PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge ruled Monday that an Arizona man will remain jailed on a charge that he and other neo-Nazis mounted a harassment campaign, mailing and posting threatening messages, at the homes of journalists and anti-hate advocates in three states.
Johnny Roman Garza, 20, of Queen Creek poses a danger to the community, Magistrate Judge John Boyle said.
The judge expressed skepticism about Garza’s claim to have severed his ties with the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division and noted that officers found a bulletproof vest during a search of Garza’s home. “That’s not something a 20-year-old would normally have,” Boyle said.
Garza and three other Atomwaffen Division members are expected to be sent to Washington state to face a charge of conspiring to send threatening mail and commit cyberstalking. None of the four men has yet entered a plea.
Authorities said the goal of the campaign was to intimidate and retaliate against journalists for unfavorable reporting. One of the alleged leaders of the conspiracy is accused of calling for a campaign of threats against journalists after he was identified in a 2018 Seattle Times story as being an Atomwaffen Division member.
Garza and an unidentified person are accused of gluing a poster about a month ago to a bedroom window at the home of Mala Blomquist, an editor for Arizona Jewish Life magazine. The poster listed her name and said, “Your Actions Have Consequences.”
Blomquist said she doesn’t know why she would land on the group’s radar. She is not Jewish, doesn’t live in a Jewish neighborhood and the magazine has never written about neo-Nazism.
For about a week, Blomquist switched up her daily routine. She wouldn’t leave the house without her husband. She also looked over her shoulder a lot more.
“My home is my sanctuary. To have somebody impede upon you like that, it’s never OK,” Blomquist said. “The fact somebody came on my property and put something that disgusting on my window, that bothered me. I don’t want to say PTSD for people who really have it, but it was a traumatic experience.”
Before going to Blomquist’s home, the FBI said Garza and the unidentified person went to a Phoenix apartment complex where a member of the Arizona Association of Black Journalists lives, though no threatening message was posted there.
Prosecutor Lisa Jennis, who noted a Nazi uniform was found at Garza’s home, described Garza’s role in the conspiracy as a coordinator, not a mere follower. “He wanted to linger in the amusement of someone not liking him,” Jennis said.
Garza’s attorney, Richard Suzuki, said his client has sworn off the Atomwaffen Division after he posted the threatening poster at Blomquist’s home and planned to attend college next fall. He said Garza was remorseful.
Suzuki noted Garza is a U.S. citizen of Mexican heritage. “It’s really puzzling how he got trapped in this type of environment,” Suzuki said.
Authorities say other threats were made in Washington state and Florida, though Garza isn’t accused of mailing or posting threats outside Arizona.
Threatening posters were mailed to a Seattle journalist who reported on the neo-Nazi group and to one current and one former employee of the Anti-Defamation League’s office in Washington.
A poster left at a home in Tampa contained the name and address of a Florida reporter who was born and raised in Puerto Rico. As it turns out, the reporter didn’t live at the home.
One poster portrayed a masked figure holding a Molotov cocktail in front of a house. Another showed masked people with guns and a caption saying, “These People Have Names and Address.” The posters contained a spot for the recipient’s home address.
Authorities say members of the conspiracy did online research to compile the names and addresses of journalists and activists.
In an encrypted chat with other alleged conspirators, Garza suggested wearing disguises when they go to neighborhoods to post threats and recommended that they look out for security cameras in gated communities, the FBI said in court documents.
In an earlier encrypted conversation, Garza said the goal of the campaign was to “have them all wake up one morning and find themselves terrorized by targeted propaganda.”
Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.