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The FBI arrested a member of the U.S. Army who allegedly plotted to bomb a major news network and shared bomb-making information online.
Jarrett William Smith, a 24-year-old soldier stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, was charged with one count of distributing information related to explosives and weapons of mass destruction. As early as 2016, he also discussed joining the thousands of men traveling to Ukraine to fight alongside the far-right paramilitary group Azov Battalion, according to the FBI.
“This is a Middle East–style bomb that, if big enough or connected to the right explosive, can damage or destroy U.S. military vehicles,” Smith told an undercover FBI agent of car bombs, according to court documents. “Most of the time, it can obliterate civilian vehicles and people nearby.”
Smith had risen to the level of private first class infantry soldier since joining the Army in June 2017. If convicted on the current charges, he could get up to 20 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
After joining the military, Smith connected with an American man on Facebook who had already traveled to Ukraine between 2017 and 2019 to fight with a group similar to Azov, according to the FBI. The man positioned himself as Smith’s mentor and was helping him prepare to travel to Ukraine.
Court documents include excerpts of a Facebook conversation between Smith, the American man, and others, from October 2018 — after Smith had enlisted in the Army. In the conversation, Smith brags about his ability to transform cell phones into explosive devices “in the style of Afghans.” He then provides them instructions about how to do it.
On August 19, Smith unwittingly spoke with an undercover FBI agent online and told him he was hoping to meet like-minded “radicals” and aspired to kill members of antifa. He was also considering targeting cell towers or a local news station, according to court documents.
Days later, he’d settled on his chosen target: He wanted to attack the headquarters of a major American news network using a car bomb. The court documents don’t reveal which network he wanted to target. Then, last Friday, he talked to an undercover agent on Telegram and discussed specifics on how to build a car bomb.
Smith was arrested over the weekend and admitted to FBI agents that he knows how to make explosive devices and routinely provides instruction on how to build those devices online.
“He admitted that he provides this information even to individuals who tell him they intend to use the information to cause harm to others,” one FBI agent wrote. “Smith stated that he did this to cause ‘chaos.’ He told me that if chaos results in the death of people, even through information he provided, it doesn't affect him.”
Smith’s arrest came only days after DHS formally recognized white nationalism as a serious national security threat and unveiled a new counterterrorism strategy to combat it. Since April, Congress has held seven hearings about the now-global threat. Earlier this month, former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who runs the global security firm the Soufan Center, testified that 17,000 foreigners, including from the U.S., have traveled to Ukraine in recent years to gain paramilitary skills there. They fought alongside far-right groups like Azov and were returning home with those new skills.
Smith’s case is yet another example of how current and former U.S. service members have allegedly been recruited or radicalized by far-right extremists. Seven members of the U.S. military were outed earlier this year as members of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group that cultivates a preppy aesthetic in an effort to go mainstream. In another case, a Coast Guard lieutenant and former marine was allegedly plotting a large-scale attack against Democratic lawmakers and journalists. He was arrested earlier this year on gun and drug charges. And, active-duty service members were found to be involved with Atomwaffen, a violent neo-Nazi group.
This isn’t just a problem in the U.S. An army reservist in Canada was dismissed over his alleged ties to a violent neo-Nazi group earlier this summer and later went missing.
Cover: Vehicles park around a water tower at Fort Riley, Kan., Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)