The internet has insinuated itself into virtually every aspect of our daily lives, from keeping up with friends, shopping for groceries, announcing births and buying and selling used goods. It should be no wonder, then, that the internet has become a potent means of criminal activity. Nowhere has this been more persuasively demonstrated than in a case that arose in Queens. On Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the NYPD announced the arrest of two men for allegedly trying to purchase high-powered weapons and spreading information about one member of the pair about targeting Jews.
The criminal complaint alleges that beginning in late 2019, federal agents began to take notice of one member of the pair who was expressing an interest in obtaining assault weapons to use in a racial or civil war. Agents found that this member of the pair had posted a photograph of himself giving a Nazi salute. He also added a caption: “God, I hate women jews [sic] and n—–s.” In another post, the same person shows himself giving another Nazi salute and saying “overthrowing [Jews] is our Christian duty.” But for the content, these posts would be typical for many of today’s young persons. However, with the hateful content and the next series of events, the man crossed the line into criminal activity. As one of the FBI agents on the case said, “The social media posts of the defendants expressing support of a racial civil or holy war make the behavior alleged here even more alarming.”
The criminal complaint continues to describe the investigation of the two defendants. The suspect who had done most of the internet posting contacted an undercover agent who was posing as a firearms dealer. The defendant told the agent that he wanted to purchase a number of weapons for himself and his accomplice, all with obliterated serial numbers. On April 26, 2020, the two suspects met the undercover agent in a hotel in Queens and said that they were willing to spend thousands of dollars to purchase firearms and ammunition, including AR-15 assault rifles.
The two suspects continued to use encrypted messages to request additional arms from the undercover agent. The two men met the undercover agent in a hotel room near LaGuardia Airport with the intent to purchase firearms. When the sale was completed, law enforcement officers arrested the two men.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement thanking the FBI and local law enforcement officers. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the arrests occurred as new data showed a massive increase in anti-Semitic vandalism and assaults both nationwide and in New York in particular.
This case and the reaction of organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League shows how hate crimes coupled with or involving firearms raises the attention of federal and local law enforcement agencies. Persons accused of such crimes face not only a very hostile and suspicious law enforcement efforts but, upon arrest, a hostile and unsympathetic court system. Anyone who has been accused of such crimes cannot always depend upon the criminal system for a fair trial. Issues such as jurisdiction, proper venue, and errors in the arrest and pre-trial process may provide reasons for dismissal. The assistance of creative and dedicated defense counsel may be essential to fighting the effects of bias on the part of both judge and jury.