Prosecutors: Neo-Nazi plot targeted civilians, synagogues

This June 7, 2017 photo provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff’f Office shows Brandon Russel, 21. Photo via the Associated Press.

(AP) A self-proclaimed neo-Nazi arrested after agents found bomb-making materials in his Tampa apartment planned to use the explosives to harm civilians, nuclear facilities and synagogues, federal prosecutors said.

The prosecutors made the allegations in court documents on Monday, a day before a judge set a $200,000 bond and conditions for the possible release of Brandon Russell, 21. The prosecutors want to keep Russell in jail before his trial, arguing that he poses a threat to the public after one of his roommates told authorities Russell was targeting the sites.

That roommate, Devon Arthurs, was arrested last month after telling police he fatally shot two other roommates, Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuk, 18, because they were neo-Nazis who disrespected his recent conversion to Islam. Arthurs said he had also been part of a neo-Nazi group started by Russell called Atomwaffen until he converted to Islam. It was when police took Arthurs back to the apartment to check out his story that they say they found the bomb-making materials.

When they first arrived, they found Russell outside of the apartment crying. A member of the Florida National Guard, he was dressed in full military uniform and had just returned from duty.

Inside, officers found the bodies of Himmelman and Oneschuk. Arthurs told police that Russell, who kept a framed picture of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on his dresser, was not involved in the shootings, but that he was planning a bombing.

Russell’s attorney, Ian Goldstein, called Arthurs’ contention about the bombing plans “a pure fabrication.”

“He’s a double murderer trying to help himself and has clear mental issues,” Goldstein said.

Agents say that inside the apartment and its garage, they found HMTD, a highly volatile explosive, as well as other materials used to make explosives, including ammonium nitrate, which federal prosecutors say is a blasting agent. They also found empty shell casings with fuses and electric matches, which could be used for detonation, and a written recipe for explosives.

Russell admitted to making the HMTD, but claimed he had been a member of a college engineering club and that the substance was for “setting off model rockets and balloons,” the documents stated. Agents said they found nothing related to rockets in the apartment.

On May 20, after speaking with authorities, Russell said he wanted to leave town and visit his father in Palm Beach, and he left the Tampa area while an arrest warrant was being prepared. Contacted by law enforcement, his family said they hadn’t heard from him.

Russell had picked up a friend, another self-described neo-Nazi, William James Tschantre, 20, who was identified in a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office report. Tsanchtre told the agents that he grabbed his life savings, $3,000, quit his job and left with Russell.

The pair told agents they stopped at a sporting goods store and purchased rifles and ammunition before heading south.

“According to Russell’s friend, they had no specific destination in mind and had no plans to hurt anyone or do any harm,” the court documents state.

The next morning, Russell was arrested by Monroe County sheriff’s deputies at a Burger King in Key Largo after the FBI had issued a “be on the lookout” advisory. In his car, according to court filings, they found two rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, binoculars and a skull mask.

In arguing for his bond, Russell stated that the rifles and ammunition he purchased could be used for hunting.

Prosecutors had asked the court to reconsider, arguing that Russell’s bomb-making materials and flight were cause enough to keep him behind bars. Russell is charged with unlawful storage of explosive materials and possessing a destructive device and unregistered firearm.

“Detonating this type of bomb could easily cause a vehicle to explode, killing all of the occupants and causing grave damage within a large distance around the explosion site,” Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow wrote.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun III issued the terms of Russell’s release anyway Tuesday, though he delayed his final decision on whether to place him in the custody of his grandmother in Orlando.

If he were released, the judge said, Russell would be required to wear an electronic- monitoring device and would be prohibited from using a computer “to promote or engage in neo-Nazi activities during the pretrial period.”

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