Extremist neo-Nazi leader is a former Villanova student, N.J. resident, reports say

The head of an extremist neo-Nazi group under investigation by U.S. counterterrorism officials was revealed Friday to be a man with strong Philadelphia-area connections, including graduating from a prestigious New Jersey prep school and attending a Main Line university in the 1990s, according to the British newspaper the Guardian.

Rinaldo Nazzaro, 46, previously known by the aliases “Norman Spear” and “Roman Wolf,” is reportedly the founder of The Base, a white nationalist group formed in 2018, which has advocated for a race war and creation of a white ethnostate in the Pacific Northwest.

The Guardian, whose investigation relied partially on material provided by a whistleblower inside The Base, also reported that a Rinaldo Nazzaro is identified as a 1991 graduate of the Delbarton School, a Morristown, N.J., Catholic preparatory school.

“We can confirm that Rinaldo Nazzaro was a 1991 graduate of Delbarton School,” Anthony S. Cicatiello, a spokesperson for the school, said in a statement Friday. “He has donated to Delbarton in the past and we have no knowledge of his activities.”

A Villanova spokesperson told The Inquirer on Friday that a student named Ronald Nazzaro attended the university from 1991 to 1994, then withdrew before graduating. The student newspaper at the time listed him as a philosophy major.

We have been investigating the American founder of the US-based militant neo-Nazi group 'The Base'.

We located him in Russia.https://t.co/NCoJXM4fTI
— Daniel De Simone (@DdesimoneDaniel) January 24, 2020

Nazzaro could not be reached by The Inquirer on Friday afternoon, and did not respond to requests for comment from the Guardian and BBC. He has held an address in North Bergen, N.J., but is now believed to be living in Russia. A video posted online in March showed him in Russia wearing a T-shirt with the image of President Vladimir Putin and the words Russia, absolute power.

In court documents, U.S. law enforcement officials have described The Base as an extremist group that “seeks to accelerate the downfall of the United States government, incite a race war, and establish a white ethno-state.”

Seven members of the group were arrested this month on charges that included conspiracy to commit murder. Some allegedly discussed inciting violence at Monday’s gun-rights rally in Virginia in hopes of starting a civil war, authorities said.

The Inquirer reported in November that federal authorities arrested another man affiliated with The Base, Richard Tobin, of Camden County, for allegedly ordering the vandalism of synagogues in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Authorities said Tobin, 18, had envisioned the vandalized synagogues as part of a nationwide campaign he had dubbed “Operation Kristallnacht” — a reference to the organized ransacking of Jewish homes, schools, and hospitals by Nazi paramilitaries and civilians in Germany in 1938.

Court documents say Tobin admitted to his involvement in an online forum for white supremacists identified in court papers only as “Group 1.” Details from the affidavit correspond to The Base, which describes itself as a “white protection league” and shares manuals on carrying out lone-wolf terror tactics, bomb-making, chemical weapons, and guerrilla warfare.

Until Friday, however, Nazzaro’s true identity had been a mystery.

The BBC, which also published an investigation of Nazzaro, traced him and his Russian wife to a property in St. Petersburg that was purchased in July 2018. Nazzaro’s New Jersey address was used for an entity called “Base Global” that has purchased land in Washington state, the location for a planned “white homeland,” the BBC reported.

The Guardian was able to locate only one photograph of a man believed to be Nazzaro using his real name, from a question-of-the-day section in the Villanovan, the university’s student newspaper, in 1994. A source who had met “Norman Spear” in person told the newspaper he believes that the 1994 photo of Nazzaro is the same person he met.

The question in the campus newspaper was: “What woman in history do you admire most and why?”

Nazzaro’s answer: “Mary Magdalene, because she was the closest apostle to Jesus.”