Former U.S. Army Soldier Sentenced to 45 Years in Prison for Attempting for Murder Fellow Service Members in Deadly Ambush
A Kentucky man was sentenced today to 45 years in prison for attempting to murder U.S. service members, providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, and illegally transmitting national defense information.
Ethan Phelan Melzer, aka Etil Reggad, 24, of Louisville, pleaded guilty to attempting to murder U.S. service members, providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, and illegally transmitting national defense information on June 24, 2022, before U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods, who imposed today’s sentence. According to court documents, Melzer planned a jihadist attack on his U.S. Army unit in the days leading up to a deployment to Turkey and sent sensitive details about the unit — including information about its location, movements, and security — to members of the extremist organization Order of the Nine Angles (O9A), a white supremacist, neo-Nazi and pro-jihadist group.
“Today’s sentence holds Mr. Melzer accountable for an egregious and shameful act of betrayal against his own military unit and his country,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Justice Department will use all available resources to disrupt and bring to justice those who would aid foreign terrorist organizations and use violence to harm our men and women in uniform or any American anywhere.”
“Ethan Melzer infiltrated the U.S. Army in service of a neo-Nazi, white supremacist and jihadist group,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “He used his membership in the military to pursue an appalling goal: the brutal murder of his fellow U.S. service members in a carefully plotted ambush. By unlawfully disclosing his unit’s location, strength, and armaments to other O9A members and jihadists in furtherance of this ambush, Melzer traitorously sought to attack the very soldiers he was entrusted to protect. Today’s sentence makes clear that Melzer’s brazen actions backfired and that this office — along with our partners in law enforcement and the military — will work tirelessly to bring traitors like Melzer to justice and to protect the safety and integrity of our armed services.”
“Melzer betrayed his fellow soldiers and his country,” said Assistant Director Robert R. Wells of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “Americans serving their country overseas should never have to fear a terrorist attack from within their own ranks, and today’s sentence holds him accountable for his deadly plan to attack the brave men and women of the armed forces who protect our nation.”
According to court documents, Melzer is a member of O9A. O9A espouses neo-Nazi, antisemitic and Satanic beliefs and promotes extreme violence to accelerate and cause the demise of Western civilization. The group has expressed admiration both for Nazis, such as Adolf Hitler, and Islamic jihadists, such as Usama Bin Laden, the now-deceased former leader of al Qaeda. Members and associates of O9A have also participated in acts of violence, including murders. O9A members are instructed to fulfill “sinister” deeds, including “insight roles,” where they attempt to infiltrate various organizations, including the military, to gain training and experience, commit acts of violence, identify like-minded individuals, and ultimately subvert those groups from within.
Melzer joined the U.S. Army in approximately 2018 and infiltrated its ranks as part of an insight role to further his goals as an O9A adherent. In approximately October 2019, Melzer deployed abroad with the Army to Italy as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. While stationed abroad, Melzer consumed propaganda from multiple extremist groups, including O9A and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which is also known as ISIS. For example, Melzer subscribed to encrypted online forums where he downloaded and accessed videos of jihadist attacks on U.S. troops and facilities and jihadist executions of civilians and soldiers, in addition to far-right, neo-Nazi, and other white supremacist propaganda.
In approximately early May 2020, the Army informed Melzer that he would be reassigned to a unit scheduled for a further foreign deployment, where the unit would be guarding an isolated and sensitive military installation (the Military Base). After he was notified of the assignment, Melzer joined his new unit and attended weeks of training, including classified and unclassified briefings, to prepare for the deployment. As part of this intensive training, Melzer learned details about the purpose, layout, and security of the Military Base. Melzer and his unit also received in-depth training about and practiced for numerous threat scenarios at the Military Base, including how to respond to various potential terrorist attack scenarios.
Upon learning the importance and sensitivity of his upcoming deployment, Melzer immediately began passing that information to members of O9A. Melzer secretly used an encrypted messaging application to propose, advocate for, and plan a deadly attack on his fellow service members. Melzer sent messages to members and associates of O9A and, in particular, a sub-group of O9A known as the “RapeWaffen Division,” providing details about his unit’s anticipated deployment including troop movements, relevant dates, locations, armaments, topography, and security, all in connection with the proposed attack on his unit and the Military Base. Melzer and his co-conspirators used this information to plan what they referred to as a “jihadi attack” with the objective of causing a “mass casualty” event victimizing his fellow service members. For example, after describing the unit’s weaponry during the deployment — and providing information consistent with the briefings he had received — Melzer described to his co-conspirators how an attack would “essentially cripple” the unit’s “fire-teams.”
To further the attack plan, Melzer and his co-conspirators passed these messages to a purported member of al Qaeda. Melzer’s proposed attack evolved as he gathered and distributed additional sensitive information about the deployment. For example, Melzer also promised to leak more information once he arrived at the Military Base — including real-time photographs of the facility and the frequency and channel of U.S. Army radio communications — in order to maximize the likelihood of a successful attack on his unit or on a replacement unit deployed to the Military Base.
Melzer told members of O9A in his encrypted electronic communications “[y]ou just gotta understand that currently I am risking my literal free life to give you all this” and that he was “expecting results.” Melzer further acknowledged that he could be killed during the attack and described his willingness to die for O9A’s goals, writing “who gives a fuck [. . .] it would be another war . . . I would’ve died successfully . . . cause another 10 year war in the Middle East would definitely leave a mark.” Melzer also acknowledged in his messages that he deleted some of the communications regarding the planning of the attack because the plot amounted to treason.
The FBI New York Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated the case, with valuable assistance provided by the FBI’s Legal Attaché Office in Rome; the Air Force Office of Special Investigations; U.S. Army Counterintelligence; U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command; and the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sam Adelsberg, Matthew J.C. Hellman and Kimberly J. Ravener for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case, with valuable assistance provided by Trial Attorneys Alicia Cook of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section and Scott Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.