TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors are seeking a maximum 11-year sentence for a neo-Nazi group leader who stockpiled explosive material in the Florida apartment where a friend killed their two roommates, calling him an unrepentant ideologue who poses a serious danger once he gets out.
The sentencing of Brandon Russell, 22, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday in federal court in Tampa.
Devon Arthurs, Russell’s friend, awaits trial in state court on charges of murdering their two roommates, Andrew Oneschuk, 18, and Jeremy Himmelman, 22, both of Massachusetts.
Russell wasn’t charged in the May 2017 killings, which exposed the four roommates’ membership in Atomwaffen Division, an obscure neo-Nazi group co-founded by Arthurs and Russell that formed on the internet. Atomwaffen is German for “atomic weapon.”
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.
“Russell had a place of prominence for the picture of his idol, Timothy McVeigh, someone who turned his ideology into violent action,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Josephine Thomas. “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.
Russell was wearing his Florida National Guard uniform and crying when police found him standing outside the Tampa apartment. Arthurs told police that Russell didn’t know anything about the shooting.
Arthurs allegedly told investigators he killed his roommates for teasing him about his recent conversion to Islam. But he also told detectives he did it to thwart a terrorist attack by Atomwaffen. He claimed Russell, who would eventually plead guilty to illegally storing volatile explosive material and possessing an “unregistered destructive device,” had materials in the house “to kill civilians and target locations like power lines, nuclear reactors, and synagogues,” prosecutors said.
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.
In a court filing Sunday, prosecutors said Russell drew a diagram of how to make an explosive in a letter he apparently intended to be delivered to another “Atomwaffen Division” member outside jail. The FBI obtained copies in August 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!’”
Prosecutors also noted that since Russell’s arrest, others who have committed crimes have cited an allegiance to his group and its ideology.
Prosecutors say sentencing guidelines calling for 24 months to 30 months in prison don’t reflect the seriousness of Russell’s actions, or the danger he still poses.
But Russell’s attorney, Ian Goldstein, is asking for a more lenient sentence. He says 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.”
Kunzelman reported from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Associated Press reporter Jason Dearen in Gainesville contributed to this report.