A Florida Army National Guard soldier is expected to plead guilty Wednesday to felony possession of unregistered explosives and a misdemeanor count of illegally storing explosive materials.
Brandon Clint Russell, 22, was arrested in Key Largo May 21 by Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies who were informed by federal agents to be on the lookout for him after they found what they say were bomb-making materials in his Tampa apartment — the same apartment where the bullet-riddled bodies of his two friends were found just days earlier. Russell’s roommate, Arthur Devons, admitted to killing the men, he said, because they often ridiculed his new-found Muslim faith.
Russell, who authorities do not suspect in the murders, was away on National Guard duty when Devons killed Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuk, 18. Russell is an admitted white supremacist and founding member of the online neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen — meaning atomic weapon in German. Himmelman and Oneschuk were also AtomWaffen members at the time of their murders. Devons was also a white supremacist before converting to Islam.
Russell’s attorney, Ian Goldstein, said his client will make an open plea Wednesday in front of a federal judge, meaning he made no deal with federal prosecutors in exchange for his guilty plea. This also means that Russell is hoping the judge won’t give him the full 11 years in prison he faced if found guilty by a jury. Russell has no prior criminal record and was an active National Guard member at the time of his arrest.
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Two days before deputies stopped him in the Keys, Russell admitted to FBI agents and Tampa Police Department officers investigating the double homicide at his apartment that explosives — hexamethane triperoxide diamine, or HMTD — and detonators stored in a cooler in the garage underneath his home were his and that he was a neo-Nazi. But he said the explosives were old and for a rocket project he worked on several years earlier for a college engineering club.
Also in the cooler were 5.56-caliber bullet casings with fuses that the FBI states could be used to detonate the HMTD.
Nevertheless, Russell was allowed to leave and told agents he was going to visit his father in West Palm Beach. Instead, he went to Bradenton to pick up his friend, who he had met on the neo-Nazi chat room “Iron March,” “where individuals discuss fascism, Nazism, and ‘current trends’ in hate for the government,” according to court documents. It is from Iron March where Atomwaffen was born, authorities believe.
The two men traveled to the Keys instead of going to West Palm Beach. Sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents found two rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, high-capacity magazines, his Army fatigues, binoculars and a skull mask inside their car.
Russell’s status in the National Guard is unclear. The service maintained throughout the case that he would remain an active member pending the outcome of an internal investigation and the federal prosecution. He joined in February 2016 and held the rank of private first class at the time of his arrest.
William Manley, deputy communications director with the Florida National Guard, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204