On 30 October, the prominent accelerationist website The American Futurist announced: “We are cutting ties with James Mason effective immediately.” For the last several decades, Mason has served as the ideological leader of neo-Nazi terror groups including Atomwaffen Division, The Base, Feuerkrieg Division, and Sonnenkrieg Division, while the American Futurist has been a hub for those promoting neo-Nazi violence both within and outside the United States. This split represents a major shift in the far-right landscape and poses important consequences for the shape of the far-right movement. This Insight presents an in-depth examination of the newest episode in the American Futurist – James Mason saga and the potential threat this split poses to security throughout much of the Western world.
For context, James Mason is a long-time American neo-Nazi who, in the eyes of many, is second only to Adolf Hitler himself in steering national socialist thought. Active since the 1960s, he has devoted his entire life to the cause of neo-Nazism, most particularly focusing on producing long and short-form propaganda. His most popular work is that of Siege, a 1980s newsletter later edited into book form. Siege is the book from which neo-Nazi lone-wolf terrorism derives and wherein the ‘accelerationist’ narrative – the idea of deploying indiscriminate violence to trigger race wars that will destroy current governments and replace them with white-only fascist ones – is most clearly pushed. Studies of the recruitment and online propaganda output of neo-Nazi groups have long noted that Siege has been considered essential reading for anyone interested in being part of the neo-Nazi community.
Meanwhile, The American Futurist is a product of the digital age of neo-Nazism, coalescing in 2020. The website states an intention of serving to peddle propaganda promoting revolutionary fascism to people around the world, be that in article, book, or interview form. With extremely limited author guidelines beyond content needing to promote fascism, editors have worked to elicit new, unique content as well as reproduce older works. As a purveyor of such content, The American Futurist has certainly found an audience, with several consistent contributors and thousands following their activities on various social media and end-to-end encrypted platforms.
The announcement itself reads like the writings of a lover scorned, replete with sex, lies, and betrayal. The American Futurist paints a picture of Mason as a disloyal, disagreeable, and demented man. The piece first cites trouble brewing between the parties upon hearing rumours that Mason spoke ill of valorised neo-Nazi figures, including Ryan Arthur, a founder of The American Futurist itself. According to their side of the story, Mason felt that Arthur had been undermining him by refusing to publish pieces or flat-out stealing from him – allegations that The American Futurist claims to have investigated and found to be untrue. The article then says matters got worse upon hearing that Mason had been carrying on an affair with the wife of a friend and fellow National Socialist.
The final blow came with Mason’s apparent decision to go behind The American Futurist editors’ backs and work with another neo-Nazi to publish new content on an entirely different website. Such actions, they claim, “forced our hand” and in their eyes transformed the man they admit to building “a cult of personality” around into “an underhanded asshole.” They argue, “[Mason] lies about us and acts like we’ve done nothing but take advantage of him. When anyone who knows us knows damn well that we’ve worked our asses off for six years for this man. Six years spent publishing…getting him all of these TV interviews, getting SIEGE to become one of the most popular books in post-1945 NS history, etc. We did all this for free, of course, purely out of friendship and respect for James.’
The article adds additional drama to all of these accusations by claiming a kind of moral outrage about the events, a stance that, even operating within their own neo-Nazi code of ethics, must be taken with more than a pinch of salt. Take the allegation that Mason had an affair with a friend’s wife; the group admits to carrying on their relationship with him despite knowing of the tryst. They seem to include the claim that Mason bedded a friend’s wife to imply a sense of selfish immorality and set the stage for the ultimate betrayal of his literary bedfellow, The American Futurist.
More central to their decry of Mason is his collaboration with another neo-Nazi on new material, a man they identify as being a paedophile. They claim the individual, who had previously been kicked out of other National Socialist groups, had committed a somewhat “less serious” form of paedophilia, as he had consumed sexual material featuring children; the editors make a veiled threat by saying that had he “actually” harmed children, he would not be around to help facilitate Mason’s disloyalty to The American Futurist. The editors claim that Mason had been informed of the sexual proclivities of his partner and continued on with the relationship, a choice they use as evidence of his poor morals. However, this entirely ignores that on numerous occasions Mason himself has been convicted of paedophilia, including possession of sexual material featuring underage persons. The American Futurist knew of this before they began their relationship with Mason, therein making a kind of outrage about collaborating with a paedophile hypocritical, to say the least.
The editors add insult to injury by suggesting that Mason is a coward, a poor writer, and a man losing cognitive function. The editors chalk Mason’s denunciation of other neo-Nazi martyrs to his fear of returning to prison, a fate he has avoided (despite being labelled a terrorist entity in Canada and tied ideologically to numerous murders) for the better part of three decades. They also go after Mason’s other works, calling them “low-quality,” depicting a man who might have been a literary one-hit wonder were it not for The American Futurist pushing followers to slog through his other works. They then go further, pushing the narrative that Mason’s denunciations of Arthur were “extremely out of character for James, so we chalked it up to early dementia, since paranoia and bizarre false allegations are common among demented people, and James has a family history of memory-affecting brain disorders.” Later, they suggest he may not even be to blame for all of this betrayal, as “with his cognitive decline, we’re not sure how much of this is truly his fault, and how much of it is simply his brain ceasing to function properly.”
Whether disloyalty or dementia, the ultimate outcome for The American Futurist remains the same: abandoning Mason. The editors declare the relationship between themselves and Mason irrevocably broken, and the time they spent together regrettable. “As a revolutionary publication, we tried to dig up the heroes of the past and bring them into the present. Sadly and stupidly, we decided to center our entire project around one man, who turned out to be incredibly flawed himself…it was a stupid mistake that we have to face the music for and pay for.”
The American Futurist editors are right when they admit that the loss of Mason is “a blow” to them, though they are not the only ones. It will be one felt on numerous levels. Most obvious and fundamental is the loss of their ideological leader. Even though The American Futurist attempts to argue that Mason did not build the current neo-Nazi scene and can thus survive without him, the reality is that, to a large extent, it has turned to Mason for support and guidance.
In essence, The American Futurist is faced with the question so many are in this ‘cancel culture’ environment – to what extent can the artist be divorced from his art? Can Siege still be their North Star if Mason is not? The editors, at present, seem unsure. They claim that they will instead halt ordering any more batches of Siege, “return to our Ironmarch roots” and, “likely focus on other works.” Doing so leaves The American Futurist in a precarious position as a purveyor of unique, radicalising works. Mason produced a great deal for The American Futurist, from online pieces to a new edition of Siege. His name carried weight, enough arguably to draw readers to their site, wherein they could peruse other articles. They are now left without their ‘trophy’ author. The incidents also leave the group with egg on its face, which it acknowledges on numerous occasions in the post. “[It] was…a mistake to make this man such a centerpiece of our projects,” the post reads. The editors likewise lament not cutting ties with Mason sooner, and sinking so much effort into texts in which they claim they had little faith.
More than this, Mason was a means by which The American Futurist funded itself. The editors claim in the article that it only intends to sell off their few remaining copies of the fifth edition of Siege that they produced, published only one year ago. Selling Siege was lucrative for them. According to earlier posts, The American Futurist fundraised using Siege. Even though it always intended to publish a free digital version of a new edition, they asked for donations towards the printing costs of a new edition as well; having covered those costs within days, the group said it would put money from the campaign “towards site maintenance and other projects.” Their first drive for editions aimed to sell at least 100 copies, which they claimed would require some $1,000. In the end, copies of Siege sold for a steep price — $35 plus a blanket $10 for domestic shipping; to believe the group’s own figures, this price shows a high markup, allowing it to pocket a large sum. The American Futurist had also made plans for an exclusive release of a previously unknown Mason manuscript. Cutting ties with Mason thus cuts off revenue streams for The American Futurist, which they will likely struggle to compensate for in the immediate future.
Mason will also suffer in this split. He already found himself on precarious ground with some following his pro-Azov stand in the Russia-Ukraine War. Now, The American Futurist has aired out Mason’s alleged dirty laundry for all to see, from an affair to potential mental deterioration. They even struck out about his future, saying of his planned projects with his new publishing partner: “We have our doubts about his prospects.” The American Futurist is no small-time website. The group’s Telegram channel and Gab profile posted links to the declaration, and hundreds of people reacted. Further, the accelerationist scene is relatively small and tight-knit. Word travels fast, and this was certainly true in this instance. Twitter, Gab, Telegram, Reddit, etc were all abuzz with the news that Mason was not to be trusted and might be out of his mind. That said, this is far from Mason’s first brush with cancellation by neo-Nazis; in fact, he might best be likened to a cat with nine lives. A breakdown in his relationship with another publisher drove a wedge within the National Socialist movement in the mid-1970s, his embrace of Charles Manson led to his being ostracised in the 1980s, and his convictions for paedophilia drove him further into obscurity in the 1990s. Still, each time, he revived his reputation and crawled his way back into a position of power.
The ripple effects of this split have yet to be fully felt, by these and other parties. Beyond the potential for damage done to the parties immediately involved, the breakup throws the movement more broadly into chaos and counter-terrorism understandings of accelerationism with it. Whereas for years observers have relied on tracking Mason’s writings to understand the future of the violent neo-Nazi scene, this is likely no longer viable. Some will side with the American Futurist and others with Mason. The American Futurist’s proposed turn to other texts is vague at present and Mason’s alleged new writings have yet to come to light, meaning counter-terrorism experts cannot know what to anticipate as the next phase of neo-Nazi radicalisation efforts. Historically speaking, splits such as these have tended to inspire more aggressively-worded propaganda and redoubled efforts to encourage readers to engage in fatal violence, all while observers wait for the other shoe to drop. While we cannot know how exactly this new moment in neo-Nazim will look, what we do know is that the author of Siege is under siege, and the chaos that is ensuing will likely leave no one unscathed.
Dr Bethan Johnson is an Ernest May Fellow in History and Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, currently researching the contemporary far-right in Western nations, with a particular emphasis on extremism and terrorism.