In the end, the self-professed traitor blinked. On Friday, June 24, former Army Pvt. Ethan Melzer pleaded guilty to three terrorism-related federal charges for a macabre, Satanist-inspired plot to have his former unit attacked by jihadi militants during a deployment overseas in 2020. The thin, bearded 24-year-old entered his change of plea in the Lower Manhattan courtroom of U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods a little over two years since his high-profile arrest in June 2020, and just 11 days before the scheduled start of what would’ve been a first in American jurisprudence: the federal government’s foremost terrorism prosecutors trying an adherent of the shadowy Far Right Order of Nine Angles (O9A) sect.
The Order of Nine Angles, founded in the 1960s by British Satanists, has spread throughout the world in the succeeding decades. Over the past five years, the ideology became intertwined with neo-fascist terrorist groups like the Atomwaffen Division, National Action, and the Base. O9A’s followers stand accused of murder, pedophilia, rape, terrorism, and other crimes in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, and elsewhere. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also indirectly helped accelerate the spread of O9A by employing Joshua Caleb Sutter, the head of the Tempel ov Blood nexion and prolific publisher of O9A-related books through his Martinet Press imprint, as a paid informant for almost 20 years.
Melzer’s conviction is significant: He embodied the worst fears of military and law-enforcement leaders of an “inside threat” intent on inflicting lethal harm on his fellow Americans. Melzer even joined the military in what O9A refers to as an “insight role” to gain weapons and tactical training while using his position in the Army to subvert or damage the institution. The former soldier’s conviction is the first time American authorities have articulated and prosecuted actions driven by a Satanist sect that has inspired millenarian neo-Nazi domestic terrorists and led to several homicides overseas. British law enforcement is so alarmed by the noxious ideology that the Home Office is under pressure to formally ban the Order of Nine Angles as they have done to Al Qaeda, National Action, and other terrorist groups. The importance of Melzer’s case was signaled by the dozens of federal law-enforcement officers in plainclothes present in court last Friday to watch the disgraced G.I. plead guilty.
Furthermore, federal prosecutors have used this case to establish legal precedent for the Order of Nine Angles as an extremist ideology now officially linked to a terrorism conviction. In both the presentation of Assistant U.S Attorney Matthew Hellman on June 24 and the expert testimony a month prior of Dr. Pete Simi, an academic specializing in right-wing extremism, a formal record was made not only of Melzer’s ties to the ideology, but specifics of its origins, influence on the contemporary far right at large, practices and goals, and how the former soldier’s actions comported with the Satanist cult’s “social Darwinist” principles, as Dr. Simi testified on May 24th. One of the counts Melzer pleaded guilty to, providing material support for a terrorist organization, states that people found to have violated this particular code “must have knowledge that the organization is a designated terrorist organization.” Crucially, his plot involved providing classified material to a purported member of Al Qaeda about his unit’s movement, in hopes that Islamist militants would carry out an ambush. In their formal press release about Melzer’s guilty plea, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York placed heavy emphasis on Melzer’s involvement with O9A, which, they stated, traces back to 2017. In short, Melzer’s case is now the precedent that formally connects O9A to terrorism in the American court system, putting the Satanist cult on par with the jihadis Melzer hoped would kill his fellow soldiers.
“O9A has a significant influence especially among neo-Nazis who promote terrorism and has been connected to the beliefs of more than one murderer,” said Spencer Sunshine, a longtime researcher of right-wing extremism. However, Sunshine cautioned that the Satanist cult’s amorphous nature and lack of formal structure meant that it differed sharply from other groups. “But since O9A is highly decentralized, if entities like this are added to the list, it will also be a step into murky waters that those in the government who deal with terrorism will have to wrangle with.”
In Britain, where the Order of Nine Angles was founded, law enforcement has dealt with the ideology in a number of recent terrorism prosecutions, and Parliament has heard calls to formally ban O9A as extremism. Nick Lowles, the chief executive of the U.K. anti-hate organization Hope Not Hate, hailed Melzer’s trial as a watershed moment.
“There are several countries in Europe and North America where O9A supporters have been involved in terrorist attacks and encouraging extreme violence and terrorism, but because of the international nature of the group and its non-hierarchical and fluid structure, many governments have struggled to properly characterize O9A as they should,” Lowles said. “Hopefully, the actions of federal prosecutors in the U.S. will now give encouragement to others to follow suit.”
However, there is reticence about the adoption of a “war on terror” framework to combatting O9A. “What the government wants through these designations is expanded surveillance powers,” says Hannah Gais, a senior researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The harm that Order of Nine Angles adherents and proponents have perpetrated cannot be healed through designating it as a terrorist organization.”
Given O9A’s current influence on right-wing extremists, law enforcement will almost certainly investigate and prosecute adherents of the ideology in future criminal cases. Indeed, in New York City’s other federal jurisdiction, the Eastern District of New York, prosecutors have divulged O9A-related evidence in the gun possession case of Angel Almeida, a Queens man who also professed a desire to sexually abuse young women. Almeida was also found in possession of a Tempel ov Blood banner and ToB patches — the proceeds of which would benefit FBI informant Joshua Sutter.
In the past half-decade, young Neo-Nazi propagandists associated with or aping the Atomwaffen Division and the Base have used social media to saturate extreme right-wing channels with O9A imagery and texts, relying heavily on the industrial-meets-horrorcore aesthetic of Sutter’s Tempel ov Blood. Pushing rape, child abuse, murder, and manipulation vaults young edgelords like Almeida to online notoriety. With Melzer and incarcerated members of the Atomwaffen Division and the Base, those transgressive ideas came dangerously close to grievous real-world consequences. While the former soldier will end up in federal prison, where O9A adherents like John Cameron Denton and Kaleb Cole of AWD are currently serving time, Joshua Sutter, the FBI informant and leading O9A proselytizer, is a free man and still selling Satanist books.
The FBI offered no comment in response to questions about Sutter’s work with the bureau or his role in spreading O9A ideology in recent years. Sutter’s work as an informant is still bearing fruit: His “Swiss Discipline” alias appears in encrpyted Wire chats from the Atomwaffen Division’s successor group, the National Socialist Order, that led to Aubrey Sakai Suzuki, a young Mississippi man, pleading guilty last month to threatening death upon Blacks, Latinos, homosexuals, and other marginalized groups.
Prior to Melzer’s change of heart, his federal defenders Johnathan Marvinny and Ariel Werner were preparing a quixotic line of defense that hewed to the approach taken by former NYPD Gilberto Valle, the “Cannibal Cop” whose conviction for plotting to murder, cook, and eat several women (including his wife) was overturned by a federal appeals court for lack of proof that he would actually carry out his “fantasy role-play,” according to an opinion by Judge Paul Gardephe.
Melzer’s case turned on blood-soaked Satanist texts and insignia recovered from his barracks, and most importantly, reams of encrypted Telegram chats found on his two iPhones with other members of an O9A cell, or “nexion,” called “Rapewaffen.” Court filings over the past two years have laid out the scope of Melzer’s extremely lurid conversations with other members of this nexion, which included a mentally ill Canadian teenager who posed as a former paratrooper, an alleged member of the Grey Wolves, an ultra-nationalist terrorist group based in Turkey, and a person who went by the alias “Red Hourglass” — and, per defense filings, was the government’s confidential source.
The communications divulged piecemeal in the docket, according to the government, show Melzer wanted to have his unit attacked and sent classified information to his erstwhile co-conspirators, including grid coordinates for the base he’d be stationed at, particulars of his unit’s travel, satellite photographs of the facility and terrain, and specifics about the defensive armaments of himself and his fellow soldiers. Marvinny and Werner’s defense strategy would essentially portray Melzer’s actions as fantasy, relying on the expert testimony of Dr. David Greenfield, a longtime professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine and the founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction.
During the June 16th hearing, Greenfield compared the behavior of so-called internet addicts to compulsive gamblers, and claimed the purported anonymity of the internet led to people dropping their inhibitions and taking on roles they would never fulfill in real life. “On the internet, there are no checks and balances — you can be anything you want, say anything you want, and there’s nothing to verify it,” he told the court. This would’ve been the crux of the defense approach: that Melzer had abhorrent views and associations, but was living an online fantasy and didn’t pose an actual threat to his fellow soldiers.
However, the filings and presentation of Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Hellman, Sam Adelsburg, and Kimberly Ravener in the run-up to Melzer’s trial date portrayed a starkly different picture. The prosecutors were prepared to call Melzer’s former commanding officer and comrades in the 173rd Airborne Brigade to testify about the potential damage the attack could’ve caused. Evidence about Melzer’s radicalization, including his own statements about O9A involvement: “Always working on some form of insight role,” he wrote on Telegram to the teenage administrator of the Rapewaffen channel, essentially admitting he was a hostile infiltrator. And there was also evidence of Melzer’s self-initiation long before his enlistment in the military, including the Satanist group’s texts and photographic evidence of alleged blood rituals.
More damaging, the government’s investigation also turned up evidence that Melzer had allegedly committed not one, but two shootings as a juvenile in Louisville, Kentucky: one on Jan. 9, 2018, when Melzer shot another person during a marijuana deal outside his apartment complex, and a second shooting from 2015 or 2016 during a robbery which Melzer bragged about to a roommate. The government sought to have two witnesses testify, including Melzer’s former roommate who lived with him after dropping out from high school in 10th grade. An open-records request to the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department yielded no record of the incident.
Melzer presented none of that menace in Judge Woods’ 12th-floor courtroom last week. Dressed in beige jail scrubs from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn where he is being housed, Melzer spoke softly in response to Judge Woods’ questions, often touching a tattoo on his left forearm of two inset circles and an eight-pointed star that closely resembles a chaos symbol.
After the former private stated his guilty plea, Judge Woods asked if he had anything to say about the crimes he had sought to carry out.
“I’m sorry, and I regret every single thing that I did,” Melzer said.
He is facing up to 45 years in federal prison on all counts — less than the potential life sentence he risked if found guilty after a jury trial. Judge Woods will decide Melzer’s fate during a hearing early next year. The proceedings are scheduled for an auspicious date: Jan. 6, 2023.