Tuesday, 21 Mar 2023

Former Army Private Sentenced to 45 Years in Neo-Nazi Plot to Kill Soldiers

A former U.S. Army private was sentenced on Friday to 45 years in prison after he pleaded guilty last year to charges that he had shared sensitive information with a Satanist neo-Nazi group in a plot to kill members of his own unit while they were serving overseas, federal prosecutors said.

The former soldier, Ethan Phelan Melzer, 24, of Louisville, Ky., was a member of the Order of the Nine Angles, or 09A, a “white supremacist, neo-Nazi, Satanist, and jihadist group that promotes extreme violence to accelerate and cause the demise of Western civilization,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.

The group, which expresses admiration for both Hitler and Osama bin Laden, instructs its followers to fulfill “sinister” objectives, including “insight roles,” in which they attempt to infiltrate various organizations, including the military and street gangs, to gain training and experience in violent tactics, prosecutors said.

Mr. Melzer enlisted in the Army in 2018 and “infiltrated its ranks as part of an insight role to further his goals as an O9A adherent,” prosecutors said in a statement.

In 2019, he was deployed to Italy as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. While there, he subscribed to encrypted online forums, where he downloaded videos of jihadist attacks on U.S. troops and consumed far-right, neo-Nazi and other white supremacist propaganda, prosecutors said.

In May 2020, the Army informed Mr. Melzer that he would be reassigned to a unit scheduled for another foreign deployment, guarding an isolated and sensitive military base in Turkey.

After learning of the deployment and attending briefings about the transfer, Mr. Melzer began to pass sensitive and classified information about the deployment to O9A members of a Telegram channel known as “RapeWaffen Division,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.

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Mr. Melzer shared the precise location of the military base, the number of soldiers who would be guarding the installation and how they would be armed, prosecutors said. He provided the information to facilitate what he called a “mascal,” or mass casualty attack on his platoon, prosecutors said.

He believed that such a direct attack on the American military would provoke the United States into a foreign war, “all in service of a depraved, white supremacist organization bent on sadistic violence and destroying civilized society,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.

On May 23, 2020, five days before Mr. Melzer was scheduled to deploy to Turkey, several of his initial communications about the planned attack were forwarded to an O9A chat group on Telegram that included a confidential F.B.I. source, prosecutors said.

Mr. Melzer later identified the person who had forwarded his messages as a former Canadian paratrooper, prosecutors said. But federal investigators believe he was actually a minor living in Canada and posing as a former paratrooper.

By May 26, 2020, the confidential F.B.I. source had exposed Mr. Melzer’s scheme to law enforcement officials, and his platoon’s scheduled deployment was postponed to protect it and to allow officials to investigate the plot, prosecutors said.

During that investigation, the confidential F.B.I. source asked Mr. Melzer what made him think he could get away with harming the U.S. military. Mr. Melzer replied, “because I fly under the radar,” act normally around other people “and don’t talk about my personal life or beliefs with anyone,” prosecutors said.

Military investigators took Mr. Melzer into custody on May 30, 2020, as his platoon was getting ready to board buses to an airport in Italy en route to Turkey. In Mr. Melzer’s bag, which was packed for deployment, were O9A books as well what appeared to be a burner phone that Mr. Melzer had referenced in his Telegram chats, prosecutors wrote.

Mr. Melzer was charged in June 2020 with conspiring and attempting to murder military service members, among other charges, prosecutors said.

He pleaded guilty in June 2022 to attempting to murder U.S. service members, attempting to provide and providing material support to terrorists, and illegally transmitting national defense information, believing that it could be used to harm the United States, prosecutors said.

Judge Gregory H. Woods of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced Mr. Melzer to 45 years in prison, the same term requested by federal prosecutors.

“He used his membership in the military to pursue an appalling goal: the brutal murder of his fellow U.S. service members in a carefully plotted ambush,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement on Friday.

Mr. Melzer’s lawyers had asked that he be sentenced to 15 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release. They said that his plan was never coherent and that there was no one to carry it out if it had been.

“The group’s ideas never became anything more than that, ideas,” they wrote.

Jonathan Marvinny, one of Mr. Melzer’s lawyers, said in an email on Friday that he was “extremely disappointed” in the sentence and that Mr. Melzer was “not the unrepentant monster the prosecutors and the court portrayed him to be.”

“He deserved punishment, but he also deserved the chance to prove he could do something positive with his life,” Mr. Marvinny wrote. “Today’s sentence took that opportunity from him.”

In a letter to Judge Woods, dated Feb. 2, Mr. Melzer wrote that, “I regret everything I did.”

“Knowing that I betrayed the trust of my comrades and others that put their faith in me has destroyed me,” Mr. Melzer wrote. “Every day and night since my arrest I have thought about the damage I have done to the people who were supposed to trust me with their lives. I asked myself why? I fell into a pit of anger towards the world, and an unhealthy obsession with a group of idiots. It is no one’s fault but my own.”

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