Melbourne, Florida (FL Today) -- A dozen alleged white supremacists, including six current and former Brevard County residents, face hate crime and criminal conspiracy charges stemming from an alleged plot to attack a rival, anti-racism group at a rally they expected to happen in downtown Melbourne.
Authorities have arrested another alleged white supremacist in connection with the case broken this week by the FBI's counter terrorism task force and local police, and they're still searching for a 12th suspect who is from Palm Bay.
And, authorities allege in court documents that the leaders of the militia-style American Front group aspired to far bigger and more sinister plots. A former Brevard County resident identified as the group's ringleader was attempting to make ricin, a deadly toxin that is categorized by the government as a weapon of mass destruction, and "has been planning and preparing the AF for what he believes to be an inevitable race war."
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The investigators - led by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in partnership with local law enforcement agencies - say that American Front was led in Central Florida by former Canaveral Groves resident Marcus Faella, 39, who allegedly transformed a remote property in rural St. Cloud into a fortified compound in preparation for the failure of the United States government.
For nearly two years, a confidential informant worked to infiltrate the organization. He shared detailed information, photographs and video shot with a cell phone with task force investigators, information that ultimately led to the arrests over the past few days of 10 members of what the government called a "domestic terrorist organization."
The other suspects arrested were:
- Faella and his wife, Patricia Faella, 36, former residents of the Canaveral Groves area near Cocoa who now live in rural St. Cloud. They have family in Palm Bay.
- Verlin Lewis, 40, the most recent arrested, who was found in Washington County on Tuesday. Published reports describe him as the leader of the North Florida chapter.
- Mark McGowan, 29, and Jennifer McGowan, 25, of Canaveral Groves.
- Christopher Brooks, 27, of Palm Bay
- Diane Stevens, 28, of Kissimmee.
- Paul Jackson, 25, of Saint Cloud
- Kent McLellan, 22, of Saint Cloud
- Dustin Perry, 27, of Kissimmee
- Richard Stockdale, 23, of Kissimmee.
- A 12th suspect, Dylan Rettenmaier, is still wanted. He is from Palm Bay.
The arrests are raising many questions and law enforcement authorities either said they did not know answers or were not willing to expound upon details laid out in a brief news release and a six-page affidavit that an Orange County Sheriff's Office investigator submitted to secure arrest warrants from an Osceola County judge on Friday.
Beginning Saturday morning, authorities starting rounding up the suspects. It's unclear how many more suspects are being pursued by authorities and whether the scope of the investigation reaches beyond the activity in central Florida.
Ninth Circuit State Attorney Lawson Lamar said in the statement, "This investigation is a result of our on-going partnership with local law enforcement and federal agencies in a concentrated effort to stamp out hate crime in our community."
However, much about the group's motives, its targets and the veracity of its alleged plots remains unclear. For instance, the affidavit spells out various plans for "disturbances," but few actual disturbances beyond bar beatings are documented. The affidavit also discusses other plots, but does not specify if they were carried out.
American Front is a militia style, anti-Semitic white supremacist skinhead organization, according to the arrest affidavit as well as the descriptions of well-known organizations that track alleged "hate groups" operating across the United States.
The court records indicate American Front plotted a "disturbance" at city hall in Orlando and an attack against memebers of a rival anti-racism group during a "May Day" rally in Melbourne last Tuesday. They held a "mandatory meeting where the final plans were being put in motion for the disruption in Melbourne. Weapons disguised as sign holders were being made," the document reads.
They filled a car with firearms, began making other weapons and came to Brevard County to do surveillance, according to the document. The plan included attacking members of the group at the rally and possibly shooting up the house of one man identified in the documents only as "Dillon."
At the time, American Front's plans apparently were on the radar of local law enforcement in addition to the Terrorism Task Force.
Melbourne Police Lt. Byron Barnes said his office received intelligence that an American Front group was planning a counter protest to either an "Occupy"-style organized or an observed Communist Party group that would have been participating in May Day events. That information indicated both rallies were supposed to happen in downtown Melbourne, but did not include specific locations.
Local police were advised to be "vigilant" because American Front was a recognized "terrorist group" that the information indicated had been known to carry weapons. Barnes said that neither rally actually happened.
Eight of the 10 suspects remained in custody in Osceola County on Wednesday. The Faellas had posted bond.
Marcus and Patricia Faella said they did plan to counteract a protest, but planned to do so peacefully, according to media reports. Marcus Faella told reporters he was a proud American, but acknowledged that some people might consider them racists.
The Faellas and McGowans have previously listed addresses in the Canaveral Groves . None has more than a traffic violation in their local backgrounds, according to a search of Brevard County court records.
According to Florida Division of Corporations records, the Faellas and McGowan are the directors of American Front, Inc. Filed last June, the corporation's listed purpose is "religious and cultural preservation of the European peoples."
Marcus Faella has family in Palm Bay. Brooks was living in Palm Bay too. Mark McGowan and Brooks both attended Melbourne High School. Mark McGowan worked as a tractor operator in a Deseret Cattle & Citrus grove, a representative of the business said.
Family members of the McGowans and Faellas declined to comment when contacted by FLORIDA TODAY. Brooks' mother, Patty Kenny, said she hadn't talked to her son since his arrest two days ago. She "suspected" he had racist beliefs but said he was always polite and respectful .
"He portrays none of what they're talking about," she said. "He's a wonderful kid. He's very nice and helpful."
Kenny said she'd met others who were arrested in the case and they were always respectful. "They've been in my house, I've never had any problems with them," she said.
Angela King, 36, described herself as a former white supremacist who met Marcus Faella as many as 20 years ago. About the same time, in 1993, Faella was leading the Melbourne chapter of the Confederate Hammerskins, a national white-power group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"When I decided I was going to go all the way with the ideology, he was the person who shaved my head," King said. King later became a peace advocate, speaker and author and said the Faellas' arrests were surreal.
"They embrace a life of hatred and violence, and I don't think it's any surprise when society rejects them for their beliefs," she said. "I think it's sad. Violence only begets violence."
The people arrested face charges of participating in paramilitary training, attempting to shoot into an occupied dwelling and evidence of prejudices while committing offense, a first-degree felony, as part of the task force investigation.
According to the arrest affidavit approved by Circuit Court Judge Walter Komanski:
Faella allegedly stockpiled weapons, meals ready to eat, water and other supplies at his barbed-wire fenced property in rural St. Cloud, where he and others would train for a "race war." The confidential informant was introduced to Faella last April when Faella was trying to buy a 9mm handgun in Melbourne. They soon began training at the St. Cloud property, which Faella called the "AF compound."
The training drew American Front members from across the country, and Brooks attended a training session in September. Brooks is a convicted felon on probation - his mother said he was previously arrested in Virginia - and is not supposed to leave Brevard County nor possess firearms.
On Nov. 22, American Front member Jessy Brown apparently committed suicide at the compound while the Faellas were in Palm Bay visiting family. The weapon Brown used was purchased by Brooks, before he was convicted, at Walmart in Melbourne in 2005.
Among the group's alleged plans were "to cause a disturbance" at City Hall in Orlando and ambush attacks on rival, anti-racism skinhead groups, including a group called REDS, which Faella allegedly cited as problematic in part because it had black members. Some members of the American Front group began carrying sharpened screwdrivers and short sharpened shovels to "get around getting in trouble for carrying 'weapons,' " problematic because some were on probation for past crimes.
Faella and other members of American Front came to Brevard County in late April with their sights on the "REDS" and to lure SHARP, or Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, members to ambush. The affidavit does not give the full name of the REDS; however SHARP works together with a group known as Red and Anarchist Skinheads, or RASH. Authorities would not comment on the groups.
SHARP and RASH are unofficial anti-racism skinhead organizations designed to educate the public about skinhead culture, according to Florida SHARP's blog.
"AF members began to travel to Melbourne and recon the area," according to the affidavit. One vehicle they used for the caravans to Brevard County was a stash for weapons, including AK-47s and other firearms.
"Faella with other AF members began to make up signs for the protest. The items used to hold up the signs were actually modified as weapons to be used in an altercation. ... The informant provided videos and photos of this," according to the affidavit.
A final meeting planning for the May 1 ambush in Melbourne was held April 28. During that meeting, Faella became concerned about the possibility of an informant and asked to see AF members' cell phones. The informant stashed the data card from his phone at a Melbourne theater, where the group stopped to see a movie, but retrieved it and fled out of fear his safety, the report said.
Stacey Barchenger, FLORIDA TODAY