The Pentagon faces a daunting task in rooting extremists out of the ranks of the military, complicated by the usual right-wing complaints that such an effort threatens the free-speech rights of soldiers.
Extremists Plot Violent Terrorism From Within Military Ranks
Two staff sergeants at Spokane's Fairchild Air Force Base have been accused of stealing ammunition while plotting to form an antigovernment domestic-terrorism cell.Credit: Wikipedia
April 30, 2022

The stories keep bubbling up: In Spokane, Washington, two Air Force officers plotted to form a terrorist cell intended to “take our government back,” telling a recruit after the Nov. 2020 election: “I think the capital needs to be seized … No trial or chance to escape.” Meanwhile, in Columbus, Ohio, two buddies in the National Guard discussed carrying out violent terrorist acts: One of them fantasized about gunning down the Jewish schoolchildren at the academy where he had been hired as a security guard, while the other schemed up a plan to fly an airplane into the local Anheuser-Busch brewery.

These are just the latest incidents in what has become a running litany of radicalized extremists within the ranks of the U.S. military plotting lethal acts of domestic terrorism intended to undermine the government and terrorize both minorities and the public. It underscores once again what a daunting task the Pentagon faces in rooting such extremists out of the ranks of the military, complicated by the usual right-wing complaints that such an effort threatens the free-speech rights of soldiers.

The noncommissioned officers, both staff sergeants at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, were arrested this week and charged with the theft of thousands of rounds of ammunition from the base. Charging documents for John I. Sanger, 30, and Eric A. Eagleton, 29, detail how the men managed to walk away with ammo from military stores and why: They were preparing to form a terrorist cell of like-minded far-right extremists, and practicing with weapons as preparation.

The men’s social-media posts following the 2020 election attracted the attention of the Inland Northwest Terrorism Task Force, especially after Sanger posted that “taking our government back” would involve violence, including the seizure of the U.S. Capitol and an apparent massacre (“no trial or chance of escape”) for its occupants.

“They defrauded our election system and are getting away with it,” Sanger wrote. “That means this system has run it’s course. People have to die,” according to an 11-page criminal complaint unsealed in federal court this week.

The task force sent an undercover agent working with the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations to engage Sanger in conversation and was told that Sanger “is actively recruiting in hopes of forming a local cell of like-minded individuals.”

That agent met up with Sanger and Eagleton last month to go target shooting, and was told by Eagleton that members of Fairchild’s Combat Arms Training Management section routinely stole “up to 3,000 rounds” of ammunition daily and distributed them amongst themselves. Eagleton also was voluble to the agent about his hatred for Jewish people and his antisemitic beliefs.

While out shooting targets at nearby Fishtrap Lake, the men were observed by Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents using ammo from cans that appeared similar to those used for combat arms training. The numbers on the packaging for the ammo were checked against base records, which showed it had been expended on training exercises some time beforehand.

The case was only the latest involving people still enrolled in the U.S. military preparing to carry out acts of domestic terrorism. Earlier this month, two National Guardsmen in Columbus, Ohio, were arrested after describing their violent plans on social media.

Thomas Develin, 25, a seven-year veteran of the National Guard, was arrested on April 1 after the Ohio National Guard alerted Columbus police about his social media posts. An employee of security firm Sahara, Develin’s job included serving as a security guard at the Columbus Torah Academy.

Thomas Develin Credit: Columbia Division of Police

On Discord, he posted photos of himself posing with a semi-automatic handgun while working at CTA and added threatening text: “I’m at a Jewish school and about to make it everyone’s problem,” and followed that with a post warning that “the playground is about to turn into a self-defense situation.”

Develin also threatened to shoot parents when they came to pick up their children from school, according to the complaint. He is currently being held on $1 million bond.

“He was immediately terminated by the security firm Sahara, and Sahara worked closely with law enforcement to assist in the arrest of this man and another,” explained a letter from leaders at Temple Beth Shalom of New Albany. He was also suspended from the National Guard.

That second man was Develin’s friend, James Ronald Meade Jr., 25, who was arrested outside his home April 4 in Chesterhill, Ohio. Authorities started looking into Meade’s Discord posts after being alerted to Develin’s threatening comments.

James R. Meade Jr. Credit: Zainesville, Ohio Police Department

Meade, according to court documents, threatened to fly a plane into the Anheuser-Busch plant in north Columbus, and is now charged with making a terroristic threat to the plant. Meade told Develin and others that he wanted to hijack a plane and crash it into the plant, adding: "I hope they got a terrorism insurance plan the day before.

"These are just the latest additions to a growing litany of cases that make the threat of military insiders radicalized into extremist belief systems abundantly clear: Not only do they have access to weapons, materiel, and training that enhance their ability to pull off terrorist violence successfully, but their placement in positions of trust and authority heighten their ability to inflict serious harm, including to national security.

The Fairchild arrests raise the specter of another Air Force staff sergeant in California, Steven J. Carrillo, who shot two federal officers at an anti-police protest in Oakland in late May 2020, killing one, and then a week later gunned down a sheriff’s deputy seeking him in connection with the Oakland case. Carrillo, who trained with a group of fellow far-right “Boogaloo” civil-war enthusiasts that included other veterans, hoped that authorities would blame the protest shootings on antifascists.

Another recent incident involved a group of Marines, some currently serving, who created a terrorist action cell in Idaho that engaged in training and preparation to take down the region’s electrical grid. The purpose of their scheme was to create a diversion that would enable to conduct assassinations against “leftist” targets, including local and regional politicians.

The spread of this kind of extremism within the ranks of the military has been enabled in large part by the Pentagon’s longstanding policy of looking the other way when their recruits indulge in far-right politics—such as flashing the white-nationalist “OK” sign—in public. Social media, particularly Facebook, has played a key role in the radicalization process, manifested in the group pages for elite military forces riddled with far-right extremism and ethnic hatred.

Studies, in fact, have shown that the presence of a military background among far-right extremist criminals who engage in violent acts has skyrocketed since 2017, suggesting that Donald Trump’s presidency may have encouraged this kind of infiltration by the radical right.

In January, the Pentagon’s inspector general (IG) announced that his office would be examining how effectively the military has screened for extremists during recruitment since early 2021. A December report from the IG’s office already noted that the Pentagon's response to the issue is notably lacking in a commitment to gathering, tracking, and reporting data.

“Until the [Department of Defense] establishes DoD-wide policy for tracking and reporting allegations of prohibited activities, the DoD will continue to have inconsistent tracking of disciplinary actions for participation in extremist organizations and activities; problems identifying and collecting data from multiple, decentralized systems; and difficulty validating the accuracy of the data,” the IG wrote.

Published with permission of Daily Kos.

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