Orange County, CA, August 2, 2018 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today welcomed the decision to bring a hate crime charge against Samuel Woodward, the man previously charged with the killing of his former high school classmate, Blaze Bernstein.
Woodward also faces felony murder charges in connection with the death of Bernstein, whose body was found in a shallow grave in Orange County in January with more than 20 stab wounds.
According to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Woodward, who had pleaded not guilty to the murder, allegedly targeted Bernstein because of his sexual orientation.
“We welcome the decision to bring hate crime charges against Samuel Woodward, who is believed to have had ties with a neo-Nazi group that celebrates violence and hatred,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “This case is a stark reminder of how white supremacist organizations sweep up young recruits into their violent and hateful culture, with potentially deadly consequences. The hate crime enhancement sends a strong message that there are severe penalties for violent crimes motivated by hate.”
“Blaze’s horrific murder devastated the entire community. The hate crime charge, which is appropriate given the evidence presented by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, illuminates the hateful motives of the alleged killer,” said Peter Levi, ADL Orange County Regional Director. “We applaud District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and local law enforcement for recognizing this senseless murder as a hate crime and the deep impact of hate violence on the community.”
For a time, Woodward allegedly was tied to Atomwaffen, a small neo-Nazi group whose members see themselves as soldiers preparing for an impending race war. Law enforcement authorities have indicated that Woodward’s social media posts included racist and white nationalist sentiments.
According to ADL’s Center on Extremism, Atomwaffen — German for “atomic weapon” — cells have been reported in multiple states, including Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. The group’s propaganda often promotes violence against minority communities, including LGBT people, Jews, Muslims, and African Americans.