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National Guard 'neo-Nazi' aimed to hit Miami nuclear plant, roommate says

The Turkey Point nuclear power plant south of Miami was a target Brandon Russell planned to hit with mortars, the Tampa man's roommate told investigators. [AP Photo, 2008]
Published Jun. 14, 2017

TAMPA — Brandon Russell, a National Guardsman and self-described neo-Nazi, had plans to blow up power lines in the Florida Everglades and launch explosives into a nuclear power plant near Miami, his roommate Devon Arthurs told police.

Prosecutors on Tuesday played portions of a recorded interrogation Arthurs gave in the hours immediately after he was arrested in the killings of Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk. In the video, Arthurs offers a justification for the killings, claiming that Russell, the surviving roommate, was preparing to commit acts of terrorism.

"The things they were planning were horrible," Arthurs said. "These people were not good people."

The U.S. Attorney's Office presented the video excerpts in an effort to get U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas B. McCoun III to revoke an order granting Russell bail, arguing that he poses a danger to the community.

Late Tuesday, the judge stayed the order. Russell will remain jailed while the judge reconsiders the issue.

Russell, 21, faces explosives charges after bombmaking materials were found at his Tampa Palms apartment May 19 during the murder investigation. Arthurs, separately, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in state court.

In the video, Arthurs sits beside a table in a white-walled interrogation room, his right leg resting over his left knee. He gestures with both hands as he casually describes Russell's neo-Nazi beliefs and supposed plans to commit terrorist acts.

He said Russell studied how to build nuclear weapons in school and is "somebody that literally has knowledge of how to build a nuclear bomb."

When a Tampa police detective asked Arthurs if his friends had any specific terrorist intentions, he said they had a plan to blow up power lines along Alligator Alley, the stretch of Interstate 75 linking Naples with Fort Lauderdale.

He also said they had a plan to fire mortars loaded with nuclear material into the cooling units of a nuclear power plant near Miami.

He said the damage would cause "a massive reactor failure" and spread "irradiated water" throughout the ocean.

"Think about a BP oil spill, except it wipes out parts of the eastern seaboard," Arthurs said.

The detective asked why they wanted to do these things.

"Because they wanted to build a Fourth Reich," Arthurs said. He said Russell idolized Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

"He said the only thing McVeigh did wrong was he didn't put enough material into the truck to bring the whole building down."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Josephine Thomas noted during the hearing that the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station is near Miami. She also noted that when bomb squad members arrived at Russell's apartment, their pagers alerted them to the presence of "two radiation sources." The criminal complaint says those were thorium and americium, both radioactive metals.

Russell's defense attorney, Ian Goldstein, noted that authorities have not charged him with possession of nuclear materials.

Peter Robbins, a spokesman for Florida Power and Light, declined to comment on what was said in court. But he said the company has extensive security.

"Nuclear power plants are among the most highly protected private-sector facilities in the nation," Robbins said. "Our plants are built with multiple layers of security and defensive features.''

Goldstein questioned Arthurs' credibility.

"Devon Arthurs is a person who just murdered two individuals, who is desperate to save himself, and, quite frankly, I think he is a few cards short of a full deck," Goldstein said. "I hope the government brings Mr. Arthurs to the trial as their prime witness. He's insane."

Arthurs, according to court records, admitted to the killings, saying Himmelman and Oneschuk had disrespected his conversion to Islam.

"I was like, 'How could I have done this?' " he said in the video played Tuesday. "If I hadn't done that, there would be a lot more people dead than just these two guys in this organization."

Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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