Prosecutors: Neo-Nazi leader clings to ‘violent ideology’
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Handwritten letters show a neo-Nazi group leader hasn’t abandoned his “violent ideology” since his arrest on charges he stockpiled volatile explosive material in a Florida apartment where a friend killed their two roommates, federal prosecutors told the judge who will sentence the young man on Tuesday.
In a court filing Sunday, prosecutors said 22-year-old Brandon Russell drew a diagram of how to make an explosive in a letter he apparently intended to deliver to another “Atomwaffen Division” member outside jail. The FBI obtained copies of other letters in which Russell drew plans for an “Airborne Leaflet Dropping Device” showing Nazi propaganda falling from the sky, prosecutors said.
“In one letter, Russell attached a blurb about a 16-year-old Nazi who in 1962 told a judge, “I don’t care HOW long you put me in jail, your Honor, ... as soon as I get out, I will go right back to fight for my White Race and my America!’”
The FBI obtained the copies in August, just before Russell pleaded guilty to illegally storing volatile explosive material and possessing an “unregistered destructive device,” according to prosecutors. They’re urging a federal judge to sentence Russell to 11 years in prison — the maximum he faces after his guilty plea in September.
“While Russell has a First Amendment right to his beliefs, the evidence shows that Russell’s beliefs cross the line between hateful ideology and hateful ideology that gives rise to violence,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Josephine Thomas.
Devon Arthurs, Russell’s friend and former roommate, awaits trial in state court on charges he shot and killed their other two roommates, 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk and 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman, both of Massachusetts.
Russell wasn’t charged in the May 2017 killings, which exposed the four roommates’ membership in an obscure neo-Nazi group that formed on the internet. Arthurs was co-founder of Atomwaffen, which is German for “atomic weapon,” but he allegedly told investigators he killed his roommates for teasing him about his recent conversion to Islam.
Russell served in the Florida National Guard and was wearing his military uniform and crying when police arrived at the murder scene and found him standing outside the Tampa apartment. Arthurs told police that Russell didn’t know anything about the shooting.
Arthurs also told detectives he killed his roommates to thwart a terrorist attack by Atomwaffen. He claimed Russell had materials in the house “to kill civilians and target locations like power lines, nuclear reactors, and synagogues,” prosecutors said.
“I prevented the deaths of a lot of people,” Arthurs said in a rambling statement. Asked why his roommates would plan such an attack, he responded, “Because they want to build a Fourth Reich.”
Russell’s attorney, Ian Goldstein, maintains his client has accepted responsibility for his crimes and is “dedicated to emerging from this situation a stronger person.”
“As a 22-year-old former college student and member of the armed forces, the defendant has seen the future he once hoped for evaporate before his eyes,” Goldstein wrote in a Jan. 2 filing. “He has accepted responsibility for his offenses, and looks forward to serving his sentence and attempting to move forward with a productive and law abiding life.”
Sentencing guidelines calculated by the court’s probation office call for a prison sentence ranging from 24 to 30 months. Russell’s lawyer asked the court for a more lenient sentence.
Prosecutors, however, say the guidelines don’t adequately reflect the seriousness of Russell’s actions, or the danger he still poses.
Inside Russell’s bedroom, authorities said they found several firearms, ammunition and a framed picture of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on Russell’s bedroom dresser. Investigators also found a North Korean flag, multiple copies of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and other neo-Nazi and white supremacist propaganda in the apartment, prosecutors said.
“Russell had a place of prominence for the picture of his idol, Timothy McVeigh, someone who turned his ideology into violent action,” wrote Thomas, the federal prosecutor. “A photographic journey through Russell’s apartment_the backdrop of the murder scene_is a chilling confirmation of Russell’s intent to follow in the footsteps of his hero.”
Russell set up a “mini-lab” in the garage, where investigators found explosive material stored in a cooler, near homemade detonator components and several pounds of ammonium nitrate, according to Thomas.
“Russell showed not an ounce of concern for his own life, his roommates’ lives, or his (neighbors’) lives,” Thomas wrote.
In anonymous internet posts, Atomwaffen members hailed Oneschuk and Himmelman as fallen heroes, and assailed Arthurs as a race traitor. A tribute on IronMarch, a website for the “global fascist fraternity,” included swastika-stamped photos of the slain men.
Relatives of the two slain friends have rejected those neo-Nazi labels and dismissed Arthurs’ claims as the self-serving rantings of a sociopath. But prosecutors say Russell — even after his arrest — has never disputed he was Atomwaffen’s leader.
“The evidence of Russell’s violent ideology and his conduct while incarcerated shows that he has tightly held beliefs that he will continue to promote,” Thomas wrote.
Kunzelman reported from Baton Rouge, La. Associated Press reporter Jason Dearen in Gainesville contributed.