The group known as Atomwaffen Division is once again at the center of a high-profile criminal case in the Tampa Bay area.
The neo-Nazi paramilitary organization first gained widespread attention in 2017 when one of their former members was accused in a double murder in Tampa.
Now, nearly three years later, a local man is ensnared in a federal criminal case that alleges he conspired with other Atomwaffen members to deliver threatening posters to journalists and others.
Federal officials believe the group started in about 2015. But they did not achieve widespread recognition until two years later.
Brandon Russell, a former Florida National Guardsman, was a co-founder of the group, which professed an adherence to an ideology variously described as neo-Nazi and anti-government.
FBI agents who began investigating the group in 2017 were told there were about 30 members nationwide. Russell initially screened those who wanted to join.
They lurked in internet chats and discussed racist ideas. Members included Devon Arthurs, who became one of Russell’s roommates.
In May 2017, according to state prosecutors, Arthurs shot and killed their other two roommates, Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk. He then walked to a nearby smoke shop and held several people at gunpoint before surrendering to police. Once in custody, he directed police to the townhouse, where they found the bodies.
Russell, who was not involved in the murders, was questioned after investigators found explosive materials in the garage. Those items netted Russell federal charges to which he eventually pleaded guilty.
He is now in federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. His release date is set for August 2021.
People associated with Atomwaffen have been linked to at least five murders throughout the U.S., including the two in Tampa, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Atomwaffen means “nuclear weapons” in German.