The first alleged act was startling enough: Around 4:45 on the afternoon of May 31, according to an affidavit filed in federal court this week, Benjamin Hung, a former high school football star from a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles, intentionally drove his Dodge Ram truck into a peaceful group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators protesting in Old Town Pasadena’s ritzy shopping district.
Undercover police officers were in the crowd that afternoon; as terrified demonstrators sprinted to safety, Pasadena police apprehended Hung. When they searched his truck, which was festooned with flags associated with far-right militia groups, they allegedly found a black fanny pack with a loaded Glock semiautomatic weapon, an 18-inch machete, and $3,200 in cash.
From there, the story grows stranger still. Hung — who hails from a family known in San Marino, California, for their civic involvement and generous giving to community organizations — had, according to the FBI, been illegally amassing weapons and running a “training camp” at a family-owned vineyard in Northern California to prepare for “civil unrest.” Federal officials found photos of Hung wearing a “Three Percenters” T-shirt, the name of a far-right militia group with chapters across the country that’s been involved in armed, sometimes violent, standoffs with federal agents. The FBI alleged that Hung had been looking for ways to target Black Lives Matter protesters with his truck.
It’s unclear if Hung joined the Three Percenters or another militia group as he moved back and forth from Los Angeles to Oregon. For years, most militia groups, like the Three Percenters, have held conspiratorial views, preaching resistance against what they perceive as government overreach by arming and training themselves against it. Members of the groups have been involved in domestic terror plots targeting police, government officials, and violence against minorities including immigrants and mosques. Recently, however, the Three Percenters militia has focused its ire on protests against police violence, antifa, Black Lives Matter. Members have adopted conspiratorial theories and have aligned with the QAnon collective delusion in support of President Donald Trump.
According to court records, Hung appeared to be connecting with people with a similar mindset, expecting a forthcoming violent insurrection across the country.
“#QANON storm is upon us. Deep state is in a panic,” an associate texted Hung in March. “Going to be fucking bad bro. Better be ready.”
Several weeks later, according to the affidavit, Hung texted an associate about getting guns — buying them across state lines or manufacturing them — to get around California’s gun control laws.
“Should I just build it then,” an associate texted.
“Yeah exactly,” Hung responded. “Ghost guns. Things that don’t exist. Lol.”
On Wednesday, the US attorney for the Central District of California unsealed a complaint charging Hung with one count of conspiracy to transport firearms across state lines. He is expected to be arraigned in federal court on Monday.
Hung could not be reached for comment. His appointed attorney, a federal public defender, did not respond to calls and emails Friday. But in the wealthy enclave of San Marino where Hung grew up, and where he and his family frequently landed in the pages of the local newspaper for their civic acts, philanthropy, and sporting exploits, the charges are almost unimaginable.
How did a young man celebrated for his touchdowns and his fundraising to eradicate polio, a young man whose parents are known for giving to numerous causes and who have hosted Democratic lawmakers at their home, wind up accused of involvement in groups associated with a violent, far-right insurrection?
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how he got offtrack,” said a family friend who knew Hung as a star running back and linebacker on the San Marino High School football team. “He was always the nicest kid.”
The friend, who asked to not be named to avoid upsetting the family, added: “That’s just not his family. They’re just not that kind of people. They’re not that kind of family.”
Hung and his siblings, who had also attended San Marino High, were all outgoing, popular, and friendly students who seemed ready for great things, he said.
“It’s beyond belief,” added another family friend, who also asked not to be named out of respect for the family. “He’s always been just a good kid.”
But the portrait painted by FBI Special Agent Diamond Outlaw in an affidavit seeking a search warrant for Hung’s home and digital devices tells a very different story.
Following the incident in Old Town Pasadena, Hung was arrested for attempted assault with a deadly weapon, but local prosecutors only charged him with a misdemeanor: carrying a loaded firearm. He is due to appear in state court on that charge at the end of September.
Federal officials, however, began their own investigation. By June 30, they had a search warrant for Hung’s iCloud account and began reading his text messages, reviewing his Google search results, and tracking the location of his phone as it pinged around Los Angeles County, Northern California, Oregon, and near the sites of various Black Lives Matter protests.
“Antifa has been avoiding me or something,” Hung texted a group of associates on May 29, shortly after his phone pinged a location near major BLM protests in downtown Los Angeles. “I can never seem to find them when I’m out war rigging.”
Federal officials also began tracking the gun found in Hung’s truck. This led them on a trail from Los Angeles to Oregon to the town of Lodi in California’s Central Valley. The Hung family, according to the affidavit, property records, and interviews with family friends, owns a 30-acre vineyard in Lodi, a house in San Marino, and an RV park in Oregon. Local newspaper accounts indicate that Hung’s mother was also in talks several years ago with the resort city of Sisters, Oregon, to develop a 92-room hotel, which the article promised in 2010 would be “a landmark.” It’s unclear if the hotel was ever built.
As his mother was pursuing real estate projects in central Oregon, it appears, according to the affidavit, that Hung was getting to know Oregon residents involved with gun culture and far-right ideology. According to the affidavit, an Oregon man, who is not named but who is identified as working at an RV park owned by the Hung family in Bend, purchased the Glock in December 2017 that was later found in Hung’s truck at the Black Lives Matter protest in Pasadena.
Federal officials got another search warrant for Hung’s cellphone texts going back years. This yielded text messages that showed Hung had been working with the associate in Oregon to purchase guns for at least two and a half years.
On Dec. 26, 2017, the same day Hung’s associate purchased the Glock, the associate and Hung texted back and forth about guns, ammunition, and plans for a shooting range, presumably at the vineyard in Lodi.
On Jan. 3, 2018, the affidavit claims, Hung wrote the associate about “why he liked shooting in Lodi.” The reason, according to the affidavit: “You have a relatively long and flat range to shoot. You can really practice your distance shots.”
Hung and “associates” communicated about stockpiling weapons, as well as buying weapons out of state to bring to multiple addresses in Oregon and California, according to the affidavit, as part of an effort to prepare for what they believed was coming civil unrest.
It’s unclear whether Hung became part of an organized militia group, but court documents show he took pictures of himself wearing a “Three Percenters” T-shirt.
“Our very own Shoot House!!!” Hung wrote one friend on May 20. “The only way to practice clearing buildings/rooms/staircases!! Would love to build on the vineyard.”
According to court records, Hung took steps to create the training facility, stockpiling weapons and ammo and buying dummies for shooting targets.
Neighbors of the vineyard told federal agents they had often heard gunfire coming from the property, sometimes twice a month and at times lasting about two hours.
The affidavit also includes a photo taken from Hung’s phone of an arsenal of firearms, including two assault rifles, three semiautomatic pistols, one long-range rifle, numerous boxes of ammunition, tactical vests, and a tourniquet.
While the affidavit contains numerous texts about guns, ammo, and what to do “if shit really goes down,” it does not contain any texts in which Hung is quoted as plotting to carry out gun violence against protesters or the government.
Rather, he and his associates appear to be preparing for defensive action.
The US attorney’s office declined to comment on the investigation, but court filings indicate that it is ongoing. Along with the complaint filed against Hung this week, officials have sought additional search warrants, including one for the Lodi vineyard and one for a residence in San Marino.
Hung’s parents and most of his siblings did not respond to calls and messages for comment. When one of his brothers was reached, he said he and family members didn’t have much to say.
“I can’t answer anything,” Myron Hung told BuzzFeed News. “This whole thing is just really crazy.”