A former U.S. Army soldier was sentenced Friday to 45 years in prison, the maximum, for plotting what prosecutors described as a "murderous ambush" overseas on members of his own troop.
Eric Melzer, a 24-year-old from Kentucky, shared location and layout information about a sensitive U.S. military installation to the violent, anti-government, neo-Nazi organization Order of Nine Angles. He was arrested in June 2020 and pleaded guilty in 2022.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Melzer intended to spark a jihadist terror attack on his own unit or any other that took up its location in order to undermine the United States abroad and further the goals of O9A, a largely United Kingdom-based group that has sympathized with al Qaeda.
"Melzer allegedly attempted to orchestrate a murderous ambush on his own unit by unlawfully revealing its location, strength, and armaments to a neo-Nazi, anarchist, white supremacist group,” then-Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York at the time, Audrey Strauss, said in a statement at the time.
She said he was motivated by racism.
Melzer was convicted of attempting to murder U.S. service members, providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, and illegally transmitting national defense information.
"He is not the unrepentant monster the prosecutors and the Court portrayed him to be," defense attorney Jonathan Marvinny said by email. "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."
Marvinny and two other attorneys on Melzer's defense team argued in a sentencing memo last year that Melzer should get 15 years, plus 10 years' supervised release.
The memo depicted Melzer as a product of neglect, abuse and a troubled family who found himself "in thrall to a bizarre satanic cult" and doubled down on his involvement when subjected to a Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 on base, where he was " drinking heavily, and spending far too much time online."
Prosecutors said Melzer was involved with the group starting in 2017 and joined the U.S. Army the next year specifically to help O9A "infiltrate its ranks," according to a Justice Department statement Friday.
In 2019, he deployed to Italy as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, prosecutors said. It was then, they contend, that Melzer broadened his extremism diet, consuming propaganda from the group then known as ISIS, or the Islamic State.
"Melzer subscribed to encrypted online forums where he downloaded and accessed videos of jihadist attacks on U.S. troops and facilities and jihadist executions of civilians and soldiers," the Justice Department said.
When he learned in 2020 that his unit would help guard a sensitive military installation overseas, he transmitted location, schedule and security information to the O9A subgroup known as “RapeWaffen Division,” prosecutors said.
Melzer and O9A also transmitted this information to a purported member of al Qaeda in order to "maximize" the chances of an attack on his unit or future units at the location, the Justice Department said Friday.
"The defendant believed he could force the U.S. into prolonged armed conflict while causing the deaths of as many soldiers as possible," the Justice Department said in a previous statement.
The plot was thwarted in 2020 by the U.S. Army and the FBI, prosecutors said.
O9A has had active members in Britain, the United States, Italy, Brazil, and New Zealand for several decades and has promoted terrorism, sexual violence, polarization, separatism, and racial hatred, according to the U.K.-based Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.
In more recent years, the group has become a source of inspiration for violent white supremacists in the United States, Brian Levin, a terrorism expert at California State University in San Bernardino, said in 2020.
Its "glorification of violence and mysticism has found a renewed international audience," he said.