The co-founder of the terroristic-minded neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division pleaded guilty to murdering two of his group’s members in 2017 and will serve 45 years in prison, court records show.
Devon Arthurs, 24, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and three counts of kidnapping on May 8, the same day that he was set to appear in a Tampa, Florida-area court for his involvement in the 2017 slayings of his fellow Atomwaffen Division (AWD) members Andrew Oneschuk, 18, and Jeremy Himmelman, 22. In a statement after accepting the plea deal, Arthurs described himself as “brainwashed” by extremist groups and sought to portray himself as a potential advocate against involvement in the white power movement.
In addition to Arthurs’ 45-year prison sentence, the plea deal he signed Monday includes another 15 years of probation upon release.
Hatewatch reached out to Arthurs via his lawyer, who declined to comment on the case.
Arthurs’ guilty plea brings an abrupt end to what would have been a two-week jury trial, originally set to take place from May 8-19 at the Hillsborough County Court in Tampa. It also represents an about-face for his defense team, which had stated its intention to rely on an insanity plea in a notice of intent filed with the court on Feb. 28. In that document, Arthurs’ lawyers said that while he “knew what he was doing, [the] Defendant did not know it was wrong” and cited his diagnosis of schizoaffective and autism spectrum disorders.
In early 2018, two court-appointed doctors told the court that they believed Arthurs suffered from a mental illness and was unfit to stand trial at the time, according to court records. Arthurs underwent treatment, and in June 2022, the court found Arthurs capable of standing trial and resumed proceedings.
The murder charges stem from an attack on May 19, 2017, when Arthurs murdered two people and held three others hostage. According to a police report filed on May 20, 2017, officers arrested Arthurs after he brandished a firearm and held multiple customers and employees hostage at the Green Planet Smoke Shop in Tampa. During that time, Arthurs, a self-proclaimed convert to radical Islam from neo-Nazism, made repeated references to U.S. bombings against Muslim-majority countries. As police escorted Arthurs to a squad car after arranging with him to release the hostages in the store, Arthurs replied to an officer’s request regarding if anyone else was hurt, saying “The people in the apartment, but they aren’t hurt, they’re dead.”
Arthurs directed police to the apartment, which he shared with AWD co-founder Brandon Russell.
Law enforcement officers found the bodies of two men, later identified as Oneschuk and Himmelman, with gunshot wounds to the upper body and head. Arthurs said he shot both men because they failed to respect his Muslim faith.
During their search of Russell and Arthurs’ apartment, police found bomb-making equipment and hate literature. Law enforcement released Russell – who had arrived home after Arthurs murdered Oneschuk and Himmelman – at the scene, only to arrest him again two days later in Key Largo, Florida. Russell was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to five years in federal prison on explosives-related charges. In early 2023, police arrested Russell once again, this time on charges of plotting terror attacks targeting energy infrastructure.
Prosecutors tried to subpoena Russell, who is currently being held in a detention center in Maryland while awaiting trial, to testify in Arthurs’ case, according to court records. On Feb. 28, a process server traveled with a subpoena to the apartment that Russell shared with Arthurs in 2017. However, in a document filed with the court on Mar. 2, the process server noted that they were unable to serve Russell because he “does not live at this address.”
‘The road to redemption is long and hard’
Upon filing his guilty plea on Monday, Arthurs addressed the court. He appeared to apologize for the murders and his involvement in the neo-Nazi movement. Arthurs, who co-founded AWD with Brandon Russell in 2015, said he had been “brainwashed” by extremist groups, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“I feel I can be an advocate against extremism,” Arthurs said, per the Tampa Bay Times.
“I’d like to take this moment to tell the world to stay away from extremist groups. … I’m very sorry for everyone that was involved. I’m very sorry for everything that happened,” Arthurs said.
Patrick Richards, the executive director of Life After Hate – a non-profit that supports those trying to leave hate groups – told Hatewatch that Arthurs needed to focus “on his own disengagement and deradicalization” first.
“A guilty plea is a step toward accountability, but it is only one step. The process for successfully exiting violent extremist movements can take years,” Richards told Hatewatch in an email.
While Arthurs has spent much of the last six years in prison, his role in the movement prior to his 2017 arrest was integral. Though members of the white power movement and the media have often exclusively credited Russell with forming AWD, Arthurs played a crucial early role. In November 2015, roughly a month after Russell announced AWD’s formation on the neo-Nazi forum Iron March, Arthurs and Russell put up propaganda encouraging readers to “Join your local Nazis!” at the University of Central Florida. The action ushered AWD out of the digital realm and into the real world.
Like Russell and other AWD members, Arthurs had an account on Iron March, which he joined on March 13, 2015, under the username “TheWeissewolfe.” Internal chat logs obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center detailing the group’s inner workings between 2017 and 2018, as well as reporting from ProPublica, indicate that Russell, Arthurs and a few other future members socialized on an app called TinyChat prior to AWD’s formation.
Russell and Arthurs moved into their apartment in Tampa in spring 2017. ProPublica called the apartment a “nerve center” for the group. In footage of an interrogation following Arthurs’ arrest on May 19, 2017, which ProPublica and Frontline obtained, he described the group’s violent ambitions in detail and offered to aid law enforcement.
“These people … they know exactly how to build, they knew exactly how to build bombs that could’ve destroyed this entire building,” Arthurs told investigators, according to ProPublica.
A slew of arrests and criminal charges ultimately brought down AWD three years later. But by the time James Mason, a longtime neo-Nazi ideologue whose terroristic tome SIEGEserved as a manual for the group, announced AWD’s disbandment in early 2020, the organization’s thirst for violence had only grown. Numerous members and affiliates faced criminal charges, up to and including murder.
Brian Hughes of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL) shared concerns about Arthurs’ comments on leveraging his story as a cautionary tale against extremism.
“The desire to become an advocate so soon reflects the same grandiosity that characterizes participation in extremist movements in the first place. The desire to make amends is always laudable and sharing his own story may indeed serve as a warning to others,” Hughes, whose work at PERIL focuses on preventing radicalization, told Hatewatch in an email.
“But,” he continued, “the road to redemption is long and hard and, in cases like this, perhaps never-ending.”
Editor’s note: The SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which produces Hatewatch, also partners with PERIL to develop resources that equip parents, caregivers, educators and other trusted adults with the tools to prevent the spread of harmful ideologies and narratives. Hannah Gais, who reported this story, is not directly involved in the PERIL partnership. If you are interested in the Parents ’and Caregivers’Guide SPLC produced with PERIL, you can find it here.
Photo illustration by SPLC