Law enforcement officials in central Florida have been rounding up members of a white supremacist group who were allegedly training with weapons at a rural Osceola County compound. The training was reportedly in preparation for a coming "race war."
The group was also planning a "disturbance" at Orlando City Hall to recruit new members, according to court documents.
The arrests of the 10 alleged members of the neo-Nazi skinhead group American Front, or AF, came after a confidential informant infiltrated its Osceola County chapter and shared information about the group's plans with state investigators.
The arrests serve as one of numerous reminders of the efforts of law enforcement to monitor, and sometimes crack down on, the militia and hate groups whose numbers have ticked up since the election of President Obama.
In Alaska on Monday, a 12-member jury was selected in the trial of three militia members who are accused of planning to kill judges and police, according to the Anchorage Daily News. In Georgia on Tuesday, two militia members who had allegedly planned to attack government workers and buildings attended a pretrial hearing after two of their alleged conspirators agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors, according to the Associated Press.
Seven of the arrests in Florida occurred over the weekend, with three more suspects arrested Monday, according to court documents and a statement from the office of Lawson Lamar, the state attorney based in Orlando.
Each of the seven, including the apparent ringleader, Marcus Faella, 41, faces state felony charges of attempting to shoot into an occupied dwelling, evidence of prejudice while committing a crime, and violation of a state "paramilitary training" statute. That statute makes it a crime to teach people to use deadly weapons or techniques with the knowledge that they will be "unlawfully employed for use in, or furtherance of a civil disorder in the United States."
An affidavit in support of the arrests said that Faella "has been planning and preparing the AF for what he believes to be an inevitable race war," adding that when the war comes, he would "kill Jews, immigrants and other minorities."
Mark Potok of the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, said the details of the arrest comport with a broader sense of anger and fear among far-right groups. Those feelings seem to have been exacerbated by Obama's election in 2008.
Since then, the number of "patriot"-style militia groups has shot up from 149 to 1,274 nationwide. Many of these groups do not espouse hatred toward minorities, but are concerned about the expansion of federal government power, especially under a Democratic president.
The number of groups that overtly express hatred toward minorities seems to have grown as well, albeit more slowly. The reaction, Potok says, likely isn't just to Obama, but to the broader demographic changes he represents.
"They are realizing they can't win the demographic battle anymore," Potok said, "that this country can't return to the white-dominated country it's been."
Potok said the American Front group probably has fewer than 100 members, though its chapters are as far-flung as Sacramento and New Jersey. The affidavit alleges that members of chapters from around the country traveled to Faella's Osceola County compound to train with weapons and prepare for what he assumed would be an inevitable racial conflagration.
The affidavit also alleges that Faella had been trying to make ricin, a deadly derivative of the castor bean plant that's classified as a weapon of mass destruction.
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