Waite: Fulton County ghost-gun suspect shows hate symbols are signs of serious trouble

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WEIGHING IN – Luke Kenna wasn’t always affiliated with white supremacist groups.

In online writings, the now-43-year-old man who lives in Gloversville describes an itinerant youth spent traveling the country while playing in hardcore punk and metal bands. But, then, in his late 20s and early 30s, Kenna was in some “pretty bad auto accidents” and dealt with injuries that prevented him from the work he’d taken on in concert promotion and security, he wrote. 

“After that I fell into a deep depression of drugs and alcohol to numb my body and mind until I finally had enough of living like a weak pile of [expletive] and discovered OPWW in 2016,” Kenna wrote in an undated website post in which he describes himself as being 40.
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OPWW refers to Operation Werewolf, which is a subsidiary of the Wolves of Vinland – a Virginia-based hate group listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

Affiliated with Neo-Völkisch ideology, members of the Wolves of Vinland and other Neo-Völkisch groups use Nazi symbolism and rhetoric and believe that pre-Christian Norse and Germanic religions can only be practiced by people with ancestral roots in those Northern European regions – or, more specifically, white people, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The Wolves of Vinland are focused on preparing for a societal collapse by building and training tribes that can eventually lead through “militant ruralism,” according to Matt Kriner, an expert on extremism and managing director of the Accelerationism Research Consortium.  

Essentially, members of these groups are arming and training themselves to lead an all-white society. Kenna’s own online writings talk about valuing ethnic purity. 

“Kenna is an example of individuals establishing violent extremist brands,” said Kriner, who has closely tracked the Wolves of Vinland.

Kenna is publicly and unapologetically connected with the Wolves of Vinland on social media, and appears to have been organizing his own kind of tribe, Kriner said. 

“He’s sort of a regionalized leader of the Wolves of Vinland offshoot,” Kriner said. “It’s not insignificant, but the significance of it is more that there is a defined connection to the Wolves of Vinland brand and a persistent overlap with militant accelerationist communities on Telegram [a social media platform].” 

Kenna’s days as a shepherd of hatred may be over. During what’s been described as a routine traffic stop on Nov. 26, Gloversville police arrested Kenna for having a loaded illegal “ghost gun.” Such weapons are untraceable and often assembled at home with parts that are ordered online. Kenna was also allegedly illegally wearing body armor. What’s more, a high-ranking official in Fulton County confirmed this week that Kenna is on the FBI’s radar, but his arrest did not come as a result of an FBI investigation. 

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Kenna’s trajectory exemplifies why it’s essential to stop hatred at its earliest signs, even if the only known signs are online posts or Nazi symbols. 

I met Kenna in March, when I covered a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of his wife’s plant store in Gloversville. Kenna was tattooed and physically imposing. He was also somewhat funny, chuckling as he talked about how his wife’s love of plants had overcrowded their home and led to the idea to open the store. 

A few days after the ribbon cutting, a reader told us that the store displays the Sonnenrad, or Black Sun. Heinrich Himmler inlaid a Black Sun into the marble floor of the Castle Wewelsburg, the castle that Himmler made the spiritual and literal home of the SS – the elite corps and self-described “political soldiers” of the Nazi Party – during the reign of the Third Reich, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

After learning about the symbol and the fact that the plant store was also selling flags with the Black Sun, I reported that the business, Freya’s Forest, which is still open, has ties to hate groups.

It is not illegal to be a white supremacist. But it’s obviously deeply disturbing. The store’s connection to white supremacy was newsworthy, especially considering the business has prominent real estate in downtown Gloversville. 

Then Vice, a national media outlet, reported this week of Kenna’s recent arrest and highlighted his ties to extremism.

It’s not entirely clear what Kenna was up to the day of his arrest, but here’s what we do know. 

We know that up until his arrest, Kenna was openly connected online to neo-Nazi networks. 

We also know that over the summer, Kenna was attempting to plan a gathering at the Kingsboro Golf Club in Gloversville, where he was employed as a bar manager until May 3 and then worked as a private contractor before being terminated for what his employer Tanyalynnette Grimes describes as “gross misconduct.” 

In text messages I reviewed, Kenna wrote to the golf course’s ownership in June and July about hosting a “warrior lodge event” to be held Sept. 16-18 affiliated with Black Market Tactical, which describes itself online as providing “hardcore fitness solutions and dynamic tactical courses.” 

Once the golf course owners got more details about the event, they shut down the idea, and it never took place. 

At the time of writing, Kenna was being held on $50,000 bail at the Fulton County Correctional Facility, where my attempt to visit with him Wednesday was unsuccessful. His public defender, Brian Toal, declined to discuss the Gloversville case in detail, saying over email, “It’s a pretty new case. I don’t have anything to really say about it.”  

Kenna’s wife also declined to comment.

Even if all the dots aren’t connected, the trendline is troubling. 

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“We know there is an established baseline in the region for this type of ideological outlook,” Kriner said. 

Of note, Broadalbin Town Board member Dave Bardascini was identified earlier this year by the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism as being a member of the Oath Keepers, an extremist group that Bardascini said he hasn’t been involved with “for many years.” The national leader of the far-right Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted last month of seditious conspiracy stemming from the Jan. 6 insurrection and the plot to keep Donald Trump in power.

“Individuals that are already established [in upstate New York] would look to someone like Kenna for an opportunity to deepen their so-called knowledge, which we would call radicalization, and that’s a serious concern” Kriner said. 

The concern, of course, is that the often racist and misogynistic “manosphere” that is perpetuated by groups like the Wolves of Vinland can lead to real violence. In December 2021, Lyndon McLeod, who was involved with the Wolves of Vinland, killed five people in Denver. 

“The fear of people like Kenna and others is that they will inspire another type of individual like McLeod,” Kriner said. “And at a low level, it just increases the levels of hate in the area, increases the potential for there to be violence, for violence against women or harassment or violence against minorities—these are all things that can come from that space.”

Of course, as regional figures such as Kenna may be igniting fires, many national Republican leaders are pouring gasoline.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, a congresswoman from Georgia, recently told an audience that included white nationalists, right-wing conspiracy theorists and others during an event sponsored by the New York Young Republican Club, that if she had organized the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, “we would have won,” and “Not to mention, it would have been armed.” 

Taylor Greene later said her remarks were sarcastic. 

Meanwhile, over Thanksgiving week, former President Donald Trump dined with known white nationalist Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago.

Even if groups like the Wolves of Vinland aren’t necessarily fans of Trump, the former president’s dinner company and Greene’s outlandish comments elevate white supremacy and germinate hatred in ways that can lead to real carnage. 

Is it any wonder why we have mass shootings at synagogues and supermarkets or plots to overthrow governments in the United States and in Germany? 

When leaders normalize hatred, susceptible people latch on. And the reactions are often unpredictable. 

“The challenge is that violence is very conditional,” Kriner said. “It is very difficult to determine what might be the trigger, or when they might take action, because they are often looking for very specific conditions, or they may just be waiting until they are pushed to the absolute max.” 

We can’t let them reach their limit. When Trump dines with a white supremacist, when Taylor Greene dismisses comments supporting armed insurrection as a joke, when a hate symbol is hung in a Gloversville shop, we have to call it out immediately. 

Even at the earliest warning signs, hatred can be deadly serious. 

Columnist Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite. 

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By Andrew Waite

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