Former Missouri guardsman tells of training white supremecists

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/August 6, 2012

ST. Louis -- A Missouri National Guard member corresponded with racist skinhead groups for years before becoming a fully "patched" member of a group and providing combat training, a recently released court document claims.

Statements in an agreement between Spc. Ryan Riley and federal prosecutors show the views that drove him to risk his career by joining the hate group American Front and also the efforts that such groups make to recruit current or former soldiers.

Riley, 28, is the second guardsman to make news recently for allegations of racist allegiances.

In March, another Missouri guardsman, Sgt. Nathan Wooten, was fired from the state military honor guard — which pays last respects at the funerals of veterans — after co-workers claimed Wooten was a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi who tried to recruit others. A lawyer for Wooten has denied his involvement with an extremist group.

In May, the Post-Dispatch reported the allegations that a Missouri guardsman had been involved in training the group. The newspaper did not identify Riley because the Guard could not confirm that he was the same Riley listed as a Guard member.

On Friday, Guard spokeswoman Maj. Tammy Spicer would say only that Spc. Ryan Riley joined the Guard in May of 2011 and his enlistment ended on May 25, 2012. She said that an investigation into the allegations had been conducted but was not public because it dealt with personnel matters. There has been no other Ryan Riley in the Guard in the past 18 months, she said.

The court document, known as a "limited use immunity proffer agreement," was made public in a Florida state court proceeding regarding charges against American Front members related to various violent crimes and drug offenses.

The document detailing Riley's version was signed at the U.S. attorney's office in Jefferson City in his presence, it says. The proffer was first obtained by the newspaper the Orlando Sentinel.

Matt Schelp, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, explained that a "limited use immunity proffer agreement" typically means someone is cooperating with prosecutors, perhaps to avoid a criminal charge or get more lenient treatment. Schelp said that if Riley were charged, the agreement would limit his ability to make claims contrary to what is in the proffer.

Indeed, the proffer says that Riley gave investigators access to the email account he used to correspond with the racist groups and an old cellphone with text messages to American Front members.

Riley did not respond to messages left at phone numbers and email addresses listed in public records. His lawyers were out of the office last week and did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Florida prosecutors said that Riley's case was in federal court, but no federal charges have been filed against him anywhere, according to online court records. The U.S. attorney's office and FBI declined to comment.

While serving in Iraq with the Army in 2008, Riley "became interested in protecting the White race" and sought out skinhead groups online after becoming frustrated with what he felt was racial hypocrisy both in the U.S. and within the military, he told investigators.

He corresponded in some fashion with a Hammerskins group, as well as Volksfront and Blood & Honour, but favored the American Front because it was more tolerant of other skinhead groups and eschewed the infighting common to those groups, the court document says.

While at different military bases in Iraq, Riley posted on skinhead blogs, including American Front's, and first exchanged messages with its leader, Marcus Faella. He continued upon his return to the U.S. in 2010, although less frequently because there were "other activities to enjoy," the proffer says. He also began calling Faella.

He spoke of his beliefs to others in his unit, some of whom "passively agreed," while others either disagreed or were ambivalent, the proffer says.

In October 2010, Riley drove to a skinhead event in Maine.

He returned to Jefferson City in April, planning to become a private security contractor, and began talking to Faella several times a week.

Faella invited Riley to a barbecue and camping weekend that summer. He wanted Riley to join his group, to become a "patched" member, for his leadership skills and intelligence and to provide firearms, survival and medical training for the group, Riley told officials.

An FBI report released in 2008 said white supremacist leaders were actively recruiting military veterans for their specialized knowledge and access to weapons. The same report said that the number of military or ex-military members of racist organizations was "miniscule" compared with the almost 24 million veterans and 1.4 million active-duty forces.

Riley arrived in Florida July 2, 2011, with a pistol, AK-47 assault rifle and 200 rounds of ammo. Other attendees were also armed, most with the group's weapon of choice, AK-47-style rifles. Faella had 12, the proffer claims, as well as pistols that he lent to members.

During the weekend, Riley provided training on the use of his rifle and fighting techniques and was given his patch — a sign of membership — along with roughly 10 others, he told investigators. Faella also declared that Riley was the leader of the Missouri Chapter, although it's not clear whether there were any other members in the state.

Two former members of the military were also there.

The training was part of American Front's preparation for an expected race war, according to court documents. Other records accuse Faella, 39, of establishing a fortified compound in St. Cloud, Fla., stocked with weapons, food, water and homemade body armor.

Faella was trying to make ricin, a poisonous powder, prosecutors claim, and the group planned to attack skinhead groups that oppose racism.

Riley began having second thoughts that weekend, concerned that being a member of the American Front could harm "his future opportunities."

But he stayed in contact with Faella, typically responding to his leader's firearms questions.

Riley did not recruit others, the proffer says, and knew of no other skinheads in the Missouri National Guard.

Although he planned to attend another gathering this January, he never did.

A Faella lieutenant would later tell Riley that Faella and his wife had been arrested, thanks to a confidential informer who had infiltrated the group. Cases against the Faellas and more than a dozen others are pending in Florida.

Riley's brief time with the group did little to change his mind. He told investigators recently that although he was no longer affiliated with any racist skinhead groups, he still embraced the ideology and thought of himself as a "lone wolf" skinhead.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has investigated hate groups in the military, the Pentagon already has banned "active participation" in extremist groups and tightened regulations in 2010 to bar members of the military from "actively advocat(ing) supremacist doctrine, ideology or causes" or "otherwise advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights." Both training and online posting would fall under "active participation," the law center says.

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