Extremist accused of plotting to attack Newsom: A dangerous Nazi sympathizer or a 'mouthy drunk'?

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Richard Winton
·4 min read
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Ian Benjamin Rogers, a supporter of former President Trump, was armed and planning to carry out violent attacks, the FBI said.
Ian Rogers, a supporter of former President Trump, was armed and planning to carry out violent attacks, the FBI said. (Napa County Sheriff's Office)

Diverging portraits emerged Friday of the far-right supporter from Napa whom authorities arrested this month on weapons charges and said might have been plotting to kill California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In court Friday, a Napa County prosecutor said auto repair shop owner Ian Rogers built five large pipe bombs, possessed machine guns and extensive body armor, used encrypted communications to chat with like-minded extremists and is "part of the [right-wing] group that does call itself the Three Percenters."

According to an FBI affidavit, Rogers, 43, made multiple threats in text messages to attack Democratic targets and ensure that Trump stayed in office. In the texts, Rogers stated, “Let’s see what happens then we act” and later added, “I’m thinking sac office first target” and “Then maybe bird and face offices.”

FBI Special Agent Stephanie Minor, in an affidavit attached to the charges, said the texts were indications of his targets. “I believe that when Rogers said, ‘sac office first target,’ he meant that their first target should be the offices of California Governor Gavin Newsom in Sacramento. I further believe that when Rogers said that the ‘bird and face’ offices would be next, he meant the offices of Twitter (‘bird’) and Facebook (‘face’), because both social media platforms had locked Trump’s accounts to prevent him from sending messages on those platforms."

Rogers also stated in a text that he was “not going down without a fight,” according to the federal criminal complaint.

But Rogers' attorney, Jesse Raphael, described his client as a survivalist, family man and "mouthy drunk."

"When he drinks and he does drink, he says stupid things and writes really stupid things," Raphael said. He said the charges were overblown and that his client was not a member of an extremist group and didn't intend to harm anyone. He entered a not guilty plea on Rogers' behalf.

After hearing both arguments, Napa County Superior Court Judge Elia Ortiz cut Rogers' bail from $5 million to $1.5 million — still 10 times what his attorney said was merited.

Rogers, wearing a mask and headphones, appeared in court via video feed on Zoom from the jail. His manner was calm, and he said very little.

The Three Percenters, according to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, are “2nd Amendment insurrectionists” whose members “maintain when the government acts tyrannical, they have a subjective right to armed rebellion.”

Three Percenters have been tied to a violent plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Raphael insisted that the Napa County Sheriff's Office and FBI ignored since the fall a tip from a disgruntled employee about Rogers, only to act upon it after the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

He said the authorities mischaracterized the items that were found. He said what the government called Nazi memorabilia in a safe at British Auto Repair in Napa, along with the pipe bombs, were remembrances of Rogers' father's fight against the Nazis and that a white privilege credit card was no more than a novelty joke given to him by a friend.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Aimee McLeod said the Nazi memorabilia included a rare Waffen SS knife and that Rogers made threats against Democrats and checked the locations of a Democratic headquarters and the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). McLeod also said, given Rogers' arsenal of illegal weapons, that he posed a clear public safety threat.

McLeod said that the Jan. 15 search of Rogers' business led to the recovery of 49 firearms, including four machine guns and four other weapons that are illegal in California, and 15,000 rounds of ammunition. The pipe bombs measured three or four inches wide and nearly eight inches long and were made with galvanized steel with caps and fuses that would turn to shrapnel when ignited.

The judge set a preliminary hearing in state court for Rogers on March 17 on 28 felony charges, including possession of an illegal silencer and multiple unregistered assault weapons. Federal prosecutors have also charged him with possessing illegal explosives.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.