A former member of a violent neo-Nazi group who tormented journalists across the US with hand-delivered threats won’t be sentenced to prison after a federal judge in Seattle said the man, who is transgender, had suffered enough from abusive family members and high school bullies.
During a virtual court hearing Wednesday, US District Judge John Coughenour said he struggled with his decision to sentence Taylor Parker-Dipeppe to time served, according to the Associated Press, which first reported on the hearing. But Coughenour explained that while he was aware of the fear and torment that Parker-Dipeppe’s actions inflicted on his targets, the 21-year-old had also been a victim himself.
“None of us have suffered the difficult situation this defendant has endured as a result of his gender identity confusion,” Coughenour said, according to the AP. “Enough’s enough.”
The judge’s decision came on International Transgender Day of Visibility.
Parker-Dipeppe, of Spring Hill, Florida, was charged in early 2020 — along with three other members of the Atomwaffen Division, a notoriously violent white supremacist group tied to a least five murders in the US — for his involvement in a plot to threaten journalists in Arizona, Florida, and Washington State. He pleaded guilty last September to conspiracy to mail threats and to commit cyberstalking.
He and his neo-Nazi coconspirators left or attempted to leave flyers adorned with Nazi symbols, skull-masked figures with guns and Molotov cocktails, threatening language, and an image of a reporter with the word “phony” over it at journalists’ homes, according to federal authorities. The flyers included messages like “You have been visited by your local Nazis” and “We are watching...Do not fuck with us.”
He carried out his part of the group’s conspiracy on Jan. 24, 2020, when he and another man went to a home in Tampa they believed was the residence of a journalist from Puerto Rico and stuck a threatening flyer to a window. But the reporter didn’t live there — they had the wrong address. A Black woman who lived there with her father and her child got the message and notified authorities.
Parker-Dipeppe was arrested soon after.
Assistant US Attorney Thomas Woods said Parker-Dipeppe was not one of the leaders of the plot and acknowledged that he had a troubled childhood, but argued that a prison term of 16 months was necessary owing to the seriousness of the crimes.
Woods wrote in a sentencing memo that Parker-Dipeppe “instilled terror in his victims and contributed to the wide sense of fear and unease that many groups in this country understandably feel.”
“Parker-Dipeppe made victims feel unsafe in their own homes — at a time when most people have been largely confined to home because of the pandemic,” Woods added.
A reporter for a Seattle TV channel and his wife detailed how the neo-Nazi group targeted their home in 2020, and how they were forced to flee under police protection to a motel.
Peter Mazzone, Parker-Dipeppe’s attorney, wrote in a sentencing memo that prison would be “detrimental” to his client because he “endured a horrific childhood” that included an “unaccepting father,” physical abuse by an “alcoholic” stepfather, and slurs from school bullies.
“That led him to just seek acceptance, and unfortunately he found it from these knuckleheads,” Mazzone said, referring to the group of about 10 teenage boys who made up Atomwaffen Division’s Florida cell.
Judge Coughenour sided with Mazzone, sentencing Parker-Dipeppe to time served after Parker-Dipeppe apologized through tears for his actions, the AP reported.
Mazzone argued in his sentencing memo that Parker-Dipeppe, who goes by Tyler, had turned his life around, making progress in therapy, getting a job at a Holiday Inn Express, and marrying his longtime girlfriend.
Atomwaffen is German for “atomic weapon.” More than a dozen people linked to Atomwaffen Division and a breakout group called Feuerkrieg Division have been charged with federal crimes since the groups formed in 2016, court records show.
While the group is US-based, its reach has also expanded to Europe. BuzzFeed News reported in October that two men associated with the group were deported from Ukraine after authorities there found them trying to set up a local branch and join a far-right military unit to gain combat experience in the country.
Parker-Dipeppe was a low-level player in Atomwaffen Division’s conspiracy to target journalists in retaliation for negatively reporting on the group, investigators said. According to court documents, the masterminds were Cameron Brandon Shea, 24, of Redmond, Washington, and Kaleb Cole, 24, of Seattle.
Shea is scheduled to plead guilty to the conspiracy charges next week, and Cole’s trial has been set to begin in September.
The fourth member of the conspiracy, Johnny Roman Garza, 20, of Queen Creek, Arizona, was sentenced in December by Judge Coughenour to 16 months. Garza had stuck a threatening flyer on the bedroom window of a Jewish journalist.