LONDON — Charges laid against a U.S. Army soldier linked to a satanic neo-Nazi group founded in Britain have led to renewed calls among anti-racism campaigners to ban the far-right extremist organization.
A federal grand jury handed up Army Pvt. Ethan Phelan Melzer, 22, of Louisville, Kentucky, federal attempted murder charges Monday for allegedly passing along information about his unit's planned deployment overseas with the intention to get extremist groups to attack it.
The group Melzer reportedly delivered the information to is the Order of Nine Angles (O9A), a fringe far-right extremist group that incites violence by spreading its ideology, particularly online.
The case "should be a wake-up call to the authorities," said a spokesman for Hope Not Hate, a British anti-racism and anti-fascism advocacy group that has been calling to have the Order of Nine Angles proscribed under terrorism laws in the United Kingdom.
"It's incumbent on the authorities to act before a terrorist act happens," Matthew McGregor, campaign director for Hope Not Hate, said. "We can't wait until one of these people slips through the net."
The Home Office, the British government department that handles domestic policy, currently does not name the O9A in its list of banned terrorist organizations. Anyone who joins or invites support for listed organizations can face criminal charges.
The Home Office would not comment on whether specific groups are being considered for a ban, a spokesperson said Tuesday.
A group can be banned under the U.K.'s anti-terror laws if it "commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism."
The O9A was probably established in the 1960s and centered on an ideology of white supremacy and anti-Semitism that demands society to be overthrown by violence, and encourages its followers to engage in extreme violence such as murder and rape, according to Hope Not Hate.
The scope of its membership and influence is unclear, according to Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm and NBC News consultant.
A Flashpoint analyst who asked not to be named for security reasons said that for comparison, even at its peak in popularity, Atomwaffen Division, one of the most infamous far-right networks to emerge in recent years, likely did not exceed 80 full-fledged members.
While the O9A used to share its propaganda through books written by its members, more recently it has used the internet and social media to reach more people, said Patrik Hermansson, a researcher on far-right extremism for Hope Not Hate.
Its members — who are predominantly young men — aim to share the vilest, most extreme messages and images of hate, according to Hermansson. "It's very much about kind of shock factor," he said.
By using platforms including the messaging app Telegram and, to a lesser extent, Instagram, the O9A is reaching younger men, including teens, in countries around the world, he said.
In November, the trial of the youngest person in Britain to be convicted of plotting a terror attack at the age of 14, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was revealed to have been influenced by the O9A and other far-right groups.
The O9A doesn't have a classic organizational structure with a leader and set members, Hermansson explained. Instead, it consists of an array of smaller chapters while the administrators behind larger chat forums and social media accounts appear to switch hands frequently.
"They operate in the shadows, they don't operate overtly. They've not left the kind of footprint that other organizations do," McGregor said.
But there have been several cases in recent years of far-right extremists arrested by police who were discovered to have O9A materials in their homes, McGregor added. "This isn't just words on a screen."
The ideologies of O9A may also be influencing other far-right groups, including the U.S.-based neo-Nazi network Atomwaffen Division, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, with its literature being shared among its members.
O9A's infiltration of Atomwaffen Division in 2017 led to the splintering of the group with some members going on to establish new organizations, according to Flashpoint analysts.
In March, Hope Not Hate delivered an open letter — signed by members of Parliament across the political spectrum — to the U.K.'s home secretary calling for O9A to be banned.
The calls were also echoed by the Jewish Labour Movement — a group representing the Jewish community within Britain's opposition Labour Party.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who leads a parliamentary committee on home affairs, also called on the government to immediately review the O9A for its terrorist list.
"The combination of Nazi-Satanism, extreme violence and sexual abuse makes it particularly troubling and action needs to be taken to prevent them grooming and radicalizing other people," she told the BBC in March.
The British government has said the threat from right-wing terrorism is growing and most recently in February banned the group Sonnenkrieg Division — a year after two of its members were jailed for encouraging an attack on Prince Harry, whom they referred to as a race traitor for marrying Meghan Markle.