Arizona man among members of 'violent extremist group' arrested by the FBI

Federal officials say one of the four people arrested in connection with a conspiracy to threaten and intimidate journalists and activists is a man who lives in Arizona.

In a statement released on Wednesday, officials with the Department of Justice identified the Arizona man as 20-year-old Johnny Roman Garza of Queen Creek. The other three men are identified as:

· 24-year-old Kaleb Cole of Montgomery, Texas, a town about 54 miles (ca. 87 km) north of Houston

· 20-year-old Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe of Spring Hill, Florida, a town about 41 miles (ca. 66 km) north of Tampa

· 24-year-old Cameron Brandon Shay of Redmond, Washington, which is near Seattle

(Click here if you can't see the interactive map)

Jewish, Journalists of Color Targeted

In its statement, Justice Department officials called the four men "racially motivated violent extremists," and accused them of conspiring on the web to intimidate journalists and activists with whim they disagreed.

The four men, investigators believe, conspired via an encrypted online chat group to identify their targets, and the group focused mainly of those who are Jewish or journalists of color.

Officials accuse Cole and Shea of creating a number of posters that included Nazi symbols, masked figures with guns and Molotov Cocktails, and threatening language. The posters were then delivered electronically to members of Atomwaffen.

The posters were included in court documents, which contained words such as "We are watching you", "Two can play at this game", "Your actions have consequences", "We are noone [sic], we are everyone, we know where you live", and "You have been visited by your local Nazis". 

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Atomwaffen Division is a neo-Nazi group whose members are preparing for a race war to combat what they believe to be the cultural and racial displacement of the white race. Shea is described in court documents as a "high-level member and primary recruiter" for the Atomwaffen Division.

"They vowed to accelerate the collapse of civilization using violence, mass murder, hate and threat," said Brian Moran, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.

Court Documents Detail Conspiracy

Court documents contained additional details on the incidents, which investigators believe began in November 2019, when Shea, under a moniker, took part in a chat group on an encrypted communication and collaboration app called Wire, and invited the other three suspects.

Investigators say members of the group called their operation "Operation Erste Säule", which translates to "Operation First Pillar." "Erste Säule" is a German term that translates to "first pillar". Members of the group reportedly say the term represents the first pillar of state power, namely the media.

According to court documents, members of the encrypted chat group researched targets in their respective area. Law enforcement began to receive reports of journalists and activists receiving the materials in late January.

According to authorities, a former employee and a current employee of the Anti-Defamation League in the Seattle area, as well as a Seattle reporter who has reported on the Atomwaffen Division in the past, received the materials.

Investigators also say Parker-Dipeppe intended to deliver the material to a reporter who lives in Tampa, but got the wrong address. The material was seen by a black person who lived at the home with her father and a child.

“These defendants sought to spread fear and terror with threats delivered to the doorstep of those who are critical of their activities,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran for the Western District of Washington, in a statement.

Arizona City Home Searched

According to Federal officials, law enforcement was doing surveillance on Garza, who was picked up by someone on the night of January 25. Shortly after midnight, the car parked outside an apartment complex where a member of the Arizona Association of Black Journalist lived.

Prosecutors say one person got out, and later returned before they drove off to the home of the editor of a local Jewish publication.

Meanwhile, FOX 10 has learned that a home in Arizona City was searched, in connection with Garza's arrest. The home is reportedly that of Garza's co-worker and friend. The friend told FOX 10's Steve Nielsen his cell phone and laptop are being searched by the FBI.

That person also told Nielsen while he knows about the group, he is not a member. He wouldn't say what Garza's role may be.