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Orange County man accused of killing former classmate trained with neo-Nazi group, according to new report

Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach, left, consults with attorney Edward Munoz at the Orange County Central Justice Center in Santa Ana. Woodward is charged with murder in the death of Blaze Bernstein.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The 20-year-old Newport Beach man accused of killing a former high school classmate is an avowed Neo-Nazi and trained with a notorious extremist group committed to violent overthrow of the U.S. government, according to a newly published report.

Samuel Woodward is charged with murder in the killing 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania student who went missing this month while visiting his family in Orange County. Prosecutors say Woodward stabbed Bernstein 20 times and then buried his body in a Lake Forest park, where it was found days later.

Bernstein was Jewish and gay, and police are investigating his killing as a possible hate crime.

Woodward is scheduled to be arraigned in Orange County Superior Court on Friday.

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Relying on “three people with detailed knowledge of Woodward’s recent past,” the investigative news website ProPublica said Woodward was a member of the group Atomwaffen — which has been tied to other slayings and a bomb plot in recent months — and traveled to Texas to attend the group’s three-day training camp.

Group members at the camp were trained on firearms and hand-to-hand combat, a former Atomwaffen member told ProPublica. The individual, who watched Woodward shoot at the camp, described him as skilled in handling firing handguns and assault rifles. ProPublica said it obtained photos of Woodward and other group members “making straight-armed Nazi salutes while wearing skull masks.”

Atomwaffen’s commitment to violence makes it more dangerous than other groups that have emerged from the recent wave of white supremacists, according to experts on right-wing extremism quoted by the news site. And unlike other new white nationalist groups, Atomwaffen embraces Nazi imagery and openly celebrates Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson.

The group was estimated to have about 80 members, but its ranks have grown since the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia last year, the former member told ProPublica.

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Authorities have not identified a possible motive in Bernstein’s killing. But a law enforcement source said that Woodward told investigators Bernstein kissed him on the lips while they were sitting in a parked car Jan. 2.

The sources said Woodward told authorities that the kiss was unwanted and that he pushed Bernstein away, adding that he wanted to call him a “faggot.” The two met at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, though it is unclear whether they were friends there.

Woodward spoke openly on social media about his Catholic faith and conservative political views.

He wrote more than a year ago on his ASKfm page that if he were stranded on a tropical island, he’d want a Bible and a Colt .45 with him.

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“Anything is possible through the Lord who strengthens me,” he wrote.

He also expressed disdain for then-President Obama, calling him an “arrogant, hypocritical, spineless socialist,” and for the song “Same Love,” singer Macklemore’s anthem in support of same-sex marriage.

Someone on the ASKfm page asked Woodward, “What is something you have lost that you wish you could get back?”

Woodward responded, “Hope for humanity.”

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In addition to the murder charge, Woodward is facing a possible sentencing enhancement on allegations that he used a knife in Bernstein’s slaying, according to Orange County Superior Court records. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 26 years to life in state prison.

Adam.Elmahrek@latimes.com

@adamelmahrek


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