Virginia man linked to neo-Nazi group pleads guilty to gun charges
A Virginia man who has been linked by the FBI to a violent neo-Nazi group pleaded guilty on Tuesday to gun charges, one of several recent criminal cases against members of the same far-right extremist group.
Andrew Thomasberg, 21, of McLean, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison following his guilty plea at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. His sentencing is set for Feb. 28.
An FBI agent has said Thomasberg joined a neo-Nazi group, Atomwaffen Division, shortly after attending the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that erupted in violence in 2017. Atomwaffen has been linked to several killings, including the 2017 shooting deaths of two men at an apartment in Tampa, Florida.
In September, FBI agents searched the home Thomasberg shares with his mother and stepfather and recovered more than 20 guns, including six in Thomasberg's room. Investigators also found a loaded pistol in the glove compartment of his car.
Thomasberg, who has remained detained since his arrest, pleaded guilty to two counts: illegally possessing four rifles as an "unlawful user" or addict of controlled substances, including marijuana and opium, and making a false statement in illegally purchasing a rifle for someone else affiliated with Atomwaffen. Thomasberg wore a green jail uniform in court on Tuesday and answered a judge's routine questions in a soft voice.
FBI Special Agent Shawn Matthews, who is assigned to investigate domestic terrorism, testified at a hearing in September that he became familiar with Thomasberg "through the course of several investigations." The agent called Thomasberg "a suspect in some matters" that he didn't specify.
Thomasberg has been a member of two far-right extremist groups, according to the agent. He was a member of Vanguard America when he attended the Charlottesville rally. On the eve of the rally, the white nationalist group's members also joined a torchlit march through the University of Virginia's campus, chanting "Blood and soil!" and "Jews will not replace us!"
Thomasberg joined Atomwaffen Division after the Charlottesville rally. Atomwaffen is more "extreme" than other neo-Nazi and white nationalist organizations, Matthews said.
"Atomwaffen is distinct in the fact that it advocates for violence or violent acts to disrupt and start a racial holy war in the United States," the agent added.
Thomasberg sent a text message in which he mentions shooting somebody in Fairfax, Virginia, during a "drug transaction," Matthews said. Other text messages mention preparations for "RAHOWA," an acronym for "racial holy war."
The agent said Thomasberg also bragged in text messages about using racial epithets against a group of African Americans he saw at a shopping mall. He said he would have gone "St. Roof" on them if they had stopped to confront him. That's a laudatory reference to Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who shot and killed nine black people in 2015 at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In other text messages, Thomasberg also refers to the suspects in deadly shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue and at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, as saints.
Thomasberg's case is one of several recently in which federal prosecutors have brought weapons charges against people with links to neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, including Atomwaffen.
Brian Baynes, another man charged in northern Virginia, pleaded guilty in August to possession of a firearm by a controlled substance abuser. During a hearing in June, FBI Special Agent Michael Bauknight testified that investigators searched Baynes' home and found guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and Atomwaffen paraphernalia.
The FBI says Thomasberg exchanged encrypted text messages with an Atomwaffen-associated individual. That person, identified only as "B.B." in court papers, directed Thomasberg to buy a gun on his behalf, according to an FBI agent's affidavit. Court records don't explicitly state whether Baynes is the same person identified as "B.B." in Thomasberg's case.
Atomwaffen has been linked to several killings, including the May 2017 shooting deaths of two men at an apartment in Tampa, Florida. Devon Arthurs, who was charged with killing two of his roommates in the apartment, told police they were Atomwaffen members and that he killed them to thwart a terrorist attack by the group. A fourth roommate, Atomwaffen co-founder Brandon Russell, was sentenced in January 2018 to five years in prison for stockpiling explosive material in the apartment.
Atomwaffen also was linked to the January 2018 killing of a University of Pennsylvania student in Southern California. Samuel Woodward was charged with fatally stabbing 19-year-old college sophomore Blaze Bernstein, who was gay and Jewish. Prosecutors have said Woodward's cellphone contained troves of anti-gay, anti-Semitic and hate group materials. ProPublica reported that Woodward, who went to high school with Bernstein, was an Atomwaffen member who participated in combat training with other group members.
Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat contributed to this report.