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

Military contractor Erik Prince started a private WhatsApp group for his close associates that includes a menagerie of right-wing government officials, intelligence operatives, arms traffickers, and journalists. We got their messages.

Illustration by Mel Haasch

In his book In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, Erik Larson cites a cable sent to the State Department in June 1933 by a U.S. diplomat posted in Germany that provided a far more candid assessment of the Nazi leadership than the one that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration was then conveying to the public. “With few exceptions, the men who are running this Government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand,” read the cable, which was written five months after Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor. “Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.”

I’ve thought about that passage from the cable many times over the past several weeks as I’ve been reading excerpts from a private WhatsApp group chat established last December by Erik Prince, the founder of the military contractor Blackwater and younger brother of Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education during President Donald Trump’s administration, who invited around 650 of his contacts in the United States and around the world to join. Prince, who has a long track record of financing conservative candidates and causes and extensive ties to right-wing regimes around the world, named the group—which currently has around 400 members—“Off Leash,” the same name as the new podcast that he’d launched the month before.

Among the group’s hottest topics:

• The “Biden Regime,” which a consensus of Off Leash participants who weighed in view as an ally of Islamic terrorists and other anti-American forces that needs to be crushed along with them and its partners in the deep state, such as former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, who “deserves to burn in hell,” Lara Logan shared with the group chat.

• The shortcomings of democracy that invariably resulted from extending the franchise to ordinary citizens, who are easily manipulated by Marxists and populists. “The West is at best a beautiful cemetery,” lamented Sven von Storch, whose aristocratic German family fled the country after World War II to Chile, where their son was raised before returning to the land of his ancestors, where he married the granddaughter of the Third Reich’s last de facto head of state, who was convicted at Nuremberg.

• Israel-Palestine, a problem that Michael Yudelson, Prince’s business partner at Unplugged, which markets an allegedly supersecure smartphone, said should be handled by napalming Hamas’s tunnel network. “I would burn all those bastards, and have everything above ground, everything left of Gaza, collapse into this fiery hell pit and burn!” he wrote.

• The Houthi rebels in Yemen, whom Yoav Goldhorn, who was an Israeli intelligence officer until last year and now works for a Tel Aviv–based security contractor headed by former senior national security veterans, thinks should be “dealt with” as soon as possible to ensure they don’t grow from “an inconvenience to a festering mess [that] will eventually require an entire limb to be amputated.”

And most of all, Iran, which participants agreed, with a few exceptions, also needed to be wiped out. Saghar Erica Kasraie, a former staffer for Republican Representative Trent Franks when he served on the House Armed Services Committee and whom, according to her LinkedIn profile, she advised on Middle East issues, urged that the Islamic Republic’s clerical leaders be targeted by weaponized drones that “take them out like flys 😎.”

Not all of the group’s members are conspiracy theorists in the mold of Logan, the former CBS correspondent. I know many people who are in roughly the same political ballpark as the average Off Leash participant, including some of the chat group’s members, who are razor-sharp, even if I strongly disagree with a lot of their opinions. I don’t know Prince other than having been in the same room with him on a few occasions, but we have mutual acquaintances who say he’s not a one-dimensional evil mercenary as typically portrayed but brilliant and funny, and over drinks greatly prefers to discuss business and history rather than expound upon the latest developments in right-wing political circles.

Frank Gallagher, a former Marine who once provided security for Henry Kissinger and who worked in a high-level position at Blackwater in Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, isn’t a fan of Prince but offered a similar assessment. “We had issues from time to time, but I can’t deny that he’s extraordinarily smart,” he recounted. “When he came to Iraq, he’d cover 10 topics, and he had command over all of them.”

All of which makes Off Leash arguably more concerning, because the group can’t be dismissed as merely a collection of harmless cranks. Many of the participants, though not all household names, are wealthy and politically wired—which makes their incessant whining in the group chat about being crushed under the bootheel of the deep state particularly grating—and they will collectively become wealthier and more influential if Trump wins the November election. That’s especially true of the Americans in the group, but the same holds for the international figures because the global right will become immensely more powerful and emboldened if the former president returns to the White House. That prospect is a source of great hope to Off Leash participants. “Trump, Orban, Milei, it’s happening,” former Blackwater executive John LaDelfa posted to the group during a trip to Argentina on December 4, two days after Prince created it. “Around the Globe, we are the sensible, the rational, the majority. Don’t give in to fear. We will defeat the Marxists.”

His hopes were shared by many other Off Leash participants, among them Horatiu Potra, a Romanian mercenary who has recently been operating in the mineral-rich, conflict-plagued Democratic Republic of Congo. “The globalists want to control the entire planet [and] the only chance to get rid of them is a spark from a great power (the USA),” Potra wrote. “Surely there will be a strong man like Erik who will initiate it, otherwise there is no chance of regaining our freedom. If this spark is started, all countries will follow suit.… We were waiting for the signal, the spark!!”

A December 2023 United Nations report alleged that Potra owns a company that has provided combat support and fighters to Congolese government troops fighting a vicious rebel insurgency. Prince unsuccessfully sought to negotiate a deal with the DRC government to fly 2,500 mercenaries from Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico into the country to fight alongside Potra’s men, the report said.

About three-quarters of the people Prince invited to the group chat are from the U.S. or live here. The largest overseas blocs are from Israel (32 members), the United Arab Emirates (20 members), and the United Kingdom (20). There are smaller contingents, sometimes a single person, from 33 other countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Collectively, Off Leash provides an informal virtual gathering place for current and former political officials, national security operatives, activists, journalists, soldiers of fortune, weapons brokers, black bag operators, grifters, convicted criminals, and other elements in the U.S. and global far right. The roster of invitees includes:

Icons of the MAGA ecosphere such as Tucker Carlson, the most revered figure among group chat participants, with the exception of the Supreme Leader himself; Kimberly Guilfoyle, the longtime fiancée of Donald Trump Jr.; and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s convicted-then-pardoned first national security adviser. Flynn has participated, Carlson only minimally, and Guilfoyle not at all.

Current and former lawmakers and aides, such as Tennessee Congressman Mark Green of the House Freedom Caucus; Vish Burra, who was director of operations for Congressman George Santos; and Stuart Seldowitz, a national security adviser to Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011 who was arrested last November after harassing an Egyptian halal street cart vendor in New York City for two weeks, during which time he called him a “terrorist” and said, “If we killed 4,000 Palestinian kids, it wasn’t enough.”

Prominent figures in the Off Leash crew are well known for their paleoconservative political views, but the private opinions expressed in the group chat are even more extreme and jarring than we normally see voiced publicly. Participants chirpily discussed the desirability of clamping down on democracy to deal with their enemies at home and regime change, bombings, assassinations, and covert action to take care of those abroad. The group’s overall bloodlust periodically proved to be too much for a few more judicious individual members, who in almost any other setting would be considered ultraconservatives but in the context of Off Leash sound like hippie peaceniks‎. One of the dissidents—a National Rifle Association firearms instructor who runs a weapons company—joked that he was worried about an “unsupervised” subgroup of especially enthusiastic military adventurers that formed to discuss topics too “hot” for WhatsApp, saying, “I imagine their ‘to be bombed’ list is over 49 countries and growing.”

Many other Off Leash participants have also stated that they don’t view the group chat as merely a forum to exchange ideas but want it to become a vehicle to put their theories into action. “If we band together … we can damage the other side like no one has ever seen before!” exclaimed Jeff Sloat, who worked with a U.S. Army psyops unit in Central America during the Reagan era.

I don’t want to disclose much about how I learned of the group chat and the nature of its discussions, but I will say that multiple sources in the U.S. and elsewhere shared information, including two journalists who I discovered had learned about Off Leash, which nearly gave me a heart attack for fear I’d lose my scoop. Participants did occasionally express concerns about security, but their worries were mostly centered on the possibility that their conversation was vulnerable to hackers. It apparently never occurred to any of them that their confidentiality might be compromised not by sophisticated cyberwarfare specialists but by old-fashioned leakers, which was virtually inevitable given the group’s size.

Off Leash was still active as of Wednesday, though I expect it won’t be, at least in its current form, for much longer, given that the conversation Wednesday included much discussion about their security being breached, which became evident after I reached out to participants for comment. Fortunately, I obtained details about a large slice of the chat group’s discussions over the past six months. Here’s some of what they discussed.

Solving the Middle East Crisis: Nukes, Napalm, and Other “Extreme Measures”

Off Leash was launched less than two months after Israel commenced its assault on Gaza following Hamas’s deadly October 7 attack on Israel, and that topic has been one of the group chat’s main concerns since it was established by Prince on December 2. Five days later, Omer Laviv, an executive with the Mer Group, a private security company with many former Israeli intelligence officials in its senior ranks, posted a story to the group that ran two days earlier in The Times of London and reported Prince had been seeking to sell the Israel Defense Forces equipment for a plan he’d devised to flood Hamas tunnels with seawater.

“I was involved,” remarked Moti Kahana, the Israeli American businessman who runs GDC, the firm where Off Leash member Stuart Seldowitz previously worked. Kahana pointedly added that at least one part of The Times’ story was false—for example, Prince had offered to donate the equipment, not sell it, he said.

“Why do you expect accuracy from journalists?” retorted Laviv, who during the Trump administration retained 27 U.S. lobbyists and consultants to run a $9.5 million lobbying campaign on behalf of President Joseph Kabila, the corrupt, brutal leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who used surveillance equipment supplied by the Mer Group to monitor his regime’s opponents. Among those Laviv involved were Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former personal lawyer, fixer, and dirt-digger, and Robert Stryk, whose clients have included Saudi Arabia and El Salvador’s state intelligence agency under crypto-fascist President Nayib Bukele.

Yudelson, who also reportedly partnered with Prince in an attempt to buy weapons for resale from Belarus dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko (whom the two men praised for bringing “peace, stability, and prosperity to your country”), predicted the tunnel-flooding proposal would be shot down by the “Israeli left,” a force he labeled the country’s “biggest enemy,” ahead of Hamas and Iran, over concerns about the environmental impact in Gaza. “Who gives a shit about that,” Yudelson posted to the group. “If it was up to me … I would flood them with Napalm! I would burn all those bastards, and have everything above ground, everything left of Gaza, collapse into this fiery hell pit and burn!”

Even that was deemed to be insufficiently hawkish for some Off Leash participants. In a lengthy tirade on February 14, Tzvi Lev, who formerly worked in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said it was rare to see a people as “twisted” as Palestinians, whose culture “worships death and bloodshed.” The only solution, he wrote, was to “completely uproot the radical Islamic Palestinian nationalism,” which was possible to do based on the historical precedent of Japan, which “went from being nuked twice to one of the world’s strongest economies within two decades.” Dropping nuclear weapons on what’s left of densely populated Gaza, which is roughly the size of Detroit, would be a war crime and kill huge numbers of civilians.

Yoav Goldhorn, the former Israeli intelligence officer, also cited “fucking nukes in Japan” as an appropriate remedy to the Palestinian problem. Sadly, wrote Goldhorn, whose LinkedIn profile says he has “a passion for strategic planning,” there was no one in the Israeli government with “the balls nor vision to go all those extra miles.”

Iran: Off Leash’s Public Enemy No. 1

It was hard to keep track of all the wars, invasions, covert operations, coups, and assassinations Off Leash members favored. One region ripe for a bit of good old-fashioned Western intervention was Africa, which was described as a “pot about to boil over” by Emma Priestley, who posts as “Customer” in the group chat and is the CEO of GoldStone Resources Limited in Jersey, the English Channel island that is one of the world’s most popular offshore secrecy havens. China would have to be taken down a peg as well, particularly as Biden wasn’t going to stop the country “from doing a damn thing,” and indeed he would pave the way for it to do “whatever it is they want to accomplish,” posted Randy Couture, the former UFC heavyweight champion and actor who had the role of arsonist and killer Jason Duclair in the TV series Hawaii Five-0 and starred in the 2011 movie Setup with 50 Cent and Bruce Willis.

But the No. 1 target on Off Leash’s hit list, by orders of magnitude, was Iran. “Follow the source of evil,” wrote Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, who served as interior secretary under Trump. “Hamas. Hezbollah. Houthis. Iran is the center of gravity.”

“Zinke is right,” agreed Tennessee Congressman Mark Green of the House Freedom Caucus.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels were most immediately in the group’s crosshairs, due to their attempts to halt arms shipments to Israel. Finishing them off would be a cakewalk, but time was of the essence as the Houthis were “relatively limited in strength” at the moment but could become a major problem if swift action wasn’t taken, wrote Yoav Goldhorn, a former Israeli intelligence operative.

To Goldhorn’s way of thinking, the Houthis were best compared to “rot [that] stinks a lot more than the flesh it ate”:

As we’ve seen countless times in the Middle East, if you don’t treat rot it will grow and spread and turn from an inconvenience to a festering mess, and will eventually require an entire limb to be amputated. The Houthi threat has to be dealt with now, while they’re still relatively limited in strength. Otherwise it’ll become a problem too big to handle without extreme measures, or worse yet—remain a problem for future generations to come.

As for moving against Iran itself, the leading cheerleader in the group chat for military action is Kasraie, who worked for Representative Franks of Arizona until 2017, when he resigned amid charges of sexual harassment by two female staffers. “The IRGC is the head of the snake,” Kasraie wrote in one post, referring to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “It’s time to cut the head of that snake.”

An Iranian American who converted to Christianity after her family moved to the U.S. following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Kasraie has worked closely with fellow exile Amir Abbas Fakhravar, the co-founder of the Confederation of Iranian Students, which claimed to represent a worldwide pro-Western movement in support of domestic opponents of the Islamic government.

Fakhravar was hailed by the neoconservative think tanks American Enterprise Institute and Foundation for Defense of Democracies—which were leading advocates of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and are currently leading the drumbeat for regime change in Iran—as his country’s 2.0 version of Ahmed Chalabi, the CIA-backed Iraqi exile whom the Bush administration promoted as a beloved figure among citizens of his native land during the run-up to the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. That didn’t pan out as promised when Chalabi 1.0 led a political coalition in parliamentary elections two years after his triumphant return that won less than 1 percent of the total vote.

Now Kasraie, who organizes congressionally hosted “global conferences in Washington for activists to plan the constitutional future of a free, democratic Iran,” according to an online bio, is touting Reza Pahlavi, the shah’s oldest son and crown prince of Iran, as “the only viable opposition leader” and the man the U.S. should install in power after seeing to the formality of dispatching the current government.

“I assure you, the Iranian people want nothing more than to be free from the bloodthirsty mullahs,” Kasraie wrote in the group chat on January 27, and added with equal certainty that younger Iranians were “pro-Israel and pro-America” and that millions in the country felt a deep “sense of nostalgia” for the former royal dynasty. If Reza Pahlavi received strong international support—he would merely be a “mouthpiece” to be handled by a team of “good advisors,” Kasraie stated—the internal opposition “would be much more inclined to rise up and we would see far more defectors.”

For his part, Reza Pahlavi, who hasn’t stepped foot in Iran for 45 years and lives in a lavish estate in the Washington suburbs, said in an interview last year he wasn’t sure he wanted to have an official role in a future government if the current one was overthrown, or even live in the country. This didn’t dampen the ardor of Kasraie, who in one post labeled the mullahs a “cancerous venom that need to be eradicated from … the planet,” with her preferred method to accomplish that being weaponized drones that would “take them out like flys 😎.”

That type of approach was endorsed by others in the group, including Gabriel “Kaz” Kazerooni, a former U.S. intelligence officer, Special Forces veteran, and Blackwater employee in Iraq, who described Iran’s religious leaders as “pedofile [sic] Mullahs” and a “bacteria to humanity” who he hoped would soon “die away.”

“EP [Erik Prince] has the right people in place,” Kazerooni added cryptically, saying it was only a matter of time before the “Mullah Pigs” would be removed from power.

Washington should “take out” the commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force that replaced Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a 2020 operation ordered by President Trump, Lara Logan said. Prince had urged he be targeted for killing four years earlier, when he was informally advising the Trump campaign, in a memo to White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Logan proposed the U.S. also assassinate other “key targets” in the Middle East, specifically mentioning “the head of Hamas,” whose name she didn’t mention, but she presumably was talking about Mohammed Deif, who leads the group’s military wing. “That will send a message,” she said.

Nathan Jacobson, a 69-year-old Canadian Israeli businessman who told The New Republic he is a longtime friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and fought with the IDF as a young man, had a more ambitious proposal. In order to topple the Islamic regime, he said blithely, “We need to hit” Iran’s nuclear facilities, ports, Qom, where the mullahs reside, IRGC headquarters and bases, and oil industry production facilities, which would shut down the country’s economy for months.

The calls for carnage elicited pushback from two Off Leash members. “The problem is while doing nothing could empower them, bombing might empower them more,” warned Mark Farage, who owns a firearms and ammunition manufacturer in Virginia and made the joke about the “unsupervised” subgroup’s ever-growing list of countries they wanted to be targeted for airstrikes. “I don’t think we have successfully bombed anyone into an ally since WWII.… Maybe we should consider more tools than just a hammer?”

“Huge mistake to attack Iran directly,” concurred Matt Heidt, a Special Forces veteran who deployed to Africa, South America, and Asia, including a 2007 stint in Iraq’s Anbar Province. “We would be inviting 10/7 here.”

Jacobson was infuriated by the criticism of his blueprint for war.

“We don’t want them as an ally,” he said in a comment directed at Farage. “Let them spend their time stoned on qat and screwing their sheep.”

He was even more contemptuous of Heidt’s opinions. “You remind me of the Jews in Germany in the 30’s that thought that by being quiet that the problem would go away,” he sneered. “We have no choice but to hit them hard and then kill these cells if they raise their ugly heads. Why are you taking a coward’s standpoint?”

“So you’re going to waddle your fat ass over there and put some skin in the game or are you content to put others at risk?” retorted Heidt.

“Unlike you, I’ve had skin in that game for years,” said Jacobson, who served in the IDF in the 1970s. “What have you done?”

“Retired SEAL Senior Chief with a Bronze Star with V,” shot back Heidt. Bronze Stars are awarded for heroism in a combat zone, and are not uncommon, but a Bronze Star with V, for Valor, are relatively rare.

Those in Off Leash’s overwhelmingly dominant hard-line faction were having none of the namby-pamby defeatism from Heidt and Farage.

“Bomb the hell out of them,” Kazerooni insisted. “Mess with US and you will eat your Sh_t. We the United States Of America is still the strongest Country in the world.”

More recently, the Off Leash crew has been in a chronic state of agitation over political developments that have led them to further ratchet up their calls for jihad against their worldwide enemies. In mid-April, after Tehran fired missiles into Israel in retaliation for an airstrike in Syria that killed two of its generals in a diplomatic building, Sloat, the psyops specialist, excitedly declared it was “time to disintegrate Iran.” In May, their fury turned to Biden’s brief pause in arms shipments to Israel, though none were surprised by the president’s treachery, as his “Regime is infiltrated by Muslim Brotherhood” (Yudelson) and “compromised … by Iranian regime influencers” (Zinke).

The group finally got good news recently with the helicopter crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, though nerves frayed as they awaited confirmation he was dead. If he’d tragically survived, wondered Tzvi Lev, perhaps it would be possible to dispatch a Special Forces search and rescue unit to “disappear” him before he was found.

The Future of American Democracy: “It’s Trump or Revolution!”

Even more worrying to group chat members than the state of global affairs was that democracy was under attack across the world, especially in the West and most of all in the U.S. They blamed the same barbarians at the gate science fiction writer Robert Heinlein pointed to in To Sail Beyond the Sunset, which was published in 1987, the year before his death. “Democracy often works beautifully at first,” but the day the franchise is extended “to every warm body … marks the beginning of the end of that state,” Heinlein wrote. “For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition … succumbs to an invader—the barbarians enter Rome.” The passage about bread and circuses was posted in its entirety on February 16 by former Virginia Congressman Tom Garrett, who offered it as an explanation for why democratic governance made it impossible to address the problems facing the United States.

“Definitely an issue,” agreed Scott Taylor, another former House member from Virginia, and Republicans were responsible as well. Too many GOP lawmakers campaigned as principled opponents of government spending, Taylor wrote on the list, but were “more concerned about their individual selves then actually advancing conservative policy” and chased federal money for their home districts like common Democrats in hopes of currying favor with their pleb constituents.

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.