SEATTLE - A federal judge decided Wednesday not to impose prison time on a former member of a neo-Nazi ring that made threats against journalists, finding that the 21-year-old — who concealed his transgender identity from his co-conspirators — had already suffered enough in his young life.
Taylor Parker-Dipeppe, of Spring Hill, Florida, pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to mail threatening communications and to commit cyberstalking. He was charged in early 2020 along with three other members of the Atomwaffen Division, a white supremacist group.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Atomwaffen Division is a neo-Nazi group whose members are preparing for a race war to combat what they believe to be the cultural and racial displacement of the white race.
"They vowed to accelerate the collapse of civilization using violence, mass murder, hate and threat," said Brian Moran, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, in February 2020.
The other three people charged were identified as:
- 24-year-old Kaleb Cole of Montgomery, Texas, a town about 54 miles (ca. 87 km) north of Houston
- 20-year-old Johnny Roman Garza of Queen Creek, Arizona
- 24-year-old Cameron Brandon Shea of Redmond, Washington, which is near Seattle
Investigators: Incidents began in 2019
Court documents contained additional details on the incidents, which investigators believe began in November 2019.
Investigators said members of the group called their operation "Operation Erste Säule", which translates to "Operation First Pillar." "Erste Säule" is a German term that translates to "first pillar". Members of the group reportedly said the term represents the first pillar of state power, namely the media.
Investigators said the group left or attempted to leave Swastika-laden posters. The posters contained words such as "We are watching you", "Two can play at this game", "Your actions have consequences", "We are noone [sic], we are everyone, we know where you live", and "You have been visited by your local Nazis".
According to authorities, a former employee and a current employee of the Anti-Defamation League in the Seattle area, as well as a Seattle reporter who has reported on the Atomwaffen Division in the past, received the materials.
Parker-Dipeppe was a low-level part of the conspiracy. Investigators said he intended to deliver the material to a reporter who lives in Tampa, but got the wrong address. The material was seen by a black person who lived at the home with her father and a child.
Authorities said the operation was planned by Shea and Cole, who moved from Seattle to Texas after Seattle Police seized his guns in 2019 under an "extreme risk protection order" that suggested he was planning a race war.
The first member of the conspiracy to be sentenced was Garza, who was sentenced to a 16-month prison sentence, roughly half the time sought by prosecutors.
Cole is due to face trial in September, and Shea is scheduled to plead guilty next week.
Defense attorney: Parker-Dipeppe had difficult childhood
Parker-Dipeppe’s attorney, Peter Mazzone, said prison would be devastating for his client, who suffered abuse from a father who would not accept him as a boy, from an alcoholic stepfather who brutalized him, and from school bullies who tormented him.
"This led him to just seek acceptance, and unfortunately he found it from these knuckleheads," Mazzone said, referring to the group of about 10 boys, mostly 15 and 16 years old, who made up the Florida Atomwaffen cell.
Parker-Dipeppe confessed his involvement in Atomwaffen to his mother soon after delivering the poster, afraid that the group would learn that he was transgender. She persuaded him to tell Shea the truth. He did, was immediately kicked out of Atomwaffen, and still fears retaliation, his attorney said.
While out, he has made great progress in therapy, obtained a job, and married a supportive woman, Mazzone said.
Prosecutors acknowledged his very difficult childhood, but sought a prison term of 16 months, writing in a sentencing memo that he "instilled terror in his victims and contributed to the wide sense of fear and unease that many groups in this country understandably feel."
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle sentenced Parker-Dipeppe to time served after Parker-Dipeppe tearfully apologized for his actions.
Coughenour said he struggled with his decision because he was mindful of the fear and suffering such harassment can instill, but he added: "None of us have suffered the difficult situation this defendant has endured as a result of his gender identity confusion. ... Enough’s enough."
More than a dozen people linked to Atomwaffen or an offshoot called Feuerkrieg Division have been charged with crimes in federal court since the group’s formation in 2016.
Atomwaffen has been linked to several killings, including the May 2017 shooting deaths of two men at an apartment in Tampa, Florida, and the January 2018 killing of a University of Pennsylvania student in California.
This story was reported on from Phoenix. The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report