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Employee at Philadephia's Navy Yard accused of hiding ties to white supremacist group

By JEREMY ROEBUCK | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Published: October 26, 2019

PHILADELPHIA (Tribune News Service) — He enthusiastically threw himself into online white supremacist group chats planning "Unite the Right 2," a follow-up last year to the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., rally that left a counterprotester dead.

He vowed to bring as many as 15 "paramilitary" types and neo-Nazis with him, and boasted that he was ready to fight anti-fascists and federal agents "'til one of us are not moving."

The man behind the Facebook profile "McCormick H. Foley" was one of the most heated participants in those private online chat logs, leaked to the alternative media site Unicorn Riot last year.

And on Friday, federal authorities unmasked him — identifying the poster as a 41-year-old Navy Yard employee.

Prosecutors charged Fred C. Arena of Salem, N.J., with lying about his ties to white nationalist groups on an application for national security clearance as part of his government job. Arena allegedly failed to disclose his membership in Vanguard America, one of several groups that marched in the 2017 Charlottesville rally, on a background check questionnaire earlier this year.

The group gained notoriety when a widely publicized photo emerged of 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. posing with its members just hours before he ran down and killed counter-protester Heather Heyer with his car.

In an August 2018 interview, FBI agents specifically asked Arena whether he had ever been a member of Vanguard America, according to the indictment. He denied it then and allegedly failed to mention the group on a security clearance application in January.

"Membership in a group espousing extremist ideology is not itself illegal – but lying to the FBI is," Michael T. Harpster, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia office, said in a statement. "Arena lied about his history to obtain a security clearance that he should not have had."

Prosecutors would not disclose which government agency or contractor employed Arena or what type of job he held at the Navy Yard. They also did not respond to questions about the circumstances of his 2018 FBI interview or what led them to conclude – more than a year after first asking him – that he had lied.

But during a brief court hearing Friday, just hours after his arrest, Arena told U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice that as far as he knew, he still held his Navy Yard job despite the charges he now faces.

Arena's charging documents list a half-dozen monikers he used in white nationalist forums, including the "Foley" pseudonym as well as "John S. Mosby" and "Fritz Coon Heydrich."

His personal Facebook page is awash with right-wing memes and photos of himself brandishing semiautomatic weapons. One post shows a dog defecating on a photo of Hillary Clinton. Another depicts Uncle Sam flipping the bird under the caption "Hey Muslims." His profile picture is the logo of the "Three Percenters," a far-right militia movement.

The website Unicorn Riot first identified Arena as the man behind "McCormick H. Foley" when it posted the leaked May 2018 transcripts of a private Facebook chat among 20 organizers of "Unite the Right 2." The website said it used "cross references of Facebook profiles" to make the match.

But even within that chat group, "Foley's" rhetoric was extreme.

Jason Kessler, the man behind the 2017 rally, was hoping to rebrand the follow-up as a nonviolent demonstration for "white civil rights" after the first protest provoked a national conversation about the rise of hate groups in the United States.

Kessler scolded "Foley" for his taunts about neo-Nazis and fighting federal agents. "This is absolutely the wrong thing to be talking about on Facebook," Kessler said.

"Foley," however, remained undeterred, complaining that the other white supremacists in the group were "too [expletive] nice."

The "Unite the Right 2" rally was held Aug. 12, 2018, in Washington. It is unclear whether Arena attended.

He remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing next week. If convicted on the five counts of lying to federal agents with which he is charged, he could face up to 25 years in prison.

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