New indictments shed light on alleged terrorist cell in Rome, Ga.
By CHRIS JOYNER | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Published: April 26, 2021
ATLANTA (Tribune News Service) — The recent indictments of two more men connected to an alleged neo-Nazi terror cell in Floyd County shine new light on the reach of the group known as the Base.
Duncan Christopher Trimmell, 23 of Austin, Texas, and Brandon Gregory Ashley, 21 of Hayden, Ala., face charges of animal cruelty related to the alleged theft and ritual beheading of a ram or goat on Halloween 2019, according to an indictment handed down by a Floyd County grand jury earlier this month.
The charges, first reported by the Rome News-Tribune, reveal more of the web of what authorities describe as a criminal gang whose members planned to kill a Bartow County couple they suspected of being anti-fascist activists. Group members were arrested as part of a undercover investigation by state and federal law enforcement before they could carry out the plot.
Trimmell and Ashley join six other men believed to have come to an isolated property in the Silver Creek community south of Rome where an undercover law enforcement officer said they shot guns, took drugs and planned for a race war as part of a white supremacist group known as the Base.
According to court records, one aspect of those meetings was the killing of an animal alternately described in court records as a ram or a goat. The animal was allegedly stolen from a nearby property and killed in what was described as a "ritual sacrifice."
Joanna Mendelson, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, said the new indictments show the Base's long reach, drawing members from across the nation and even from other countries.
"As this case further develops it sheds a very bright light of how this group that had a substantial presence in the virtual spaces engaged in real-world action, bringing individuals from the far corners of our country together," she said.
In January 2020, three Georgia residents were arrested in the alleged conspiracy: Michael Helterbrand, 26, of Dalton; Jacob Kaderli, 20, of Dacula; and Luke Austin Lane, 22, whose Silver Creek residence prosecutors say was used as the locale for the meeting.
Along with the animal cruelty charges, Helterbrand, Kaderli and Lane face charges of conspiracy to commit arson, home invasion and murder, and violations to the state's anti-gang laws.
In addition, Patrik Mathews, William Garfield Bilbrough IV, Brian Mark Lemley Jr., also accused members of the Base, were indicted on charges related to the killing of the ram. Those charges are in addition to federal firearms charges they face in Maryland. Mathews Bilbrough and Lemley hail from Maryland, but Mathews was a member of the Canadian military and was in the United States illegally.
Helterbrand, Kaderli and Lane have been held in jail for more than a year without bond but were only formally indicted last month, thanks to judicial delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lane's most recent motion for bond was rejected by Floyd County Superior Court Judge John Neidrach in a March 30 order.
The theft and killing of the animal has been known for more than a year. In a court hearing in February 2020, Assistant District Attorney Emily Johnson said the ram was killed in a "Norse-pagan ritual" in which the participants drank its blood and posed for photos with its severed head. An affidavit filed by an undercover agent who infiltrated the group said the meeting included a "dozen members of The Base, both known and unknown."
Researchers describe the Base as an "accelerationist" group that tries to leverage violent and disruptive attacks to bring about the destruction of American society. Mendelson said the cell that allegedly met in Rome was a case study in how quickly such cells can develop plans to "wreak havoc on our nation."
District Attorney Leigh Patterson would not comment on the case, so it's not yet known how Trimmell and Ashley came to be viewed as suspects. Both men live out of state and neither has been arrested yet, according to a spokesman for the Floyd County Sheriff's Office. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was unable to reach them for comment.
The Base was founded in 2018 as a far-right, paramilitary organization that sought the creation of a white ethno-state. An investigation by the Guardian newspaper in 2020 revealed the organization's leader to be Rinaldo Nazzaro, an American expatriate living in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Mendelson from the ADL's Center on Extremism said the wave of arrests and the identification of Nazzaro as the de facto leader crippled the Base and damaged its reputation in extremist circles. But she said such groups are always rebranding or reforming.
"They never lose the committed members," she said. "They just realign and retool, so they will continue to be a threat."
Authorities contend the suspects in the alleged murder plot continue to have contact with white supremacists while in jail. At Lane's bond hearing last month, Assistant DA Johnson said Lane has been in contact with far-right figures while in jail, including Dalton Woodward, a Georgia resident who was expelled from the National Guard after the AJC reported his membership in a pagan sect known for attracting white supremacists.
The Georgia suspects have also been featured on the website of the Global Minority Initiative, a group that encourages supporters to send money and cards of support to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in prison. Attorneys for Lane and Kaderli said their clients are not soliciting that kind of support.
"Jacob Kaderli is neither seeking nor accepting financial assistance from GMI. If the people who posted this false claim seek to foment race hatred, they can return to their dark place where the sun does not shine," said John Lovell, Kaderli's attorney. "That said, I prefer they change and come out into the light."
Helterbrand is represented by the Georgia Public Defender's Office, which declined comment, but he has been charged with additional crimes since his arrest. Authorities say Helterbrand sexually assaulted another inmate in December as part of an effort to move up in rank in a violent, racist prison gang known as Ghostface Gangsters.
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