The “Sky King” and white na­tion­al­ism.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents - Martin McKen­zie-Murray

The man who stole a com­mer­cial aero­plane in Seat­tle, and took his life by crash­ing it, has be­come a folk hero to neo-Nazi groups and in­cels, drafted into a poi­sonous delu­sion that is be­com­ing main­stream. By Martin McKen­zie-Murray.

It was like a dream. A young bag­gage han­dler with seem­ingly no flight ex­pe­ri­ence, and no pi­lot’s li­cence, as­sumes con­trol of a large, turbo-prop air­craft, taxis to the run­way and takes off.

It was Fri­day evening at SeaTac, the United States’ ninth-busiest air­port, in Seat­tle. Richard Rus­sell, 29, was em­ployed there to han­dle bag­gage, clean and de-ice air­craft, and op­er­ate the tug trac­tors that push air­craft from the ter­mi­nal be­fore their taxi.

One of those craft was a Bom­bardier Dash 8 Q400, a 100 foot-long turbo-prop built for a lit­tle more than 70 pas­sen­gers, owned by Hori­zon Air, a sis­ter car­rier of Alaska Air­lines. Un­like larger pas­sen­ger jets, an “air­way” or ex­ter­nal flight of stairs isn’t re­quired for en­try – the craft has its own in-built case. The specifics of Rus­sell’s en­try are not yet pub­licly known.

The air traf­fic con­trol (ATC) record­ings sug­gest au­thor­i­ties quickly re­alised they had a rogue craft on the tar­mac. No take­off per­mis­sion was granted. ATC en­acted a “ground hold” – which lasted un­til the plane’s de­struc­tion – and or­dered in­com­ing flights to di­vert.

The Q400, used largely for short re­gional trips, is so­phis­ti­cated ma­chin­ery. The take­off pro­to­col is com­pli­cated and par­tic­u­lar, re­quir­ing up to nine steps, yet Rus­sell un­der­stood it. Dur­ing take­off he vom­ited – a fact he’d later joke about with ATC. No one else was laugh­ing. Within min­utes, two US Air Force F-15C jets were scram­bled from Port­land, break­ing the sound bar­rier to in­ter­cept the rogue air­craft. For an hour they shep­herded it and Rus­sell, en­cour­ag­ing him to move away from land and over wa­ter.

Early in the ex­change be­tween Rus­sell and ATC, staff calmly asked him if he needed help fly­ing the craft.

“It’s a blast, man,” he said. “I’ve played some video games be­fore, so I know what I’m do­ing a lit­tle bit ... Ev­ery­thing’s peachy keen. Just did a cir­cle round – it’s beau­ti­ful.”

If this seemed op­ti­mistic, Rus­sell quickly sug­gested the even­tual out­come. “Wouldn’t know how to land it,” he ad­mit­ted. “Wasn’t re­ally plan­ning on land­ing it.”

The record­ings are ex­traor­di­nary – for both Rus­sell’s fluc­tu­a­tions be­tween de­spair, cheer­ful­ness and apol­ogy, and for the ATC’s pa­tient, un­flap­pable guid­ance. By this point, ATC staff were joined by pi­lots to help Rus­sell land the craft. Suc­cess­ful “talk­downs” have hap­pened be­fore, but only in light air­craft. There was no prece­dent for a non-pi­lot be­ing re­motely in­structed in the land­ing of a com­mer­cial pas­sen­ger plane. Of course, ul­ti­mately it wouldn’t mat­ter.

“I got a lot of peo­ple that care about me, and it’s go­ing to dis­ap­point them to hear that I did this,” Rus­sell said. “I would like to apol­o­gise to each and ev­ery one of them. Just a bro­ken guy; got a few screws loose, I guess. Never re­ally knew it un­til now.”

For an hour, shad­owed by mil­i­tary jets, Rus­sell flew er­rat­i­cally over the pic­turesque Puget Sound. He as­ton­ished lo­cals, some of whom as­sumed it was a re­hearsal for an airshow, oth­ers who as­sumed some­thing more sin­is­ter. “That’s an Alaska Air­lines Q400,” one lo­cal is heard say­ing on a video as the air­craft flies low over homes. “What the fuck is that do­ing here?”

As he flew, Rus­sell per­formed aer­o­bat­ics. “I’m gonna do this bar­rel roll real quick,” he told ATC.

“Well, no need to do that,” they replied gen­tly. “If you could just start a turn to the right. And then I’ll tell you when to stop turn­ing, and then you can keep it level from there.”

But Rus­sell is com­mit­ted. “I feel like I need to be… what do you think, like, 5000 feet at least to be able to pull this bar­rel roll off ?”

A minute later, a lo­cal man,

John Waldron, filmed Rus­sell ex­e­cute a mas­sive loop-the-loop ma­noeu­vre, lev­el­ling out a mere 100 feet (30 me­tres) above wa­ter. A pi­lot in the con­trol tower told him: “Con­grat­u­la­tions – you did that. Now let’s land that air­plane safely and don’t hurt any­body on the ground.”

“Awwww-right,” Rus­sell said. “Ah, damn it. I don’t know, man! I don’t know! I don’t want to. I was kinda hop­ing that was go­ing to be it, you know?”

ATC con­tin­ued to give Rus­sell land­ing op­tions un­til, an hour af­ter take­off, he plunged the craft into a sparsely pop­u­lated is­land in an ap­par­ent sui­cide.

The US govern­ment’s re­port into the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks said that, among other er­rors, the tragedy demon­strated a fail­ure of imagination. It may be hard to blame au­thor­i­ties for the same thing here – for fail­ing to imag­ine Rus­sell find­ing the skill, luck and op­por­tu­nity to com­man­deer a 100 foot-long com­mer­cial plane, avoid a cat­a­strophic col­li­sion, and per­form aer­o­bat­ics for an hour be­fore the end.

Rus­sell’s bizarre, tragic flight asks ques­tions of se­cu­rity, though as the vet­eran pi­lot and avi­a­tion writer Pa­trick Smith noted this week: “A New York Times head­line says the in­ci­dent ‘Raises Trou­bling Se­cu­rity Ques­tions’. Ac­tu­ally, it doesn’t. But on and on we go: al­ways the new ‘threat,’ the new scare, the new loop­hole, in our se­cu­rity-ob­sessed cul­ture and me­dia. It should go without say­ing that cer­tain air­line work­ers are al­ways go­ing to need, and have, cock­pit ac­cess and knowl­edge of how a plane works. What ex­actly are we sup­posed to do? Calm down, for one. The Times are cor­rect that an in­sider threat does ex­ist, and al­ways has. This par­tic­u­lar kind of threat, how­ever – the idea of ran­dom em­ploy­ees get­ting hold of planes – shouldn’t be over­played.”

Al­most im­me­di­ately, Richard Rus­sell be­came a folk hero for cer­tain men.

They were white men, largely, in­spired by what they saw as Rus­sell’s ex­is­ten­tial lib­er­a­tion. Trea­tises flour­ished on so­cial me­dia, songs were writ­ten. Rus­sell was dubbed the “Sky King” and he be­came – in cer­tain on­line re­cesses – a phe­nom­e­non.

It was more than du­bi­ous ro­man­ti­cism. His mar­tyr sta­tus was sealed by two com­ments Rus­sell made to ATC as he made his flight. “Hey, do you think if I land this suc­cess­fully Alaska will give me a job as a pi­lot?” Rus­sell asks.

“You know, I think they would give you a job do­ing any­thing if you could pull this off,” air traf­fic con­trol re­sponds. “Yeah, right! Nah, I’m a white guy.” This com­ment struck the first nerve. The sec­ond was pinched when Rus­sell said: “Ah, min­i­mum wage. We’ll chalk it up to that. Maybe that will grease the gears a lit­tle bit with the higher-ups.”

Rus­sell had be­come an un­wit­ting cipher for pro­found and de­struc­tive anx­i­eties. Trump’s Amer­ica had a hero.

“Rich moved us be­cause it was a heart­felt ‘F you’ to clown world wage slav­ery,” wrote one blog­ger. “A lot of us would love to do what he did but don’t want to die or end up in jail for years so we sol­dier on through this globo­homo tyranny. Sky King had the courage/ de­pres­sion to go all the way.”

And an­other: “This man de­serves to be in the his­tory books. A mar­tyr ex­pos­ing anti-white dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Un­der trib­ute videos, there were thou­sands of such com­ments.

In self-im­posed ex­ile in the un­recog­nised Eastern Euro­pean mi­crostate of Transnis­tria, a sliver of land in eastern Moldova, some­one named “weev” is lonely, anx­ious and med­i­cated. The stress of ex­ile is am­pli­fied by the bur­den of serv­ing as web­mas­ter for the world’s largest neo-Nazi web­site, The Daily Stormer. “Ev­ery day, 24 hours a day, I am on call,” he wrote this week. “I serve so many sites with bil­lions of page views in so many dif­fer­ent lan­guages and right now the amount of stuff I have on my plate has me be­yond my limit ... There has not been a sin­gle day in years that I have stepped away from a com­puter for a 24hour pe­riod, even though ev­ery day I want to turn this moth­er­fucker off and go out into the wilder­ness to kill an­i­mals from tools I fash­ion my­self. White men weren’t meant to live like I do.”

“Weev” is the on­line tag for An­drew Auern­heimer, a 32-year-old hacker, fugi­tive, white su­prem­a­cist, de­fen­sive bearer of Jewish her­itage, and troll of no­to­ri­ous and as­ton­ish­ing re­pug­nance. He is also a man pro­foundly moved by the an­tics of the Sky King.

Auern­heimer served time in 2013–14 for iden­tity theft, be­fore be­ing re­leased on a le­gal tech­ni­cal­ity. He emerged from prison with a large, or­nate swastika inked on his chest. He is due in a US court early next year for his part in the bru­tal ha­rass­ment of a Jewish woman – one rea­son he’s been shut­tling be­tween coun­tries that have no ex­tra­di­tion treaties with the US. Auern­heimer is al­leged to have left on the woman’s voice­mail the words: “You fuck­ing kike whore – this is Trump’s Amer­ica now.” She re­ceived mul­ti­ple calls that were sim­ply the sound of gun­shots.

Auern­heimer helped or­gan­ise the Unite the Right ral­lies held in Amer­ica last year, which cul­mi­nated in the killing of young anti-racism pro­tester Heather Heyer in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia.

Via on­line chat fo­rums, Auern­heimer or­gan­ised his fas­cist com­rades to harass mourn­ers at her fu­neral. In 2016, hav­ing re­motely com­man­deered hun­dreds of print­ers across Amer­i­can univer­sity

cam­puses, Auern­heimer had the ma­chines is­sue the fol­low­ing state­ment: “I un­equiv­o­cally sup­port the killing of chil­dren. I be­lieve that our en­e­mies need such a level of atroc­ity in­flicted upon them and their homes that they are afraid to ever threaten the white race with geno­cide again. We will not re­lent un­til far af­ter their daugh­ters are raped in front of them. We will not re­lent un­til far af­ter the eyes of their sons are gouged out be­fore them. We will not re­lent un­til the cries of their in­fants are si­lenced by boots stomp­ing their brains out onto the pave­ment.”

Rape and mur­der is in­te­gral to Auern­heimer’s vi­sion of ter­ror and racial sal­va­tion – he has praised mass killers Dy­lann Roof and An­ders Breivik. But pale, scruffy, bearded and ra­di­at­ing an in­vi­o­lable self-sat­is­fac­tion, Auern­heimer doesn’t re­sem­ble the chis­elled skin­heads of Amer­i­can His­tory X. He is a par­tic­u­larly mod­ern neo-Nazi, em­ploy­ing com­puter code to help “white in­sur­gency” and pub­lish­ing video ser­mons as the self­anointed “iProphet” – a sort of neo-Nazi Je­sus Christ.

En­tombed in a dank room far from home, it’s moder­nity that trou­bles Auern­heimer. He’s in a bind. His par­tic­u­larly mod­ern com­mit­ment to white lib­er­a­tion has en­slaved him. Those com­puter ca­bles now snake around his throat, con­strict­ing his will to a purer life. It’s a cruel irony. White men “weren’t meant to churn away at the same task day in day out end­lessly”, he wrote this week. “We were born to con­quer ... We live in a world that forces us into con­di­tions that are un­bear­able. The ba­sic bi­o­log­i­cal urges of ev­ery species in the world are de­monised in white men. White men are de­nied their own fer­tile women. White peo­ple’s drive for ex­plo­ration is deemed im­pe­ri­al­ism and colo­nial­ism ... They push us into slav­ery and mis­ery, and now a gen­er­a­tion of mil­len­nial men is ar­riv­ing at midlife with no at­tach­ments, noth­ing to live for, and no hope of ad­vance­ment out from serv­ing a sup­port­ing role in the lives of peo­ple who are not fit to be the pro­tag­o­nists of this uni­verse.

And Richard Rus­sell, the Sky King, was ex­plic­itly aware this was the case for his own life, dis­tinctly be­cause he was white.”

By Auern­heimer’s own ac­count, ex­pressed in 4chan posts ear­lier this year, he is strug­gling. “Lis­ten man, I miss amer­ica ev­ery day. I just had some­one bring me mc­don­alds from an­other coun­try by train. I have to­tally failed to learn con­ver­sa­tional Rus­sian. I can pay my bills and pick up women but i cant ever have a real dis­cus­sion with any­one about any­thing… I pre­tend on video that it doesn’t get to me be­cause i have an obli­ga­tion to ap­pear strong and not fal­ter for the youth, be­cause video sound­bytes are what most of the pub­lic sees and I don’t want kids think­ing that my life in ex­ile is to­tal de­spair and I’m mis­er­able, but it is and I am. I’m fuck­ing lonely and I hate it…”

In Auern­heimer’s head, his bur­den is born of self-sac­ri­fice, not self-de­struc­tion. His ex­ile is that of the mar­tyr, not the abu­sive crim­i­nal. There is a type of dis­or­dered per­son­al­ity for whom facts can­not pen­e­trate, whose self-serv­ing fever dreams bend the world un­til it con­forms with them. And so from his room of ca­bles, com­puter screens and spent pack­ets of modafinil, weev dreams – just as his mythic Sky King had dreamed. Specif­i­cally, he dreams of be­com­ing a pi­rate – an old-fash­ioned, skull-and­cross-bone kind – be­cause “the sea seems like some­thing I could have a shot at con­trol­ling sig­nif­i­cant swaths of ”.

Ev­ery day, he says, he fan­ta­sises of im­pe­ri­ously rul­ing the oceans rather than cam­pus print­ers. “Ev­ery ounce of my body tells me to be­come the ter­ror of the 7 seas, go­ing out on the wa­ter with as much weaponry [as] I can and pro­gres­sively steal­ing more boats un­til I have a neo-Nazi navy off the coast of North Africa sink­ing ev­ery rapefugee ship as a de­ter­rent to all who might par­tic­i­pate in the in­va­sion of Europe... Of course, I don’t be­cause I have to keep your racist In­ter­net on­line, and I can’t do that if the navies of sev­eral ma­jor na­tions were tasked to hunt­ing me down and en­sur­ing I die in a naval con­flict.”

If this seems ex­trav­a­gantly de­luded, the Sky King of­fered him in­spi­ra­tion. “When I saw this guy, 29 years old, about in the same pe­riod of life as I am in, steal­ing a plane just to do a bar­rel roll for once in his life, it spoke to me. Rich is doubt­less the san­est of all his col­leagues. He is the only per­son whose nat­u­ral in­stincts re­mained un­bounded enough by tele­vi­sion and pub­lic schools and drugs enough to call him to great­ness. We won’t ever know the names of any­one that he worked with, but we’ll re­mem­ber this guy ev­ery year like we do other ve­hic­u­lar he­roes like Heemeyer and An­drew Stack. Not all mar­tyrs see di­vin­ity, but at least Rich tried.

“And the world is go­ing to have to live with the con­se­quences of Rich’s gen­er­a­tion of white men com­ing to a sud­den re­al­i­sa­tion that it is bet­ter to die as Icarus than live as ser­vant to in a hell run by baby-mur­der­ing, child-rap­ing kikes in­tent on wip­ing their race out of ex­is­tence. So Au­gust 10th ev­ery year I’m go­ing to re­mem­ber the Richard Rus­sell the Sky king, the man whom moder­nity could not tame.”

Auern­heimer has suc­cumbed to a delir­ium, where his im­age of the Sky King and Hitler re­side as icons. It doesn’t mat­ter that this dream-maker is a med­i­cated hacker who yearns for some imag­ined prein­dus­trial virtue. It doesn’t mat­ter that he’s a pal­lid, men­tally ail­ing dweeb who thinks the only thing stop­ping him from be­com­ing a fear­some com­man­der of a Nazi flotilla is web man­age­ment.

It doesn’t mat­ter, be­cause the delir­ium re­sists facts and coherency. Richard Rus­sell – the Sky King – was an im­me­di­ate folk hero in the swelling on­line meets of neo-Nazis, white na­tion­al­ists, sov­er­eign ci­ti­zens, rad­i­cal anti-cap­i­tal­ists, libertarians and in­cels. It is a dis­parate bunch, bonded by ex­tremes of anx­i­ety and con­tempt. “Un­der­paid and over­worked, passed over for end­less third world di­ver­sity hires,” reads one typ­i­cal com­ment. “Un­able to be­long to a com­mu­nity. Hated and ridiculed by for­eign­ers in your own coun­try. Of­fered no re­course or re­demp­tion. What else is there to do but fly away?”

Only re­cently, it would have struck me as ab­surd to quote from the bleak ves­tiges of on­line com­ments and fringe blogs. No longer. The delir­ium is grow­ing – it is be­com­ing main­stream. At home, a for­mer head of govern­ment in­vites a vi­o­lent, self­avowed neo-Nazi on live tele­vi­sion as peer and pol­icy an­a­lyst. A se­na­tor gives his maiden speech to a pas­sion­ate en­dorse­ment of the White Aus­tralia pol­icy, and un­apolo­get­i­cally uses the words “fi­nal so­lu­tion” in ref­er­ence to im­mi­gra­tion. The Over­ton win­dow now en­com­passes ev­ery­thing.


For many, the Sky King – a fan­tas­tic con­struc­tion, not a man – will long be re­mem­bered. He joins the ranks of Marvin Heemeyer, an­other of Auern­heimer’s mar­tyrs. Ag­grieved by a lost re­zon­ing bat­tle with lo­cal govern­ment, Heemeyer be­lieved he had God’s sanc­tion to cut a swath of de­struc­tion through his small Colorado town. He did this by re­in­forc­ing a bull­dozer with steel-plates and cut­ting gun-slots into which he placed ri­fles. Then he be­gan his venge­ful path, de­stroy­ing the build­ings and homes of in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als he thought had wronged him.

Af­ter de­stroy­ing a wi­dow’s home, a li­brary and the of­fice of the lo­cal news­pa­per, Heemeyer shot him­self dead. Some saw a mar­tyr, an in­ge­nious David stand­ing up to the ra­pa­cious Go­liath. The edi­tor of the news­pa­per saw it dif­fer­ently. “I’ve seen that the way peo­ple have ven­er­ated Marv and praised him af­ter the fact – without even re­ally know­ing what hap­pened or the facts of the sit­u­a­tion – has been re­peated in many other ram­pages and tragedies in Amer­ica since then.”

This ven­er­a­tion is a symp­tom of the delir­ium. And if I once thought it un­likely that Aus­tralia could repli­cate Amer­ica’s,

I am no longer sure.

MARTIN McKENZIEMURRAY is The Satur­day Paper’s chief cor­re­spon­dent.

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