An Arizona man has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for plotting with a neo-Nazi group to threaten and intimidate journalists and advocates working to expose anti-Semitism, federal prosecutors said.
Johnny Roman Garza, 21, was sentenced Wednesday by a Seattle judge after pleading guilty in September to conspiring with other members of the terroristic hate group Atomwaffen Division to carry out threats in Washington, Arizona and Florida.
Garza was one of four people arrested by the FBI in February and indicted by federal prosecutors.
“While this defendant did not hatch this disturbing plot, he enthusiastically embraced it, researching addresses for journalists and those who oppose hate in our communities,” said U.S. Attorney Brian Moran.
In his plea agreement, Garza admitted to helping identify various journalists for targeting and admitted to having left a threatening poster outside the home of an editor of a Jewish magazine.
“Your actions have consequences. Our patience has its limits. … You have been visited by your local Nazis,” read the poster, which listed some of the victim’s personal information and depicted a figure holding a Molotov cocktail in front of a burning home.
Garza said he had intended to leave a similar poster outside a Phoenix apartment where a member of the Arizona Association of Black Journalists lived but said he was not able to find a suitable place for it during his visit.
Garza, who had faced up to five years in prison, expressed remorse for his actions in court. Garza said he joined the hate group during “a time of darkness and isolation,” which made it easier for “rebellious and resentful” influences to take over, prosecutors said.
“Very unfortunately, I fell in with the worst crowd you can probably fall in with, a very self-destructive crowd at the least,” he told U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, according to The Associated Press.
Coughenour said he felt Garza was truly remorseful and that he took into consideration Garza’s youth and “turbulent childhood” ahead of sentencing, as well as Garza’s efforts after his arrest to educate himself about the minority groups he targeted.
Prison time was necessary, the judge said, “given the severity of this conduct and the horrible impact it had on people that are important in our society.”
The judge further took a moment to admonish top U.S. officials who refer to journalists as “enemies of the people,” saying it makes people, particularly vulnerable youth, think that such conduct is appropriate. Coughenour did not refer to President Donald Trump by name, the AP reported.
Garza’s defense attorney, Seth M. Apfel, also called his client’s remorse genuine and said Garza has taken classes to learn about Black and Jewish culture and wants to help prevent other people from getting pulled into hate groups.
“Certainly, in my view, his transformation was very sincere,” Apfel told The New York Times. “And I’m saying that not only as a lawyer but also as a Jewish man who’s married to a Black woman.”
The remaining three defendants have yet to be sentenced. Those are Cameron Brandon Shea, 24, of Redmond, Washington; Kaleb Cole, 24, of Montgomery, Texas; and Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, 21, of Spring Hill, Florida.
Parker-Dipeppe pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge in September and is scheduled to be sentenced in February. Cole and Shea, who are described by prosecutors as the leaders of the conspiracy, are scheduled for trial in March.