In a federal court in Seattle, Shea pleaded guilty to two counts — out of five — in the indictment, one for conspiracy and one for interfering with “a federal protected activity because of religion,” the statement said. He faces up to five years in prison for the conspiracy charge and up to 10 for the hate-crime charge and is scheduled to be sentenced in June.
Shea’s defense attorney declined a request for comment.
Posters were sent to several victims who are Jewish or journalists of color — including an official at the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish nonprofit organization that tracks antisemitism — in places such as Tampa, Seattle and Phoenix. One of them contained a “Grim Reaper-like figure” wearing a skeleton mask and holding a molotov cocktail in front of a home, accompanied with threatening messages, prosecutors said.
“Our Patience Has Its Limits. … You have been visited by your local Nazis” read one of the posters.
Two of the members charged last year, Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe and Johnny Roman Garza, have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and have been sentenced, authorities said. The fourth co-defendant, Kaleb Cole, pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial in September.
Roman Garza participated in the intimidation plot by leaving fliers at the homes of Black and Jewish journalists in Arizona, while Parker-Dipeppe attempted to threaten a reporter in Florida but left a poster at the wrong address, documents show.
In Seattle, Cole, along with Shea, planned and coordinated “Operation Erste Saule,” which in German means “first pillar” and was used to refer to the news media, according to court documents.
“We will be postering journalists houses and media buildings to send a clear message that we too have leverage over them,” Shea wrote in a secret chat group, according to court papers. “The goal, of course, is to erode the media/states air of legitimacy by showing people that they have names and addresses, and hopefully embolden others to act as well,” he continued.
Shea, who is described by prosecutors as a “high-ranking recruiter” of the organization, coordinated members of the group to deliver the posters to victims’ homes on the same night to accomplish “a show of force.”
Other members of the organization have been arrested for carrying out different intimidation and harassment tactics on minorities and journalists, such as calling law enforcement to their homes and offices in the hopes of prompting a forceful response from the police — a practice known as “swatting.”
John Cameron Denton of Montgomery, Tex., considered one of the group’s leaders, was charged in district court in Alexandria, Va., last year for calling in fake threats targeting a ProPublica reporter who had written about Denton and Atomwaffen extensively.
The group also called New York police to ProPublica’s office in December 2018, according to the criminal complaint, claiming that there was a pipe bomb, a hostage and a dead body inside.
The group kept a long list of targets including public officials and journalists.
One of the victims on the list was Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard G. Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald, who was handcuffed and dragged out of his home by police after a false report was made in June.
Atomwaffen is a notorious extremist group that became active in 2016 whose members meet and organize in online forums and claim to be preparing for a race war to combat what they argue is the cultural and racial displacement of the white race.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, members of Atomwaffen promote “accelerationism,” a theory that states modern society is unredeemable and should be brought to collapse through terroristic and random acts of violence, so that an all-white utopia can be rebuilt in its wake.
They also participate in “hate camps” and have posted propaganda videos (that have since been removed from YouTube) showing members wearing military-style clothing, holding long guns and conducting paramilitary training activities while yelling “Race war now,” according to court documents.
Atomwaffen has been linked to at least five killings across the country.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Atomwaffen’s modest membership has declined even more recently thanks to a crackdown on the organization that led to a series of arrests.