’48 Hours’ Looks at the Poison Roots in the Tree of Life Massacre
One of the few things that could further worsen the unspeakable recent murders at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue would be an indication it was not a totally isolated incident.
Saturday’s 48 Hours, airing at 10 p.m. ET on CBS, raises that disturbing specter with a chilling report on three other killings fueled by, among other things, extreme anti-Semitism.
Correspondent Tracy Smith hosts the hour-long report, which is largely built around a poignant interview with the parents of Blaze Bernstein, a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student who was brutally stabbed to death during a holiday visit to his Southern California home.
Sam Woodward, a former classmate of Blaze Bernstein, has been arrested and charged with a hate crime murder. If convicted, he faces life without parole.
Woodward, the 48 Hours report concludes beyond doubt, was an active member of a group called Atomwaffen Division, which is rough German for atomic bomb.
Its website proudly declares its ideology to be neo-Nazi and its discussions focus on all the groups it feels need to be exterminated, starting with Jews and gays.
Blaze Bernstein was both.
Blaze is also described by friends as exceptionally bright, sociable and artistic.
His only loose connection to Woodward was that they attended the same Orange County arts school several years earlier, before Woodward transferred to a regular school.
Before Blaze was killed, Woodward had placed posts on social media suggesting he was available for a gay hookup. On the night of the murder, Blaze had responded to one of those posts. He left the house and was never seen alive again.
It’s unclear whether Woodward posted those come-ons as a lure or whether he was gay himself.
What’s quite clear is that Woodward an active member of Atomwaffen Division, attending weekend quasi-training sessions, wearing its bizarre facemasks and uniforms and giving the Nazi salute.
Smith’s report suggests Atomwaffen Division’s membership is tiny. But because its website offers continuous reinforcement and a sense of a like-minded community to those fascinated with its ideology, it could help push a few unhinged people like Bernstein’s murderer — or the Pittsburgh temple killer — to move past words into deeds.
After the Bernstein murder, posts on the Atomwaffen Division site celebrated the perpetrator as a man of action.
Smith’s interviews with Bernstein’s parents trace his disappearance, the seven-day hunt for his whereabouts and the aftermath of his death, which includes the formation of a group called BlazeItForward that promotes tolerance.
The second, shorter and no less unsettling segment of 48 Hours recounts the case of Nicholas Giampa, a Virginia teen who was also a frequent visitor to Atomwaffen Division’s website.
Because Nick had always been an introverted kid who had learning difficulties and few friends, his mother was delighted when he found a girlfriend.
Then the girlfriend’s parents, Scott and Buckley Kuhn-Fricker, found some of his postings and neo-Nazi material and convinced their daughter to break up with him.
Shortly thereafter the Kuhn-Frickers were shot to death in their home. Nicholas Giampa was there, with a gun he used to critically wound himself.
Smith doesn’t spend much time tying these two cases into any wider neo-Nazi movement, instead letting the horror of the crimes themselves make her points. She does interview a couple of experts who suggest that we need a zero-tolerance policy for generic hatred of Jews, gays, blacks, immigrants or any other group.
The alternative, by implication, is more stories like Blaze Bernstein, Scott and Buckley Kuhn-Fricker or the Tree of Life synagogue.