Army Private Pleads Not Guilty to Planning Deadly Ambush on His Unit

173rd Airborne Brigade patch
The shoulder patch of a paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade. (U.S. Army Europe photo by Spc. Joshua Leonard)

A U.S. Army private, who allegedly confessed to the FBI about his role in planning a deadly ambush on his unit, has pleaded not guilty to charges that include leaking sensitive details about his unit to a neo-Nazi group in Europe.

Army Pvt. Ethan Phelan Melzer, a 22-year-old member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza, Italy, submitted his plea in a U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, hearing Monday, according to a court records official.

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Following a lengthy investigation, the Department of Justice announced in late June that 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.

Federal investigators indicted Melzer on charges including conspiring and attempting to murder military service members and providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, according to the indictment.

During a voluntary interview, FBI and military investigators allege that Melzer admitted his role in plotting the attack, which was designed to "result in the deaths of as many of his fellow service members as possible."

Reuters reported Monday that Melzer submitted his not-guilty plea to U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan at a hearing conducted electronically. Melzer is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, according to the news service. reached out to Melzer's federal public defender, Jennifer Willis, for comment on the case but did not immediately receive a response.

Melzer joined the Army through the delayed-entry program in late 2018 and started his active-duty enlistment in June 2019. He arrived at the 173rd in November 2019. Melzer was assigned to the unit's 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in 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.

He also faces up to 20 years in prison for attempting to murder American 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.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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