An Army soldier with links to white supremacists and the occult admitted that he planned to kill other members of his unit in what he called a “jihadi attack” just before they were to be deployed to Turkey, federal prosecutors said.
Pvt. Ethan Phelan Melzer pleaded guilty to attempting to murder U.S. service members, providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, and illegally transmitting national defense information.
“Ethan Melzer attempted to orchestrate a murderous ambush on his own unit by unlawfully disclosing its location, strength, and armaments to a neo-Nazi, anarchist, white supremacist group,” Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “The defendant believed he could force the U.S. into prolonged armed conflict while causing the deaths of as many soldiers as possible.”
He faces 45 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for January 2023, officials said.
Federal prosecutors said Melzer, 24, was a member of 09A, an occult-based neo-Nazi and white supremacist group that espouses antisemitic and satanic beliefs and has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and Islamic jihadists such as Osama bin Laden.
As an 09A member, Melzer was expected to fulfill “sinister deeds” such as infiltrating organizations, including the military, to gain training and experience, commit acts of violence and identify like-minded individuals, Justice Department officials said.
He joined the Army in 2018 as part of that mission and was eventually sent to Italy and assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. While there, he subscribed to encrypted online forums and downloaded videos of jihadist attacks on U.S. troops and executions of civilians and soldiers. He also accessed far-right, neo-Nazi and other white supremacist propaganda.
In May 2020, Melzer was told he would be reassigned to a unit scheduled for deployment to Turkey to guard an “isolated and sensitive military installation.” He received classified briefings, including about the layout and security of the base, officials said.
“Upon learning the importance and sensitivity of his upcoming deployment, Melzer immediately began passing that information to members of 09A,” according to the Justice Department. “Melzer and his co-conspirators used this information to plan what they referred to as a ‘jihadi attack’ with the intention of causing a mass casualty event victimizing his fellow service members.”
Melzer and his co-conspirators also forward the messages to purported members of al Qaeda. He later promised to gather and pass along additional information once he arrived at the base.
“(You) just gotta understand that I currently I am risking my literal free life to give you all this,” he wrote in one of his messages to 09A members where he also said he was “expecting results,” Justice Department officials said.