ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Ten alleged members of a white supremacist group training near Orlando and Disney World for a “race war” have been rounded up in a series of arrests in central Florida, authorities said on Tuesday.
The arrests were based on evidence from a confidential informant who infiltrated the neo-Nazi organization known as the American Front 17 months ago, according to an arrest affidavit.
“The American Front (AF) is a military-styled, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, skinhead organization and is known as a domestic terrorist organization,” the affidavit said.
It said the group’s alleged local ringleader, Marcus Faella, 39, had been “planning and preparing the AF for what he believes to be an inevitable race war” and had stated “his intent ... to kill Jews, immigrants and other minorities.”
Faella operated a heavily fortified paramilitary training center for the AF on his isolated property in St. Cloud, Florida, 11 miles from the Walt Disney World theme parks, according to the affidavit.
It said he recently had been plotting a disturbance at Orlando City Hall and a confrontation against a rival skinhead group in coastal Melbourne in a bid to garner media attention, but had also been experimenting with the potential manufacture of the biological toxin ricin.
“Faella views himself and the other members of the AF as the protectors of the white race,” the affidavit said, adding that Faella also believed “the race war will take place within the next few years based on current world events.”
Faella’s compound, where he regularly conducted firearms, explosives and tactical training for AF members and other neo-Nazi groups, was protected by two pit bull dogs, a barbed-wire fence and three military-style trenches.
Faella fortified the walls of his residential trailer and added firing ports, according to the affidavit.
A nationwide skinhead movement, originally modeled after Britain’s far right, whites-only National Front, the AF’s activities have been concentrated in recent years in central Florida, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Faella and his alleged followers were each charged with paramilitary training, shooting into an occupied dwelling and evidence of prejudices while committing an offense, according to a written statement from the prosecutor’s office.
The investigation into the AF was conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and local law enforcement agencies.
It was shut down and the arrests were made after the confidential informant came to believe his life was in danger, according to the affidavit.
Besides Faella, those arrested were Christopher Brooks, 27, of Palm Bay; Richard Stockdale, 23, of St. Cloud; Kent McLellan, 22, of St. Cloud; Patricia Faella, 36, of St. Cloud; Jennifer McGowan, 25, of Cocoa; Mark McGowan, 29, of Cocoa; Diane Stevens, 28, of Kissimmee; Paul Jackson, 25, of St. Cloud; and Dustin Perry, 21, of Kissimmee.
In addition to the other charges, Brooks and Stockdale were charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, according to their arrest reports.
A lawyer for Faella and other suspects arrested in the case could not be reached for immediate comment but Marcus and Patricia Faella, who were arrested on Friday, have already been released on a bond totaling $500,000 each.
The central Florida town of Sanford, also near Orlando, made international headlines over the last two months after the racially charged shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
George Zimmerman, the white Hispanic who killed Martin, said he acted in self-defense. He was not arrested or charged initially, because his use of deadly force was alleged to be protected under Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law.
But after weeks of protest demonstrations across the country Zimmerman was eventually arrested and he is now charged with second-degree murder.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story had photos of persons unrelated to this case.)
Editing By Tom Brown and Todd Eastham