In what was described by federal prosecutors as a national security case, a Clarkston man – who posted a video honoring Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh – pleaded guilty in Spokane today to manufacturing an explosive device and attempting to provide material assistance to terrorists.
Joseph J. Brice, 22, faces up to 15 years in federal prison, although U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko indicated he could impose more or less time following a mostly-sealed federal investigation stemming from his posting of violent videos on YouTube in late 2010 and early 2011.
Authorities began to investigate Brice after he suffered life-threatening injuries from a bomb he made that exploded on April 18, 2010, before he could get out of the blast radius.
Federal investigators later learned that Brice posted videos advocating suicide bombings and another video in support of Timothy McVeigh. Investigators arrested Brice after he promised to provide plans to make a bomb to a terrorist who actually was an undercover federal agent.
Brice did not explain his actions Tuesday in court, but he acknowledged his guilt when prompted by Judge Suko. Brice’s attorney, Matthew Campbell, declined an interview request following the 1 p.m. hearing today.
According to unsealed court records, investigators searched Brice’s email accounts and IP addresses and found videos he posted that show his “arguably insatiable interest in manufacturing, detonating, and assisting others in manufacturing and detonating explosives,” court records state.
In February, 2011, Brice posted on YouTube about how he found an “FBI or ATF tracking device on his vehicle” and that federal authorities had investigated him in their investigation into the bomb placed along the route of the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March in downtown Spokane. Kevin W. Harpham was later implicated and pleaded guilty in that case.
Federal court records confirmed that Brice had been viewed as a person of interest in their MLK bomb investigation and had sent an investigator to interview Brice on March 29, 2011.
After the officer “explained to Brice that he was not a suspect” in the MLK bomb, “Brice confessed to having manufactured the destructive device that caused his injuries on April 18, 2010, and provided statements relevant to his own expertise in explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction.”
Even after that interview, Brice continued his online activities.
In the privacy of his own apartment, court records say that Brice “consistently praised jihadi activities, uploading training manuals to a jihadi website, and made statements on the forum of a jihadi website that included, ‘I fight for the cause of Allah and Islam so I fear not.’”
He also posted six videos under the heading “Strength of Allah” each “glorifying Jihad and the use of explosives.”
Then on May 8, 2011, Brice engaged in an online chat with an undercover federal agent “during which Brice provided his expertise in manufacturing … explosives to a person he believed was a jihad terrorist planning retaliation for the elimination of Usama Bin Laden,” court records state.
The next day, federal agents raided his Clarkston apartment and took him into custody.
Within the first 15 minutes after his arrest on May 9, 2011, Brice acknowledged to FBI agents that his posts will make him look like a terrorist supporter.
“I was just toying with them. I drink beer every day,” he said according to court records. “I do, I do everything opposite of whatever it looks like. This is going to look so bad!”
During his interview with the FBI, Brice also downplayed his praise of McVeigh, who was put to death in 2001 after he was convicted of placing the bomb in 1995 at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people.
“The Defendant went so far as to create and post a dedication video about McVeigh on YouTube,” court records state. “The Defendant also stated, ‘(McVeigh’s) characteristics are nearly the same as myself, physically/politically.”
On Tuesday, Brice pleaded guilty to manufacturing an unregistered firearm, but the charge actually relates to the bomb that Brice built and detonated on April 18, 2010, that almost killed him. That charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The second count of attempting to provide material assistance to terrorist – which appears to relate to his online chat with the undercover agent on May 8 – carries a maximum 15 year sentence and the same maximum fine.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Smoot indicated to Judge Suko that prosecutors had agreed to recommend that the two sentences run at the same time, meaning the most Brice could face is about 15 years.
As part of the plea agreement, Smoot – the federal prosecutor — agreed to drop a separate count charging Brice with distribution relating to bombs or weapons of mass destruction. That charge could have added a maximum of another 20 years to the sentence.
Campbell, the defense attorney, said he reserves the right to appeal whatever sentence Suko hands down. Smoot also told Judge Suko that he expects the sentencing will include a full day of arguments on both sides.
Suko set that hearing for Jan. 9 at 9 a.m.