In late January, Johnny Roman Garza traveled to a Jewish journalist’s home in Arizona, crept up to a bedroom window and then glued a poster to the glass.
Garza and three co-defendants were members of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group started in 2015 and born from a now-defunct white-supremacist online forum. The group called police to various journalists’ homes and offices and dropped off threatening fliers, prosecutors said, and also made threats to employees of the Anti-Defamation League.
The neo-Nazi faction has repeatedly targeted journalists, prosecutors said. Around the same time Garza and his co-conspirators were arrested, John Cameron Denton, an alleged Atomwaffen leader, was charged with conspiring to call police to the home and office of a ProPublica reporter. In July, John William Kirby Kelley admitted to “swatting” journalists, by calling in false threats to send SWAT teams.
According to the plea agreement, Garza first got involved with his alleged co-conspirators — Kaleb J. Cole, Cameron Brandon Shea and Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe — in November, when Shea invited the group to a chat room to discuss a plot to threaten journalists. Shea called it “Operation Erste Saule,” a German term meaning “first pillar,” which Shea used to refer to the news media, according to court documents.
In a message to the group chat, Shea said they would target “journalists houses and media buildings to send a clear message that we too have leverage over them. … The goal of course, is to erode the media/state air of legitimacy by showing people that they have names and addresses, and hopefully embolden others to act as well.”
Garza was given the task of coordinating efforts to deliver the threatening fliers to journalists’ homes and workplaces, the plea agreement said. Garza told the group he tracked down “a leader of an ‘association of Black journalists’” in Arizona.
In the following months, the group accrued the addresses of Jewish journalists and activists and came up with a plan to mail them threatening fliers and deliver them in-person to their homes.
Cole designed three posters. One said, “Two can play at this game,” with swastikas between each word, skeletons holding weapons and the words, “Death to pigs.” Other posters read: “Our patience has its limits” and “We are watching. We are no one. We are everyone. We know where you live. Do not f--- with us.”
On Jan. 25, Garza and another individual, who is not named in court documents, drove to an apartment complex in Phoenix, where a member of the Arizona Association of Black Journalists lived. Garza attempted to affix a poster to the journalist’s home but, according to the plea agreement, could not find a suitable spot for the poster, so he left.
After returning to the car, he and his companion drove to the home of Mala Blomquist, editor at Arizona Jewish Life magazine. Blomquist told the Arizona Republic Garza secured the poster to a bedroom window. The poster had an illustration of a skeleton holding a molotov cocktail, she said, and included Blomquist’s personal information at the bottom.
“Garza intended that the poster cause the editor fear of property damage and personal harm,” the plea agreement said. “The editor did in fact become fearful upon discovering the poster.”
The same day, other members of the group dropped off or mailed the threatening fliers to people in Florida and Washington state, according to the complaint. The FBI had been monitoring the group and warned many of the targets that they would probably get a threatening flier. The group members were arrested on Feb. 26.
On Tuesday, Garza pleaded guilty to counts of conspiracy to mail threatening communications, conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to interfere with a federally protected activity, according to court documents. Garza’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
His co-defendants still face trial, but court days have been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the AP reported.