In a series of coordinated raids Thursday morning, federal agents and Los Angeles police officers arrested eight suspected white supremacists on weapons charges, at least one in connection with what authorities said were plots to kill Rodney G. King, blow up the First African Methodist Episcopal Church and attack other prominent African-American and Jewish leaders.
The suspects--who live in Fullerton, Costa Mesa, North Hills, Long Beach and Crestline--were affiliated with two well-known white supremacist groups, the White Aryan Resistance and the Church of the Creator, authorities said. In addition, at least one of the suspects allegedly heads a group called the Fourth Reich Skinheads, which authorities identified as a militant wing of the White Aryan Resistance.
Law enforcement officials accused the Fourth Reich Skinheads of planning the killings to trigger a race war and added that they believed the arrests represent a significant setback to the white supremacist movement in Southern California.
Investigators tracked the groups’ activities for months, said Terree A. Bowers, the U.S. attorney for the Central District, but elected to conclude the investigation this week in part because they were afraid that the suspects might take violent action. “You can only control these things for so long,” Bowers said.
The arrests cap an intense 18-month investigation into Southern California hate groups in which the FBI infiltrated the organizations, using confidential informants and an undercover agent. Agents secretly taped many of the white supremacists’ discussions, capturing some on audiotape and others on videotape, officials said.
A number of weapons were seized during the morning raids, and most of the suspects, including a Costa Mesa man and a Fullerton couple, are being charged with federal weapons offenses. Two are juveniles and were not identified. If convicted, the others face prison sentences ranging from 10 to 45 years.
Four of the adult suspects are in their early 20s, but one is a 35-year-old flight engineer for Continental Airlines. He was suspended Thursday without pay. Another is his wife, a 42-year-old real estate saleswoman.
Authorities released the names of six adult suspects: Geremy C. Von Rineman, 22, and Jill Marie Scarborough, 22, of Fullerton; Josh Lee, 23, of Costa Mesa; Christopher David Fisher, 20, of Long Beach; Christian Gilbert Nadal, 35, and Doris Nadal, 42, both of North Hills.
All six, according to authorities, are white supremacists who trafficked in illegal weapons, but only Fisher was linked to the plots against King and the community leaders. Four of the adult suspects were arraigned in federal court Thursday afternoon, and all but one--Doris Nadal--were ordered held without bail.
Lee appeared in court in a black T-shirt with the words “Firing Line, Indoor Shooting Range” printed on it. There is a Firing-Line Indoor Shooting Range in Huntington Beach where one of the weapons transactions allegedly involving Lee took place. The manager of the range said last night that he did not know Lee.
Lee was ordered held without bail at Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, FBI Special Agent Steven Berry said.
Von Rineman, who is confined to a wheelchair, and Scarborough surrendered to authorities but were not arraigned.
Two juveniles also were arrested, though one may be charged as an adult and both are thought to be members of the Fourth Reich Skinheads. The allegations against them have not been made public, but sources close to the investigation say they are suspects in the assassination plots. One of the juveniles left a closed federal courtroom Thursday afternoon with a jacket draped over his head. He was goose-stepping as he was escorted down the courthouse hallway.
Although all eight suspects are believed to be white supremacists, authorities said they do not believe the members of the group plotting assassinations shared their plans or were in contact with the others. “These are two separate groups of suspects,” said one federal agent.
The covert side of the investigation ended Thursday, but agents and officers are continuing to probe the activities of the white supremacist organizations. More arrests could follow, officials said, if other people are linked to these or other crimes.
With dozens of reporters crammed into a tiny courtroom, the suspects appeared for arraignment Thursday afternoon, nervously shrugging off the intense interest their case generated. They showed little emotion at their arraignments, though one shook his head in frustration when the judge ordered him to remain in custody.
Most of the attention focused on Fisher, who lives with his parents in Long Beach and was the only adult suspect charged with planning the attack on the First AME Church. According to federal authorities, Fisher--who appeared in court wearing the close-cropped hairstyle associated with skinheads--claimed to lead a group of 50 young white supremacists committed to launching a race war with a series of violent attacks. It was that group, the Fourth Reich Skinheads, that allegedly plotted the killings of King and other well-known African-American and Jewish people.
Prosecutors alleged in court that Fisher and several other skinheads were working as recently as Wednesday night to prepare mail bombs to send to members of the Orange County Jewish community. Marc Greenberg, the lead federal prosecutor in the case, said Fisher had delivered completed pipe bombs to undercover federal agents. Several of those and other weapons were displayed at a news conference along with Nazi paraphernalia seized during five searches executed Thursday morning.
In affidavits filed in federal court, investigators said Fisher boasted to an undercover FBI agent that he had committed two pipe bomb attacks in recent months and that he led a group of young skinheads eager to kill King. “A good time to kill King would be at the time of sentencing for LAPD officers Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell,” one member of Fisher’s group said, according to the federal affidavit supporting Fisher’s arrest.
Koon and Powell were convicted of violating King’s civil rights on April 17. King, who had not appeared in public since then, emerged at a news conference Thursday afternoon with his lawyer, Milton Grimes.
“I, like any other normal person, feel frightened when my life is threatened,” said King, who spoke softly and was composed as he made his brief statement. “This is one chapter in my life that I’d like to shut the door on so that my family, the people around me and the city of Los Angeles could have some peace.”
Grimes said he stepped up security around King after the FBI notified him a couple of months ago of the possible threat to his client. “When the FBI called and said there was a death threat from a group of people intending on harming you, you don’t take that lightly,” Grimes said.
Possible targets of the Fourth Reich Skinheads included Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, Urban League President John Mack, Brotherhood Crusade leader Danny Bakewell and rapper Easy E., among others. Authorities did not consider the threats against those people to be serious.
However, a threat to the Rev. Cecil Murray, the minister at First AME, was more genuine, according to officials and documents filed with the federal court. The attack on the church appears to have been planned in detail, officials said.
“Fisher suggested utilizing pipe bomb grenades while other FRS (Fourth Reich Skinheads) would ‘spray the crowd inside’ with machine gun fire,” the federal affidavit states. “According to Fisher, killing the pastor of the AME Church would ‘stir the masses.’ ”
On June 23, Fisher allegedly delivered to the undercover FBI agent several items to be used in the attack on the church. Included were a ski mask, three rifles, two bayonets and a small quantity of smokeless black powder, the affidavit states. Although Fisher allegedly planned that attack with a group of juveniles, authorities would not say whether the two juveniles who were arrested were part of Fisher’s group.
Church leaders, a few of whom were recently made aware of the investigation, welcomed news of the arrests. “There was incredible anxiety among the few people who knew about this,” said Kerman Maddox, a church trustee. “Now there is a tremendous sense of relief.”
In Los Angeles’ black community, the church is a leading institution at which more than 5,000 congregants worship on a typical Sunday. On Thursday, First AME staffers and churchgoers reacted with surprise and sadness as they went about their regular routines.
“Basically, it’s business as usual,” said church member Kendall E. James, 31. But, he added: “Anytime you have a situation like this, the first impulse is to almost want to cry that someone would want to affect and impact something as sacrosanct as a church.”
After accumulating evidence against the groups and suspects for months, the agencies concluded the operation this week because investigators were afraid that the suspects were close to being able to carry out their missions, officials said.
“We were concerned about it. These people are very volatile,” said Charlie J. Parsons, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field division. “We were in the right place at the right time, not because of blind luck, but due to a proactive and creative undercover investigation of white supremacist organizations.”
Also participating in the probe were the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. attorney’s office and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Along with leaders of those agencies, Parsons expressed his gratitude to the officers and agents who conducted the investigation--in particular one FBI agent who went undercover for months and “risked his life almost on a daily basis.” That agent was not named.
Bowers said that in addition to the charges filed Thursday, prosecutors are weighing the evidence against each of the suspects and may add more counts as the case progresses. Preliminary hearings are scheduled to begin later this month.
Lee was charged with possession of several unregistered weapons, including a Colt .45-caliber pistol, and transfer of seven unregistered firearms, including a Remington 12-gauge shotgun and a 9-millimeter Uzi machine gun.
If convicted, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
According to court records, two FBI informants participated in the two-year undercover operation which led to Lee’s arrest. The operation included several meetings with Lee and his associates at various locations in Orange County.
During these meetings with undercover agents, Lee displayed numerous firearms that he told informants he had bought himself, firearms that did not have a “paper trail” to permit them to be traced, court records said.
Lee allegedly sold firearms to FBI informants on at least two occasions in 1992, according to court records.
Von Rineman and Scarborough were charged with possessing an unregistered Remington short-barreled shotgun. If convicted, each could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
FBI informants were introduced to Von Rineman and his common-law wife, Scarborough, in September, 1991. Von Rineman is a member of the Church of the Creator and a close associate of the White Aryan Resistance. Scarborough is associated with that group, court records show.
During a visit at their Fullerton home, Scarborough displayed several weapons to the informants. Records showed that none of the weapons were registered. One of the informants eventually paid the couple $400 for the shotgun to help Scarborough pay off a traffic warrant.
The couple are among an estimated 200 young men and women who belong to white supremacist groups in Orange County.
The young men and women belong to an estimated 18 different groups and range from hard-core white supremacists to preteens searching for excitement, identity and a sense of belonging, officials said.
Of the 200, about 50 are affiliated either with White Aryan Resistance or Church of the Creator, or both.
“Today’s joint effort sends a strong message to all hate groups that the community will not tolerate their crimes,” said George Rodriguez, the special agent in charge of the Los Angeles office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. “There is no place in society for those criminals whose contempt fuels aggression against, and wanton disregard for, a specific race or class of people.”
Organizations that battle hate crimes applauded the arrests and said evidence of the groups’ activities redoubled the need to attack hate crime. Morris Dees, a lawyer who has battled white supremacy groups for years, said White Aryan Resistance and the Church of the Creator both encourage violence.
“It’s an important signal that law enforcement officials take these groups seriously,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “That sends an important message.”
Political leaders also praised the law enforcement efforts.
“This group and its sinister plot sickens me,” Mayor Richard Riordan said in a statement. “I commend the Federal Bureau of Investigation on a job well done.”
Meanwhile, friends and colleagues of the suspects said they were stunned.
“I can’t imagine for a moment that she would be involved in anything like that,” said Gordon Gerrie, who works with Doris Nadal in a San Fernando Valley real estate office. “In my mind, she doesn’t have a prejudiced bone in her body.”
Neighbors of the Nadals, however, said they had spotted Nazi paraphernalia in the couple’s home. As FBI agents carted out material from the home Thursday afternoon, one book was visible in a stack. The title: “Waffen: SS.”
Sharon Whitesell, who has lived for 16 years across the back alley from the Nadals, said she recalled seeing a poster of Adolf Hitler and an upside-down cross hanging in the couple’s entry hallway.
“They’ve always been friendly with us, but, of course, we’re white,” Whitesell said. “We weren’t going to go up to them and say, ‘So, are you Nazis?’ So we just steered clear of them. . . . In this neighborhood, we don’t get close to our neighbors.”