In America today the language of hate and prejudice has been inciting violence more and more often. Some of the victims are linked by faith, others by the color of their skin, and still others by sexual orientation. CBS News correspondent Tracy Smith has a story about one young man targeted by that kind of hate. Meet Blaze Bernstein. He was 19 years old.
Word spread across Orange County. Blaze Bernstein, brilliant, kind-hearted, Jewish and gay, had come home from college for the holidays and vanished.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: He wanted to spend time with us. He’s not gonna just disappear like that.
Tracy Smith: But your thought was?
Gideon Bernstein: Well it was just so highly unusual.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: Where had he been? Who had he gone with? We didn’t know. Where is he?
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: We had a happy life. We really did. We had good — many, many good memories.
The memories and magic that remain began when the baby was born.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: That night I dreamt that his name was Blaze.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: And the first time I saw him, I looked in his eyes. … Something about this baby, he’s gonna change the world someday. In his own way, he did change the world. He already has.
It was 1998 when Jeanne Pepper Bernstein and Gideon Bernstein welcomed their first of three children, Blaze, into their Orange County, California, home — an oasis of love and creativity.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: I call him a unicorn … He was magnificently creative.
Raiah Rofsky: We were best friends when we were very young, yeah.
Tracy Smith: What’d you learn about Blaze? What’d you know about him?
Raiah Rofsky: Blaze was always a very kind and caring person. He was always a very cuddly kid.
Cuddly and creative, it was no surprise to Raiah Rofsky when Blaze joined her for high school at OCSA — the Orange County School of the Arts.
Raiah Rofsky: It’s very prestigious. …It’s known for getting a quality arts education with a quality academic education.
Claire Velau: Blaze was honestly one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
Another classmate, Claire Velau, also knew Blaze was more than brilliant.
Claire Velau: Something that was really unique about Blaze is he always made you feel important … Like, if you were talking to him, like you knew he was actually listening.
For Blaze, OCSA was a feast of educational riches.
Eric Tryon | OCSA teacher: He was just like a beam of light.
Eric Tryon taught his student about writing, which became Blaze’s focus.
Eric Tyron: He wanted to do the work, which you can’t always say for kids that age … that’s a dream student.
And then there was another classmate, Sam Woodward.
Philip Schwadron | OCSA teacher: He was just a very serious guy. He didn’t crack jokes. Didn’t laugh at jokes.
Philip Schwadron taught Sam acting.
Philip Schwadron: He wanted to do a monologue about the military. He wanted to play an Army guy, a general or something.
In a school that embraced tolerance and diversity, many thought Sam had deeply troubling ideas.
Raiah Rofsky: I have a friend who was in a playwriting class with him, and they were reading “Raisin in the Sun” and they all got their individual copies. When everybody gave theirs back, he had had the “N” word written all through it.
Racist scrawls in the classic American drama about the struggles of a black family.
Tracy Smith: He had a reputation of being what?
Raiah Rofsky: Racist, homophobic, sexist.
But for Rofsky, one particular incident is impossible to shake.
Raiah Rofsky: He was drawing guns in his notebook in class.
Tracy Smith: Did you say anything?
Raiah Rofsky: No.
Tracy Smith: But you thought–
Raiah Rofsky: This is terrifying.
Tracy Smith: What were people saying about Sam?
Raiah Rofsky: People were saying that they wouldn’t be surprised if he came and shot up the school.
Tracy Smith: People said that about him?
Raiah Rofsky: Yes. And I felt that too. He’s gonna be that kid.
Tracy Smith: Did Sam stay at OCSA?
Raiah Rofsky: He left after sophomore year of high school.
Tracy Smith: And did you find out why?
Raiah Rofsky: No.
Sam Woodward transferred to a more traditional high school. Blaze went on at OCSA, learning more about his world. He had already learned a key thing about himself.
Tracy Smith: So you guys were kind of walking down the beach alone together and he came out to you?
Raiah Rofsky: Yeah. Yeah.
Tracy Smith: Did you get the sense that Blaze had told anyone else that he thought he was bi?
Raiah Rofsky: I don’t think that he did. He was kind of upset to say it.
Tracy Smith: Something that clearly was a big secret for him.
Raiah Rofsky: Yeah, you know coming out to yourself is a really mature, difficult thing to do.
Tracy Smith: And what did you tell him?
Raiah Rofsky: I told him, “It’s OK. If you like boys that’s totally fine. Love who you love.”
And while he hadn’t yet come out to his parents, Gideon and Jeanne sensed Blaze might be gay.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: We went up to him and said, “Listen, whatever your situation is, we embrace it. We love you. We don’t care.”
Gideon Bernstein: “We love you for whoever you are.”
It was late summer 2016 and Blaze, who’d already achieved so much, was headed to an Ivy League School, the University of Pennsylvania. There’d be new friends, mentors and challenges. And Blaze seemed ready for it all.
Grayson Honan | Blaze’s friend: I can still remember, like he was wearing this really cool overall outfit the first time I met him [laughs].
Tracy Smith: Overalls?
Grayson Honan: Yeah.
Tracy Smith: Took some fashion risks it sounds like.
Grayson Honan: Yeah.
Amy Marcus | Blaze’s friend: But he didn’t care.
College friends Amy Marcus and Grayson Honan sensed, even by Ivy League standards, Blaze was something special.
Amy Marcus: The track that he was headed down was psychology, and he was really, really excited to do some psychological research, especially into happiness, which I thought was really cool. He was also an incredible writer.
And a gourmet chef. He now was also considering a career in medicine.
Grayson Honan: He wanted to help as many people as he could and it was really impressive to see.
During Winter break 2017, Blaze came home to Southern California.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: It was a much anticipated visit. He was really looking forward to being with us, too.
There were holiday celebrations. Then, sometime on the night of Jan. 2, 2018, Blaze left the house.
Tracy Smith: So that night, when did you realize that he was missing?
Gideon Bernstein: We didn’t.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: I didn’t know that night.
Gideon Bernstein: We didn’t even know. We thought he slept in and the next day we were —
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: I had my aha moment when I was at the dental appointment.
The next day, Blaze was due to meet his mom for a dentist appointment. But Blaze never showed up and wasn’t answering his cell phone.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: I called Gideon … he asked me if Blaze had ever come home the night before. And I screamed out, “I don’t know!”
Gideon Bernstein: That’s when I just basically just rushed outta the office and came home.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: We both did. We flew home.
Blaze’s parents rushed home and checked his room.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: His wallet. His retainers. His keys.
Gideon Bernstein: Those were all still at the house.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: His glasses. Yeah, all of that stuff was at the house.
They called the police, and then tried to log on to Blaze’s social media accounts.
Gideon Bernstein: …and then we just jumped on his computer, tried to get into his, you know, files and this was a big challenge for us.
With the help of family and friends, Jeanne and Gideon got access to Blaze’s Snapchat account. That’s where they discovered that Blaze had sent his home address to someone: Sam Woodward, Blaze’s one-time classmate.
Raiah Rofsky: The only reason I could think of Sam meeting up with Blaze is because either number one, he wanted to hook up with him, or two, because he was planning to murder him.
THE SEARCH FOR BLAZE
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis nurtured Blaze’s spirit at Orange County’s University Synagogue.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis: …a good heart, a good soul. That’s what Blaze had. …within less than a day of Blaze being missing, word spread.
Borrego Park became the center of the search.
Lt. Brad Valentine | Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. [to reporters]: So it’s gonna be a slow, tedious search as they get out there and beat the bushes and look for any signs of him.
Edgy hours turned into anxious days.
Gideon Bernstein [to reporters]: We’re here today to get your help to find our son.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein [to reporters]: Please keep your eyes open for my baby. I want him home with me. Now.
All Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein had to go on was that clue they found on Blaze’s computer: their home address sent out to a seeming stranger: Sam Woodward.
Gideon Bernstein: We never heard the name.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: We never heard the name before.
Raiah Rofsky: It was already terrifying that I found out that Blaze was missing. But it was even more terrifying to find out he was with Sam Woodward.
Tracy Smith: Why?
Raiah Rofsky: Because he was literally known as being a crazy, homophobic, racist guy.
Sam Woodward, now a college drop-out, was working part-time and living at home.
Orange County cops went to meet him.
Sam Woodward couldn’t have been more cooperative. He told Blaze’s parents and police that he and Blaze came to Borrego Park to hang out. And according to Sam, after awhile Blaze walked down a path alone and disappeared into the brush. The search for Blaze Bernstein heated up.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis: We printed up thousands and thousands of fliers that people in the congregation put up on wall boards, coffeehouses, on poles and everything.
Raiah Rofsky: There was a Facebook page, “Find Blaze Bernstein.” There were like helicopter searches.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis: The police are looking. Everybody’s looking.
NEWS REPORT: The search for Blaze Bernstein went airborne Sunday with more than a dozen drone pilots.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: I really didn’t know if we would ever find him —
Gideon Bernstein: As the days passed it became more and more difficult.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: And I thought we’re never gonna know. We’re never going to know what happened exactly. We’re never going to figure it out. [Pauses, shakes her head] Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Raiah Rofsky: And I just got this gut feeling in my stomach. That I just—I just thought to myself, “Oh my God.”
From day one, Blaze’s oldest friend had an instinct that chilled.
Raiah Rofsky: I immediately thought, “He’s dead. He’s dead.”
Tracy Smith: Just from hearing that he was with Sam?
Raiah Rofsky: Yes.
It was day seven since Blaze last left home. A family and a community were beyond frustrated. Detectives had searched Borrego Park over and over again. But they decided to give it one more look. In the pouring rain, hidden under a large tree branch was a mound of dirt. Under the wet caked earth lay.
Gideon Bernstein [to reporters]: Needless to say our family is devastated by the news. …We, like so many of you around the world, loved Blaze and we wanted nothing more than to seek his safe return.
Tony Rackauckas | Former Orange County D.A.: [to reporters] This is a senseless murder of a young man who possessed the combination of a high-caliber mind and the heart of a poet.
Tracy Smith: How did Blaze Bernstein die?
Tony Rackauckas: He was stabbed multiple times in the neck — 19 stab wounds in the neck.
Tracy Smith: What does that tell you?
Tony Rackauckas: Well it tells me that there was a lot of hate.
Raiah Rofsky: All I could think of was just, “I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.”
Tracy Smith: You knew.
Raiah Rofsky: I knew.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis: Then the funeral happened … And it was shattering.
Friends, family gather to remember Blaze Bernstein
The grief seemed to stretch across Orange County — neighbors, friends, strangers, teachers.
Neighbor [tying a blue ribbon around a tree]: We’re hugging them right now. We’re all hugging them. This is our big giant hug to them.
Eric Tryon | Teacher: It was devastating to hear. And it’s so horrifying to think about what happened.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis: And not stabbed once or twice, but over and over and over again in a crazed angry murderous rage.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: I just try not to think about what that really meant. I don’t think that I physically can deal with the trauma of what’s happened yet.
REPORTER: Can you tell us what happened to Blaze?
SAM WOODWARD: [Grunts] No comment.
REPORTER: Were you there when he disappeared?
SAM WOODWARD: No comment. [Goes inside house and shuts the door]
Days after Blaze Bernstein’s body was found, investigators were ready to take the next step.
REPORTER MICHELE GILE | CBS LOS ANGELES: Undercover officers made their move on Sam Woodward this afternoon as he pulled out of his Newport Beach driveway and went down the road. They pulled that car over and arrested him.
D.A. Tony Rackaukas: Sam Woodward was charged with murder with the personal use of a knife.
Woodward pleaded not guilty.
A community — a school, a synagogue, and a family were in shock.
But another community – small, twisted with sick rage — greeted the news of Blaze Bernstein’s brutal murder in a very different way.
Former Atomwaffen member: He killed a Jew. Like, was there a party? No, but like did people joke about it? Yeah. Everyone celebrated him.
Everyone in the hate group this man belonged to. They say they are Nazis. And they rejoiced for one of their own, Sam Woodward.
Former Atomwaffen member: I never physically met the guy but I knew him online.
For months, “48 Hours” has been trying to learn more about the violent neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen from the inside.
Former Atomwaffen member: Like, he killed a gay Jew.
And finally, a one-time member agreed to talk. The words are unimaginable, but to understand Atomwaffen we felt it necessary to hear some of the hate.
Former Atomwaffen member [via Skype]: You know, he killed two birds with one stone essentially.
Tracy Smith: Which is even better in Atomwaffen’s eyes?
Former Atomwaffen member: Yeah, of course.
Joanna Mendelson: It’s dangerous. Their ideology is at the core deeply hateful.
Joanna Mendelson has spent close to 20 years monitoring the dark world of extreme hate at the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League.
Joanna Mendelson: It’s important that we shine a very bright light on these groups and understand them for what they are. Not to glorify them and not to give them any more notoriety than they already have.
Tracy Smith: But at the same time, to be able to recognize what they’re doing?
Joanna Mendelson: We have to be able to call them out.
Jake Hanrahan | Journalist: Atomwaffen is essentially a extreme, extreme, far-right militant neo-Nazi group in America. And their end goal is … the destruction of America as a whole.
Tracy Smith: How would you describe Blaze?
Richard Bernstein: He had a lot of imagination. And very curious.
It’s a truth as timeless as the human family.
Leah Bernstein: We just loved him.
There is no love like the love of a grandparent for a grandchild. And so it was for Leah and Richard Bernstein, and their grandson Blaze.
Leah Bernstein: I feel that he lives in our heart. And every night I have a difficult time going to sleep because I always think of him before I go to sleep.
Richard Bernstein: I think the world lost a beautiful soul.
The evidence marking the loss of that soul was revealed when the heavens opened up and the rain came down.
Leah Bernstein: If not the rain, we would have never known what happened to him … The person that murdered him made like a, you know —
Richard Bernstein: Grave.
Leah Bernstein: — a grave and covered him all with mud, so the rain uncovered his face.
Then, in Borrego Park, where Blaze ended up with one-time classmate Sam Woodward, investigators found Blaze’s phone. And in Woodward’s car …
Tony Rackauckas: The blood on the headliner belonged to both Sam Woodward and Blaze Bernstein.
Tracy Smith: Blaze Bernstein’s blood was in Sam Woodward’s car?
Tony Rackauckas: Yes. Yes.
Tracy Smith: And then they went on to search the house?
Tony Rackauckas: Yes.
Tracy Smith: What kind of forensic evidence did they gather?
Tony Rackauckas: There was a knife … The knife had blood on it … Blaze Bernstein’s blood on the knife.
Gideon Bernstein: [In tears] Just wanna know why.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: I don’t — I don’t even wanna know because I’m not gonna like that answer.
But it’s “the why” Blaze was murdered that makes an unbearable loss almost unspeakable — and transforms his murder into a national issue.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: It’s very alarming that this is happening … This is atrocious hate. It’s just right there.
Jake Hanrahan: Sam Woodward was … absolutely, definitely … a member of Atomwaffen Division.
“48 Hours” spoke via Skype with British journalist and CBS News consultant Jake Hanrahan. For Hanrahan, the arrest of Woodward brought an awful confirmation: Atomwaffen was right at home glorifying an accused killer.
Jake Hanrahan: Oh yeah. Absolutely. They made T-shirts using Sam Woodward’s mug shot.
Hanrahan had been reporting on Atomwaffen for nearly two years. They weren’t all that hard to find. Hanrahan obtained their secret chat logs and first made note of an angry college dropout, Sam Woodward.
Jake Hanrahan: Doing like Nazi salutes next to other members of Atomwaffen.
Former Atomwaffen member: I joined Atomwaffen in 2016
Tracy Smith: Did you consider yourself a neo-Nazi?
Former Atomwaffen member: I just considered myself a Nazi.
The man Hanrahan introduced “48 Hours” to wouldn’t tell us his name or dare to show his face. He claims to have been a member of Atomwaffen for more than a year.
Former Atomwaffen member: I joined Atomwaffen because of the militancy and the brotherhood that they offered
Tracy Smith: Brotherhood.
Former Atomwaffen member: Yeah. It was like a camaraderie type of feeling … common interests.
Tracy Smith: And those interests were hating other groups, hating Jews, hating gays, hating blacks?
Former Atomwaffen member: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Joanna Mendelson | Anti-Defamation League: This is some of the most intense and some of the most extreme rhetoric that I’ve seen in a long time.
Atomwaffen began in Florida in 2015. The group believes that the so-called alt-right that converged at the violent 2017 demonstration in Charlottesville doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Former Atomwaffen member: They don’t even like to be associated with the alt right at all. They hate the Alt Right.
Joanna Mendelson: Their rhetoric and their ideology is white supremacy on steroids … In fact, the name of Atomwaffen translates in German to atomic weapon.
Tracy Smith: We’ll just obliterate you.
Joanna Mendelson: We’ll wipe you out.
According to investigators, Sam Woodward, a privileged upper middle class kid from Southern California, was drawn to this ideology — drawn to Atomwaffen’s heroes: Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh and James Mason, author of Atomwaffen’s favorite neo-Nazi publication, “Siege.” Woodward went to meet him.
Former Atomwaffen member: Did I think that like, this guy was going to do something like this? Honestly, I wasn’t surprised.
And by 2017, Sam Woodward, at times sporting his absurd Atomwaffen mask, attended their version of a corporate retreat.
Joanna Mendelson: Hate camps have occurred across the country, involving Atomwaffen members.
Joanna Mendelson: They talk about cutting telephone wires and power grids. And shutting down the system. A system that they detest.
The images and ambitions are surreal, but their hatred could not be more real.
Jake Hanrahan: They want to kill, obviously, first and foremost Jews. They want to kill gays.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: There were people congratulating this accused killer, for what he has done, killing my son. Congratulating him.
Jake Hanrahan: They call him the gay, the one-man gay, Jew wrecking ball. You know, like kind of reveling in this idea that he’s killed this gay, Jewish kid.
Nazi “wannabes” laughing at the murder of Blaze in Orange County.
Tracy Smith: “LOL OC.”
Joanna Mendelson: “LOL OC.” Laughing at the fact that Blaze Bernstein’s life was extinguished.
Former Atomwaffen member: Everyone in Atomwaffen believes Jewish people just need to be wiped off the face of the earth.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis : As the story unfolded that the murder was related to homophobia and anti-Semitism, well then the anger in the community and the anxiety ratcheted up.
Tracy Smith: Do you think that Blaze was murdered because he was gay, and because he was Jewish?
Raiah Rofksy:Yes, 100 percent.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis: Permission has been granted for the ugliest kind of racism, anti-Semitism, immigrant bashing and hatred.
Joanna Mendelson: We used to monitor these groups that lurked in the shadows. But today they are emerging front and center.
Tracy Smith: Had you ever heard of Atomwaffen before this?
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: No. But we should have. Because we’re a perfect target for that group.
A perfect target for today’s Nazi, just as Blaze’s grandma Leah, a Holocaust survivor, was so many years ago. A little Jewish girl forced by Hitler’s Nazis to wear a yellow star.
Leah Bernstein: Yes. We did wear the stars.
Tracy Smith: You all had to wear the stars. You’ve seen a lot.
Leah Bernstein: Quite a bit.
Tracy Smith: It’s a horrible irony, that what you escaped is.
Leah Bernstein: Is following me. Yeah.
THE TENTACLES OF HATE
Clear across the country from where Sam Woodward morphed into an Atomwaffen Nazi, Nick Giampa grew up with his own set of insecurities and issues that eventually led him to find Atomwaffen’s online propaganda.
Emily: By the time he was in second grade Nicholas wasn’t your ordinary little boy.
Nick’s sister Emily and her husband Chris stuck by Nick. They say he was bipolar and suffered from other psychological issues.
Chris: He was in one school in the second grade, another school in the third grade, another school in the fourth grade. I think it was eight or nine different schools.
Emily: Nicholas was bullied, called a freak, called a retard, stupid, dumb.
Emily: He thought he was invisible. He said, “Nobody ever sees me. Nobody ever calls my phone. …He was a lonely child on the internet.
A perfect profile to be vulnerable to the postings of a hate group. Still, in his junior year of high school, Nick’s life changed in a positive way.
Emily: It was such a self confidence boost, like “Wow, I found someone that loves me.”
Chris: Everything in the world was going good for him.
Nick had his first-ever girlfriend, a classmate. “48 Hours” agreed not to show her face. She was the 16-year-old daughter of a Reston, Virginia, couple — Scott Fricker and his wife Buckley Kuhn Fricker.
Deb Merriner: She was always learning, always wanting to see if she could figure out how to serve people better.
Buckley Kuhn Fricker was a lawyer-turned-advocate for the elderly. Deb Merriner was her assistant.
Deb Merriner: They were amazing parents. …I was blown away by the dedication to making sure their kids were raised right.
Justin Jouvenal | Washington Post crime reporter: It was three days before Christmas.
911 CALL: Caller is still upstairs with her boyfriend. Shots fired.
Justin Jouvenal: And I got a call from the office very early in the morning, saying that there had been this horrific double murder in a fairly upscale neighborhood just outside of D.C.
Washington Post crime reporter Justin Jouvenal would learn about the rich family values of Scott and Buckley and the bankrupt ideology of Atomwaffen.
Justin Jouvenal: So I jumped in my car early that morning and made my way out to the neighborhood and began reporting on what happened.
According to Nick Giampa’s own family, just hours earlier, Nick grabbed a gun from his home, and drove to the Fricker’s home.
A house decked out for the holidays.
Justin Jouvenal: There was yellow crime tape up around the house … There were snowflakes on the house. Christmas wreathes. …Detectives going in and out, crime scene investigators.
in their own home, likely in front of their 16-year-old daughter — Nick Giampa’s first girlfriend.
Justin Jouvenal: It was absolutely horrific
The daughter was not shot. But Nick Giampa was in the house, still alive after allegedly shooting himself through the skull. A trail of blood led to Atomwaffen.
Joanna Mendelson: Nick Giampa allegedly killed his girlfriend’s parents because they found out about his white supremacist beliefs.
Tracy Smith: And they told her not to date him anymore?
Joanna Mendelson: They forbade their daughter from dating him.
Justin Jouvenal: The daughter agreed to stop seeing her boyfriend. …This set him off.
Buckley, a concerned and involved mom, had confronted her daughter after discovering Nick’s retweets of Atomwaffen on her daughter’s phone. The teenage girl had nothing to do with Atomwaffen, but Nick was sharing their racist posts.
Justin Jouvenal: Very slick propaganda, which they’ve pushed out via social media, that’s been picked up by people who are, you know perhaps, vulnerable.
Emily: It was a way for Nicholas to be the bully for once.
Former Atomwaffen member: If you’re looking at their propaganda … they’re seeking to attract ostracized youth and outcast youth. Especially … white kids that are just bullied.
Chris: That was just him trying to get a rise outta people on the internet … And that’s what he did.
The boy who once felt invisible, had found a horrendous way to get the world’s attention.
Chris: Nicholas was not part of any Atomwaffen group. He was never part of that.
Former Atomwaffen member: He was an initiate in the Virginia chapter … You can’t say Nick was a member of AW But you can say Nick was an initiate in AW.
Chris: I don’t think he would ever be part of any Atomwaffen group. This was my little brother.
But just as they did when Blaze Bernstein was murdered, Atomwaffen’s small membership of Nazi wannabes mocked a murder — this time the unconscionable killing of Scott and Buckley Kuhn Fricker.
Former Atomwaffen member: Yeah. They made Nick Giampa propaganda.
Justin Jouvenal: They sent out a tweet with his picture superimposed on a Kalashnikov.
Sam Woodward allegedly embraced Atomwaffen. Nick Giampa was infected by far more casual contact. But in each case, the Nazi cancer proved deadly.
Joanna Mendelson: They reaffirm hate, they desensitize the viewer, and they create a sense of normalcy.
Tracy Smith: That this is OK.
Joanna Mendelson: This is acceptable.
Tracy Smith: Do you think if Buckley and Scott hadn’t found those Nazi images on their daughter’s phone, would they still be alive today?
Jake Hanrahan: [Sighs] Probably.
FIGHTING HATE WITH LOVE
Detectives say Sam Woodward went online trolling gay men, pretending he was interested in a sexual hookup. But the former D.A. believes it wasn’t a hookup Sam had in mind with Blaze Bernstein; it was a setup for murder.
Tracy Smith: Does it seem like Sam is sexually conflicted himself?
Tony Rackauckas | Former Orange County D.A.: He doesn’t claim to be sexually conflicted. He claims to be somebody who hates gays and wants to cause harm to them.
Jake Hanrahan: In fact on his Tinder he said, “I’m going hunting.” …The kid was planning to kill someone because of his ideology.
On Aug. 2, 2018, the Orange County D.A. added an enhancement to the charges against Sam Woodward in the murder of Blaze Bernstein. From Blaze’s family to his friends, no one was surprised by the D.A.’s decision:
Tony Rackauckas [to reporters]: This increases the maximum penalty to life without the possibility of parole. We will prove that Woodward killed Blaze because Blaze was gay.
After police seized physical evidence, including an Atomwaffen mask in Woodward’s car, they found a trove of Nazi hate on his phone and computer.
Former Atomwaffen member: They found evidence of Sam being involved in Atomwaffen.
Blaze’s murder was now considered a hate crime.
Tony Rackauckas: Sam Woodward is a hater. …He hates homosexuals. He hates people who are Jewish. He hates people of all different kinds of categories who are not white.
For Gideon and Jeanne Bernstein, it deepened the darkest tragedy.
Gideon Bernstein [to reporters]: Today we suffer an added layer of pain from learning that he was likely killed simply because of who he was as a human being.
For Blaze’s oldest friend Raiah Rofsky, who is Jewish and identifies as bisexual, it brings an unsettling fear.
Raiah Rofsky: I have to be careful and I’m terrified.
Tracy Smith: You truly feel unsafe.
Raiah Rofsky: I do.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis: There has to be zero tolerance of homophobia, zero tolerance of racism, of anti-Semitism, of immigrant bashing.
For Blaze’s grandma Leah, who wore that yellow Nazi star, sadness and belief blend into one.
Leah Bernstein: It’s very painful. It’s very, very hard.
Tracy Smith: After seeing all this, are you hopeful?
Leah Bernstein: I’m very hopeful. Because there are lots of good people in the world.
And at least one new way to fight hate with love.
Leah Bernstein: Well, we BlazeItForward.
BlazeItForward. Just days after they learned of their son’s death, the Bernsteins made the remarkable decision to channel their grief into kindness.
Gideon Bernstein: Let’s do something where we go onto this, you know, BlazeItForward Facebook page and tell people to give money to some charity.
Gideon and Jeanne targeted foster care kids and at-risk youth.
They raised money for a scholarship at OSCA, the high school where Blaze shined so bright.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein [at scholarship event]: We are delighted to award two scholarships this year from the Blaze Bernstein memorial endowment scholarship.
Thousands of friends and strangers gathered to honor Blaze.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: I want to do my piece to repair the world in Blaze’s honor and to promote his legacy.
As they embraced each other, their community “Blazed it” right back.
Pride Parade Organizer [addressing parade goers]: This parade is rededicated as our community’s official Blaze Forward OC LGBT Pride Parade
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein [addressing parade goers]: We thank you for giving us this honor. For honoring my son and his memory and for Blazing It Forward.
BlazeItForward. It’s much more than a slogan. It is now a calling, a new way of life for Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein. At its heart is finding some sort of silver lining in an unspeakable tragedy. And at Orange County’s Pride Day, the spirit of BlazeItForward is everywhere. It’s a promise made to a young man targeted by hate, now inspiring love.
And perhaps steering one hater away from the poison that is Atomwaffen.
Tracy Smith: Do you feel like you owe Blaze Bernstein’s family an apology?
Former Atomwaffen member: Yes, I do.
And if he is to be believed, because of the murder of Blaze Bernstein he says he’s no longer a Nazi and has quit Atomwaffen.
Tracy Smith: You could say something now.
Former Atomwaffen member: To them?
Tracy Smith: Sure.
Former Atomwaffen member: Yeah, so, I’m so sorry that — I’m so sorry that this happened to your son … I would like to see AW brought down. I would like to see Sam put behind bars for life.
In Borrego Park, where Blaze Bernstein’s light was extinguished, people from around the world leave stones in his memory.
Leah Bernstein: It’s beautiful.
Richard Bernstein: You see all the stones, you feel the love.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: I think that sometimes I dream. I can’t control that. And I dream. And I wake up. And it [sighs] just haunts me. Those dreams can haunt me for days.
Tracy Smith: Dreams about?
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein: About my son. Just him, alive.
Sam Woodward’s trial is expected to take place later this year.
Produced by James Stolz and Gayane Keshishyan Mendez. Michelle Fanucci is the field producer. Grayce Arlotta-Berner, Marcus Balsam and Phil Tangel are the editors. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.
Blaze Bernstein remembered for his generosity and spirit
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