Neo-Nazi found guilty of murder of Jewish classmate in California

Samuel Woodward was motivated by homophobia and antisemitism, found a jury


Orange County Deputy Sheriffs escort Samuel Woodward into Orange County Superior Court (Frederick M. Brown via The Orange County Register, Pool)

Samuel Woodward was convicted yesterday of first degree murder and charges of hate crimes for the stabbing of a former Jewish classmate in 2018.

Blaze Bernstein, a gay, Jewish, college student, was visiting family in Sourthern California when he reconnected with Woodward, his former classmate, on Tinder.

Woodward has now been found guilty of Bernstein's muder, whom he stabbed and buried in a grave in a park in Orange County.

Woodward, who was active in the Neo-Nazi group the Atomwaffen division, was found to be motivated by homophobia and antisemitism. The group openly advocate for violence against black people, Jews, and other minorities, and has been named by researchers as the “most potentially violent neo-Nazi group in the US today”.

Concluding the trial, prosecutor Jennifer Walker emphasised the centrality of Woodward’s Atomwaffen ties to the murder. “This is a person focused on hate,” Walker said. “Not following, not being led by, influenced by, victimized by Atomwaffen — seeking it out.”

According to court testimony, Woodward was radicalised online as a teenager, joining the neo-Nazi group American Vanguard. Alongside a friend, he later joined the Atomwaffen Division, which believes Jews are orchestrating and benefitting from the downfall of “the white race”. Members of the group have been linked to several violent crimes.

The verdict brought closure to Bernstein’s parents, who had waited over six years to see their son’s killer brought to justice. The trial was delayed during the pandemic and as Woodward changed lawyers twice.

“The verdict brings a measure of closure to a six and a half year chapter, but it cannot erase the pain of losing our son and the agony of waiting all of these years without resolution,” Bernstein’s mother Jeanne Pepper said afterward in a news conference.

Woodward was sentenced to life without parole, the most severe sentence possible in California.

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