Greed, guns lead to Aryan Strikeforce’s downfall.
Justin Daniel Lough slipped into a booth at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in rural Virginia and started talking about making a deal.
Soon, two other members of the white supremacist group Aryan Strikeforce joined Lough, known as “Rocko,” along with another man they had been dealing with at the restaurant just off Interstate 81 near the city of Staunton.
The man pitched Lough, Joshua “Hatchet” Steever and Connor Drew Dykes on serving as “muscle” during a “business opportunity” to move a product from one place to the other.
Lough got nervous and asked for a “piece” — a weapon — something the man making the pitch turned down.
After negotiating a few more points during the November 18, 2016 meeting, the deal was set. Aryan Strikeforce would guard a shipment of methamphetamine from Newburg, New York, west about 100 miles to Scranton, Pennsylvania.
For the members of Aryan Strikeforce, what seemed like a fairly easy money-making deal moving methamphetamine and guns around the East Coast would ultimately be their demise.
The man they met with would prove to be a confidential informant working for the FBI.
The deal, and others like it, became the heart of a case against six members of New Jersey-based Aryan Strikeforce, resulting in three guilty pleas (three others are contesting the charges, calling it a case of entrapment) and law enforcement rolling up the organization.
Aryan Strikeforce and an associated group, Combat 18, a violent neo-Nazi group and offshoot of the British group Blood and Honour (the latter started in the 1990s and has spread internationally) were constantly on a search for money to pay for their plans. It was a need that hastened their downfall.
Indictments, motions, search warrants, interviews and transcripts of secretly recorded conversations filed in the case provide a look at how law enforcement used the group’s need for money and willingness to take on less-than-savory tasks.
Aryan Strikeforce and Combat 18 considered themselves willing to and capable of using violence, as the group’s website put it, with the “goal to protect the honour of our women, children and the future of our race and nation.”
Combat 18, which subscribed to the “leaderless resistance” philosophy preferred by militia groups, drew its name from Adolf Hitler. “A” and “H” are the first and eighth letters of the alphabet.
The members of the group were quite vocal about their mission on the group’s website, as well as social media sites such as VK, the Russian version of Facebook.
The one-time president of the organization, Ronald “Dozer” Pulcher, posted on VK that recruits for Aryan Strikeforce were required to take a blood oath — a pledge of obedience to the group that could mean shedding blood on its behalf.
“We are the elite …. The first to get the call to shed blood … when shit goes terribly wrong we are usually the first to fix it,” Pulcher posted on VK on Aug. 16, 2016.
Pulcher said members viewed the group as an actual “strike force” and a group of soldiers ready to partake in violence to preserve the white race. And they had some reach. Aryan Strikeforce had chapters all around the East Coast, as well as contacts in eastern Europe, South America, South Africa and Canada, said a law enforcement source close to the investigation who asked not to be named.
“This is a web [Steever] was able to create,” the law enforcement source said. “They were always a lot bigger than you realized.”
Each of the six people charged by federal prosecutors were patch-wearing members of Aryan Strikeforce and Combat 18. Lough, a one-time Arizona member of violent skinhead group the Hammerskins, has a tattoo of the Aryan Strikeforce patch on his arm.
Steever, who had been bouncing around fringe right-wing movements for years with mixed results, founded the organization after being involved with Aryan Terror Brigade in New Jersey and failing to join up with Atlantic City Skins. He was briefly married to the niece of actor Patrick Swayze.
Pulcher served as president until his arrest on state drug charges in 2016. Henry Lambert Baird took over the president’s position at that point, with Dykes stepping in as sergeant-at-arms and Stephen Daniel “Dan” Davis assuming the vice-presidential spot. Jason “Boots” Robards moved from New Mexico to join.
Along with the group’s leadership, which sometimes met at Pulcher’s Galeton home in north-central Pennsylvania, Aryan Strikeforce had members scattered up and down the East Coast, including New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
And for all their attempts at secrecy and plotting, Aryan Strikeforce had been on the radar of the Pennsylvania state police, local authorities and the FBI for several years.
Aryan Strikeforce members gathered in Pennsylvania in the early fall of 2016 to discuss making a bomb out of an oxygen bottle that was later used by a Strikeforce member who was willing to blow himself up at a white supremacist rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on November 7, 2016. Their intended target would be anti-racist demonstrators who were expected to counter-protest.
During one of those meetings, held September 3, 2016 in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, Pulcher, Steever, Davis, and a Strikeforce member from Buffalo, New York, met with members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement for firearms training. What they didn’t know was that law enforcement had placed a confidential human source inside the group who reported back on the details of what they were planning.
The bombing never happened, but Aryan Strikeforce members still found a way to enforce their ideology later in 2016.
Steever and another Strikeforce member were at Spanky’s, a bar in Easton, Pennsylvania, on December 4. Steever walked past a group of black men and called them “niggers.” A bouncer tried to calm the situation, but Steever kept pushing things until the bouncer removed him from the bar.
Steever returned to the back door of the bar and pulled out a knife while the black men left, precipitating a fight. It wasn’t much of a battle, though. Steever, wearing his Aryan Strikeforce jacket, was bludgeoned with a rock.
Fights aside, the Aryan Strikeforce needed a way to pay for the bigger plans they had in mind.
For a short time, Pulcher’s marijuana growing operation provided some money, but as Steever noted on VK, that revenue stream ended with Pulcher’s arrest by state authorities in October 2016, the month after the meeting about the bomb plot.
So, they turned to more lucrative — and potentially more dangerous — fundraising sources: guns.
Aryan Strikeforce members liked to pose with guns — they posted multiple photos of themselves holding weapons, including a tactical shotgun, a pistol, brass knuckles and an ASP baton and soon were moving unregistered guns and drugs around the East Coast.
In a recorded conversation on March 30, 2017, Lough met an informant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with Baird, Steever and an undercover agent and said he was ready to start hauling weapons.
“You call me, I’ll be there … It will be very, very rare if I had to turn something down,” Lough said. “That’s why I always make sure people know, call me, ‘cause I always need the money … I’m always ready to go.”
It was familiar territory for Lough, who bragged several times about his days running methamphetamine and guns and other criminal activity while living in Arizona. Other members of Aryan Strikeforce had criminal records, too, with offenses ranging from illegal possession of brass knuckles to beating a black man with a baseball bat.
“I’m very much accustomed to, you know, making money any way I can,” Lough said in a recorded conversation.
“I’ve probably done far dirtier jobs than you’ve been on,” Baird replied.
A lack of money made Aryan Strikeforce dangerous, and also reckless. While they made big plans, they often couldn’t afford to carry them out, the law enforcement source said.
“That was always a thing,” the law enforcement source said. “A lot of the operations and big things would run into a wall. They had no money.”
As planning for the gun and drug running operations amped up — along with talk of a bombing — law enforcement managed to get more confidential informants into the group to identify members of not only Aryan Strikeforce but Combat 18.
The men of Aryan Strikeforce loved guns, even though most were felons and legally barred from having weapons. But, when it came to doing “jobs” — moving drugs, gun parts or other such activity — they liked to be armed. Lough told the informant that he was looking for guns, plural — “more like quantity” — especially handguns.
“When you say quantity, what do you mean?” the informant asked.
“Just as many as you can get them,” Lough replied.
One of the main concerns with getting a gun was finding one that was “clean” and hadn’t been used in other criminal activity. Lough, especially, seemed concerned with the origin of any weapon he was given. When the
informant offered to procure a weapon for him, Lough wanted to make sure it couldn’t be traced.
“What do you mean clean?” Lough asked on March 30, 2017. “They’re not hot?”
“No, they’re not coming back to you, they’re not coming back to anybody,” the informant said.
Also, during the March 30, 2017 meeting, Baird and the informant discussed the need for a weapon.
“I’m looking for a little upgrade, I’m looking for a 21 Glock,” Baird told the informant.
“What do you need?” the informant asked.
“I want a 21 Glock,” Baird said. “It’s my favorite weapon.”
“OK, I’ll see what I can do,” the informant said.
“I just got a Taurus revolver right now, and I need to get that to brother Josh,” Baird said.
Aryan Strikeforce liked to use public, often busy places where a group of people wouldn’t be noticed — such as a parking lot for a mall or a Walmart or a Cracker Barrel restaurant off an interstate in a rural area — to arrange the deals.
At a typical meeting on December 4, 2016, two undercover agents and Steever, who by this point had earned a reputation within the white supremacist movement as a potential snitch, met in a shopping mall parking lot near Dickson City, Pennsylvania, to sell methamphetamine.
Steever pocketed $4,000 for 20 pounds of meth, then left with an undercover agent to meet Lough, Dykes and another Aryan Strikeforce member in a Walmart parking lot. There, Steever doled out $1,000 payments to Dykes, Lough and the other member.
The undercover informant suggested the four convert the money to Visa prepaid gift cards, but Steever, Lough, Dykes and the unnamed Strikeforce member opted to keep the cash.
Several other sales were made, after which some of the cash was converted to pre-paid gift cards at Target. In one case, Lough, Dykes and Robards bought $400 cards at Target, then gave those to the undercover informant as a down payment toward future gun purchases.
Steever, who always seems to attract followers, made it clear to the undercover informant that Aryan Strikeforce was up for any work it could get, so long as it paid. When a job came up, Steever usually organized Aryan Strikeforce members, sometimes emphasizing the importance of taking on the assignment. Steever, in a March 24, 2017 text to Lough, made it clear that a job in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, required his presence.
“It’s very important,” Steever wrote. “You definitely need to be here now to do security.”
More meetings took place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Hagerstown, Maryland as guns and drugs were bought and sold by the undercover informants and Aryan Strikeforce.
The group’s activities unraveled on April 13, 2017, when the FBI arrested Lough, Steever, Robards and Baird and executed search warrants at their homes.
Court records show guns were seized from the houses of Baird and Steever. Investigators pulled a shotgun with a tactical grip from Steever’s home, but the warrants and other court documents do not specify what other types of weapons were seized. Davis and Dykes were arrested the next day.
The arrest cut off the national and international network Steever had set up for the group. Now, the law enforcement source said, Aryan Strikeforce is something of a non-entity.
“I don’t even hear about these guys anymore,” the source said.
In an interview with the FBI in Waynesboro, Virginia, after being arrested, Lough said he met Steever online and talked about his own drug use. Lough also denied profiting from his association with Aryan Strikeforce, the Hammerskins and the National Socialist Movement and denied dealing methamphetamine.
“No, I’m not a drug dealer,” said Lough, who described himself as a mason who worked on construction sites.
FBI Special Agent Daniel R. Wolf asked Lough if he had ever been paid for his work or time while with the Aryan Strikeforce.
“I don’t know, I can’t answer that,” Lough said. “I cannot honestly answer that.”
When pressed about Aryan Strikeforce membership, Lough opted not to answer questions and said he didn’t know the real names of many of the members. Instead, he referred to “Machete,” “Hatchet” and “Boots,” but otherwise declined to identify anyone.
Lough wanted to know what the quickest way was to be “done and over with and get me back to my life, that I was actually enjoying.”
With the prospect of federal prison time hanging over Lough and his fellow Aryan Strikeforce members, enjoying life may not be in the cards for a while for any of them.