A California man who is suspected of murdering Jewish college student Blaze Bernstein earlier this month was reportedly a devoted member of a militant neo-Nazi group.
Samuel Woodward, 20, is accused of stabbing his former high school classmate over 20 times before burying his body in a shallow grave in an Orange County park, where it was discovered over a week later.
California state prosecutors are increasing looking into whether Woodward murdered Bernstein, who was Jewish and openly gay, in a homophobic or white supremacist-motivated hate crime.
On Friday, the ProPublica news site reported that three of Woodward’s friends had come forward to shed light on his history of extremist activities, confirming that he was an active member in the Atomwaffen Division, an armed neo-Nazi group.
Another photo of Sam doing the Nazi salute next two other Atomwaffen Division members. pic.twitter.com/UTslL3Vx0C
— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) January 27, 2018
They said Woodward was an avowed neo-Nazi and a member of Atomwaffen Division since 2016, even attending several of the group’s events and training camps.
One three-day event Woodward attended in Texas involved training with firearms, hand-to-hand combat and wilderness survival skills.
Photos uploaded to social media obtained by ProPublica show Woodward and other members making the straight-armed Nazi salute at the training camp.
Social media posts showed that Woodward had previously described himself as a “Nazi,” or “National Socialist,” while one acquaintance described him to ProPublica as as “anti-Semitic as you can get.”
Authorities have said Bernstein went to a park with Woodward on January 2. His body was found in a shallow grave in the park a week later.
After Woodward was arrested, he told investigators he became angry after Bernstein kissed him that night.
The exact time and place of Bernstein’s killing remain under investigation. Investigators said Woodward had abrasions, scratches and dirt on his hands and was seen during surveillance cleaning his vehicle.
The district attorney also said Bernstein’s DNA was found on property held by Woodward but has not provided additional details.
They say they're non-violent yet their whole aesthetic & message is one of militancy. These photos for example don't exactly depict peaceful people. Note: AWD logo is the Atomic sign in the middle of the flag. On social media they often use the nuclear emoji to show allegiance. pic.twitter.com/088OE93o4t
— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) January 21, 2018
Woodward is set to be arraigned on February 2. He has not yet entered a plea with the Orange County court.
The 19-year-old Bernstein had been studying psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and was recently chosen to edit a campus culinary magazine.
Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil and his funeral.