Brandon Russell is a neo-Nazi group leader who worshiped convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and intended to “kill civilians” and blow up “power lines, nuclear reactors and synagogues,” according to new court filings.
The documents filed Monday paint an ominous picture of the 21-year-old Florida National Guard member as prosecutors try to keep Russell in jail as he awaits trial on federal charges.
Russell, 21, was charged last month with possession of unregistered destructive devices and unlawful storage of explosive material. He was arrested after officers discovered a powerful explosive and bomb-making devices and precursors in the garage of a Tampa apartment that he shared with three roommates. Investigators also found guns, ammunition and white supremacist propaganda in Russell’s bedroom. A framed photograph of McVeigh in military uniform was on his dresser.
Those reasons, among others, justify keeping Russell incarcerated, federal prosecutors argued. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun III of a federal-district court in Tampa said in a ruling Friday that he does not believe there is “clear and convincing evidence” that Russell is a threat to the community. Prosecutors have asked McCoun to reconsider his decision.
The judge heard arguments from both sides during a hearing Tuesday and has yet to issue a ruling.
Prosecutors’ evidence against Russell was based on statements from his roommate, Devon Arthurs, a former neo-Nazi who is believed to have converted to Islam. The 18-year-old was arrested last month after he admitted killing two other roommates for “disrespecting” his new faith. Prosecutors played clips of Arthurs’s interview with detectives during the hearing.
Arthurs told authorities that Russell is part of a neo-Nazi group called Atom Waffen. Russell and others had plans to blow up power lines in Alligator Alley and target a nuclear power plant near Miami, Arthurs said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“The things they were planning were horrible. These people were not good people,” Arthurs said, adding later: “Brandon is somebody that literally has knowledge of how to build a nuclear bomb.”
He also told a detective that Russell and other members of Atom Waffen “wanted to build a Fourth Reich.”
Ian Goldstein, Russell’s attorney, said in court that Arthurs is not to be trusted.
“Devon Arthurs is a person who just murdered two individuals, who is desperate to save himself,” Goldstein said, the Times reported.
Arthurs was arrested May 19 after police found 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk in the apartment with gunshot wounds in the head and upper body. Police also found Russell at the apartment, visibly upset after finding his roommates dead, court records say.
Arthur told investigators that all four of them shared neo-Nazi beliefs, until he reportedly converted to Islam. He said Russell had nothing to do with the killings.
Police discovered Russell’s bomb-making devices and an explosive known as HTMD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine) in the garage after searching the apartment, court records say.
In the documents filed Monday, prosecutors recounted Russell’s statements and his behavior following his May 19 interview with detectives.
Russell admitted that he is a white nationalist and a member of Atom Waffen, which means “atomic weapon” in German, court documents say. He also told investigators that he created the explosive known as HTMD and that the bomb-making materials found in his apartment belong to him.
When asked for an explanation, he said he was part of an engineering club at the University of Florida in 2013, and the explosive was used to boost homemade rockets and send balloons into the air for testing. But investigators believe HTMD is too strong and volatile for those types of uses.
Prosecutors also said that Russell lied to investigators, telling them shortly after his interview that he would go see his father. Instead, he went to a sporting goods store, where he bought more guns and ammunition.
Officers arrested Russell at a restaurant in Key Largo, Fla., on May 21. He said in a second interview with investigators that he and Arthurs met about three or four years ago in an online chat room about “world events,” court records say. He ended the interview after he was asked if he knew what “Atom Waffen” means.
With Russell was a friend who was not named in court documents but was described as his “best friend” and “a self-proclaimed fascist, neo-Nazi and national socialist.” That person told investigators that he and Russell met in an online forum called Iron March, where participants talk about fascism, Nazism and “current trends” in hate for the government. He also said Russell led the Atom Waffen group and screened people who wanted to join.
Russell went to his friend’s house May 20, the day after the killings, and told him that he wanted to get away and clear his head, court documents say. Thinking he might not return, Russell’s friend packed his clothes, took his life savings and quit his job before they left Tampa. Their initial plan was to go to Russell’s father’s house in West Palm Beach, Fla., but he said Russell thought that police might be looking for him there, so they changed course, according to court records.
The two didn’t have other plans on where to go, and they didn’t intend to hurt anyone, Russell’s friend told investigators. As they drove further south, they decided to stop at a sporting goods store in Homestead, Fla., where Russell bought two hunting rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Russell’s friend said they were for “self-defense.”
Prosecutors said that lying to police and buying guns and ammunition less than 24 hours after he was first interviewed by investigators show “consciousness of guilt.”
“Essentially, Russell created false cover stories about what the HMTD was for, where he was going, and what his intentions were,” prosecutors argued in court documents. “Russell’s actions in this case show him to be someone with personal characteristics that enhance his danger to the community.”
McCoun, the judge, said in his ruling Friday that there was no proof that Russell used or planned to use the explosive he created. And while his purchase of rifles and ammunition is concerning, McCoun did not believe it was enough to deny the request for a bond. Russell also does not have a criminal history, and relatives have agreed to allow him to stay with them as he waits for trial.
Prosecutors said that McCoun “erroneously discounted” pieces of evidence, such as the bomb-making materials, neo-Nazi paraphernalia and McVeigh’s framed photo.
McCoun has set Russell’s bond at $200,000 and laid out conditions of his release, although prosecutors are still seeking to keep him in jail. If Russell bonds out, he will be under electronic monitoring in his grandmother’s house. He’s also barred from using a computer and other electronic devices, and from possessing firearms and any type of explosive materials.
Russell is being held in the Pinellas County Jail.