SEATTLE (AP) — A US federal judge declined to impose prison time Wednesday on a former member of a neo-Nazi ring that threatened journalists, finding that the 21-year-old — who concealed his transgender identity from his co-conspirators — had already suffered enough in his young life.
Taylor Parker-Dipeppe, of Spring Hill, Florida, was charged in early 2020 along with three other members of the Atomwaffen Division, a white supremacist group.
Investigators said they left or attempted to leave Swastika-laden posters with messages like “You have been visited by your local Nazis” at the homes of journalists in Florida, Arizona and Washington state.
Parker-Dipeppe pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to mail threatening communications and to commit cyberstalking.
Assistant US Attorney Thomas Woods acknowledged his troubled childhood, but sought a prison term of 16 months, writing 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’s attorney, Peter Mazzone, said prison would be devastating for his client, who suffered abuse from an unaccepting father, from an alcoholic stepfather and from school bullies who tormented him.
Parker-Dipeppe, who goes by Tyler, had known since age 5, when he was growing up in Egg Harbor, New Jersey, that he wanted to be a boy, but his father threw away the “boy clothes” his mother bought him and physically abused him, including choking him, Mazzone wrote in a sentencing memo.
In his early teens, his high school failed to protect him from incessant bullying and eventually paid $50,000 to settle a lawsuit he brought.
He moved to Florida to live with his mother and her husband, who one day came home drunk and beat him severely, breaking his front tooth and smashing his head against the driveway.
“This led him to just seek acceptance, and unfortunately he found it from these knuckleheads,” Mazzone said, referring to the group of about 10 boys, mostly 15 and 16 years old, who made up the Florida Atomwaffen cell.
US District Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle agreed during a virtual court hearing Wednesday, sentencing Parker-Dipeppe to time served after Parker-Dipeppe tearfully apologized for his actions.
Coughenour said he struggled with his decision because he was mindful of the fear and suffering such harassment can instill. But he added: “None of us have suffered the difficult situation this defendant has endured as a result of his gender identity confusion. … Enough’s enough.”
More than a dozen people linked to Atomwaffen or an offshoot called Feuerkrieg Division have been charged with crimes in federal court since the group’s formation in 2016.
Atomwaffen has been linked to several killings, including the May 2017 shooting deaths of two men at an apartment in Tampa, Florida, and the January 2018 killing of a University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein in California.
Parker-Dipeppe was a low-level part of the conspiracy, which authorities have said was planned by Cameron Brandon Shea, of Redmond, Washington, and Kaleb J. Cole, who moved from Seattle to Texas after Seattle police seized his guns in 2019 under an “extreme risk protection order” that suggested he was planning a race war. Cole is due to face trial in September, and Shea is scheduled to plead guilty next week.
They recruited other Atomwaffen members, including the Florida cell, to participate in a coordinated campaign to threaten journalists in retaliation for negative media coverage of the organization, prosecutors have said.
Parker-Dipeppe was the only one in Florida with a car, and he and another member drove to St. Petersburg and affixed a poster to a home where they believed a news reporter lived. It was the wrong address; instead, a Black woman lived there with her father and her child.
The same day, Atomwaffen members sent or delivered posters to the homes of reporters or activists in Washington state and Arizona, including Chris Ingalls, a journalist at Seattle’s KING-TV who had reported on the group.
“Even though the FBI says Parker-Dipeppe was a low level player in this plot, he was part of a terrifying crime that my family and other victims live with to this day,” Ingalls said in a text message Wednesday. “I’m satisfied with the justice system’s handling of this case and I take Parker-Dipeppe at his word that he is truly remorseful.”
Parker-Dipeppe confessed his involvement in Atomwaffen to his mother soon after delivering the poster, afraid that the group would learn that he was transgender. She persuaded him to tell Shea the truth. He did, was immediately kicked out of Atomwaffen and still fears retaliation, his attorney said.
Parker-Dipeppe was the only person from the Florida cell charged in state or federal court. He spent about a month in custody before being released pending trial. While out, he has made great progress in therapy, obtained a job and married a supportive woman, Mazzone said.
The judge’s decision not to incarcerate Parker-Dipeppe comes amid growing efforts to recognize transgendered people, including advocates’ celebration of Wednesday as International Transgender Day of Visibility.
The first member of the conspiracy to be sentenced was Johnny Roman Garza, 20, of Queen Creek, Arizona, who affixed one of the posters on the bedroom window of a Jewish journalist. The poster included the journalist’s name and home address. Coughenour sentenced Garza to 16 months, roughly half the time sought by prosecutors.