The leader of the neo-Nazi group marching in Madison on Saturday is a former Marine and tattoo artist who aspires to create a white supremacist compound and training ground in rural Maine.
That’s according to Dr. Jeff Tischauser, a researcher and policy analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) who’s been monitoring the Blood Tribe since its origins in late 2021.
Tischauser said Christopher Pohlhuaser has distinctive tattoos on his face and neck, both of which could be seen in photos and videos of the group Saturday. About 20 men, most of them masked, wearing the red and black “uniform” of Blood Tribe, walked up State Street to the State Capitol and then on to Gates of Heaven Synagogue, the historical structure at James Madison Park.
Tischauser said based on attendance at a previous Blood Trube event in Watertown, his “hunch” is that none of the men marching Saturday are residents of Dane County, though he’s confident several are from other parts of Wisconsin, as well as Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio.
Tischauser said Pohlhaus, 36, is the son of a Pentecostal minister, and grew up in Maryland and Alabama. He joined the Marines after high school and became radicalized against Jews and Black people during deployments in Japan and Southern California.
Known by the online nickname “The Hammer,” he hosted live streams on Instagram where he espoused racist and homophobic views. When Instagram removed those videos, he moved to Telegram, where he currently has about 3,000 followers.
He got his break in the white nationalism movement when the Aryan Freedom Network invited him to speak at the White Unity Conference in September of 2021. That platform allowed him to gain a following – and got the attention of Tischauser and the SPLC.
“That kind of put him on the map in the movement,” Tischauser said in an interview Sunday. “Since then, he’s been trying to build this Blood Tribe with its base in Maine, because he thinks that it’s favorable demographics, and it’s remote, and they’ll be left alone.”
Tischauser said Blood Tribe is one of several white supremacist “cells” that have popped up since the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where right-wing white supremacists attempted to unify their movement. The rally led to clashes with protesters, a homicide and intense scrutiny for leaders like Richard Spencer.
“There’s a leadership vacuum post-Charlottesville. Because of the legal scrutiny, because of the media scrutiny following Charlottesville, these groups kind of folded, there was a lot of infighting, a lot of finger pointing,” Tischauser said. “Pohlhaus is really trying to lead this turn back to this historical kind of leaderless resistance.”
Pohlhaus is a member of a Euro-centric pagan religion called Raven Folk, Tischauser said. The group requires members to be of European ancestry and forbids interracial relationships, according to its website. They worship the gods of ancient Norse and Germanic people.
“The people who subscribe to Raven Folk think Christianity is too Jewish,” Tischauser said. “They’re looking for a more authentic form of white spirituality.”
Tischauser said he’s aware of six previous Blood Tribe events, most of which are held in response to another event – for example, the group protested a Pride event this past summer in Watertown, Wisconsin.
Blood Tribe also occasionally teams up with other organizations for rallies and marches, and it’s possible they’ve been involved in additional events organized by others, Tischauser said.
“Pohlhaus doesn’t necessarily write these long polemics like other neo-Nazi cult leaders,” Tischauser said. “Polhlhouse does make reference to national socialism. And through that, you could kind of infer that he wants to create some kind of neo-Nazi state or Nazi state where there’s going to be a strict hierarchy based on race, based on gender, based on sexual orientation … It seems most of his energy is focused on getting his people, his supporters, out into the street, and intimidating perceived political enemies,” he said. “He wants to provoke, he wants to confront his perceived enemies, which include members of the Jewish community, Black and brown folks, migrants, trans folks, members of the LGBTQ community overall … What they’re really looking for is somebody to get in their face. And that will create just a boon of propaganda for them. And thankfully, you know, residents of Madison knew and got that they needed to just leave these folks alone.”
Propaganda is the point, Tischauser said.
“They want to curate specific images at these events. So that’s why they have people directing them on how to stand, where to stand, what to chant, what to say and do, all so that they can photograph it, and then post that on their Telegram channel,” he said. “Their goal is to show their movements, this larger neo Nazi movement, that you can come out into the street and give it to your enemy. Join us in confronting the enemy in the streets. And look, we did it and we can keep doing it. We’re going to do it again.”
There’s also a fundraising component. Though most of the members pay for their own travel to events like the one in Madison, Pohlhaus has been soliciting donations to buy land in Maine to create a sort of home base camp for the Blood Tribe, according to a report Tischauser wrote and SPLC published in July.
Public scrutiny and legal pressure following that report forced Pohlhaus to sell that 10-acre plot, but Pohlhaus downplayed the sale, saying he made a mistake in buying it in his own name, and claiming to own more land elsewhere in Maine.
But even without a confrontation to create that propaganda video they wanted, Blood Tribe likely did achieve at least one goal.
“If you’re a part of a community that’s being targeted by this group, they also want to traumatize you,” Tischauser said. He said Pohlhaus told a right-wing podcaster that he wants to give people PTSD. And seeing the men marching up State Street, lingering outside a historic synagogue with swastika flags flying, was surely enough to traumatize some Madisonians.
Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Gates of Heaven Synagogue.