A 21-year-old Arizona man who pleaded guilty to helping a neo-Nazi group threaten and intimidate journalists was sentenced on Wednesday to 16 months in federal prison.
The man, Johnny Roman Garza of Queen Creek, Ariz., was among a handful of people linked to a violent paramilitary neo-Nazi group, the Atomwaffen Division, who were arrested in February, prosecutors in Virginia and Washington State announced.
Brian T. Moran, the United States attorney for the Western District of Washington, said in a statement that Mr. Garza did not come up with the scheme but “enthusiastically embraced” it.
Mr. Garza, who pleaded guilty in September to a conspiracy charge in the case, admitted that he had researched home addresses for potential targets and that in January he had put a threatening poster on the bedroom window of an editor of a Jewish publication in Arizona. The poster showed a hooded skeleton holding a Molotov cocktail in front of a burning home, with the words “Your actions have consequences” and “Our Patience Has Its Limits,” according to court documents.
The poster also included personal information about the editor, prosecutors said.
The case was handled in the Western District of Washington because one defendant was located there when he led the conspiracy, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor said.
Mr. Garza appeared via Zoom on Wednesday from Arizona for sentencing by a judge in the federal courthouse in Seattle. He also admitted that he had tried in January to put up a similar poster at an apartment complex in Phoenix where a member of the Arizona Association of Black Journalists lived, but was unable to find a place to display it.
Others people in Atomwaffen targeted a broadcast journalist in Seattle who had reported on Atomwaffen and two people associated with the Anti-Defamation League, officials said. The New York Times reported earlier that Kirstjen Nielsen, who at the time was secretary of homeland security, was also among the targets.
Margaret Huang, president and chief executive of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement that the organization was “glad that Garza will be punished for his anti-Semitic and hate-filled threats” but also said that it came amid a rising wave of violence from white supremacists.Tim Eigo, president of the Arizona-based chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said in a statement that “justice was done,” with respect to Mr. Garza’s case. “But,” he added, “no American should be pleased at the place we find ourselves, where journalists are increasingly targeted with violence or threats of it.”
Seth M. Apfel, a lawyer for Mr. Garza, said in an interview on Wednesday that his client, who will be on supervised release for three years once he gets out of prison, was working to leave that life of hate behind.
Mr. Garza “went from harboring these views” to “completely embracing the exact opposite view,” his lawyer said.
“The light bulb started going off when he went into custody,” Mr. Apfel said.
Mr. Garza, who will surrender to authorities at a date to be determined to start his sentence, has already distanced himself from his former associates, Mr. Apfel said. Mr. Garza has taken classes to learn about Black and Jewish culture and wants to work with the authorities and activists to prevent other people from getting pulled into hate groups, Mr. Apfel said.
“Certainly, in my view, his transformation was very sincere,” Mr. Apfel said. “And I’m saying that not only as a lawyer but also as a Jewish man who’s married to a Black woman.”
Mr. Garza is the first defendant in the case to be sentenced. Another defendant who pleaded guilty in September is scheduled to be sentenced in February; two additional people who officials said led the group, Kaleb Cole and Cameron Brandon Shea, are scheduled to go to trial in March.