Gun charge yields year in prison for Virginia man with neo-Nazi ties

Published: Feb. 28, 2020 at 12:10 PM EST
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A northern Virginia man with ties to a violent neo-Nazi group was sentenced Friday to a year in prison for weapons violations after he renounced his ties to extremism.

Andrew Jon Thomasberg, 21, of McLean, acknowledged as part of a plea bargain last year in federal court that he possessed weapons while abusing psychedelic drugs and that he bought a semiautomatic rifle for another person who was also a drug user.

Court papers show Thomasberg joked in text messages about the juxtaposition of drug use and neo-Nazi ideology.

“Yo im gonna start tripping again. Psychedelic Nazis,” Thomasberg wrote in one message. In another, he wrote: “Theres nothing more Aryan than entheogenic drug use. Drug addiction is untermensch.” “Untermensch” is a term that Nazis used for people they considered to be racially inferior.

At Friday's sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, though, Thomasberg apologized and said under questioning from the judge that he's renouncing his racist ideology.

“This has been a very humbling experience,” he said. “My life will not resume the same way.”

Prosecutors say Thomasberg was a leader and recruiter for a Virginia-based cell of Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group that seeks to incite race war and has been linked to several killings.

Prosecutors sought an 18-month term for Thomasberg, which was at the upper end of what is recommended under federal sentencing guidelines. In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said his neo-Nazi affiliation, while not itself illegal, should be taken into account because it shows his willingness to engage in violence.

“While the defendant has a constitutional right to his own viewpoints and associations, these associations, when viewed in light of the defendant’s criminal conduct, are alarming,” prosecutor Anthony Mariano wrote.

Thomasberg's lawyer, Gretchen Taylor, asked that he be released with time served since his September arrest.

“He was chosen to be prosecuted because of his ideology and beliefs,” Taylor said.

Taylor said an 18-moth sentence would be excessive given that Brian Baynes, the person for whom Thomasberg made the straw purchase, received only probation. Baynes also had ties to neo-Nazi groups.

She chalked up hateful rhetoric Thomasberg expressed in private text messages — including referring to Dylann Roof, who shot and killed black churchgoers in South Carolina in 2015, and other mass shooters as saints — to his youth and to idle braggadocio.

“He is exhibiting grandiosity among his friends,” she said.

Mariano, though, said Thomasberg's history shows a propensity to violence. He was convicted of assault at the age of 14 when he fired a shot a car that sped off without making payment in a drug deal, Mariano said.

U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady, in imposing a 12-month sentence, called Thomasberg a “potentially frightening person to our community” but expressed hope that Thomasberg's change of heart is sincere. He said that if Thomasberg studied history, he would see that America's strength over 200 years comes from inclusiveness and diversity and he urged Thomasberg to “open your eyes and see that.”

When Thomasberg made his initial appearance in court last year, his mother said after the hearing that the FBI was unfairly targeting "a rich, white kid.” His family declined comment after Friday's hearing.

Thomasberg is one of more than a dozen people with ties to Atomwaffen who has faced federal charges since the group was formed in 2016.

On Wednesday, prosecutors in Alexandria announced charges against an alleged Atomwaffen leader from Texas. He is accused of conspiring to phone in bomb threats to targets in Virginia and across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, prosecutors in Seattle charged four alleged Atomwaffen members and leaders with conspiring to intimidate journalists and others by making their addresses public and sending them swastika-laden posters informing them “You have been visited by your local Nazis.”