The FBI has arrested four people described by the agency as “violent extremists” with ties to the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division after an investigation into threats mailed to people in Western Washington, including a journalist and racial and religious minorities.

The complaint names Cameron Brandon Shea, 24, of Redmond; Kaleb Cole, 24, of Montgomery, Texas; Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, 20, of Spring Hill, Florida; and Johnny Roman Garza, 20, of Queen Creek, Arizona. All were taken into custody Tuesday or Wednesday.

All are charged with a single count of conspiracy to mail threatening communications and commit cyberstalking, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Shea, described in the charges as a primary recruiter for the domestic-terrorist organization, was arrested in Seattle. He appeared Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler and will be held in custody pending a March 11 preliminary hearing. The heavily bearded Shea, clad in an olive jumpsuit and flanked by deputy U.S. Marshals, did not speak during the brief hearing. Greg Murphy, his appointed federal public defender, declined to comment.

The others were taken into custody in Florida, Texas and Arizona. They will be extradited to Western Washington for trial, U.S. Attorney Brian Moran said.

Cole, who lived in Washington before moving to Texas, is also facing gun charges in King County. Wednesday’s federal charges described him as a co-leader of Atomwaffen.

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The charges say that the members of Atomwaffen — German for “Atomic Weapon” — had mounted an intimidation campaign against at least one Seattle television journalist and two local activists associated with the Anti-Defamation League, as well as activists and journalists in other states. Posters containing swastikas, skulls and threats like “We know where you live” were sent to some of their home addresses.

The complaint states that on Jan. 25, Garza and another person were followed to an apartment complex in Phoenix, where a member of the Arizona Association of Black Journalists lived, and then proceeded to the home of the editor of a local Jewish publication. The two men were seen fleeing the area and a poster reading “Your Actions Have Consequences” was found taped on the editor’s bedroom window.

That same day, agents followed Shea to a Target parking lot in Redmond, where they watched him change into a gray hoodie, stocking cap and don a surgical mask. He then walked across the street to a Fred Meyer, where he paid cash for a book of Santa Claus stamps and a roll of packing tape. Letters sent to a Seattle-area reporter and the Anti-Defamation activists bore Santa Claus stamps, the complaint states.

The Seattle reporter has been identified as KING 5’s Chris Ingalls, who said he received a poster in an envelope. It bore his name and personal cellphone number and stated, “Two Can Play at This Game.” Ingalls believes that refers to an occasion when he went to Cole’s home last year while reporting on the seizure by federal authorities of Cole’s guns.

In the background of the poster are the words “Death to Pigs,” which Ingalls pointed out was scrawled in blood on the wall of Sharon Tate’s home by followers of Charles Manson in the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969. Atomwaffen’s ideology adheres to Manson’s belief in “Helter Skelter,” using violence to incite a race war.

The other Washington victims are not identified by name in the complaint. An FBI “Situational Information Report” sent to law enforcement earlier this month, obtained by The Seattle Times, said the threats were made to residents in Edmonds, Mercer Island and Seattle.

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“These defendants sought to spread fear and terror with threats delivered to the doorstep of those who are critical of their activities,” Moran said at a news conference. The U.S. Department of Justice has prioritized prosecution of domestic terrorists, he said, whose threat has now been determined to outstrip the threat posed by international terrorism. Moran said that the investigation is continuing and that there may be additional charges filed against these defendants and others arrested.

Raymond Duda, special agent in charge of Seattle’s FBI office, said the bureau has been aware of the makings of the alleged conspiracy since 2018, and Ingalls, the TV reporter, said the bureau approached him out of the blue to alert him that he may be the target of Atomwaffen threats. At one point, he said, members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force were watching his home.

The complaint quotes extensively from “encrypted” messages sent between the defendants and others. Duda would not say how the FBI obtained those messages from a supposedly secure site.

The charges allege Shea concocted what he called “Operation Erste Saüle,” which he said was “named after the first pillar of state power, AKA the media.”

The complaint alleges that after his gun seizures in September, Cole posted a recording to Atomwaffen Division members via an encrypted service called Wire that stated, “The matter of these nosy reporters coming into our daily lives, where we work, where we live, where we go in our spare time. We must simply approach them with nothing but pure aggression.”

Shea, according to the charges, was identified as using the moniker “Krokodil” on a series of far-right social media sites. The complaint quotes him as encouraging other members to “go full McVeigh and start dispatching political and economic targets … helping build the social tension that will accelerate the collapse of the system.”

He was referencing Timothy McVeigh, the white supremacist and militia member responsible for the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.

The complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office erroneously cites a Seattle Times article published Feb. 23, 2018, about Atomwaffen, which the government wrongly states contained identifying and personal information about Atomwaffen members. Neither the Times article nor the ProPublica story it links to contains detailed personal information about Atomwaffen members. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks hate groups, says Atomwaffen is organized “as a series of terror cells that work toward civilizational collapse.” Members of the group and their associates have been linked to multiple killings.

In a separate case Wednesday, The Washington Post reported a man identified as John Cameron Denton, of Montgomery, Texas, was arrested in connection with threats against a ProPublica reporter. He is charged in the Eastern District of Virginia, where prosecutors say he was part of a ring of neo-Nazis who targeted a Cabinet official, a Black church and others.

“Denton was furious with ProPublica and the [reporter] because they published his true identity and discussed his role in Atomwaffen,” an FBI agent wrote in a criminal complaint.

ProPublica reported in 2018 that Washington state was home to one of the largest chapters of Atomwaffen.

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In November, Cole and another suspected Atomwaffen member with ties to Washington were pulled over in Texas. Although neither of the men were legally allowed to possess firearms, they were wearing tactical gear and driving with four guns and 1,500 rounds of ammunition, according to the Department of Justice.

Cole, who had a previous address in Snohomish County, was charged in King County in December with unlawful possession of a firearm, in violation of a court order issued under the state’s red-flag law.

The other man in the car, Aiden Bruce-Umbaugh, was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance. He has entered a guilty plea in the case and is scheduled to be sentenced April 23.

This article includes information from The Seattle Times archives.