Brandon Russell is capable of making a bomb – and he admitted doing so.
Officials believe he also participated in neo-Nazi chat rooms where he threatened to kill people and blow up places.
Investigators found guns, ammunition and white supremacist propaganda in his bedroom, court records say. A framed photograph of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was on his dresser.
Prosecutors believe those reasons should keep Russell behind bars while he awaits trial on federal charges. A judge, however, disagreed and decided that Russell can be released on bond.
In a ruling Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun III of a federal-district court in Tampa said he does not believe there’s “clear and convincing evidence” that Russell is a threat to the community. Russell, 21, was charged last month with possession of unregistered destructive devices and unlawful storage of explosive material.
Federal officials found out about Russell after his roommate, a former neo-Nazi who is believed to have converted to Islam, admitted killing two other roommates. Devon Arthurs confessed that he shot his roommates for “disrespecting” his new faith. The 18-year-old also told police that all four of them, who lived in an apartment in Tampa, shared common neo-Nazi beliefs, until he reportedly converted to Islam.
Arthurs was arrested on May 19. Police found his roommates, 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk, with gunshot wounds in the head and upper body. They also found Russell crying outside their apartment after finding his roommates dead.
Police discovered Russell’s bomb-making devices, as well as an explosive known as HTMD in the garage after searching the apartment, court records say.
Russell admitted to detectives that he’s a white nationalist, and that he’s a member of a neo-Nazi group called Atom Waffen, German for “atomic weapon.” The Southern Poverty Law Center lists it as a hate group.
Russell also told investigators that he used HTMD and the bomb-making devices when he was part of an engineering club at the University of South Florida in 2013, court records say. He said the explosive was used to boost homemade rockets and send balloons into the air for testing. But officials believe HTMD is too strong and volatile for those types of uses.
After he talked to detectives, Russell went to a gun store in Homestead, Fla., where he bought two hunting rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He was later arrested.
McCoun, the federal judge, said in the ruling that Russell’s purchase of the rifles and ammunition is concerning, but he did not believe it was enough to deny his request for a bond. Russell, a member of the Florida National Guard, also does not have any arrests or criminal history, and relatives have agreed to allow him to stay with them as he waits for trial. There’s also no evidence that Russell used or planned to use the explosive he created, the judge wrote.
It’s unclear what the conditions of his release are.
Prosecutors on Friday requested Russell’s release be postponed for 72 hours so they have time to submit a detailed motion asking McCoun to change his ruling.
Russell is being held in the Pinellas County Jail.