Sept. 30 (UPI) -- A federal Jury in Seattle convicted the leader of neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division on charges of threatening journalists who wrote about his organization.
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before convicting Kaleb Cole, 25, of Montgomery, Texas, of five federal felonies on Wednesday for conspiring to send threatening posters to journalists and employees of anti-hate organization Anti-Defamation League, the Justice Department said in a statement.
Cole was the last of five people involved in the conspiracy to be convicted following their arrests nationwide in February of last year. Three members have since pleaded guilty and were sentenced while Cole and Cameron Shea, 25, of Redmond, Wash., were the only ones to plead not guilty. Shea also received a guilty verdict in August and is awaiting sentencing.
The criminal complaint against the men said they conspired to threaten journalists throughout the country by sending them intimidating posters containing swastikas, other Nazi imagery and threatening messages via mail or by plastering them to their residences.
Cole and Shea were convicted of creating the posters, some of which read "you have been visited by your local Nazis," and were transferred electronically to Atomwaffen members nationwide to be delivered to targets in Tampa, Seattle and Phoenix.
Prosecutors said Shea had created a online chat group in November 2019 to organize the campaign.
"We're coordinating this nationwide operation called Operation Erste Saule, named after the first pillar of stat[e] power, AKA the media," Shea wrote in the chat group, according to the complaint. "We will be postering journalists houses and media buildings to send a clear message that we too have leverage over them."
The intention of Operation Erst Saule was to degrade the legitimacy of the media and to embolden others to act similarly to them, Shea said.
The operation began on Jan. 25, 2020, when posters were mailed in the Seattle area to a TV journalist who had reported on Atomwaffen Division and two people associated with the ADL. In Tampa, a member of the group plastered the poster to a residence they incorrectly addressed to a journalist while another member left a poster at the Phoenix residence of a member of the Arizona Association of Black Journalists that read "Your actions have consequences."
During the trial their victims detailed how the attacks impacted them, causing some to move and install security systems while one purchased a firearm and took shooting lessons, the Justice Department said. Another victim, it added, began fearing their mailbox may be rigged with an explosive and used a stick to open it while retrieving their mail.
"All of the images [in the posters] were selected by Kaleb Cole to send one message: We can get you in your home," Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Wilkinson said during closing arguments on Wednesday. "Cole wanted to terrorize them with threats of physical harm."
Cole is schedule for sentencing on Jan. 11 when he faces up to five years in prison for the conspiracy charge, five years in prison for mailing a threatening communication and up to 10 years for interference with a federally protected activity.