Christopher Arthur built a business off his military skills, conspiracy theories and eagerness for a second civil war -- promising to teach potential students how to kill cops and military personnel, often by defending their homes with explosives and other deadly traps. Now, he faces 20 years behind bars.
Arthur, 38, served in the Army as a cavalry scout, with a career oscillating between the National Guard and active duty that culminated in the rank of sergeant at the end of his nearly decade of service.
Trading off of the training he'd received, and the reputation of and claims about his extensive experience as a soldier, he ran Tackleberry Solutions, a combat school for civilians. For years, he taught weapons skills, setting up fighting positions and how to evade capture. He even bred and trained dogs, videotaping showcases of their attack skills.
But his lessons weren't intended for civilians to dip their toe into military-style training for fun. Arthur was seemingly preparing eager students in guerrilla warfare to fight against the U.S. military and law enforcement, based on a Military.com review of training materials he used.
"I realized that we were suffering from the same disease the Iraqis were plagued by and that was tribalism," he said in a video with his elementary school-aged son on his lap. "I began to notice the same issues here in America. Politics began to infest our daily lives. … I knew that was going to lead to a war."
He posted multiple videos online detailing how to fortify homes to repel law enforcement and how to "cause casualties and chaos." This included methods to funnel police and their vehicles into tight spaces, which would be laced with bombs.
Arthur was arrested in January and charged with teaching another individual how to make and use explosives, knowing that person intended to use his instructions in "the attempted murder of federal law enforcement," a statement from the Department of Justice said.
Military.com attempted to reach out to Arthur through multiple phone numbers associated with him and his company. He never returned a request for comment, while some numbers appeared to be disconnected. His attorney declined to comment for this story.
Arthur served in the North Carolina National Guard from May 2006 to May 2007, according to Army records. He served on active duty from May 2007 to July 2010. He later rejoined the Guard, serving again from 2014 to 2019. He had a short deployment to Iraq from July 2007 to December of that year, and later returned for a yearlong tour in 2009.
Cavalry scouts, Arthur's specialty in the Army, usually have significant training in combat skills, including the use of a wide arsenal of weapons. He seemingly glamorized his military resume further, often discussing Special Forces courses that he strongly suggested he attended. He also made multiple comments seemingly meant to imply he was a Green Beret, a background he didn't have, according to Army records.
He also referred to himself as a "recon soldier," and made other vague references to his military experience. While cavalry scouts are the Army's main conventional ground reconnaissance force, and serve as a major part of the service's combat power, it's an abnormal reference to his actual role in the military.
The FBI's case against Arthur can be traced back to 2018, according to court documents. Authorities had been tipped off about a different person who was "attempting to organize and recruit for a militia group" to fight the U.S. government.
In June 2020, police stopped that suspect, Joshua Blessed, who fled a traffic stop in a semitruck in Harrisonburg, Virginia, according to reporting from the Democrat & Chronicle. Blessed was gunned down by police after firing on them following a two-hour chase.
Court records say when Blessed's vehicle was searched, authorities found three improvised explosive devices. Additional explosives and firearms were found at his home, along with multiple Tackleberry Solutions course materials. Investigators also say Blessed attended in-person classes taught by Arthur for several days in March that year.
The FBI then launched an investigation on Arthur and his company. Law enforcement asked Arthur for training materials, which he gave them, seemingly unaware he was talking to authorities. He told the federal investigators he had to keep some materials "off of the internet since explosives were such a touchy topic."
His training includes a $500 course on improvised explosives and $25,000 for in-person training on Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, training. SERE training is a school in the military, often for special operations personnel and pilots, which trains troops how to survive alone behind enemy lines, resist torture and escape from captors. Cavalry scouts rarely, if ever, attend the course.
It's unclear how many customers Arthur had. Methods from the SERE program were adopted by U.S. interrogators to torture prisoners of war, including sleep deprivation, waterboarding and keeping people in confined spaces or stressful positions.
"What I needed to focus on was the pending war and that if we did not take the information that was in my head, which was not even common knowledge through the military," Arthur said in one video. "The main thing that's going to be the difference between life or death is that knowledge, and it's being lost, it's not being taught."
In May 2021, an FBI informant met with Arthur at his home in Mount Olive, North Carolina. There, Arthur explained "how to properly place IEDs [improvised explosive devices] through one's property, the importance of creating a fatal funnel, the setup and use of remote-activated firearms, and how to evade arrest after killing members of law enforcement -- all after learning the recipient of the explanation intended to kill federal law enforcement who might come to his home," according to an FBI affidavit.
IEDs are the homemade bombs that were responsible for many of the casualties troops experienced during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as they are cheap and often made without using hard-to-find military ordnance.
Arthur then demonstrated how to use tripwire switches to detonate bombs and how to buld the explosives themselves.
"Law enforcement officers are being feloniously killed in the line of duty at an alarming rate. 2021 saw the most officers murdered since the 9/11 attacks. The behavior alleged in this indictment, training someone in methods of how to kill or injure law enforcement, is both serious and frightening," Robert R. Wells, an FBI special agent, said in a press release.
Arthur's arrest comes as the military struggles to find ways to combat extremism in the ranks and as veteran organizations grapple with radicalization in the veteran community. There's scant evidence those with military backgrounds are more prone to fall into extreme ideologies, but experts warn their training and inherent social credibility as service members or veterans can be dangerous.
The National Guard saw two of its soldiers, both infantrymen, join in the pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, 2021, that violently stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to subvert the peaceful transfer of power to President Joe Biden. The Wisconsin National Guard has allowed Pfc. Abram Markofski to continue his service, despite pleading guilty to his part in the attack. Cpl. Jacob Fracker, a Virginia Guardsman, is no longer participating in any military training until his trial concludes.
After Arthur was taken into custody, a search of his home found multiple IEDs; an IED striker plate; an electronic IED trigger and other IED components; a pistol suppressor; bulk gunpowder; and mixed Tannerite, an explosive compound usually used for rifle targets.
"The Justice Department will aggressively investigate and prosecute those whose actions would further violence against those in uniform," United States Attorney Michael Easley said in a statement announcing Arthur's arrest. "Our public servants in law enforcement deserve nothing less."
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.