Leader of veterans group targeting neo-Nazis set to speak at UNL

Task Force Butler aims to erode the influence of white supremacists

By: - November 13, 2023 7:27 pm

The online promotion for a visit to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln by Kristofer Goldsmith, founder of Task Force Butler, a group of veterans that push back against white supremacist movements. (Courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

LINCOLN — The leader of a veterans group that works to undermine white supremacist organizations and their influence on politics and members of the military is visiting the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Tuesday Nov. 14 for a lecture.

Kristofer Goldsmith, an Iraq War veteran and former Army sergeant, told the Nebraska Examiner that his goal in speaking to the Harris Center for Judaic Studies is to help people learn what they can do to fight back.

Lecture details

Goldsmith’s discussion is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Swanson Auditorium in the Nebraska Union. The event is open to the public.

He doesn’t expect every mom-and-pop Nebraskan or every college student to join an organization like his Task Force Butler, which identifies neo-Nazi groups such as the Patriot Front and helps law enforcement agencies prosecute them using open-source investigations. 

But the Sept. 11 ethos of “see something, say something” can be applied in the fight against supremacists, too, Goldsmith said. The group created a checklist for how to help, including ways to document and report property damage and assaults to the FBI.

Extremist threat

The threat is real, he and others studying extremist movements say. Modern white supremacists take Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and Mussolini’s writings and “apply an Instagram filter to them.” He said such groups create new “climates of fear” and want to “undermine democracy.”  

Kristofer Goldsmith, founder of Task Force Butler, a group of veterans that push back against white supremacist movements, is speaking at UNL on Tuesday. (Courtesy of Kristofer Goldsmith)

“Back in the day, if a neo-Nazi wanted to recruit, they had to go to the corner and protest and hand out lit (literature) and hope they didn’t get punched in the face,” he said. “Now they can promote the same propaganda from anonymous posts and profiles online.”

One challenge of fighting fascist movements today, he said, is defining fascism. His group defines it as the fetishization of power and the use of violence to quash opponents, demanding absolute loyalty and sharing a sense of grievance.

He said he expects some attending the UNL event to ask about the recent political rhetoric of former President Donald Trump, who has threatened an ideological test for civil service jobs and to investigate and jail and seek revenge against his political enemies. 

He expects others to ask about the indictments of Trump. The former president faces state and federal criminal charges based on his business practices, his effort to reject the results of the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents.

Changing the discussion

Part of changing the dynamic is educating people about fascism, he said.

Inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Another part is working to recognize and draw more attention to online efforts directing harassment at people for their race, creed or sexual orientation, he said. 

His discussion will touch on Jan. 6, 2021, and the storming of the U.S. Capitol by people aiming to disrupt the counting of Electoral College votes. That day ratcheted up his group’s work with veterans, he said, because many of the people charged afterward were veterans.

Research shows veterans are slightly less likely than the general public to embrace conspiracy theories, he said, but Task Force Butler investigates them because they are often effective leaders, for good or ill. 

“Veterans are targeted by extremist organizations for the same reason they are by JP Morgan Chase,” he said. “We bring credibility to any organization they are a part of.”

Doing the work

His group gathers evidence on the often-masked people who go out and destroy property or assault people based on hatred. They have online sleuths who cross-reference information with reams of photographic and video evidence and share that with authorities. 

The group recently dug into Patriot Front marches in Boston and Philadelphia, he said, and helped head off another one in Idaho. 

He said the group’s efforts are modeled after the work of Marine Corps Gen. Smedley Butler, who led veterans in the 1930s investigating an effort by domestic extremists to depose President Franklin D. Roosevelt and replace him with a leader of their choosing.

The group’s aim, he said, is transparency and accountability for extremists.

“Our objective is to help people understand that when you fight back against hate, you do it as part of the community,” he said. “We get our best reviews from the Nazis,” he said. “They call us Republican Antifa (an anti-fascist).” 


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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.