Image: Vimeo

Speculation as to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz’s motivations began late yesterday as Instagram accounts and YouTube comments believed to be associated with him surfaced. Today the leader of a white nationalist fringe group claimed that Cruz was a member, and that his group had given Cruz training.

The Republic of Florida, as they’re called, are “a white civil rights organization fighting for white Identitarian politics, And (sic) the ultimate creation of a white ethnostate,” according to its website. The group—which is explicitly homophobic and antisemitic—encouraged its members to undergo “paramilitary training,” purchase knifes and firearms, and pledge their “willingness to wage battle.” In a since-deleted video uploaded by the group’s leader, Jordan Jereb, a masked man stands in front of a Republic of Florida banner and claims that “we’ve made rapid advancements in the stockpile of many supplies—not just food—and I’ll let you use your imagination.”

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Jereb himself appear to have loose ties to the Traditionalist Worker Party, another ethno-nationalist fringe group you may recall from a controversial New York Times profile. That group’s leader, Matthew Heimbach, appears alongside Jereb in a YouTube video as both prepare for a League of the South conference.

Screenshot: RoF

Like similar groups, the Republic of Florida has attempted to leverage the internet’s attention economy. A section of their website proclaims “Stop Arguing With Liberals, Just Spread Memes,” while another affirms the importance of “[throwing] the communists out helicopters”—a far-right meme referencing the brutal executions performed under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet which has cropped up regularly on Reddit’s r/the_donald and 4chan’s /pol/ board.

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Among the videos posted to Jereb’s channels were a Nazi punk song titled “I am the Revenge,” and a rap originally written by a flat Earther about the heroism of Adolf Hitler.

The RoF elsewhere devoted a full page to a single infographic outlining the difference between “alpha” and “beta” males, an invented dichotomy with no basis in fact or science that many of the hysterical far-right alternately cling to for validation, and wield as an insult to political opponents. Among the supposed “alpha” traits encouraged by the RoF are “social” and “viewed as a leader,” attributes testimony from former classmates of Cruz suggest did not apply to him.

Screenshot: RoF

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It seems the normie-level memes and poor attempts to offend did little to raise the notoriety the RoF clearly craved. In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center noted:

Jereb was a weird character even in the extremist underworld to which he so badly wanted to belong. While almost every neo-Nazi, militiaman, nativist and racist despises the Intelligence Report, Jereb wanted desperately to be mentioned in these pages. He flooded us with pleas for attention.

Jereb himself was previously most famous for threatening a staffer who worked under Governor Rick Scott over an alleged debt of $60. “You don’t mess with me and you don’t mess with the R.O.F.,” he said in one of the three voicemails he left for the staffer, Tallahassee.com reported at the time. Jereb also racked up counts of burglary, property damage, and trespassing on school grounds.

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There is, of course, a non-zero chance that the RoF would try to claim a school shooter as one of their own for greater infamy—going so far as admitting a group member purchased a gun on Cruz’s behalf—but classmates told ABC News that Cruz was a member of the group and was seen with Jereb.

It’s easy to dismiss these materials as the inept internet antics of a floundering, attention-starved white nationalist, but the actions of the RoF’s young recruit speak for themselves. Gunshots rang out at a Florida high school on Wednesday, and when the chaos was over, at least 17 people were dead.

Update 2/15/18 5:27pm ET: Speaking to the Tallahassee Democrat, Leon County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Grady Jordan said that, “We are still doing some work but we have no known ties between the ROF, Jordan Jereb or the Broward shooter.” This story has been updated to clarify that a link has not yet been verified by authorities.

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Update 2/15/18 5:53pm ET: Jereb appears to be walking back his claims via alternative social network Gab:

Correction: This article’s previous headline stated that white nationalist group Republic of Florida was “tied” to the Florida school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, based on statements the group’s leader, Jordan Jereb, gave to multiple media outlets, as well as first-hand confirmations given to ABC by former classmates. Jereb has now walked back his claims. There is currently no other known evidence that Cruz was affiliated with the Republic of Florida. The headline has been updated to reflect the new information. We regret the error.

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