Politics

US Army soldier arrested after talking about bombing news network, attacking leftist groups, fighting in Ukraine with far-right group

Key Points
  • A United States Army soldier was criminally charged Monday after allegedly talking about bombing a major American news network, attacking leftist groups and traveling to Ukraine to fight with a far-right paramilitary group.
  • The solider, Jarrett William Smith, 24, of Fort Riley, Kansas, was charged with one count of distributing information related to explosives and weapons of mass destruction, according to the Department of Justice.
  • In a recent Telegram chat, Smith allegedly suggested that former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke — who currently is seeking the Democratic nomination for president — could be a target for a bomb.
The 1st Infantry Division Headquarters at Fort Riley, Kan.
Orlin Wagner | AP

A United States Army soldier was criminally charged Monday after sharing tips about building homemade explosives, and talking about bombing a major American news network, attacking leftist groups and traveling to Ukraine to fight with a far-right paramilitary group , authorities said.

Jarrett William Smith, 24, a private first class stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas, was charged with one count of distributing information related to explosives and weapons of mass destruction, the Department of Justice said.

He faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted.

A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas against Smith, who joined the Army in June 2017, details interactions he had on social media with other users in which he discussed how to build improvised explosive devices.

Smith allegedly told an FBI agent shortly before his arrest Saturday that he shared that knowledge "to cause 'chaos,' " and that "it doesn't affect him" if that chaos leads to deaths of other people.

In a chat on the Telegram messaging app last Friday, Smith allegedly suggested that former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke — who currently is seeking the Democratic nomination for president — could be a target for a bomb that an FBI undercover employee told him he wanted to use to kill a politician in Texas.

O'Rourke's campaign spokeswoman, in a statement, said, "We're grateful to the FBI for their diligence in handling this case and for their work to keep our country safe in the face of domestic terror threats."

"We take any threat like this very seriously, and our team is in direct contact with the FBI regarding this case. This isn't about any one person or one campaign, and we won't let this scare us or cause us to back down in fighting for what's right," the spokeswoman said.

Democratic U.S. Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke addresses the audience during the Presidential candidate forum at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Detroit, Michigan, July 24, 2019.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters

The Justice Department said that Smith also "said on Facebook he was interested in traveling to the Ukraine to fight with a paramilitary group called the Azov Battalion," which the department identified as a "violent far-right" organization.

The complaint notes that Smith is connected via Facebook with an El Paso, Texas, man named Craig Lang "who has traveled to Ukraine and fought with the Right Sector, another groups in Ukraine similar to the Azov Battalion, between 2017-2019."

Smith has been in contact with Lang since at least June 2016, a year before Smith enlisted, according to the complaint, which says Lang acted as a mentor to the soldier "as he prepared for Smith to join him in the fighting in Ukraine."

A Facebook account with a user name of Craig Lang says that he lives in Ukraine and recent became engaged to a woman there. That account was deleted shortly after the Justice Department disclosed the case against Smith.

During one Facebook chat, Smith allegedly offered to teach other Facebook users how to make cellphone explosive devices "in the style of the Afghans," officials said.

"Oh yeah, I got knowledge of IEDs for days," Smith allegedly wrote.

He also explained in a chat how to create an explosive substance using the heads of matches, according to the criminal complaint.

That complaint pointedly notes that on two occasions when Smith offered instructions on how to build a specific type of explosive device, an FBI bomb technician said the instructions "would not result in a viable explosive device."

But a bomb technician said that Smith's instructions about the making an explosive material out of match heads were accurate "if the right type of matches were to be used," the complaint said.

The complaint details several recent online conversations by Smith talking about committing violence.

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"On Aug. 19, 2019, Smith told an undercover investigator he was looking for 'radicals' like himself," the DOJ said in a press release. "Smith talked about killing members of Antifa and destroying nearby cell towers or a local news station." Antifa is an anti-fascist group.

Two days later, in an online chat with a confidential source, "Smith told the [source] that the headquarters of a major American news network would be a suggested target, utilizing a vehicle bomb," the criminal complaint said.

On Friday, Smith shared with an undercover FBI agent "very specific instructions" on how to build an explosive device, the complaint said. That chat included Smith's mention of O'Rourke as a possible target for the undercover agent.

Smith was arrested the next day.

According to the complaint, Smith told an FBI agent who advised him of his Miranda rights against self-incrimination on Saturday that "he knows how to make improvised explosive devices, and that in online chat rooms he routinely provides instruction on building explosive devices."

"He admitted that he provides this information even to individuals who tell him they intend to use the information to cause harm to others," the agent wrote in the complaint.

"Smith stated that he did this to cause 'chaos.' He told me that if chaos results in the death of people, even through information he provided it, it doesn't affect him."