On Friday, a former U.S. Army soldier who plotted to kill members of his platoon while stationed overseas was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
The soldier, Ethan Melzer, had previously declared himself a traitor and was condemned by the judge for his bigoted beliefs, with his expressions of remorse deemed implausible. U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods handed down the sentence in a crowded Manhattan Federal Court, with several service members in attendance.
Judge Woods described Melzer’s actions as “corrosive” and determined that his crimes of aiding individuals who wish to harm America merited a particularly lengthy prison term.
“He betrayed the U.S.A. He betrayed the U.S. military,” Woods said. He later added, “He betrayed his comrades in arms. He tried to have them murdered.”
Ethan Melzer, a former U.S. Army soldier and member of the Neo-Nazi, white nationalist, antisemitic, and Satanic group called “Order of the Nine Angles” (O9A), was sentenced to 45 years in prison for plotting to kill members of his platoon while serving overseas. U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods, who presided over the case, called Melzer’s bigoted beliefs “repugnant” and his regret implausible.
Melzer had aimed to provoke jihadi terrorist groups to attack his unit and cause the downfall of western civilization, as part of O9A’s goals. Melzer had pleaded guilty in June to leaking details about a military installation in Turkey, including its location, number of soldiers, and defense capabilities, to O9A and an alleged Al Qaeda member via encrypted messaging apps.
The sentencing hearing was attended by several service members.
“[Y]ou just gotta understand that currently I am risking my literal free life to give you all this,” Melzer wrote in one message, according to court filings, telling the recipient he was “expecting results.”
The judge emphasized that the fact that Melzer’s crimes were committed online should not be downplayed.
“This was not a lark. This was not merely time spent in the dark in an internet rabbit hole,” Woods said.
The judge took into account that Melzer grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, under difficult circumstances and was exposed to racism. His mother was a victim of domestic violence and struggled with alcoholism.
“In the midst of that fraught environment, Melzer also realized he was gay,” Judge Woods said, noting that Melzer proceeded down a destructive path of drug dealing and substance abuse after he dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.
The judge stated that Melzer’s background did not excuse his actions.
He added that the fact that the planned attack did not occur was not due to a lack of effort and that he did not believe Melzer had been rehabilitated.
“I frankly do not believe it,” the judge said. “Mr. Melzer has demonstrated his commitment to his repugnant ideology.”
Prior to the sentencing, Melzer expressed remorse in court.
“I still regret everything I did,” he said. “[I] wish I could say I’m sorry to my platoon,” he continued, adding that he wanted to prove he could be a productive member of society “and not what they’re trying to make of me.”
Woods also listened to several of Melzer’s former comrades, who spoke about the repercussions of his actions on national security.
Captain Joshua Krause, a military intelligence officer, spoke at the hearing and expressed how Melzer’s act of sharing information with “sworn enemies” had eroded trust among Melzer’s former Army paratroopers and impacted significant relationships with the United States’ allies.
“Our allies and enemies are very aware of this case,” Krause said, noting that Melzer’s disclosures continue to put military members at risk. “The Department of Defense can’t just pick up and move a base.”
Capt. Jacob Ferris said Melzer’s betrayals were a massive shock to many he was close to in his platoon called “The Cowboys,” which has since been labeled “as a platoon that had a terrorist.”
“None of us saw this coming,” Ferris said.“Tensions were high.”
According to Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, Melzer confessed to being a traitor when he was arrested by the FBI. Williams added that the sentence given to Melzer was a reflection of justice being served.
“He used his membership in the military to pursue an appalling goal: the brutal murder of his fellow U.S. service members in a carefully plotted ambush,” Williams said.
“Melzer traitorously sought to attack the very soldiers he was entrusted to protect.”