A Tampa man arrested in Key Largo Sunday afternoon following a traffic stop is a confessed neo-Nazi who manufactured explosives in his apartment, where police also found radiation materials, according to a federal arrest affidavit.
The case is related to a double homicide in Tampa, also involving white supremacists, federal agents say.
FBI and Tampa Police Department officers found a cooler containing a white cake-like substance in Brandon Russell’s garage, underneath his apartment, that tested positive for hexamethane triperoxide diamine, which is a precursor to several different types of explosives. He was arrested Sunday on possession of unregistered destructive devices and unlawful storage of explosive charges, and charged federally on Monday.
Also found in the garage were empty 5.56-caliber bullet casings with fuses that agents say could be used as detonators of the HMTD.
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According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Russell faces a maximum sentence of 11 years in federal prison if convicted.
Russell was pulled over by Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies Sunday afternoon driving south on U.S. 1 at mile marker 99. Authorities didn’t say why he was in the Keys or why he was pulled over.
He had just returned from U.S. Army National Guard duty May 19 to discover that his roommate, Devon Arthurs, 18, murdered two people in the apartment they shared in in the Hamptons at Tampa Palms complex. Both deceased were found in the apartment by the Tampa Police Department with multiple gunshots to the upper body and head.
Arthurs confessed to the killings and said the victims were also white supremacists, according to the arrest report.
Arthurs told police he was a white supremacist until his recent conversion to Islam, according to the arrest affidavit. He said that in “some time” before the murders, Russell participated in no-Nazi online chat rooms where he “threatened to kill people and bomb infrastructure,” according to the FBI report.
Inside Russell’s bedroom, they found a framed photograph of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and put to death for bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. They also found Nazi/white supremacist propaganda, according to the FBI complaint. While in his bedroom, devices used by police bomb technicians alerted to the presence of radiation sources — thorium and americium.
Before asking for an attorney, Russel told FBI agents he was a “national socialist,” according to the complaint, and a member of a group called the “Atom Waffen,” or “atomic weapon” in German.
He said the explosives were manufactured in 2013 for a rocket-making project he was working on for the engineering club at the University of South Florida to send balloons into the atmosphere. But FBI Agent Timothy Swanson wrote in his report that HMTD is “too energetic and volatile for these types of uses.”
Swanson was notified by the U.S Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on May 20 that the materials found in Russell’s garage are considered explosives under federal law, and were illegally stored and not registered.
‘But they aren’t hurt, they’re dead’
Arthurs told police he killed his two friends — identified by police as Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk — because they disrespected his new-found Muslim faith. Police found the bodies Friday hours after Arthurs barged into a nearby smoke shop and pulled a handgun on an employee and several customers.
According to a Tampa Police Department arrest affidavit, around 5:20 p.m., Arthurs ordered the people inside the store to the ground and asked, “Why shouldn’t I kill you?”
Another customer entered the Green Planet Smoke Shop and Arthurs made him get on the ground also. According to the police report, Arthurs told his hostages he already killed people and he was upset “due to America bombing his Muslim countries.”
Two Tampa police officers arrived about five minutes into the ordeal and convinced Arthurs to let the people inside the store go. Negotiators soon convinced him to surrender as well. Officers placed him in handcuffs, and as they walked him to a patrol car, he made several references to “Allah Mohammed,” and said, “I had to do it. This wouldn’t have to happen if your country didn’t bomb my country.”
Arthurs explained that he shared the same neo-Nazi beliefs as Himmelman and Oneschuk until his recent conversion to Islam. His friends often made disparaging comments about the religion, he said, to which he began to take great offense.
“Since then, Arthurs states, he has become angered by the world’s anti-Muslim sentiment and had wanted to bring attention to his cause,” according to the arrest report.
Tampa Officer Katie Thanasas asked Arthurs if anyone else was hurt. That’s when he revealed he killed Himmelman and Oneschuk and that their bodies were still inside his apartment, police say.
“The people in the apartment,” he said. “But they aren’t hurt, they’re dead.”
Officers then asked him if medics could help the men, to which Arthurs responded, “Oh no. They are definitely dead.”
When police pulled up to the apartment building with Arthurs in the backseat of the patrol car, they saw Russell standing at the door, dressed in full U.S. Army camouflage fatigues, visibly upset.
Arthurs told the police, according to the affidavit, “That’s my roommate. He doesn’t know what’s going on and just found out like you guys did.”
Arthurs was arrested on two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of armed kidnapping and a count of aggravated assault with a firearm.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204