Off Leash: Inside the Secret, Global, Far-Right Group Chat

Former President Trump’s campaign to return to the White House posed an even graver and more imminent threat to American democracy. It wasn’t Trump, per se, or his efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election that troubled the group, needless to say. The danger was that following his landslide victory this November, which was a foregone conclusion, the deep state would “steal it again,” just as it had four years ago, Yudelson posted. “I just hope and pray that they will not JFK Trump before the elections, physically, or with some of their other methods.”

Despite such trepidations, Congressman Zinke spoke for the group when he wrote, “There is only one path forward. Elect Trump.”

“It’s Trump or Revolution!” Yudelson chimed in from the chorus.

“You mean Trump AND Revolution,” a right-leaning Canadian businessman shot back. “The Left is too violent to sit back and let Trump win again.”

John Mills, a retired Army colonel who held a cybersecurity post at the Pentagon under Trump, was overcome with emotion when his hero appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. “Tears streamed down my face,” he wrote to the Off Leash group chat from the event. “DJT and the J6ers are in the house.”

The view that Trump represented a unique hope was shared by group chat members outside of the U.S. “He is the best thing … even in Africa,” offered N.J. Ayuk, a native of Cameroon who currently lives in Johannesburg, where he founded a law firm that assists clients with interests in the oil and gas sector. “Trump all the way 💯”

“I live in darkest west Africa,” posted Emma Priestley of GoldStone Resources Limited. The overall situation was such an irredeemable mess, Trump himself might not be able to “save this shithole of a continent.”

“Completely agree,” replied Ayuk, who once worked as an intern for the late New Jersey Democratic Congressman Donald Payne but was deported in 2007 after pleading guilty to using his boss’s stationery and signature stamp to illegally obtain visas to the U.S. for citizens of his home country. The Biden administration had been “a disaster” for Africa. “They only give us lectures and talk about renewables,” said Ayuk. “These latte liberators are actually the problem.”

That was a minor offense among the long litany of crimes Off Leash participants laid at Biden’s door. “Looks like the globalists are enabling this mass illegal immigration,” Yudelson, citing an article at Zerohedge, wrote in one post. “Surely with tremendous assistance from the Biden Regime.” But Biden was merely a figurehead controlled by “elements that are actually ruling for the Deep State,” he continued. The real problem was that Democrats had been “in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood and infiltrated by their proxies and agents, as well as Ayatollah sympathizers” ever since President Bill Clinton’s administration.

With the Democratic Party captured by Islamic terrorists, Marxists, globalists, and other foreign and domestic evildoers, the U.S. was “being destroyed from within,” warned Kasraie, whose fears were shared by many among the Off Leash crew.

“The insurgency within our country today is going to bite us,” said Scott Freeman, the CEO of a Virginia company called International Preparedness Associates, which designs “unique special programs” that help defend U.S. national security, friendly foreign governments, and private-sector interests, according to its website.

Many Off Leash participants were even less restrained. When a chat group participant posted a story that revealed JPMorgan Chase had hired General Mark Milley—whom Trump appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but clashed with during and after his presidency—as a senior adviser, Lara Logan went off the rails. “Milley is a piece of shit and a traitor and he deserves to burn in hell,” posted Logan, who holds a seat on the board of America’s Future, a conservative nonprofit chaired by Off Leash member and former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser for less than a month.

At a February 23 America’s Future event, Logan shared that she’d originally been skeptical of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which spread in far-right circles during the 2016 election and proposed that Hillary Clinton and other Democratic Party officials were running a child sex trafficking ring out of the pizzeria Comet Ping Pong. However, after conducting her own independent investigation, Logan told the audience at the event, she’d discovered, “Holy guacamole! This actually is all true.”

What, then, was to be done?

The answer was clear to Freeman, a.k.a. “ScottyF” in the group chat. “Apply all tenets of warfare internally against the many enemies living among us. America is capable of being fully capable again. Do we have the will to levy the toll?”

Jesse Barnett, a retired Navy SEAL specializing in “Active Shooter Prep … and Crisis Prevention” who ran the Indianapolis-based indoor shooting simulator Poseidon Experience, offered a harsh but necessary recipe. “We need a Nuremberg style clean up of this global cabal,” he proposed. “Only through accountability can we cleanse our spirits.” Once the cleansing was out of the way, security could be maintained by using “technology to identify sociopaths and keep them in their place.”

On the roster of Off Leash participants, there was one—a poster with the handle of “S,” whom it took me weeks to identify—who stood out as a particularly dark character. There were some in the group who expressed more unhinged views and others who more casually called for violence against their enemies; what made S distinctive was his dry, bloodless manner and businesslike espousal of a disciplined worldview that was unmistakably fascist.

“This is no longer politics, this is an open war against freedom and human nature. And wars aren’t won with more balloons and confetti as we know,” S wrote. “It’s no longer a ‘game’ either.… It is time to adapt strategies to reality and stop pretending that we live in a free democracy in the West.”

S was later revealed to be Sven von Storch, born to a German family that left for Chile after World War II, whose wife, Beatrix von Storch, is the granddaughter of Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, Hitler’s finance minister from 1933, the year he took power, until he killed himself in Berlin in April 1945, as Russian troops closed in on the bunker where he and the dregs of his loyalists were holed up. In his last will and testament, Hitler appointed von Krosigk to serve under Joseph Goebbels, his handpicked successor as chancellor, but since his minister of propaganda committed suicide the day after Hitler, von Krosigk became the Third Reich’s head of state during its final days. “Von Krosigk never wavered in his enthusiasm and labors for the Nazi cause,” prosecutor Alexander Hardy said during his trial at Nuremberg, where he was sentenced to 10 years for financing the concentration camps and other crimes.

Beatrix von Storch is a leader and Bundestag member with Alternative for Germany, arguably the most radical of Europe’s far-right parties, which calls for a crackdown on immigration into the country to protect its “Western Christian culture,” a variant of the “great replacement” theory espoused by white supremacists in the United States. Sven von Storch doesn’t hold elected office, but he’s considered to be a prominent figure in the AfD. An admirer of Steve Bannon, von Storch has close ties to Chile’s pro-Pinochet political bloc; he and his wife met with Jair Bolsonaro, the country’s former president, at the presidential palace in Brazil, and the latter’s powerful son Eduardo gave the couple a bottle of the first family’s brand wine as a gift.

“Law and justice no longer mean anything in the West,” von Storch wrote during the same conversation. “Stupid and naive people may still believe it. And probably not even them anymore.”

It’s not clear how many in the group knew S’s real identity, but he was clearly a pedigreed German fascist who even within the rarefied far-right ecosphere of Off Leash sat at a distinctly extreme end. No one seemed troubled by his views, and indeed von Storch was warmly embraced. “This is getting interesting,” Kazerooni wrote in response to his post. “Love this Group.”

Freeman was one of a number of group chat participants who, like the former psyops specialist Sloat, wanted to look for ways to implement their policy ideas. A group with so much “experience, accomplishments and resources” should look for a few issues we “might be able to influence together,” Freeman proposed. “Not to save the world or the idiots in the USA but rather a core of us or perhaps a broader group of like minds/patriots of some sort. 🤷‍♂️”

Reading the group chat’s conversations would be comical if it wasn’t so pitiful and disturbing in equal measure. Group members clearly regard themselves as natural elites who are more intelligent, virtuous, and honorable than Heinlein’s tired, poor, unwashed plebs.

Yet none of the four current and former members of Congress who are active in the group distinguished themselves as model public servants. In 2018, Zinke resigned as Trump’s secretary of the interior after an Inspector General’s report concluded he was a serial violator of ethics laws. Green withdrew his nomination to be Trump’s army secretary after being criticized, including by GOP John McCain, for past statements he’d made that called for his fellow citizens to “take a stand on the indoctrination of Islam in public schools” and labeled transgender people “evil.” Garrett resigned his House seat in 2018 after it was alleged he and his wife used his congressional staff to run errands, chauffeur their children, and clean up after their dog, though he denied those charges and cited alcoholism as the reason he had stepped down. Four staffers who worked on Taylor’s 2018 reelection campaign were subsequently indicted for election fraud, which he said he knew nothing about, but he lost that race and did again when he ran for his old seat two years later.

Even more farcical was the manner in which group chat members portrayed themselves as rightful guardians of democracy, even as they proposed employing military force against their unarmed domestic political opponents and rounding up members of the “global cabal” for trial at a Nuremberg-style tribunal. It’s blazingly evident that many in the group can’t even define democracy, and those who can don’t like it.

Dallas real estate developer Scott Hall informed the group he was moving his family to the UAE, which is ruled by an authoritarian monarchy, because “freedom is real” there. When President Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s first leftist president, was running for office two years ago, the rural oligarch Sergio Araujo Castro publicly declared that his employees “have the right to vote freely for whoever they want,” but he’d fire any who supported Petro. After protests against the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s assault on Gaza erupted at Stanford in January, Goldhorn wondered how it was legal that students who took part weren’t summarily expelled as they received benefits from the U.S. government, but “[wished] for its destruction,” which he evidently equated with criticism of its policies.

I sent messages seeking comment to Prince and the 29 participants whose comments in the group chat are cited in this story. Prince did not respond. Of the others, only Barnett, Jacobson, and Goldhorn were willing to be interviewed.

Barnett, who once worked for Blackwater, said participants in the group chat “love the country and want good solutions” and that he was not an ideologue and favored “checks and balances, and transparency.” A “centrist who leans libertarian” and Barack Obama voter in 2008, Barnett said the 9/11 attacks seven years earlier were an “inside job 100 percent,” and that they “woke me up” and triggered the political evolution that led to his current “conspiracy observationist perspective.”

Barnett said he was a Trump fan in part because “the establishment hates” the former president, adding that the Russiagate scandal that led to his first impeachment had been cooked up by Democrats as part of a politically motivated attack to drive him from office. (An opinion I share.) When I told Barnett his remarks about the need for a new Nuremberg tribunal sounded like a call for an attack of the same type but against enemies of the group chat, he said he didn’t favor a politically driven kangaroo court but envisioned a scrupulously fair judicial process that “truly enables our country to move forward,” which could be ensured by establishing panels with impartial experts such as journalist Matt Taibbi, psychologist and commentator Jordan Peterson, and others of similarly “high integrity” to help determine who would be prosecuted.

Jacobson also said his remarks in the group chat sounded harsher than he’d intended. Despite having been friendly with Netanyahu for many years, he said the Israeli prime minister and his government were “long past their expiry date,” and he considered the military attack on Gaza to be “a complete failure.” On Iran, Jacobson said he “loved Iranian culture, cuisine, and people” and noted that he’d spent time with Reza Pahlavi last week when the latter was in Toronto, where he lives.

“I hate the mullah’s regime,” Jacobson added, but “I’m not calling to go to war” but to help the domestic opposition bring the regime down by bombing Iranian oil infrastructure and related targets. About a month ago, he’d proposed that during an informal discussion with an unnamed Israeli official, telling his interlocutor that Iran’s missile strikes against Israel were “our opportunity to hit their oil facilities so they can’t make money to finance terrorism.” About Off Leash itself, Jacobson said, “I enjoy the banter of the group, but it’s not a political conspiracy.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Goldhorn, who told me he knows Prince “very tentatively,” replied when I paraphrased his remarks about dropping nuclear weapons on Gaza and regarding the Houthis. “I didn’t see anyone proposing or discussing such actions in the group, so I can’t really comment on these claims.” When I sent him the relevant excerpts, his memory was refreshed regarding the Houthis, though he said he was “referring to the naval threat mostly,” as the group was seeking to sink merchant ships. “I was not [referring] to the Yemenese [sic] people as a whole, only the military organization.” He continued to insist he’d “never suggested to nuke Gaza, which is a laughably dumb idea,” though I had excerpts of the respective conversations about both topics, which were faithfully recounted earlier, and the quotes from Goldhorn are verbatim.

Off Leash’s participants want a “democracy” where the “plebs” vote the way they want in every election and the government only approves their preferred policies, which would give them the absolute certainty they want that their outsize wealth, privileges, and influence will be protected. That’s not the way democracy works, it’s the way dictatorships do, which no doubt feels comfortable to group chat members who have thrived doing business with corrupt, repressive regimes and leaders, which is the way many met each other and Prince, and how they came to be part of Off Leash in the first place.

To paraphrase the assessment of Nazi officials made by the U.S. diplomat from Erik Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts, during ordinary times, people who hold such opinions would be receiving treatment somewhere. However, to continue with the analogy, many Off Leash participants currently hold powerful political roles or are intimate allies of those who do.

The key to expanding their influence, in the collective view of the group chat, and not only its American members, is a victory by Trump in the November election. “The freedom of the Western world is decided in the USA,” as von Storch put it. “As long as the USA lets the globalists do whatever they want, we patriots in the rest of the world can only try to maintain and survive our positions.”

Comparing the contemporary United States to Nazi Germany is an admittedly imprecise analogy. Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to be alarmed by the crypto-fascist, off the leash views expressed by Trump’s allies in the group chat about exterminating their foreign and domestic enemies and needing to “find the will to levy the toll.” However imprecise the comparison, as a model political capital, Berlin 1933 is far more compatible with the worldview of Off Leash participants than Washington 2024, and in the event they and like-minded associates gain power in the U.S. or elsewhere, they’ll be pushing backward in that general direction.

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Kim browne

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