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NEW YORK (AP) — A U.S. Army soldier from Kentucky pleaded guilty Friday to charges of conspiring to murder members of his unit in an attack he planned to carry out in 2020 on behalf of a group that promotes extreme violence to bring about the demise of Western civilization, authorities said.
Ethan Phelan Melzer, 24, of Louisville, Ky., pleaded in federal court in Manhattan. Sentencing has been set for January 6, when he could face up to 45 years in prison after pleading guilty to attempting to murder US military service members, seeking to support terrorists and illegally transmitting information on national defence.
In court documents, federal authorities say Melzer was already a member of a radical violent group known as the Order of the Nine Angles, or 09A, before he joined the military in December 2018. According to a criminal complaint, the group is an anarchist group founded in the UK and now operates worldwide, including the United States
Authorities said he sought violent initiation into 09A as a street-level drug dealer after shooting a marijuana dealer in the arm in January 2017 near his Louisville apartment.
In a defense court filing, attorneys wrote that Melzer denies membership in the group and told law enforcement after his arrest that his online claims of membership in the group were “bragging – crafted falsehoods to impress the people he was communicating with online.” The defense filing said that although Melzer had some curiosity about 09A, he thought it was ‘weird’ and ‘pretty much a cult’ and that his beliefs were ‘the polar opposite’ of his. .
In a statement on Friday, authorities said he joined the military to infiltrate its ranks on behalf of the group which espouses neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and Satanic beliefs and encourages its members to infiltrate the military to train, commit acts of violence and identify like-minded people so that they can try to overthrow the army from within.
Although he joined 09A in 2017 or earlier, he began consuming propaganda from several extremist groups, including the Islamic State, on encrypted online forums after being deployed to Italy in October 2019 as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, according to the statement.
He said his actions leading to the charges occurred in part after the military told him in early May 2020 that he would be reassigned to a unit that would be deployed overseas to guard an isolated and sensitive military installation.
After weeks of training, including classified briefings during which he learned the importance and sensitivity of his new assignment, Melzer immediately began passing the information he learned to members of 09A as he proposed and was planning a deadly attack on fellow soldiers, authorities said.
They said Melzer planned to join co-conspirators in carrying out a “jihadist attack” that would cause a “mass casualty” event and told others that an attack would “essentially cripple” the “fire crews” of the unit.
In his communications, Melzer told his co-conspirators that he was prepared to die for terrorist purposes, concluding that he “would have died successfully,” according to court documents.
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