A former Soldier who was found guilty of plotting an attack against his own unit has been sentenced to 45 years in prison. The sentencing of former Private Ethan Melzer, 24, was announced by a federal judge on Friday, following a trial that took place in July 2021.
Melzer, who was stationed in Italy with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was arrested in June 2020 and charged with planning an attack against his unit. According to federal prosecutors, Melzer had shared sensitive information about his unit with a neo-Nazi group known as the Order of Nine Angles, which had planned to carry out an attack against the unit in Turkey.
Ethan Phelan Melzer, who was a private assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy, planned a jihadist attack on his Army unit in the days leading up to a deployment to Turkey, according to court documents.https://t.co/IArmVfNJq1
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) March 5, 2023
Prosecutors alleged that the former Soldier had provided the group with details about the unit’s movements and personnel, to facilitate an attack against his fellow soldiers. Melzer had reportedly become disillusioned with the Army and had turned to neo-Nazi ideology, which he believed was a way to express his anger and frustration.
Melzer pleaded guilty to the charges against him in October 2020, and faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. However, prosecutors recommended a 25-year sentence as part of a plea deal.
During his sentencing hearing, the former Soldier apologized for his actions and expressed remorse for the harm he had caused to his fellow soldiers and their families.
“I am deeply sorry for my betrayal of my fellow soldiers and my country,” he said.
The judge, however, was unmoved by Melzer’s contrition, saying that his actions had put lives at risk and damaged national security. “You willingly joined a terrorist organization, conspired with its members, and planned to murder your fellow soldiers,” the judge said. “Your actions were heinous and cannot be excused or justified. Your conduct was not only illegal, but also deeply offensive to the values that we hold dear in this country”.
In a statement following the sentencing, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York emphasized the seriousness of the case and the importance of holding Melzer accountable for his actions. “Ethan Melzer betrayed his fellow soldiers and his country, and he will now spend the rest of his life in prison as a result,” the attorney said.
During his sentencing hearing, Captain Joshua Kraus, a military intelligence officer, described the damage Melzer caused as a “psychological cancer” that eroded the trust soldiers must have in their commanders and fellow service members.
“The damage he inflicted was immeasurable,” Kraus said. “He created a psychological cancer that has spread throughout the platoon and beyond.”
The case against Melzer has drawn attention to the growing problem of extremism within the military. Military leaders have acknowledged that extremist groups are actively recruiting members within the military and have pledged to take steps to combat the problem.
“The Army is committed to ensuring that our soldiers and our units are safe from extremist threats, and we will not tolerate any behavior that undermines that commitment,” said Army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr. in a statement.
The sentencing of the former Soldier sends a strong message that such behavior will not be tolerated, and that those who engage in such actions will face severe consequences.