Paratrooper pleads not guilty to charges he plotted with satanic Neo-Nazis to ambush his unit
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 7, 2020
An Italy-based paratrooper pleaded not guilty this week to charges he conspired with a satanic neo-Nazi group to help plot an ambush on his own unit during a planned deployment to Turkey.
Ethan Melzer, 22, entered the plea Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan at a virtual hearing, court records show.
The six charges he faces include conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and conspiring and attempting to murder U.S. service members, which each carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. He is also charged with providing support to terrorists.
Prosecutors accused Melzer, a private serving with the Vicenza-based 173rd Airborne Brigade, of using an encrypted app to send sensitive details about his unit’s locations, movements and security to members of the extremist groups the Order of the Nine Angles, or O9A, and the “RapeWaffen Division.”
He was motivated by hatred to orchestrate “this ultimate act of betrayal,” Audrey Strauss, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement announcing Melzer’s indictment last month.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Melzer enlisted in the Army in 2018 and joined O9A in 2019, around the time he was stationed in Italy, the indictment said. He began planning a “jihadi attack” in April, after he and others in his unit were told they would deploy to an unnamed base in Turkey, it said.
O9A, formed decades ago in the United Kingdom, has espoused violent, white supremacist, anti-Semitic and satanist beliefs. The group has also expressed support for Osama bin Laden and other radical Islamic jihadis, and hopes to “usher in a new imperial aeon (age) ruled by a race of Satanic supermen,” the London-based advocacy group Hope Not Hate has said.
In one message to unnamed group members, Melzer wrote that a lack of heavy weapons and machine guns at the base in Turkey meant “every fire-team is essentially crippled,” a federal complaint said. An attack from nearby mountains could “panic the s--- outta” the troops, another chat participant said, according to the filing.
An infantryman with 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, Melzer wanted the attack to cause a mass casualty incident, which he hoped would spur a war in Turkey, even if the ambush resulted in his own death, one message said. He also said he “wouldn’t mind” if the group found someone to “stir something up” in Italy and claimed to have had contacts with several Islamic State members in France — some he claimed had since been killed.
FBI agents also found ISIS propaganda on Melzer’s online cloud storage describing attacks and murder of U.S. personnel, the complaint said.
Federal officials foiled Melzer’s plot and arrested him on May 30 at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy, home to U.S. Army Garrison Italy and U.S. Army Africa.
In a recorded interview with FBI and military officials at that time, Melzer confessed that he wanted to kill as many of his fellow soldiers as possible, the complaint stated. He considered himself a traitor and his actions treason, court filings said, citing the interview.
Melzer is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. Public defenders representing him did not respond to a request for comment about his plea.