MINNEAPOLIS – Two Minnesota men with suspected ties to white supremacist groups amassed several weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition as part of a plan to attack the government, minorities and others, according to a federal affidavit unsealed this week.
Samuel James Johnson, 31, of Austin, also tried to recruit others to his cause and actively scouted for a training compound in Illinois and Minnesota, the affidavit said. Joseph Benjamin Thomas, 42, of Mendota Heights, told an undercover FBI agent that he had tried to get explosives as part of a plan to "conduct attacks on left-wing individuals," according to the affidavit.
Authorities began looking into Johnson and Thomas in 2010, as part of an investigation into domestic terrorism.
However, the men have not been charged with terrorism. Johnson was indicted earlier this month on weapons charges, and Thomas was indicted on drug charges. Court documents were unsealed this week after the men made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court.
"We certainly believed them to be a legitimate threat," said FBI spokesman Kyle Loven. When asked whether the men had any specific plans or targets, he said he could not comment because of the indictments.
The indictments said Johnson has prior convictions for armed crimes and is not allowed to have weapons, but from late 2010 through late last year he was found with five weapons — including a semi-automatic assault rifle — and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
Thomas was indicted on four charges related to possession and sale of methamphetamine.
Messages left with their attorneys were not immediately returned Friday.
According to the affidavit, Johnson was a former member and Minnesota leader of the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist group, and had gone on to form his own group, called the Aryan Liberation Movement.
With the new group, Johnson planned to "recruit and train other white supremacist sympathizers toward a final goal of committing acts of violence against the United States government and minority individuals," the affidavit said.
Thomas came to the FBI's attention when he hosted National Socialist Movement meetings in 2010 and discussed forming the new group with Johnson, the affidavit said.
Thomas also has prior convictions and is prohibited from having firearms until 2013. But last May, he sold an undercover FBI agent several weapons, including a semi-automatic handgun, a pistol-grip shotgun, a laser sight and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, according to the affidavit.
A month later, Thomas told the undercover agent that Homeland Security agents came to his home. Thomas said he lied to those officials and destroyed his computer hard drive after they left. Thomas then gave the undercover FBI agent more ammunition, a handgun, another laser sight, and a ballistic vest, explaining that he feared he would be arrested for having the weapons, the affidavit said.
He also showed the undercover agent a shotgun he kept in his closet.
This month, Thomas told the undercover agent that a stockpile of guns had been stolen in northern Minnesota, and while some had been returned to authorities, two of the stolen guns were at his house, the affidavit said.
The affidavit also outlined Thomas' suspected drug activity. He allegedly told the undercover agent in January that he believed once the increased law enforcement activity around his home died down, he would control the area's marijuana, cocaine and meth connections.
Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremist groups nationwide, said Johnson came to their attention in 2009, when he and another member of the National Socialist Movement organized two anti-immigration rallies in Minnesota.
Pitcavage said Johnson is involved in hate groups but is overall a minor player on the white-supremacist scene.
He added that weapons charges are common in cases like this.
"That's a very common way that extremists get arrested, and it's a very solid charge too," Pitcavage said.
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