The Department of Justice announced Monday that it has charged a U.S. soldier with planning a "murderous ambush" on his Army unit by sending sensitive details to a white-supremist group in Europe.
Officials announced the unsealing of the indictment, charging Pvt. Ethan Melzer, 22, with conspiring and attempting to murder U.S. nationals; conspiring and attempting to murder military service members; providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists; and conspiring to murder and maim in a foreign country, according to a DOJ news release.
Melzer, originally of Louisville, Kentucky, allegedly sent information about his unit's location, movements and security measures to members of the Order of the Nine Angles (O9A), an occult-based neo-Nazi and white supremacist group, the release states.
"As the indictment lays out, Ethan Melzer plotted a deadly ambush on his fellow soldiers in the service of a diabolical cocktail of ideologies laced with hate and violence," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in the release. "Our women and men in uniform risk their lives for our country, but they should never face such peril at the hands of one of their own."
NBC News first reported the story.
During a voluntary interview with military investigators and the FBI, Melzer admitted his role in plotting the attack.
"Melzer said that he intended the planned attack to result in the deaths of as many of his fellow service members as possible," the release states. "Melzer also declared himself to be a traitor against the United States, and described his conduct as tantamount to treason."
Melzer allegedly attempted to orchestrate a "murderous ambush on his own unit" by unlawfully revealing its location, strength and armaments to the neo-Nazi group, intending that the information would be conveyed to jihadist terrorists, Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in the release.
DOJ officials released very few details about Melzer's Army service.
Military.com contacted the Army for information about Melzer's job, his unit and deployments.
"Pvt. Ethan Phelan Melzer enlisted in the Army's delayed-entry program in December 2018 and started his active-duty term of enlistment in June 2019," Army spokesman Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz said in a statement.
According to the release, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, participated in the investigation.
In 2019, DOJ officials state in the release, Melzer joined O9A, a group whose members and supporters have espoused violent neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and satanic beliefs and have expressed admiration for both Nazis, such as Adolf Hitler, and Islamic jihadists, such as former al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden, who was killed in May 2011 when U.S. special operations forces raided his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Melzer deployed abroad with the Army in October and was preparing for another deployment in April 2020 when he "sought to facilitate a deadly attack on his fellow service members," according to the release.
Melzer used an encrypted application to send messages to members and associates of O9A and a related group known as the "RapeWaffen Division," including communications regarding his own commitment to O9A and sensitive information related to his unit's anticipated deployment, the release states.
Melzer and his alleged co-conspirators planned what they referred to as a "jihadi attack" during the deployment, with the objective of causing a "mass casualty" event victimizing his fellow service members, according to the release.
Melzer acknowledged in electronic communications that he could be killed during the attack. Describing his willingness to die, he wrote, "Who gives a f---," the release states.
"It would be another war … I would've died successfully … 'cause another 10-year war in the Middle East would definitely leave a mark," Melzer said, according to the release.
Prior to planning the attack, Melzer consumed propaganda from multiple extremist groups, including O9A and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to the release.
In April, the FBI seized an ISIS-issued document from an iCloud account maintained by Melzer, which included the phrase "HARVEST OF THE SOLDIERS" and described attacks and murders of U.S. personnel, the release states.
On May 17, Melzer exchanged electronic communications regarding passing information about the anticipated deployment to "a purported member of al-Qaida," according to the release.
Between May 24 and May 25, he sent additional electronic messages with specific information about his unit's anticipated deployment, including "the number of soldiers who would be traveling, the location of the facility to which Melzer expected the unit would be deployed, and information about the facility's surveillance and defensive capabilities," the release adds.
"Melzer promised to leak more information once he arrived at the location of the new deployment in order to try to maximize the likelihood of a successful attack on his unit," it states.
Melzer faces a maximum sentence of life prison on each of the following charges: conspiring to murder U.S. nationals; conspiring to murder U.S. military service members; and conspiring to murder and maim in a foreign country, according to the release.
He also faces up to 20 years in prison for attempting to murder U.S. nationals and another 20 years for attempting to murder U.S. military service members, according to the release. In addition, he faces 15 years in prison for attempting to provide and providing material support to terrorists, it adds.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.