CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors accused a West Virginia man on Tuesday of conspiracy against the U.S. government and selling machine gun conversion devices online to followers of a far-right extremist movement.
Timothy John Watson, 30, was charged after he was arrested in early September for allegedly running a website claiming to sell wall hangers that authorities said could be actually used to turn semi-automatic AR-15 rifles into fully automatic machine guns.
Authorities said the devices were sold to supporters of the anti-government “boogaloo” movement, the code word they use for their talk of a second civil war. Their prominence has grown during the pandemic as many dressed in Hawaiian shirts and camouflage garb, sometimes toting guns, attended protests against government shutdowns.
Prosecutors said Watson’s customers include an Air Force sergeant in California accused of shooting and killing a federal security officer and of injuring several security personnel in May and June. Authorities said Staff Sgt. Steven Carrillo had used a homemade AR-15-style rifle in two shootings and wore gear with references to the boogaloo movement.
“The suspect in this case appears to have supplied hundreds of people with these conversion devices, some to people who want to do Americans harm,” U.S. Attorney Bill Powell said in a statement.
Watson had pleaded not guilty. A judge has not yet ruled on a request for Watson to be released under house arrest.
His attorney, Shawn McDermott denied in a court filing that Watson belonged to “any so-called Boogaloo movement” and said his client “would reject any ideology that is based upon violence.” He said Watson operated his wall hanger business legally and that his products are not designed to create automatic machine guns any more than a clothes hanger made out of metal.
If convicted, Watson could face up to 35 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Charges against him include conspiracy to commit offenses against the U.S. government, being unlawfully involved in manufacturing machine guns, illegally possessing and transferring machine guns and having an unregistered firearm silencer.
Prosecutors also said Watson sold the devices to two men in Minnesota who allegedly attempted to aid a foreign terrorist organization and built firearm suppressors that they believed they sold to the Mideast militant group Hamas.
Investigators said they linked Watson and his online business to the movement through a cooperating defendant in Minnesota who told the FBI he learned about Watson’s website through Facebook boogaloo groups.
The social media giant has tried to crack down on the group by not recommending user groups associated with the term “boogaloo” to members of similar associations.
Prosecutors found cryptic comments on Watson’s social media accounts made by apparent sympathizers of the movement. One message between Watson’s wall hanger Instagram account and a user mentions dead “redcoats,” an anti-government reference, according to court documents.