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Tampa Murder Case Unveils Possible Neo-Nazi Threat

Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
Brandon Russell, a FL National Guard Private First Class, was arrested for possession of explosives. He also had neo-Nazi material with him at the time of his arrest.

Last month, news broke of a double murder at a New Tampa apartment.

Suspect Devon Arthurs says he is a former Neo-Nazi who converted to Islam. He is accused of killing two of his roommates for disrespecting his new faith.

The case became even more dramatic when investigators accused a fourth roommate - Brandon Russell - of keeping bomb-making materials at the apartment.

WUSF's Daylina Miller talks with Tampa Bay Times reporter Howard Altman about the current status of the case.

HOWARD ALTMAN: Well, there's a couple of investigations going on right now. There's the murder investigation of Devon Arthurs, who lived in the Tampa Palms Apartment and is accused by the Tampa police department of killing his two roommates.

There is also an FBI ongoing investigation into Brandon Russell, who is the Florida National Guard Private First Class who was found with bomb-making materials, was found with neo-Nazi literature. He had spent a lot of time in chat rooms talking about blowing people up and hurting people, according to the feds, so there's that ongoing investigation.

In addition, the National Guard is conducting what they call a 15-6 investigation into Brandon Russell. So there's several ongoing investigations still.

The Army is going to look at whether he misused his uniform, whether any of his involvement as a soldier coincided with his involvement with this neo-Nazi group called the “Atomwaffen,” which is German for “atomic weapons.”

So they're going to look to see if there's any connections he had with any other soldiers, whether he had gone on to video chats or anything wearing his uniform, whether he was at any neo-Nazi events in his uniform -  those kinds of things - and to see what other kinds of connections might exist.

So you talked a little bit about how Russell's membership in the Florida National Guard could have some bearing on this case. How big a threat exactly did Brandon Russell and his murder of roommate actually pose to the public?

ALTMAN: Depends who you ask. According to the feds - a lot.

Brandon Russell had enough bomb-making material to blow up a car and kill people. He had ammonium nitrate, which is what was used by Timothy McVeigh to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

By the way, Brandon Russell had a framed picture of Timothy McVeigh, who was a white supremacist, as well as copies of Mein Kampf and the Turner Diaries, which is a noted white supremacist novel about the end times where people are swinging from telephone poles and light poles and things like that.

Are there any questions currently left unanswered?

ALTMAN: Well, sure. One of the big questions is just how connected was Brandon Russell, this Private First Class.

Were there any other members of the National Guard or the military involved in his activities? Was it was he getting any help? Was he getting any weapons, money?

You know, one of the very interesting things is that when there was a warrant out for Russell's arrest, he was picked up in Key Largo and he was found with another young man who was also a neo-Nazi. They had just purchased two rifles, 500 rounds of ammunition - which is a lot of ammunition - and $3000 in cash.

And they said, ‘We’re just trying to get away’ and so the question is what were they going to do with those weapons, with that cash? They weren't where they were supposed to be. Russell says he was going to go to his father's house, which is on the other side of the state so the real big questions remain about what they were going to do.

As you said previously, there are three investigations that are ongoing. So where do we go from here?

ALTMAN: Well, both Devon Arthurs and Brandon Russell are behind bars and they will be through the course of their trial. Arthurs for a murder investigation, Russell for the investigation into his illegal possession of explosives and illegal storage.

The possession is a felony, the storage is a misdemeanor. And then whatever other connections the FBI can find between Russell and any other Nazis. And again, the military is looking at this, too.

And of course we have two victims here, Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk, two young men who had recently come to Florida. They had met over the Internet and chat rooms and things like that. They came down to Florida and they wind up being killed.

And these two young men were also allegedly neo-Nazis?

ALTMAN: Well, the government says that. The families dispute that vehemently, but the social media presence of both young men seemed to indicate leanings along the lines. There was Pepe the Frog, which is a noted white supremacist emblem, and some other things. So that remains to be seen as investigation continues. 

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.
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