Many of those white supremacists work in furtherance of “Accelerationism,” which argues that current modern society is ultimately doomed to failure because it has been driven by Jewish leadership. Accelerationists seek to speed up society’s demise by committing acts of terrorism and mass shootings, with the ultimate goal being to start a “race war” that leads to a world reorganized along racial lines.

These ideas have long been pushed in white supremacist communities through pseudo-academic texts just like the ones Sutter was publishing, Beirich said.

Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism
I don’t think people understand actually how well-read a lot of white supremacists and neo-Nazis are. These are people who spend a ton of time reading.

“I don’t think people understand actually how well-read a lot of white supremacists and neo-Nazis are,” she said. “These are people who spend a ton of time reading.”

Researchers believe at least some of the texts were written by Sutter himself, and Martinet Press published books that would become key to the philosophy of Atomwaffen Division and others. 

One of the books was “Iron Gates,” a novel that, Koch writes, “tells the story of ‘The Organization,’ a blood-thirsty guerrilla force that paves its way for domination by ruthless violence and indoctrination.” It contains “Graphic descriptions of child rape, cannibalism, torture, genocide, and sadistic rituals,” Koch writes. 

There’s strong evidence that books like this have already influenced at least one domestic extremist. In November, federal agents arrested Angel Almeida, a 21-year-old satanist from Queens, New York, for illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.

In the background of at least two of Almeida’s social media posts, prosecutors alleged, was a poster bearing an image used on the cover of “Liber 333,” a book published by Martinet Press. Almeida also had Order of Nine Angles books in his possession when he was arrested.  

Two members of the U.S. military recently arrested in separate incidents on extremism-related charges also had links to ONA, according to prosecutors. One, Ethan Melzer, was accused in 2020 of planning an attack against his own U.S. Army unit by sending sensitive details, including the unit’s location, to the ONA. Melzer, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, is scheduled to go to trial in July. 

Ask any researcher on domestic extremism to name the most dangerous and violent white supremacist group in recent history and one organization will invariably come up: Atomwaffen Division.

Founded in 2015 and named for the German term for atomic weapons, Atomwaffen Division is a neo-Nazi group that has been associated with at least five murders. Adherents to the group are firm believers in accelerationism.     

Sutter told the court last year he was introduced to Atomwaffen Division by Cameron Denton, one of the group’s leaders. It’s unclear how much Denton, who declined an interview through his attorney, was influenced by Sutter and his writings. 

But Sutter testified in court he became enmeshed in Atomwaffen Division, participating in calls, communicating on the private messaging server Discord and attending in-person “Hate Camps” in Death Valley, California, and Washington state. At these camps, he said, Atomwaffen members fired guns and participated in “ideological discussion, in-person discussions that wouldn’t be held otherwise.”

By the spring of 2018 – shortly after Sutter joined Atmowaffen – extremism researchers monitoring the group noticed that members were leaving, citing an increasing focus on satanic mysticism that, they said, had little to do with Atomwaffen’s core goals.

Hannah Gais, a senior researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center who has tracked Atomwaffen for years, studied thousands of messages from the group’s Discord server that were provided to the SPLC. Gais said it was clear Sutter – who confirmed in court that he went  by “Swissdiscipline” online – was having a profound impact on the group’s direction, even if he wasn’t always welcome.  

Hannah Gais, a senior researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center
He was really the one who basically took them in that direction towards Satanism and this kind of more sinister aesthetic.

“He was really the one who basically took them in that direction towards Satanism and this kind of more sinister aesthetic,” Gais said.

At least some of the infighting in the group can be traced to Atomwaffen leaders pushing Sutter’s satanist publications. In a document posted online and described as an open letter detailing why he left the group, a former Atomwaffen member wrote:

“Rape (Denton’s online alias), among others in AWD started to promote ‘Iron Gates,’ a book (that) for all intents and purposes, should be banned. It takes the reader on a journey of torture and gore porn. For example – first page, it describes how a baby is brutally murdered in front of his mother. This is REQUIRED READING to join AWD.”

For experts on Atomwaffen, the message was clear: Sutter had become a key influencer of one of the most dangerous domestic extremist groups in the country.

All the while, he was collecting checks from the FBI. For his time in Atomwaffen alone, the U.S. government paid him more than $78,000, according to court filings. 

Meanwhile, federal agents were circling what was left of Atomwaffen Division. By 2020, authorities had arrested at least 12 members of the group on charges of conspiracy and other crimes related to harassing journalists and activists..

It’s clear Atomwaffen was violent regardless of Sutter’s influence, Gais and others said, noting that the members who left the group launched their own violent neo-Nazi organizations. 

And the one case Sutter is known to have assisted in – the prosecution of Kaleb Cole and three other members of Atomwaffen Division – was investigated by the FBI’s joint terrorism task forces.

According to a search warrant affidavit in the case, group members planned their activities as a “nationwide scare,” creating posters to attach at the homes of journalists, especially Jewish or Black journalists. One swastika-riddled poster reads, “We are watching … we know where you live.”

Cole was ultimately convicted on a variety of federal felonies and sentenced to 84 months in prison.

But how much Sutter helped in securing those arrests, and how much he was responsible for pushing the white supremacists towards ever-more extreme goals, isn’t clear.

There’s a difference between recruiting a source who is already active inside a terrorist group and wants to spill the beans, versus manufacturing plots and then finding would-be terrorists who will go along with the plan, former FBI agents told USA TODAY.

Such stings, often called “honey pots,” have been increasingly used by the FBI over the past 20 years.

Among the most egregious known abuses of the confidential informant program was the FBI’s management of James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, leaders of South Boston’s violent Winter Hill Gang.

In 2002, FBI agent John Connolly was convicted of racketeering, obstruction and lying to investigators related to his handling of Bulger. He was later convicted of second-degree murder for leaking information to Bulger that led to the 1982 killing of a Florida businessman. In 2018, Bulger was murdered in a West Virginia federal prison.

Swecker, the former head of the FBI’s Criminal Division, acknowledged the Sutter story has some of the hallmarks of such cases. But he said it’s impossible to assess how valuable Sutter’s information was without viewing the FBI’s files.

“You have to know whether the juice is worth the squeeze,” he said.

In addition to requesting those files, USA TODAY also contacted former and current FBI agents who worked in the field office where Sutter was introduced to the agency. They either did not recall Sutter or declined comment.

The FBI’s strategy of hiring informants, meanwhile, is not a small operation. According to the inspector general, the bureau averaged $42 million in payments to sources each year between 2012 and 2018.

Without more oversight of that program, some experts on extremism worry the FBI and other federal agencies are at risk of overstepping as they increasingly focus on taking down domestic extremists and white supremacists.

“The FBI is not in the crime-generating business, they’re in the crime-solving business,” said Michael German, a former FBI special agent and a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “The FBI is spending resources focusing on manufacturing crimes, rather than just looking at the crimes that are occurring.”

One final question surrounds Sutter’s cooperation with the FBI.

The goal of the Order of Nine Angles, the satanist organization Sutter has long aligned with, is to accelerate the decline of society. Koch, who has studied the group’s philosophy for years, says one of the group’s central tenets for doing this is to infiltrate powerful institutions, including law enforcement.

Within the Order, this concept is known as playing an “Insight Role,” Koch said. The idea is the member takes on a job or “role” that is the polar opposite to what that person believes in. Thus, Koch said, if a member has a problem with authority, they should take a job with law enforcement. If a member is materialistic and likes sexual intercourse, they should join a Buddhist monastery. 

In the order’s belief system, taking on this “Insight Role” places members into the very heart of powerful institutions. There, they should focus on recruiting new members, spreading hate and advocating violence. Along the way, according to the order’s beliefs, they will be growing and evolving as human beings. 

Sutter’s almost 20-year relationship with the federal government places this tactic in a new and interesting light, Koch said. He stressed that only Sutter himself truly knows why he became an FBI informant. But the possibility Sutter hoped to infiltrate federal law enforcement in order to gain “insight,” has to be considered, Koch said.

“It sounds logical,” he said. “For someone in his position, he could adapt to this identity of informant while he’s still producing stuff, still pushing his agenda, his twisted world view and just playing on both playgrounds.”     

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