Ex-soldier sentenced to 45 years in neo-Nazi plot to kill his troop
March 4, 2023 Updated Sat., March 4, 2023 at 9:18 p.m.
When Army Pvt. Ethan Melzer sent sensitive information to a group chat with neo-Nazis, he hoped the group could accomplish its goal of murdering U.S. service members from his own troop in Turkey as part of an ambush. Even if he was killed in the attack he was planning, Melzer wrote, his death would be worth it to start a “new war.”
“I would’ve died successfully,” he wrote in May 2020, a federal indictment said.
But after the Louisville, Kentucky, native told the group chat with the Order of the Nine Angles (O9A) that he was “expecting results” in what he hoped would be a “mass casualty” event, the plans were thwarted by the FBI and the Army. Melzer pleaded guilty last year to charges that included conspiring and attempting to murder military service members.
Federal prosecutors announced Friday that Melzer was sentenced to 45 years in prison for sharing the location and information about a U.S. military installation as part of a neo-Nazi plot that prosecutors described as a “murderous ambush” of American soldiers.
“Ethan Melzer infiltrated the U.S. Army in service of a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and jihadist group,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “… By unlawfully disclosing his unit’s location, strength, and armaments to other O9A members and jihadists in furtherance of this ambush, Melzer traitorously sought to attack the very soldiers he was entrusted to protect.”
Melzer, 24, who prosecutors say was “motivated by racism and hatred,” was charged with attempting to murder U.S. service members, attempting to provide and providing material support to terrorists, and illegally transmitting national defense information. During sentencing Friday, U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods told Melzer that his “corrosive” behavior in aiding people who wanted to kill American soldiers was the catalyst for the long sentence.
“Mr. Melzer’s crimes were repugnant,” the judge said, according to the New York Post. “He betrayed the United States of America. He betrayed the U.S. military.”
Before he was sentenced, Melzer wrote a letter to the judge last month, expressing his regret and how his actions have “destroyed” him.
“Every day and night since my arrest I have thought about the damage I have done to the people who were supposed to trust me with their lives,” Melzer wrote, according to the New York Times. “I asked myself why? I fell into a pit of anger towards the world, and an unhealthy obsession with a group of idiots. It is no one’s fault but my own.”
Neither an Army spokesperson nor Jonathan Marvinny, one of Melzer’s attorneys, immediately responded to requests for comment early Saturday. Marvinny told NBC News that he disagreed with the 45-year sentence. Melzer’s defense team had argued for a 15-year prison sentence and 10 years of supervised release.
“He is not the unrepentant monster the prosecutors and the Court portrayed him to be,” Marvinny said. “He deserved punishment, but he also deserved the chance to prove he could do something positive with his life. Today’s sentence took that opportunity from him.”
Based in the United Kingdom, O9A “promotes extreme violence to accelerate and cause the demise of Western civilization,” according to prosecutors. The group, which has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden, intertwines Satanism, paganism and Nazism to create a “bizarre pseudo-religious political cult,” according to Hope not Hate, a U.K.-based anti-hate advocacy organization. Hope not Hate notes that O9A, which “encourages acolytes to engage in forbidden and illegal acts, including extreme violence, sexual assault, assassinations and human sacrifices,” has found an audience online among “young radicals drawn to extreme fringe ideas.”
Although it’s unclear how Melzer joined O9A, it did not take him long to join the neo-Nazi group after he enlisted in the Army in 2018. While he was deployed to Italy as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in fall 2019, Melzer “consumed propaganda from multiple extremist groups,” such as O9A and the Islamic State, prosecutors say.
Then, in May 2020, Army officials informed Melzer that he had been reassigned to a unit scheduled for further foreign deployment, in which he and his fellow soldiers would be guarding an isolated and sensitive military installation in Turkey, according to the Justice Department. Melzer took part in weeks of in-depth training to prepare for the assignment, including attending classified briefings and learning about how to respond to potential terrorist attack scenarios.
While this was going on, Melzer used the Telegram messaging application to contact members of O9A and a related group known as the RapeWaffen Division to share the specifics of his unit’s upcoming deployment, including the number of soldiers who would be traveling, where they would be going and details about their location’s surveillance and defensive capabilities.
After Melzer and the other O9A members passed these messages to a purported member of al-Qaeda, he promised to leak more information once he got to the military base, including real-time photographs of the facility and the frequency and channel of U.S. Army radio communications, to increase the odds of a successful attack, the indictment says. In doing so, Melzer made it clear to O9A that he was “expecting results,” prosecutors say.
“You just gotta understand that currently I am risking my literal free life to give you all this,” he wrote, according to the indictment.
But there was a problem with Melzer’s plan: His messages had been forwarded to a separate O9A group chat on Telegram that included a confidential FBI source, prosecutors say. Days after Melzer said he expected results, his deployment was postponed and an investigation was launched. When asked why he thought he could get away with the plot against the military, Melzer said it was because he could “fly under the radar” by not talking about his personal life or beliefs, according to a sentencing memo from prosecutors.
As his platoon was about to board buses to head to an Italy airport en route to Turkey on May 30, 2020, Melzer was taken into custody by authorities, who found in his bag O9A books and a burner phone used for communicating over Telegram with the neo-Nazi group.
Melzer was charged in June 2020 and pleaded guilty in June 2022.
At his Friday sentencing in Manhattan federal court that was attended by several service members, the ex-soldier reiterated that he was sorry for the attempted ambush to murder his troop.
“I still regret everything I did,” he said, adding that he wanted to be a productive member of society, according to the New York Daily News. “[I] wish I could say I’m sorry to my platoon.”
Woods, the judge, wasn’t having it. Although no one was hurt or killed, Woods noted that it was not due to a lack of effort from Melzer.
“This was not a lark. This was not merely time spent in the dark in an internet rabbit hole,” Woods said. “He did indeed attempt to murder his fellow soldiers.”
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The Washington Post’s Allyson Chiu contributed to this report.
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