A former Fairchild Air Force base airman was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison after pleading guilty to stealing ammunition from the base in a scheme marked by racist and violent insurrectionist views that he says were born of grief.
U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice also sentenced 31-year-old John I. Sanger, of Rigby, Idaho, Wednesday to three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to possession of stolen ammunition.
"It's despicable what you did," Rice said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office — Eastern District of Washington said in a news release the FBI and Air Force Office of Special Investigations opened an investigation into Sanger in August 2021 after investigators learned he was associated with two social media accounts − "awakened cascadian" and "problematicpatriot," according to court documents and information provided at sentencing.
Sanger used one of the accounts in December 2020 to call for the violent seizure of the U.S. Capitol building, which turned into a reality.
"They defrauded our election system and are still getting away with it," Sanger wrote. "That means the system has run it's course. People have to die."
During the investigation, an undercover officer met with Sanger and discussed issues involving minorities, opposition to vaccines and targeting of critical infrastructure. The officer and Sanger discussed targeting the Spokane County Public Health building and COVID-19 testing sites using a Molotov cocktail.
Sanger took the officer shooting at the Fishtrap Recreation Area after sharing messages in which Sanger "acknowledged he is a racist and blames the United States' woes on Jews and African Americans," according to court documents.
Sanger told the officer in March 2022 that multiple airmen stationed at Fairchild were stealing ammunition from the base and using it for personal use, the attorney's office said.
Sanger is one of six airmen from the base indicted in the stolen ammo scheme.
"Theft from the military is an affront to honorable men and women who dedicate their lives to government and military service in order to keep America safe and strong," Vanessa Waldref, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said in the release. "I will not tolerate any abuse of trust by those charged to our great country. I applaud the tireless work and dedication of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and our Federal Prosecutors in bringing Mr. Sanger to justice."
Sanger, who wore yellow Spokane County Jail inmate clothing, told Rice the past 19 months in jail have been the "most trying, challenging" time of his life.
He said he and his wife were "completely devastated" when their child, who had to be delivered early, died shortly after the birth.
Steve Roberts, Sanger's attorney, said Sanger missed the birth of his second child while he was incarcerated.
Sanger said losing his daughter and nearly his wife during the birth had a "profound impact" on him and sent him down a path where he spent time online with "communities" that didn't align with him. It ultimately led to his arrest, he said.
He said he was living his life in conflict with his true values. He is ashamed from his mistakes and learned from them, Sanger said.
His mother, Kristin Sanger, said her son's criminal behavior still shocks her and her family.
"His choices, the things he said and his actions are out of character from the son I know," she told Rice. "I believe he was struggling with his own grief and desperation at the time and found very unhealthy ways to address what he was going through."
Both attorneys agreed the case was more than a stolen ammunition one.
Without law enforcement's intervention, the result could have been different, said Patrick Cashman, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.
Cashman recommended a 24-month sentence, while Roberts asked for Rice to immediately release Sanger to his family, who traveled several hours from Idaho to attend the sentencing.
Sanger has served close to 20 months of the 24-month sentence. Rice said Sanger may be released in a "matter of days" when factoring potential reduced time for good behavior.
Rice ordered Sanger to undergo a mental health evaluation and to follow any recommended treatment.
Roberts said Sanger was court martialed and given a "bad conduct discharge."
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