A former National Guard soldier who had a picture of Timothy McVeigh on his dresser will spend five years in federal prison on charges linked to a bizarre double homicide case in Tampa, Florida.
Brandon Russell, 22, a private first class in the National Guard and a self-identified neo-Nazi, was sentenced Tuesday in a U.S. district court after pleading guilty to illegally stockpiling explosive materials and possessing an unregistered destructive device. After discovering two dead bodies in his apartment, police had also found bomb-making materials, including more than a pound of ammonium nitrate in a package addressed to him.
It all began last May, when Russell’s roommate, 18-year-old Devon Arthurs, held three people at gunpoint in the Green Planet Smoke Shop across the road from the apartment they shared with two other people. Arthurs, also a neo-Nazi, claimed to have recently converted to Islam and told his hostages he was angry due to “America bombing Muslim countries.” He later surrendered to law enforcement, and informed officers that two people were dead in the apartment.
When police arrived at the apartment, they encountered Russell, clad in camouflage, who had just returned from his Army National Guard shift, standing outside the front door “visibly upset and crying,” according to the complaint. When police entered the apartment, they found two bodies who’d suffered fatal gunshots to the upper body and head. They were later identified as Arthurs and Russell’s two roommates, 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk. The four young men had met online in neo-Nazi forums.
According to the complaint, police also discovered a cooler in the garage containing a “white, cake-like explosive material known as HMTD,” a highly explosive and unstable substance that's been used in domestic terror attacks, as well as “precursor chemicals” also used in improvised explosive devices. Bomb technicians’ devices also picked up on radioactive materials in Russell’s bedroom.
Prosecutors later argued that Russell planned to use explosives on civilians, nuclear facilities, and synagogues.
Explosives weren't all the police found. On Russell's dresser was a framed photograph of McVeigh, the domestic terrorist who killed 168 people in Oklahoma City with a truck bomb in 1995, along with white supremacist and neo-Nazi propaganda.
Russell voluntarily told police that he was a self-identified national socialist. He was later found to be a leader of Atomwaffen, a little-known militant neo-Nazi group that takes its name from the German word for “atomic weapons.”
Arthurs, meanwhile, confessed to killing his roommates and faces two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and three counts of armed kidnapping. In December, a judge ordered him to undergo a mental health exam, the results of which were discussed at a Jan. 4 hearing.
Cover image: A booking photo of Brandon Russell. (Pinellas County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)