Anchorage man who posted racially motivated tweets faces federal weapons charges
An Anchorage man is facing federal weapons charges for possession of a machine gun and unregistered firearm, the U.S. Attorney’s office says.
The FBI received an anonymous tip on April 28 that 20-year-old Michael Graves posted racially motivated extremist views on social media. The tipster was concerned Graves would commit an act of violence.
Prosecutors say Graves had a device that turns a handgun into a machine gun and had homemade silencers. Chief Magistrate Judge Deborah M. Smith denied bail and said Graves would be held until his trial.
FBI Special Agent Joshua Rongitsch said Graves used Twitter to post statements like, "Let's beat Hitler's kill count."
The special agent also testified that Graves said, "Nazis are the [expletive] best."
In another post, Rongitsch said someone else asked Graves for suggestions on committing a crime, he then replied with “terrorism.”
When later questioned about the tweets Rongitsch said Graves admitted the tweets were his, but he said the statements were jokes.
Rongitsch says Graves denied being a Nazi and that he had white supremacist views but admitted his dislike for Muslims, Jews and atheists.
According to the affidavit filed on May 9, the FBI received information from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives that U.S. Customs and Border Protection intercepted a package at the San Francisco International Airport addressed to "Mike G" in Anchorage — a person the FBI says was Graves. The affidavit says the package came from China.
Customs and border patrol authorities said the package contained a full auto selector switch, a device prosecutors say turns a handgun into a machine gun.
The conversion device did not bear a serial number as required by law, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit indicates that on May 7, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service called Graves about his package and said he would have to sign for it. The package was then delivered to Graves in Anchorage and he took possession of it.
Agent Rongitsch testified Tuesday that when authorities later knocked on the suspect's door, he had a pistol in his waistband and the auto selector switch in his shirt pocket.
Rongitsch says Graves later said he was armed because of concerns about break-ins in the area. He says Graves said he was first unaware that purchasing the selector switch was unlawful but found out later it was illegal.
Agent Rongitsch later testified about some gun silencers, also referred to as suppressors in court, that Graves built at his father's Anchorage home. He also says Graves purchased some parts at Lowe's where he worked.
The agent also testified that silencers had a swastika and the number 1488 on them. Rongitsch testified that the 88 of the number refers to the eighth letter of the alphabet and stands for HH or "Heil Hitler."
After the hearing, prosecutor Kim Sayers-Fay, who is the Assistant U.S. Attorney, said the tweets themselves are not the basis for the charges.
"The tweets by themselves are protected first amendment activity," Sayers-Fay said.
But she added, "Those suggest to us, in conjunction with the acquisition of unlawful firearms, that he poses a danger to the public. That's not the same thing as saying he's a terrorist, to be clear just as the judge said. We're not deciding that issue. We're not presenting evidence on that issue.”
Attorneys for Graves said that there was no evidence that their client had harmed anyone, to which agent Rongitsch replied, "Correct."
If convicted, the U.S. Attorney’s office says Graves faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Graves’ actual sentence, according the U.S. Attorney, will be based on his prior criminal history — if any — and the seriousness of his offense.
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