Just over a year ago, the Global Minority Initiative, a self-described prison relief charity, started mobilizing people online.
Their mission? To “deliver charitable support for a group of inmates who need it the most… to ensure that none of them become lost and alone in a profoundly inhumane system.”
The GMI’s main focus is on encouraging people to donate to inmates’ commissary funds, write them letters, and send them gifts like books. Its site features a simple yet comprehensive guide on how to do so, and fields donations itself. On social media, the group posts a prisoner’s profile every day, urging people to reach out to them. Every “Ramen Wednesday,” they ask their followers to “eat ramen in solidarity with our guys,” and to “send ramen to our guys in support.”
“One way you can poke a stick in their eye and frustrate their plans is to encourage our brave men behind the wire.”
— Far-right Telegram post plugging the Global Minority Initiative
But here’s the catch: The GMI is run exclusively by and for white nationalists, who they believe are one of America’s few truly oppressed communities. (Their name references this bogus perceived marginalization.) They list information for, and claim to be in contact with, dozens of people associated with neo-Nazi groups like Atomwaffen Division, arrested in association with major racist events like the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally, or accused or convicted of individual hate-fueled crimes.
As cases against Capitol insurrectionists progress, a few of the white nationalists who took part in that attack may appear on the list as well. The GMI said it would not speak to The Daily Beast for this story. But when asked on social media a few weeks ago about an individual allegedly involved with the insurrection, a GMI organizer noted that they will put anyone their community flags to them on their list if they believe that individual’s “arrest, conviction, and/or sentencing [was] likely biased on account of [their] pro white sentiments.”
The GMI remains relatively obscure; even some current and former white nationalists The Daily Beast spoke to said they’d never heard of it. But as Mollie Saltskog, an analyst with the Soufan Group, an intelligence and security think tank which has been monitoring the GMI, explained, the ways it mobilizes support for white nationalists in prison “further certain narratives that tend to radicalize people”—both inmates and those recruited to help them.
In other words, extremism-watchers fear that the group is not merely a prisoner relief fund, but a petri dish fostering far-right grievance just as the federal government finally shows signs of cracking down on this manner of domestic extremism. “And that’s not what anyone wants to see come out of the arrests of white nationalists, especially at a moment like this, right after a major assault on American democracy,” Saltskog told The Daily Beast.
Notably, GMI materials claim their “mission is not to promote a political agenda” or re-litigate cases. But Anat Agron, an analyst with the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) who has been monitoring the group, pointed out that they often downplay the cases against individuals on their list. They frequently cast them as the victims of ideological railroading, fostering white grievances and conspiratorial beliefs. In a recent Telegram post, for example, the GMI described Kaleb Cole—an Atomwaffen member accused with ample evidence of co-coordinating a campaign of aggressive and bigoted harassment against journalists—as someone who was arrested for “making journalists uncomfortable, which is a really big no-no if you’re pro-white.” (An attorney for Cole did not respond to a request for comment.)
They also regularly post pictures of Charlottesville featuring slogans that valorize hate, like “they stood for us when no one else would; let’s do the same for them.” And at times they explicitly frame their operations as adversarial white nationalist activism. “Our enemies mean to destroy and take the heart out of our men,” the GMI wrote on Telegram in November. “One way you can poke a stick in their eye and frustrate their plans is to encourage our brave men behind the wire.”
The GMI was reportedly created in late 2019 by Matt Heimbach and Matt Parrott, who originally called it the National Socialist Charitable Coalition. Heimbach, the face of young neo-Nazis of the 2010s, told The Daily Beast that his group, the Traditionalist Worker Party, had already been coordinating and encouraging prisoner outreach among its members for years. They did not want to endorse accused or convicted criminals’ actions, he claimed, only to ease the burdens of what he sees as an inhumane prison system. As Heimbach’s party folded after 2018, the GMI was a means of not only continuing, but extending and formalizing his and his associates’ efforts on this front.
“There are reasons to doubt that the GMI’s ambitions have yielded or will yield notable results for the prisoners it aims to serve. ”
Heimbach claimed that a group like the GMI is necessary because general prisoner support groups are overloaded. And, he added, because it’s easier to mobilize support for people from within the same movement—especially for white nationalist inmates, “who are radioactive in many ways.”
Heimbach spent some time in jail himself following his 2018 arrest for a violent altercation he had with Parrott, who is his stepfather-in-law, and Heimbach’s wife when the two of them confronted him about a supposed affair Heimbach had been having with Parrott’s wife. Heimbach acknowledged that his and his associates’ time in the justice system may have influenced their decisions to work on the GMI.
However, in early 2020, Heimbach claimed that he’d left the white nationalist movement to focus on general workers’ rights activism and organizing. Extremism observers doubt his sincerity, and suspect he is just trying to rehabilitate his image. (Heimbach denies this, noting that if he wanted to whitewash himself he wouldn’t have rebranded as a Marxist-Leninist.) Regardless of his internal motivations, he did turn over the keys to this group to Parrott, not just his stepfather-in-law but also a longtime collaborator, on Feb 24. 2020, the same day the group changed its name to the more innocuous Global Minority Initiative. Heimbach claimed he did not keep up with developments in the GMI after this, and is not even peripherally aware of its current protocols or decision-making. Parrott did not respond to a request for comment.
The GMI is not alone in its quest to make prison life more tolerable for white nationalists—and keep them looped into the neo-Nazi firmament while they’re behind bars. The Daily Beast has identified 10 other white nationalist organizations that operate or once operated similar dedicated white nationalist inmate support programs. But Carla Hill, an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) extremism researcher, told The Daily Beast that she does “not know of another group or similar initiative that is currently active at the scale of the GMI.”
There are reasons to doubt that the GMI’s ambitions have yielded or will yield notable results for the prisoners it aims to serve. Heimbach and Parrott have a long track record of coming up with projects that reportedly rarely amounted to more than rhetoric. Multiple researchers noted that the group currently takes all donations via checks or money orders sent to a P.O. Box in a Chicago suburb, despite promising imminent support for Bitcoin and credit card donations for months with no results. And Heimbach acknowledged that there’s always ample debate in the group about who ought to get on their list. He seems to have more stringent criteria than those the GMI currently espouses, favoring only those arrested for overtly “political” actions.
Notably, Heimbach argued none of the Capitol insurrectionists should get space on the GMI list, even if they espouse white nationalism in their wider lives—which he doubts many do—because their actions were not in line with the ideology. Other currently active GMI supporters have voiced similar opinions online.
Agron notes that it’s impossible to figure out how influential a group like the GMI truly is, as the white nationalist movement, reacting to crackdowns by law enforcement in recent years, puts a premium on decentralization and opacity. A GMI outreach volunteer who goes by Scott Survival, the group’s “agent on Twitter,” occasionally talked about the importance of maintaining a low follower count and profile to avoid deplatforming on social media—until he got deplatformed from Twitter at the start of this month. The GMI also includes a link on its site to a tool that allows people to mask their browsing activity, hiding actual site engagement.
Saltskog and other observers have seen GMI content reposted on several other white nationalist communities online over the last year, though, suggesting they have notable movement traction. The Bureau of Prisons told The Daily Beast it does not comment on individual inmates. But experts believe the GMI also has regular contact with a number of white nationalist prisoners, and acts as an intermediary passing their words on to the wider community on the outside.
Sigrid and Élodie, prison reform activists and creators of prison pen pal program Wire of Hope, told The Daily Beast that they believe every incarcerated person should be able to communicate with people in the outside world, as this can help them with reform and reintegration. (They both use their first names only in official communications to preserve their privacy.) But they added that the GMI concerns them. An entire network run by and centered on a hate group, they said, will likely only “perpetuate habits and ideologies that got people in trouble in the first place.”
The GMI also seems to engage in more valorization of individuals convicted or credibly accused of often explicitly hate-fueled crimes, and in more case narrative revision, than even most of the other white nationalist inmate support groups The Daily Beast could identify.
The site not only downplays the severity or animus of the alleged or proven crimes of people on its list, it also taints its admonitions against criminal activity with blatant apologism. Notably, last year, the organization stated via social media, “We don’t approve or condone what [the people on our list] have done but at the very least we feel that this horrible anti-White system played a role in causing them to snap and that they at the very least deserved support.”
They regularly pass on heroic statements of solidarity and resistance from white nationalists behind bars to wider networks, too, not just the individuals who directly correspond with and support them. These include calls to remain defiant in the face of the state and poems about race loyalty.
“This does undermine the seriousness of individual prisoners’ crimes and lifts their stature within the white nationalist movement,” the ADL’s Hill argued. “They are often called heroes, soldiers, or even martyrs. This could incentivize others [in the GMI’s orbit] to become martyrs as well.”
While the GMI’s activities and rhetoric may be disconcerting to many, and likely run the risk of fueling racial grievance and white radicalization at an already fragile moment in U.S. history, every expert The Daily Beast spoke to for this article stressed that everything the group is doing is entirely legal. Cracking down on the GMI would likely involve dubious free speech law or prisoners’ rights changes, and still only further fuel white nationalist grievances and radicalism.
But Wanda Bertram of the Prison Policy Initiative, a prison reform research and advocacy group, suggests that if people are uncomfortable with the GMI’s activities, they might do best to direct that discomfort towards changing the systems that make its support necessary in the first place.
“It’s a disaster when white nationalists deepen their commitment to white nationalism while they’re in prison,” she said. “And it’s a risk we take as a society by dehumanizing incarcerated people… creating an opening for white nationalist groups to become their sole providers.”