He began corresponding with the leader of a white supremacist group when he was stationed at Camp Striker on tour in Iraq.
Before long, the young veteran was being invited to become a sworn member of the organization, traveling hundreds of miles to help train its members in the combat techniques he learned in the military.
The story of how former Missouri National Guard Spc. Ryan Riley got involved with a group that authorities now say planned for the collapse of the U.S. government was detailed amid hundreds of pages of documents recently made public in a criminal case against the group in Florida.
Known as American Front, the white supremacist organization was snared in a joint terrorism investigation by the FBI and Florida authorities earlier this year. Its leader, Marcus Faella, and 12 of his associates were arrested and charged with a variety of crimes, including training of a paramilitary group and hate crimes.
Prosecutors said the group was experimenting with the creation of the toxin ricin, plotting to attack rival groups and wanted to cause some sort “disturbance” at Orlando City Hall.
One of the persistent mysteries since the arrests in early May was the involvement of Riley, a military veteran whose name appeared only briefly in initial police reports.
He was never charged and the Missouri National Guard would not confirm that a specialist with the same name serving in its ranks was indeed the person caught up in the terrorism case.
But a report released in recent weeks by the Ninth Circuit State Attorney’s Office in Florida confirmed it was true. The five-page report, which was dated June 8 and written by FBI special agent Sean McDermott, showed Riley agreed to tell his story to investigators in exchange for some sort of immunity.
It was not clear, however, who provided the immunity or whether Riley planned to testify against his former associates. State attorney’s spokesman Bernie Presha said it did not come from the prosecutors in his office who are in charge of the case.
“That’s not ours,” Presha told TPM. “That doesn’t come from us.”
Presha also said no one in his office knew the details of the immunity agreement, despite it being referenced in a report his own office released. “I talked to the state attorney and he said he has not even seen it,” Presha said.
Mark Kempton and Brody Kempton, who were listed as Riley’s lawyers in the report, did not return a message left at their office in Sedalia, Mo., this week. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jefferson City, Mo., said he was not aware of the case but would look into it.
Regardless, Riley, 28, appears to have spoken at length about his involvement with American Front.
He told investigators he grew frustrated with “racial hypocrisies” in U.S. society and the military while he was serving in Iraq in 2008. He began to look for like minded people on the internet and soon found racist skinheads who shared his beliefs. He particularly liked a group that called itself American Front. He started posting messages to its website.
Riley said he used his personal laptop, logging on about twice a week while he was at Camp Striker, to write messages and blog posts. Eventually, Faella, the group’s leader, sent him a message telling him to be careful in Iraq and encouraging him to keep posting.
They struck up a something of a friendship and kept in touch throughout the rest of the tour. After Riley returned stateside, they started talking by phone. Riley told investigators he talked to others in his unit about his racist beliefs, but he never met any other skinheads, at least not while serving in the Missouri National Guard.
By early 2011, Faella was asking Riley to become a “patched” or sworn member of American Front. He invited Riley down to a barbeque at the group’s compound in Florida. Riley told investigators he drove down from Missouri with a pistol, an AK-47 assault rifle and 200 pounds of ammunition.
“Faella also wanted to utilize Riley for firearms, survival and medical training,” the report said. “Riley believed Faella wanted this training because AF believed the U.S. was going to collapse, and they wanted to be prepared for the ensuing chaos.”
Riley told the investigators that he met a number of people at the July 2, 2011 event who were later caught up in the terrorism probe. He said he let some of them, including several he was told were convicted felons, hold his rifle as he taught them how to shoot it and break it down.
The event went well and Riley agreed to take the oath to join American Front. Faella handed him a patch and was the first to congratulate him, Riley said. Later in the evening, according to the report, “Faella proclaimed Riley as the leader of the AF Missouri chapter.”
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com