Earlier this month, authorities announced they had arrested dozens of white supremacist gang members from group called the “Unforgiven” and “United Aryan Brotherhood” in a Pasco County bust that turned up illegal firearms, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine – and pipe bombs.
The 39 people arrested in a region just north of Tampa Bay and west of Orlando were largely from Tampa Bay and Central Florida, an area where law enforcement authorities have made several disturbing arrests of white supremacists, including one last year where officials found a garage filled with bomb-making materials.
The police investigation into the groups, dubbed “Operation Blackjack,” took three years. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and various other local agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, worked to identify and apprehend the gang members. WFTS in Tampa reported that authorities also seized a rocket launcher.
The “Unforgiven” gang favors Nazi-styled imagery, and is listed as a hate group and prison gang by the Anti-Defamation League. The United Aryan Brotherhood is also listed as a prison gang by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist violence.
The arrest of the gang members with explosive devices mirrors a bust last year in the Tampa Bay area. The arrests, announced Nov. 15, also come at a time when violence from white supremacists and avowed anti-Semites is causing national concern.
According to a just-published investigation by ProPublica, authorities have had disturbing encounters with another Florida neo-Nazi group living in a gated community outside Tampa – this one called Atomwaffen.
ProPublica reports that in May 2017, police went to a murder scene at an apartment where the assailant claimed he had shot his neo-Nazi roommates to death because he knew they were planning acts of mass violence.
Evidence at the condominium seemed to back up that claim. There was a framed picture of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh in the apartment – the man who blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Alarmingly, the garage attached to the apartment was filled with radioactive materials and explosives, including the same mixture McVeigh and another man used for an explosion that killed 168 people, including children at the building’s day care center, and injured 500 more. Investigators also found also a hand-drawn map to a nearby Florida rock quarry which used explosives for mining, ProPublica reports.
The 18-year-old man who shot his roommates said he was planning to leave the neo-Nazi group but feared innocent people would be killed if he didn’t end the lives of the two Atomwaffen members he said were planning mass killings, according to ProPublica’s report, part of the investigative reporting team’s “Documenting Hate” series produced with the PBS program Frontline. He told a Tampa police detective that Atomwaffen planned to target power lines, nuclear reactors, and synagogues.
The man who shot his roommates was booked on homicide charges.
But police released their other roommate, a member of the Florida National Guard who claimed the explosives police found were used to power model rockets. He was one of the founders of Atomwaffen, ProPublica reports. Within hours, the man loaded assault weapons, body armor, and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition into his car and headed for the Florida Keys with another Atomwaffen member. They were later apprehended by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and the Atomwaffen founder was jailed for possessing bomb-making equipment.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, “Activity attributed to Atomwaffen has been reported in multiple states, including Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, Massachusetts, Washington, North Carolina and Virginia. The group’s vile propaganda often promotes violence against minority communities, including LGBT people, Jews, Muslims, and African Americans.”