An infantryman formerly assigned to the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade pleaded not guilty Monday to charges from federal prosecutors that he shared sensitive information about his unit’s upcoming deployment with a neo-Nazi group.
Pvt. Ethan P. Melzer, 22, entered his plea in a Manhattan courtroom under the Southern District of New York. An indictment unsealed June 22 alleged that Melzer had admitted to his role in plotting a mass casualty attack against his fellow soldiers during a May 30 interview with military investigators.
Jennifer E. Willis, the public defender representing Melzer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Army Times. Melzer is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, according to Reuters, which first reported the plea.
Melzer was charged with conspiring and attempting to kill U.S. nationals; conspiring and attempting to kill U.S. service members; attempting to provide and providing material support to terrorists; and conspiring to murder and maim in a foreign country. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, called Melzer “the enemy within” when the charges were announced.
Army officials and the FBI “thwarted” Melzer’s plot in late-May, according to the Justice Department, and the FBI arrested Melzer June 10.
Melzer was stationed in Vicenza, Italy, and was slotted to deploy to Turkey. After he learned of the upcoming mission, Melzer allegedly used an encrypted messaging application to contact members of an “occult-based neo-Nazi” group known as the “Order of the Nine Angles,” according to the indictment. The organization is based in the United Kingdom.
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Melzer has been accused of providing sensitive information to the neo-Nazi group about that deployment, including his unit locations, movements and security posture. The information was intended to be conveyed to jihadists who would be poised to carry out the attack, according to the indictment.
On May 23, Melzer allegedly told the neo-Nazi group members via chat channels that he was “risking [his] literal free life” by disclosing information regarding his unit’s deployment and was “expecting results,” the indictment reads.
Melzer is also accused of consuming propaganda from a variety of violent extremist groups. The FBI reported searching an iCloud account maintained by Melzer that allegedly contained ISIS propaganda with a title that included the phrase “Harvest of the soldiers,” and described attacks and murders of U.S. personnel.
Melzer’s iCloud account also contained a satellite image showing a military installation with coordinates and notes, including one for a chow hall, according to the criminal complaint.
Melzer also acknowledged that he might die in the attack on his own unit, stating “who gives a f— … it would be another war … I would’ve died successfully … [causing] another 10-year war in the Middle East would definitely leave a mark.”
About Kyle Rempfer
Kyle is a staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the U.S. Army. He served an enlistment as an Air Force Special Tactics CCT and JTAC.