A neo-Nazi skinhead who once hung a black Ken doll with a noose around its neck on his porch has pleaded guilty to federal civil rights and firearms charges associated with the late-night firebombing of an interracial couple’s home in Arkansas.
Jason Walter Barnwell, described as the leader of a “combat division” of the skinhead gang Blood & Honour, faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 20.
The 37-year-old skinhead from Evening Shade, Ark., said he didn’t make a very good “domestic terrorist” when he pleaded guilty on Friday in U.S. District Court in Little Rock to one count of federal civil rights conspiracy and companion charges of use of fire during a felony and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Barnwell and four other suspects were arrested by the FBI and indicted by a grand jury for Jan. 14 firebombing of the home of an interracial couple in Hardy, Ark. The incident occurred during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
The couple, a black man and a white woman, safely fled their burning home after awakening to the sound of breaking glass caused when burning Molotov cocktails were thrown through their living room window. The male victim, who ran outside, identified Barnwell, who was yelling racial slurs while looking for his lighter in the darkness, authorities said.
After accepting Barnwell’s guilty pleas, U.S. District Court Judge Bill Wilson asked the tattoo-covered skinhead what motivated the firebombing.
“The majority of my motivation would be disrespect,” Barnwell responded, according to a report published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “That’s not to say race wasn’t a part of it.”
Barnwell said he caught his hand on fire during the firebombing: “It doesn’t make me out to be a competent domestic terrorist,” he told the judge.
He has a lengthy criminal record, including a 2005 arrest in North Carolina when police found him with 400 rounds of ammunition and an assault rifle nearby. A report detailing that arrest described Barnwell as agitated and threatening to kill black people.
At an earlier detention hearing, an FBI agent testified that he saw a black Ken doll with a noose around its neck handing from Barnwell’s front porch, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Barnwell also was linked to a May 2010 incident in Batesville, Ark., when a black man was surrounded by four men who jumped out of a car and threatened him.
When FBI agents searched Barnwell’s home following his arrest in March, they found firearms, bullets and neo-Nazi literature and paraphernalia.
Because he has at least three prior violent felony convictions, Barnwell faces a minimum mandatory term of 15 years in federal prison as an “armed career criminal.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White described Barnwell in court as a “historically devout racist” who hosted a weekend beer-drinking gathering of skinheads, including two skinhead recruits, Dustin Hammond, 20, of Evening Shade, and Jake Murphy, 19, of Waldron, Ark.
At Barnwell’s direction, the four men got in a car and drove to the victims’ home in rural Sharp County, White told the court. Barnwell, Hammond and Murphy each threw beer bottles filled with burning gasoline and stuffed with rags into the victims’ home, while Dodson remained in the car, the federal prosecutor said.
Hammond and Murphy pleaded guilty in June to federal civil rights violations and each were sentenced to 54 months in prison. Another defendant, Wendy Treybig, an Evening Shade resident described by authorities as Barnwell’s girl friend, pleaded guilty in June to obstructing justice and is awaiting sentencing.
All four could be called as witnesses in the Oct. 25 trial of the only remaining defendant in case, Gary Don Dodson, 32, of Waldron, Ark., who was described by authorities as a leader of the skinhead group.