SEATTLE - The leader of a Neo-Nazi threat campaign aimed at intimidating journalists and Jewish activists in three states was sentenced to 7 years in prison on Tuesday — the longest prison term handed out to the participants in the conspiracy.
A jury convicted Kaleb Cole in September of five felony counts related to the delivery of Swastika-laden posters to journalists and employees of the Anti-Defamation League in Washington state, Arizona and Florida in early 2020. The posters warned: "You have been visited by your local Nazis," "Your Actions have Consequences," and "We are Watching."
Seattle U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour handed down the sentence after hearing from victims who spoke of lingering fear and installing expensive home security systems in response to the threats. Miri Cypers, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, described picking up toys from her yard before fleeing to a hotel so that Cole and his followers would not know she had a daughter.
U.S. Attorney Nick Brown credited the victims for facing Cole in court: "Their courage has resulted in the federal prison sentence imposed today," he said.
The judge noted that Cole, 26, had tried to operate under the anonymity of the internet, and that when journalists, including Chris Ingalls of Seattle’s KING-TV, exposed him, "He took great pains to silence them through threats and intimidation."
"To function as a democratic society, we need reliable and truthful journalism," Coughenour said.
Unlike others sentenced in the case, Cole expressed no remorse, which helped explain why his sentence was more than twice as long as that of the conspiracy’s other leader, Cameron Shea. At his sentencing, Shea told the court, "I cannot put into words the guilt that I feel about this fear and pain that I caused."
Cole, most recently of Montgomery, Texas, was a leader of a hate group called Atomwaffen Division. He and four others faced charges including conspiracy, mailing threatening communications and interfering with a federally protected activity. The posters included images such as a hooded figure preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail at a house, and the words "Death to Pigs" — the same message followers of Charles Manson scrawled in victims’ blood during a home invasion murder.
Cole had been on law enforcement’s radar since at least 2018, when he was stopped at U.S. Customs upon returning from a trip to Europe. Authorities searched his cellphone and found photos of him posing at various sites, including at the gates of Auschwitz, or displaying a white supremacist flag and performing the Nazi salute.
Investigators said he became a leader of Atomwaffen Division after another leader was arrested on explosives charges.
In 2019, Seattle police obtained an "extreme risk protection order" against him, seizing nine guns from his home. They said Cole had "gone from espousing hate to now taking active steps or preparation for an impending ‘race war.’"
Those steps including organizing paramilitary-style "hate camps" in Nevada and Washington, investigators said.
After the weapons were seized, Cole moved to Texas, where he was found in a speeding car with another Atomwaffen member, marijuana and four guns, including three assault rifles.
Cole’s grandmother, JoAnne Powell, pleaded with the judge for leniency Tuesday, insisting that her grandson was a good man who made some "poor decisions" and never meant to hurt anyone.
"I beg that you would not look at him with hatred for what his political views have been," she said. "Kaleb is not a violent or mean person."
Cole’s attorney, Christopher Black, insisted that he was not really a leader of the conspiracy, and that the threat campaign was Shea’s idea. He acknowledged that Cole made the posters and offered suggestions in carrying out the effort, but said others charged had done similar work.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Woods disagreed, saying Cole stood out from the other defendants for his lack of remorse. He decried racism and religious intolerance said it’s "the great tragedy of this country, 250 years in, so many Americans have that feeling of unease."
"That was his identity, his life’s work to this point: hate, targeting people to instill terror," Woods said. "And it worked."
The other two defendants were Johnny Roman Garza, of Queen Creek, Arizona, who was sentenced to 16 months for affixing one of the posters on the bedroom window of a Jewish journalist, and Taylor Parker-Dipeppe, of Spring Hill, Florida, who received no prison time for attempting to deliver a flier but leaving it at the wrong address. Parker-Dipeppe was severely abused by his father and stepfather and hid his transgender identity from his co-conspirators and the judge found that he had suffered enough.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.