WASHINGTON ― A self-proclaimed Nazi who worshipped white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof and called the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter a “hero” was sentenced to time served on a federal gun charge Friday and will be released from federal custody after 10 months behind bars.
Jeffrey Clark was arrested last November after concerned relatives contacted authorities, who charged him with a rarely used charge of addict in possession of a weapon because he used marijuana, which is legal in D.C.
While he evidently never developed a specific plan of attack, prosecutors said he was “a bomb” ready to explode, and relatives were especially concerned that he might do something drastic after his brother died by suicide. The Clark brothers lived in Bloomingdale, a historically Black but rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Neighbors said they invited fellow right-wing extremists to their home.
Clark pleaded guilty to a single federal gun charge in July, when prosecutors dropped another charge involving possession of a high-capacity magazine. Federal guidelines suggested that Clark should spend 10 to 16 months in prison under the guilty plea.
On Friday, Clark, who will spend three years under federal supervision as part of his sentencing agreement, claimed in court that his time in custody had changed him.
He told the court that the death of his brother and his 10-month stay in jail had caused him to “seriously reevaluate” his life and realize that his words did have consequences. He said his experiences in D.C. jail “fly in the face” of the beliefs he held that he said were caused by his frustrations with society, and said he formed what he hoped were lifetime friendships with his fellow detainees.
“I believe my experience at D.C. jail has been a blessing in disguise,” Clark said. He said his plan for the future was to get a job, save money, buy a home, start a family and “stay away from the darker corners of social media.”
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, a nominee of President Donald Trump, called Clark’s statement moving. While he was concerned about Clark’s statements praising mass murderers, he said Clark had a First Amendment right to deplorable views.
“We don’t punish people for having hate in their hearts about another group of people,” the judge said. He encouraged Clark to move past his hatred, saying that it wouldn’t help him get where he needs to go.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cummings said he believed that Clark could move in a positive direction in his life, and emphasized that the government was not looking to punish Clark for his beliefs. He said the government was concerned about the combination of three things: guns, drugs and hatred.
“The tricky thing out of those three is how you deal with the hate,” Cummings said.
David Bos, Clark’s attorney, told the court he was as confident as he could be that Clark would not violate the conditions of his release. He said Clark found it “kind of thrilling” to draw attention online for his hateful views, but that it’s clear to him now that his conduct was serious. Bos said he’s seen a “sea change” in Clark’s attitude over the past 10 months, and that Clark’s experience with a “much more diverse community” inside D.C. jail had been eye-opening for him.
Clark’s case was a challenging one for prosecutors. The United States does not have a statute that broadly outlaws domestic terrorism, making it difficult to prosecute extremists, including those on the far right and white supremacists, who may be plotting acts of violence. The FBI has arrested more than 100 people in cases tied to domestic terrorism this year, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee in July ― the majority were “motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”
But most of the federal cases, including Clark’s, involve charges largely unrelated to terrorism. In Clark’s case, prosecutors turned to the little-used statute, a point that Bos hammered home during the plea hearing in July.
Clark’s weapon, Bos said at the time, was legally registered, and possession of the drug in question ― marijuana ― is legal in Washington.
“If the marijuana weren’t in this case, there would be no charge,” Bos said.
Clark, like many self-identified members of white nationalist movements, was an avid social media user and frequently posted on Gab, a Twitter alternative popular among extremists, racists and anti-Semites. On the site, Clark used the handle @PureWhiteEvil and called himself “DC Bowl Gang,” a reference to Roof, who murdered nine Black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. During a rally outside the White House in April 2017, Clark said that he considered himself a Nazi.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.