Army soldier charged with giving classified info to neo-Nazi group

The soldier is accused of providing information about troops stationed overseas to the Order of Nine Angles, a satanic neo-Nazi group.

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By Pete Williams, Jonathan Dienst and Courtney Kube

A U.S. Army soldier stationed overseas has been charged with passing along information about his unit's planned deployment overseas, intending it to get extremist groups to attack it.

Army Private Ethan Phelan Melzer, 22, of Louisville, Kentucky, faces a host of federal attempted murder charges, handed up Monday by a federal grand jury, that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. John Demers, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's national security division said Melzer "planned a deadly ambush on his fellow soldiers in the service of a diabolical cocktail of ideologies laced with hate and violence."

Court documents said that beginning in April, Melzer began communicating on a restricted messaging application with followers of a violent, satanic neo-Nazi fringe group known as the Order of the Nine Angles.

A month later, the FBI said, he began posting information about his Army unit, stationed in Italy, and its planned redeployment to a U.S. military base in Turkey, in order to inspire a jihadist attack on the unit.

"If you know anyone in Turkey, tell them this info there," he wrote to a follower in the restricted chat room, unaware that he was also communicating with a confidential source assisting in an FBI and Army investigation. In subsequent messages, he passed along the location of a U.S. military installation where his unit was heading, along with the nature of the weaponry it would be armed with and its vulnerabilities, as well as the number of soldiers stationed at the base, the FBI said.

Federal officials said the Army stopped the plot in late May, and FBI agents arrested Melzer on June 10. Investigators said he confessed. "Melzer provided this information to the users of the messaging application to facilitate a mass casualty attack on the unit," according to a charging document unsealed Monday.

The Order of the Nine Angles is based in the U.K., but has become a source of inspiration for violent American white supremacists. Brian Levin, a terrorism expert at California State University in San Bernardino, described it as "a decades old extreme satanic Nazi cult whose glorification of violence and mysticism has found a renewed international audience, including some young violent American neo-Nazis."

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Order of Nine Angles as "an enigmatic Satanic occult group." Its most extreme adherents "promote human sacrifice, Nazism and Fascism and Aryan myths, and have been reported to praise Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden."

A member of the British Parliament, Yvette Cooper, has said the group should be declared illegal in the U.K.

Melzer joined the Army in 2018 and the following year became a follower of the group, the Justice Department said. He deployed overseas in 2019 and by then was following propaganda from several extremist groups, investigators said.

"Melzer was motivated by racism and hatred as he attempted to carry out this ultimate act of betrayal," said Audrey Strauss, the acting US attorney in Manhattan, where the formal charges were filed. No information about his defense lawyer was available.

Tom Winter and Joe Valiquette contributed.