"They were a group of citizens having barbecues," attorney for couple says
Ten other American Front members are set for trial next month
The group's leader intended to start a race war against Jews, immigrants and other minorities, police say
Two co-defendants have pleaded guilty
Florida prosecutors dropped charges against a husband and wife accused of training for a race war as part of a white supremacist group, their attorney said Monday.
Prosecutors haven’t responded yet to CNN’s calls.
Ten other American Front members, including alleged leader Marcus Faella, are set for trial next month, while two co-defendants have entered guilty pleas.
Jennifer and Mark McGowan were charged with violating a Florida law against participating in paramilitary training by taking part in target practice and hand-to-hand combat training with others in the American Front.
“They were a group of citizens having barbecues, and nothing illegal was occurring out there,” attorney Sam Edwards said. “The state made allegations they were firing guns and saying racial epithets against blacks while shooting into jugs, but there is no corroborative evidence. But even so, it is a protected First Amendment right.”
According to police, Faella was planning to stage provocative disruptions at Orlando City Hall and at a Melbourne, Florida, anarchist gathering that included members of skinhead groups.
Faella, according to police documents, wanted to stir up media attention to help gain new recruits for American Front, which hate-tracking groups say has been faltering since the death of its leader, David Lynch, in California.
The 25-year-old group enjoyed a resurgence in 2007 under Lynch, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a charismatic leader who helped form it in 1987. But Lynch was shot to death in his home in March 2011, leaving the group with no clear leader, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Most of the group’s 50 or so members appear to live in Florida, according to the ADL.
“Faella views himself and the other members of the AF as the protectors of the white race,” investigators wrote in an affidavit, referring to the group by its initials. “Faella has stated his intent during the race war is to kill Jews, immigrants and other minorities.”
According to police, Faella’s group watched videos training members in fighting and the use of AK-47s and other weapons at a St. Cloud, Florida, compound, which the affidavit said is ringed with barbed wire and protected by pit bulls and firing positions facing the driveway.
The property was meant to become a refuge for white supremacists after the fall of the U.S. government during a race war, investigators wrote. The group was allegedly making body armor and sniper suits and stocking up on supplies in preparation.
The charges came on the heels of a two-year investigation based on the reports of a confidential informant who had to flee the fortified compound after Faella nearly discovered secret recordings the informant had made of training exercises, according to the arrest affidavit.
Defendant Kent McLellan, 22, pleaded guilty on October 16 to paramilitary training and was sentenced to four years’ probation, prosecutors said.
Christopher Brooks, 27, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and will serve three years in prison. In exchange for his plea in August, prosecutors dropped two other felony counts – participating in paramilitary training and conspiracy to shoot into an occupied dwelling – according to Bernie Presha, a spokesman for the state attorney’s office for Osceola and Orange counties.
In Session’s Aletse Mellado contributed to this report.