A Marine Corps infantryman booted from the service and indicted in connection to a neo-Nazi plot to target energy facilities in the northwest U.S. pleaded guilty to a firearms charge on Tuesday, court dockets indicate.
Liam Collins, a former lance corporal stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was initially charged in 2020 with two other alleged conspirators. Within the next year, the list of defendants grew to five, including an Army National Guardsman, Joseph Maurino; and two other former Marines, Justin Hermanson and Jordan Duncan.
Collins discussed recruiting veterans into "a modern day SS" on a now-defunct neo-Nazi message board called "Iron March," stole military equipment, asked others to buy explosives, and discussed with his co-defendants plans to manufacture firearms, according to court records. He pleaded not guilty to destruction of an energy facility and other weapons-related charges.
The guilty plea was for interstate transportation of an unregistered firearm. Military.com contacted Collins' listed attorney, but did not hear back by publication. FOX8 WGHP was first to report his guilty plea.
The group of extremists that Collins belonged to was allegedly active between 2017 and 2020, according to federal indictments. In that time, Collins allegedly stole military gear, including magazines for assault-style rifles, from Camp Lejeune and delivered it to the other defendants. Meanwhile, Duncan, a onetime Marine turned defense contractor, allegedly gathered information on firearms, explosives and nerve toxins and shared it with the group.
By 2020, the group was discussing having every member purchase 50 pounds of an explosive, according to the indictments. In October 2020, a handwritten list of around a dozen locations in and around Idaho was discovered in one of the suspects' possession. That list included locations of transformers, substations and other components of the power grid for the northwest U.S.
The indictment also noted that the men discussed using a homemade blend of metal powder and metal oxide combined into a substance known as thermite, which burns at more than 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, to destroy power transformers.
"This case is concerningly indicative of both the state of the white supremacist threat today and the systemic failures of the U.S. military to address the decades of white supremacist infiltration of its ranks," Jon Lewis, a researcher with the George Washington University Program on Extremism, told Military.com on Wednesday.
"This was a cell of violent neo-Nazis who attempted to create 'a modern-day SS' and who plotted to conduct attacks targeting the power grid," Lewis said. "Multiple defendants, including Collins, were engaged in efforts to conduct white supremacist terrorism while sworn to protect and defend our country and our Constitution."
Collins, who served for three years in the Corps before his separation, was on active duty when he made the Iron March message board posts, according to Newsweek, which first connected the Marine to his comments.
He frequently posted on Iron March and went by the moniker "Disciple" and "Niezgoda," according to the indictment.
"Everyone [in the group] is going to be required to have served in a nation's military, whether US, UK, or Poland," Collins wrote in 2016, according to the indictment. "I'll be in the USMC for 4 years while my comrades work on the groups [sic] physical formation...It will take years to gather all the experience and intelligence that we need to utilize -- but that's what makes it fun."
In 2020, a Marine Corps spokesman told Military.com when asked about Collins' separation that "Collins' premature discharge is indicative of the fact that the character of his service was incongruent with Marine Corps' expectations and standards."
Collins and his co-conspirators were not the only neo-Nazi veterans caught up by law enforcement for alleged infrastructure attacks in the last few years. In February, Brandon Russell, a former Army National Guardsman and self-described Nazi, was arrested for allegedly plotting to destroy an electrical substation in Maryland.
Russell had announced the formation of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group, nearly a decade ago. In 2018, he was sentenced to five years in prison for charges relating to possessing explosives.
"These were members of an accelerationist, neo-Nazi movement that is intent on committing violence and destruction in order to collapse the system and create a white ethnostate from the ashes," Lewis, the extremism researcher, said of Collins' recent guilty plea. "Years of inaction and ambivalence have led to conditions favorable for violent extremists like Collins and his co-defendants to join the military, and this case is yet another example of just how dangerous this can be."
Collins is set to be sentenced next January, following an August 2023 guilty plea as part of a deal with prosecutors, according to court records.
Two of the other veteran defendants in this case -- Hermanson and Maurino -- took plea deals in 2022 and 2023, according to court records. Neither has been sentenced yet.
Meanwhile, Duncan's case is ongoing and his lawyers moved to have charges dismissed in August, arguing that, among other issues, the charges are "unconstitutionally vague under the First and Fifth Amendments," court records show.
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on X @df_lawrence.