A Florida Army National Guard soldier pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony possession of unregistered explosives and a misdemeanor count of illegally storing explosive materials.
Brandon Clint Russell, 22, was arrested in Key Largo May 21 by Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies informed by federal agents to be on the lookout for him after they found what they say were bomb-making materials in his Tampa apartment, the same apartment where the bullet-riddled bodies of his two friends were found just days earlier. Russell’s roommate, Arthur Devons, admitted to killing the men, he said, because they often ridiculed his new-found Muslim faith.
Russell, who authorities do not suspect in murders, was away on National Guard duty when Arthurs killed Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuk, 18. Russell is an admitted white supremacist and founding member of the online neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen — meaning atomic weapon in German. Himmelman and Oneschuk were also AtomWaffen members at the time of their murders. Arthurs was also a white supremacist before converting to Islam.
Russell made an open plea Wednesday in front federal magistrate Judge Julie Sneed. His attorney, Ian Goldstein, said Russell made no deal with federal prosecutors in exchange for his guilty pleas. This means that Russell is hoping the judge won’t give him the full 11 years in prison he faced if found guilty by a jury. Russell has no prior criminal record and was an active National Guard member at the time of his arrest.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9 at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Tampa.
When entering the plea, Goldstein wrote that his client objects to the accusation in the FBI’s criminal complaint that Russell “intended to assemble a destrucive device with the materials he possessed.”
Sneed wrote that the objection “does not affect the factual basis” for the charges, so she recommended the U.S. Attorney’s Office accept the pleas.
Also in the cooler were 5.56-caliber bullet casings with fuses that the FBI states could be used to detonate the HMTD.
Nevertheless, Russell was allowed to leave and told agents he was going to visit his father in West Palm Beach. Instead, he went to Bradenton to pick up his friend, who he had met on the neo-Nazi chat room “Iron March,” “where individuals discuss fascism, Nazism, and ‘current trends’ in hate for the government,” according to court documents. It is from Iron March where Atomwaffen was born, authorities believe.
The two men traveled to the Keys instead of going to West Palm Beach. Sheriff’s Office deputies and FBI agents found two rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, high-capacity magazines, his Army fatigues, binoculars and a skull mask inside their car.
Russell’s status in the National Guard is unclear. The service maintained throughout the case that he would remain an active member pending the outcome of an internal investigation and the federal prosecution. He joined in February 2016 and held the rank of private first class at the time of his arrest.
William Manley, deputy communications director with the Florida National Guard, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204