[Above, from February of this year, when Seattle FBI announced arrest of Seattle-area member of ‘violent extremist group’. ]
One of the most troubling aspects of the rise of the online alt-right over the past decade has been the way its followers deploy campaigns of harassment directed at their critics and journalists who exposed them, particularly women and Jewish people: publishing their personal information online, filling their inboxes and replies with hate mail and death threats, and organizing real-life harassment at their homes. The most disturbing part of these campaigns was that they seemed to be conducted with utter impunity.
Those days—or at least the utter lack of consequences for blatantly criminal harassment—appear to be drawing to a close. A jury this week convicted a leader in the neo-Nazi organization Atomwaffen Division (AWD) of conspiring to organize a campaign of harassment against journalists, Jews, and Black people in Washington and two other states, targeting them at their homes. He now faces a potential prison term of up to 10 years or more.
Kaleb Cole was one of four AWD members who were arrested in February 2020 for their roles in the conspiracy. His three cohorts—Cameron Brandon Shea, 25, of Redmond, Washington; Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, 21, of Spring Hill, Florida; and Johnny Roman Garza, 21, of Queen Creek, Arizona—all pleaded guilty and have been sentenced; Cole was the only member to take his charges before a jury instead of agreeing to a plea deal.
According to the Seattle Times’ Lewis Kamb, some victims testified during the trial they had fled their homes for a time after receiving the posters. One victim bought a weapon and took a gun safety class. A journalist testified that she left her job. Another victim testified that she resorted to opening her mailbox with a stick out of fear for what it might contain.
Cole’s attorney, Chris Black, attempted to argue that the posters did not constitute threats.
“What we have here is a group of disillusioned young men who want to believe that they are engaged in some sort of propaganda war with journalists and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League,” Black said, according to the Associated Press. “But they never engaged in violence. They never planned violence. And most importantly, they never intended to communicate an actual threat to commit violence.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Woods countered that Cole “was not simply sending a message of hate, he was sending a statement of terror.”
The jury, which deliberated for about 90 minutes, found Cole guilty of five felonies, including conspiracy, three counts of mailing threatening communications, and one count of interfering with a federally protected activity. Scheduled for sentencing in January, the interference charge can carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years, while the conspiracy and threatening-communication charges carry sentences of up to five years each.
According to the original complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the four AWD members met online and formed a discreet working group that organized online through the chat platform Wire. The main ringleaders were Shea and Cole, the latter of whom resided in suburban Snohomish County until a warrant was issued for his arrest by King County authorities in December on weapons possession charges, based on an incident in Texas.
Another leading AWD member, John Cameron Denton of the Houston, Texas, area, was also arrested the same week by the FBI. He was charged with attempting to terrorize the New York newsroom of Pro Publica, which published a major expose of the group in February 2018, and the journalist who was its primary author.
According to Ali Winston at The Daily Beast, Cole liked to use the nom de plume Khimaere in his online exchanges with other Atomwaffen members. He is also a fan of neo-Nazi “black metal” music and was in a band called Opferblut, which means “sacrificial blood” in German; Cole apparently likes to mix Satanism with his fascist ideology.
Shea (who was also active in the online neo-Nazi terror group The Base) and Cole designed most of the posters, which featured such ominous warnings as “Your Actions Have Consequences / Our Patience Has Limits,” “We Are Watching / We Are No One / We Are Everyone / We Know Where You Live / Do Not Fuck With Us,” and “Two Can Play At This Game / These People Have Names and Addresses.”
In their chats, they discussed seeking out the home addresses of key journalists who reported on their activities so that they could “simply approach them with nothing but pure aggression. We cannot let them think that … it’s safe for them to just come up to us, and fuck with us. We cannot let them think they are safe in our very presence alone.”
On one chat forum, Shea told his colleagues he wanted to “go full McVeigh and start dispatching political and economic targets today, helping build the social tension that will accelerate the collapse of the system.”
In addition to designing and distributing the posters, the four men discussed how to avoid detection—using only black-and-white printers, avoiding licking stamps, wearing medical gloves—before they put the posters in the mail. They planned for their “Operation” to take place during a single night as “a show of force, demonstrating we are capable of massive coordination.”
The FBI warned potential targets they could identify; however, some targets who were not warned nonetheless received posters. The targets included a journalist for KING-TV in Seattle; two activists affiliated with the Seattle office of the Anti-Defamation League; Jewish and Black journalists in the Phoenix, Arizona, area; and a Black family in the Tampa, Florida, area, whose home was mistakenly identified by the terrorists as belonging to a Tampa reporter who had published stories about Atomwaffen.
After pleading guilty, Garza was sentenced to 16 months in prison, while Shea received a three-year prison term. Parker-Dipeppe, who is transgender, received no further prison time after the judge found that he had played a low-level role in the conspiracy and that “the difficult situation this defendant has endured as a result of his gender identity confusion” warranted a light sentence.
Cole had encountered law enforcement on several previous occasions. In October 2019, Seattle City Police filed an “Extreme Risk Protection” petition against Cole on the basis of his violent rhetoric and organizing and obtained a court order to confiscate his weapons by using Washington state’s “red flag” law. Two months later, King County issued a warrant for Cole’s arrest after he was arrested in Texas on gun-possession charges, in defiance of the October court order.
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.