The FBI and local law enforcement have teamed up to make arrests and searches in Kirkland, Tampa, Florida, Houston and Phoenix.
Four defendants characterized as racially motivated violent extremists with ties to the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division (translated to “nuclear weapons”) were arrested and charged Feb. 26, in Seattle’s U.S. District Court.
According to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, the four individuals — Cameron Brandon Shea of Redmond, Kaleb J. Cole of Montgomery, Texas, Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe of Spring Hill, Florida and Johnny Roman Garza of Queen Creek, Arizona — created threatening posters to send to journalists and activists, specifically minorities, with the goal of intimidation and harassment. They have been charged with a conspiracy to threaten and intimidate journalists and activists.
Posters created included swastikas and figures in skull masks holding guns. Some messages on the posters read “We Know Where You Live” and “Your Actions Have Consequences.”
In the Puget Sound area, residents in cities including Mercer Island, Seattle and Edmonds received these posters.
At 11 a.m., on Feb. 26, the Seattle U.S. Attorney’s Office held a press conference to address the arrests and provide more information on the ongoing investigation. U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran of the Western District of Washington and FBI Seattle special agent in charge Raymond Duda spoke and were accompanied by members of Seattle’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“This should serve as a warning to [extremist] groups — that the FBI is taking this threat to our country very seriously, that this is not a recent surge in investigation activity, this is a culmination, or at least a stage we have reached,” Duda said at the conference.
As confirmed at the gathering, the group was able to obtain personal information from the victims, such as home addresses, through the use of the web. The group communicated with each other using an encrypted online chat service, on which they attempted to conceal their identities with disguises.
In a group chat message obtained included in court documents, Shea, who was arrested on the morning of Feb. 26 while showing up to his job at a Kirkland Fred Meyer, described the goal of the operation.
“We’re coordinating this nation wide [sic] Operation called Operation Erste Säule, named after the first pillar of stat[e] power, AKA the media,” he wrote. “We will be postering journalists [sic] houses and media buildings to send a clear message that we too have leverage over them…The goal, of course, is to erode the media/states [sic] air of legitimacy by showing people that they have names and addresses, and hopefully embolden others to act as well.”
Those in the group chat planned to mail posters to establishments with higher security and to hand deliver posters to those with less security, documents state.
Victims in Washington include Chris Ingalls, a Seattle investigative journalist with King 5 who reported on the Atomwaffen Division, as well as an employee and former employee of the Anti-Defamation League’s PNW Regional Office.
According to Duda, the group first came to the FBI’s attention in 2018. From there, they were able to keep track of the group until it had gone from espousing hateful rhetoric to actually committing illegal acts.
Moran clarified at the press conference that the arrests and charges should not be considered an official end to the inquiry, as the investigation is ongoing.
“This is the starting line,” he said. “It’s not the finishing line.”
Duda also reiterated several times at the meeting that the FBI does not investigate a group overarchingly but rather investigates individuals connected with the group who have broken the law.
“The network is clearly throughout the United States,” he said. “We have to investigate activity through the East Coast to the West Coast.”
Duda added that there is a rise of violence associated with groups like the Atomwaffen Division.
“The violence associated with these groups has surpassed the violence associated with groups deemed international terrorism groups here in the United States,” Duda said. “It has risen to the forefront of our terrorism fight domestically.”
Duda said the FBI, at the time of the press conference, was not able to confirm how large the Atomwaffen Division’s footprint is in the region.