(CN) — The U.S. Army soldier accused of plotting with a satanic neo-Nazi cult to ambush his unit in a mass-casualty attack pleaded not guilty on Monday morning to the six charges of his indictment.
Private Ethan Melzer, 22, appeared at his arraignment via a telephone conference this morning dialed in from Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center. Melzer said little except to waive his right to be physically present in court, which remains partially closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
His denials of the charges against him — ranging from material support for terrorism and attempting to murder U.S. service members and nationals — stand in stark contrast to what U.S. investigators record him admitting upon his arrest.
“Melzer was prepared to die to facilitate an attack on the unit, believed his actions were treasonous, and considered himself to be a traitor,” a U.S. Air Force investigator summarized of that interview in Melzer’s criminal complaint.
Just as his unit planned to deploy to Turkey in May, Melzer sent an encrypted message to a neo-Nazi with sensitive information about his unit’s size, weaponry, anticipated travel routes and defensive capabilities. He admitted a week later that those details had been meant to facilitate a “mass-casualty” attack that would have killed him and his fellow soldiers.
“You just gotta understand that currently I am risking my literal free life to give you all this,” Melzer allegedly wrote in a May 23 encrypted message, adding that he was “expecting results.”
Prosecutors allege that Melzer sent the message to a confidential government source and a member of Order of the Nine Angles, an occult-based neo-Nazi group.
Led by her office’s counterterrorism unit, Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss called Melzer “the enemy within” in announcing the case last month. It was the debut criminal announcement of Strauss’ tenure at the Southern District of New York.
“Melzer allegedly attempted to orchestrate a murderous ambush on his own unit by unlawfully revealing its location, strength, and armaments to a neo-Nazi, anarchist, white supremacist group,” Strauss added. “Melzer allegedly provided this potentially deadly information intending that it be conveyed to jihadist terrorists.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn, who presides over 9/11 civil litigation, entered Melzer’s plea remotely.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sam Adelsberg and Matt Hellman appeared for the government and Melzer’s attorney Jennifer Willis appeared for her client.