SEATTLE – A former neo-Nazi told a jury Monday that he sold machine guns to a federal informant because he knew he'd be arrested and that his trial would provide a forum for challenging gun control laws — a claim that drew quiet chuckles from prosecutors.
"It was something I could do for my country, something my children could remember me by," Keith D. Gilbert testified as his weeklong trial concluded in U.S. District Court.
Gilbert, 66, once an aide to Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, is charged with 12 counts of gun violations, including possession of machine guns and dealing in firearms without a license. He allegedly sold two automatic and two semi-automatic weapons owned or built by friends to a government informant, and he had dozens of guns in his home — some registered, some not — when agents raided it in February 2005.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Friedman told jurors that Gilbert was a small-time gun trafficker whose motive was making at least a few hundred dollars from each sale. The claim that he was trying to make himself a "Second Amendment martyr" was a surprise, Friedman told Judge Marsha Pechman.
He and fellow prosecutor Andy Colasurdo quickly put together a rebuttal case, recalling four witnesses to dispute Gilbert's claims. The prosecutors argued that if Gilbert wanted to be arrested, he could simply have called police and told them to look in his basement, where he kept five of his own machine guns.
"He could have gone out there and stood on a soap box on the corner and talked about the Second Amendment. That's not what he did," Friedman said. "He's a firearms trafficker selling these guns for profit."
Gilbert served five years in prison in California in the 1960s for possessing 1,400 pounds of stolen dynamite that was found in his Los Angeles apartment. Authorities said at the time and Gilbert later admitted that the dynamite was part of a plot to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
He moved to northern Idaho in the early 1970s and joined the Aryan Nations before splitting off to found his own neo-Nazi group. He served several years in prison in Idaho for welfare fraud and intimidating black children, including spitting on a mentally retarded black girl, before moving to Seattle, where he managed run-down apartments in the University District.
Gilbert's current legal troubles stem partly from some advice he gave to a friend who was down on his luck several years ago: Try working as a paid informant. Gilbert said he thought the man would rat out the meth dealers living in the apartments Gilbert managed.
Instead, the newly minted informant told federal agents Gilbert was involved in gun dealing. With money provided by the government, he bought four guns from Gilbert in 2003 and 2004.
Gilbert testified that he sold the first rifle "immediately expecting to be arrested. Nothing happened."
"A little after that I sold him a second rifle. Nothing happened. ... There was no doubt in my mind I was doing what I set out to do; it was just taking a long time."
The jury, which has not heard details of Gilbert's racist past because of concerns about bias, began deliberating Monday afternoon. After the jurors return a verdict, there will be a separate proceeding on whether Gilbert is guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm; details of his previous convictions would arise during that hearing.
Because Gilbert's past felony convictions are so old, they would not be used to calculate his guideline sentencing range if convicted. He would face five to six years in prison.
The man who built two machine guns for Gilbert to sell, Sergey Zarodnyuk, has pleaded guilty and testified against Gilbert.
Gilbert also told jurors Monday that federal agents handcuffed his 10-year-old grandchild during the raid of his home. Prosecutors said they don't believe Gilbert has any grandchildren, and that at any rate no children were handcuffed.
Gilbert's lawyer, Walter Palmer, said during a break in court that his client is no longer a white supremacist.
"He's a Second Amendment guy," Palmer said.